Monday, December 23, 2013

A blogger comes home

by craftydame via Flickr
Hi, friends. I believe an explanation is in order.

As Ernest Hemingway put it, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Since I was already experiencing significant blood loss due to my father's death, adjusting to a new job and home, and the rapid failure of a new relationship, let's just say that writing became far too painful for me to pursue. To be honest, I'm afraid that writing is still painful for me, but that brings me to my next point.

Over the last month or so, I've really started to examine my life and ask myself what needs to change in order for me to be living the life I really want. 2013 was definitely not my year and I want 2014 to be much, much better. After listening to and reading Brene Brown talk about vulnerability as well as other happiness related articles and books (like The Happiness Project), I'm convinced that I need to start choosing love over fear consistently.

As the child of a hoarder, all I've known has been survival mode. I just needed to get through high school to get out of my mother's hoard. That survival instinct stayed with me through the years: I just needed to get through college, I just needed to get a job to support myself, I just needed to get through grad school, I just needed to land a professional job, I just needed to adjust to living on the west coast, I just needed to get over the loss of my father, I just needed to find the perfect partner, I just needed to be driven by fear. In the process of having my survival blinders on, I've pushed aside a large number of things that have brought me great joy in life: writing, art, exploring new topics just for the hell of it. I got really amazingly good at denying myself things out of fear of being distracted too much from what I "should" be doing as A Very Responsible Adult. This barebones living has brought me to my present condition: doing all of the "right" things, but not being particularly happy.

And so, I've decided to choose love and the things that I love in an attempt to find peace and happiness within myself. My desire to write about it is not just because of my undeniable inclination to be a writer, but because "... as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." I think Marianne Williamson was on to something there and I hope my return to blogging can ignite untold lights in my readers.

Happy holidays and expect to be hearing more from me regularly in the coming year.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Action

image found on Yes and Yes

"Nothing diminishes anxiety more than action." -Walter Anderson



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What no one tells you about losing a parent in your 20s

by yogendra174 via Flickr
Originally posted 8/7/2013, updated 9/21/2016

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind." -Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking 

 My dad passed away almost 4 years ago when I was 26. He died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack. Prior to this, the only people in my life who had passed away who I felt remotely close to were my two grandfathers, an uncle, and a great uncle. While I, of course, cared about all of these men and was incredibly sadden by each of their passings, the loss of a parent digs in much deeper, stings much sharper, and alters your world in unimaginable ways. When my dad died, I felt as though I either hadn't seen or hadn't paid attention to many accounts of grieving the death of a parent in your 20s. This lack of information spurred me to write about my experience and to share the following things I'd learned about myself and others from encountering my father's death at a comparatively young age.

Grief is not a perfect, linear process. After the first few days of barely sleeping or eating and bursting into tears at the slightest remembrance, I asked myself, "When does this end? When can I feel okay again?" I fooled myself into thinking that if I went through the steps, if I followed the stages, I would come out on the other end as a whole, smiling, fatherless girl. Yes, my dad died, but my future is bright! Instead, everyday is different. Somedays, I'm happy and productive and I think about my dad with a smile on my face. Other days, I wake up from having a dream about my dad and sulk all day. Somedays, I'm moody as hell. Other days, I nearly forget that my father died at all. Somedays, I'm angry that people who are twice my age still have their fathers. Other days, I silently cry at my desk at work while I hear a coworker talk to his father on the phone. Yes, I cry less and generally feel better about the whole thing than I did during month 1, but it's not a perfect, logical, point A to point B progression. It comes in waves; sometimes with tsunami-like force, but usually more like the daily tides.

Life does not stop. While asking myself when the painful grieving process will be over, I also asked myself when I could do normal things again. I thought that I could compartmentalize the grief. If I kept it in its own box, it wouldn't bleed over into the rest of my life and so, when I returned to the rest of my life, it would be exactly the same as it was before. When and only when I stopped crying all.the.time., I could then resume my life. While people are generally sympathetic to your loss, your bills still need to be paid, your friends still want to see you, your bathroom is only getting grosser, and the days keep flying by. If you wait until you feel 100% back to normal, you will sit out the rest of your life. Once I realized that I needed to create a new normal instead of wait for my old normal to return (which it never will), I placed pieces of my life back. I started reading again. I watched a movie. I started introducing my routines back into my life. I allowed myself to date again. Life stops for no one, no matter how much pain you may be in, no matter how much you wished you could stop time so you wouldn't have to live your life without your dad to share it with. Life goes on.

You learn who your true friends are. After being woken up by the phone call from my brother telling me that my dad was being rushed to the hospital, after the initial shock, after the first shouted "no," after the first cup of tear tainted tea, I reached out to my closest friends to put them on high alert, hoping that my messages wouldn't put a jinx on my dad. After the second call from my brother, starting with the dreaded, "Sarah, I'm so sorry," after the shouting of the repeated and pathetic "no," after the uncontrollable crying and shaking, after the shouting of the repeated and pathetic "why," after the dumbstruck silence and emotional exhaustion, I reached out again. After their brief moments of silence and processing, my phone blew up. Friends called me crying before they even heard my first whimper. My friends flocked to my dad's memorial service like it was a pilgrimage to Mecca. They came unasked- it was a given to them. When things needed doing, I could barely put the words together before I had multiple hands reaching out to help. When I needed to vent, I had an inexhaustible audience. When I couldn't remember to eat, my sister in law fed me. When I couldn't stand, my brother carried me. When I couldn't compose myself, my brother had unyielding resolve. When I couldn't find a light at the end of the tunnel, my brother lit a candle.

Unfortunately, there's a flip side to finding out who is really on your side. My dad's girlfriend turned out to be a thief, a liar, and an incredibly weak woman who was promptly thrown out of my dad's house and karma gave a good ass beating to.

No one can say anything to make you feel better. My first reaction to people telling me they were sorry for my loss was to say, "It's okay." My second reaction was, "I hope you never experience this." My loss was not okay and almost everyone will have to deal with losing a parent at some point in their lives- what silly things to think. I guess in some weird, backwards way, I was trying to make them feel better for feeling bad. Finally, I came to terms with just replying with a simple thank you. After talking to friends who sat in stunned silence when I told them how I was coping, after writing emails in the middle of the night about how I was feeling and receiving only a few words in response, instead of getting angry at their apparent disinterest or apathy, I realized that my friends were at a loss for what to say because they have no idea what it is like to lose a parent. The vast majority of my friends, and none of my closest friends, have not yet had to go through what I am currently going through. Even hearing stories about your dad or hearing how much he talked about you to other people aren't very comforting because you can't help saying to yourself, "That's nice, but it would be way nicer to have my dad alive and still creating stories and talking up his children." Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle describes this situation perfectly: "People who are grieving walk with death, every waking moment. When the rest of us dread that we'll somehow remind them of death's existence, we are missing their reality ... A rendezvous with death, for them, was waking up each morning without their [father]." Despite the nonexistence of the right words, someone ignoring the fact that your dad is dead is way worse than them saying something that does not provide comfort. Sharing memories, asking questions, letting the griever grieve allows the parent to live on in the only way he or she can now.

I feel like an orphan most days. My mother still hasn't talked to me about my dad dying. She has little to no idea how I've been dealing with it all. To be honest, somedays, it's easier to pretend that she's dead too. My brother, his wife, and my friends have been absolutely wonderful, but, because I am not currently talking to my mother, did not have a significant other at the time my dad died, and live so far away from my closest friends and family, I felt, and occasionally still feel, incredibly alone in all of this. Mourning hangs on you like a shadow during your day to day movements. You don't have to talk about it or even spill tears to feel it. It's just there and can fill a room if you let it. Even though my brother and I shared our father and share our grief, he can experience that grief with his wife. He can be, or at least should be, happy knowing that his wife got to know her father in law for a few years and their son got to play with and be held by his pop pop. I don't have those luxuries. My father will not be there for many of the milestones I'm yet to experience- getting married, having kids, buying my first home. The man I'm to marry can't ask my dad for my hand in marriage; my father can't walk me down the aisle; if I have children, they will never know their maternal grandpa; my dad can't show me how to repair things around the house. When older people who have lost a parent reach out to me and tell me they understand, I appreciate the sentiment, but they can't possibly understand the full depth of what I'm experiencing. Unless you are a 20something, single female who has a bad relationship with your mother and you recently lost your father, I just don't think anyone can really understand this.

Dating is really hard. My first concern was that the guys I would start dating after my dad died wouldn't understand and would feel uncomfortable when I started talking about my dad or if I was having a rough time dealing with his death. They would think I was broken and give up on me. That fear has mostly been allayed as I've found most men I've dated handle the situation well. While they don't often understand what it's like to lose a parent, they understand that things are going to bother me sometimes and that all I need is patience and open arms. I felt more insecure than I felt in years and it caused me to react/overreact to things that I would have otherwise let roll off my shoulders. Because my mother was never very affectionate, reassuring, or encouraging, losing my dad meant losing the biggest figure in my life who told me without pause that he's proud of me, that he thinks I'm beautiful, that he thinks I'm great. This absence caused me to seek constant affection; second guess silences, conversations, and actions; feel incredibly sad during family gatherings; and generally jump to the worst possible conclusion if there's a sliver of a doubt. While I rarely acted out or started fights because of these things, I let it dominate my thinking and deflate me to the point of tears. Most guys, if they were worth their salt, let me get it out of my system, but built me back up with the truth- that they think I'm great too.

Paperwork and possessions. In the midst of trying to mourn my dad's death, my brother and I had to deal with an enormous amount of paperwork. Death is a very messy business. Since my dad was not married and he did not have a will, my brother and I had to go to court to become the legal administrators of my dad's estate. We had to scramble to find account statements, passwords, assets. We logged countless hours on the phone explaining that our dad died and we need access, we need closure, we need our peace. We had to go through my dad's possessions, trying to decide what to keep, what to toss, what to give away, what to sell. We had to remember to pay his bills on top of our own bills every month. We had to try to sell a house that was a day's drive and a day's flight, respectively, from either of us. Thankfully, my dad did have life insurance and that made many, many things much easier, but I never in a million years thought that the process would be that stressful or drawn out. That is the one thing that took me most by surprise because I had never been that close to anyone who passed away before.

You learn you're not the only one who thinks your dad was awesome. You also learn how much your dad would not shut up about you. Countless strangers have told me, "Your dad loved you very, very much. He was so proud of you." The stories we heard and continue to hear about my dad have confirmed what I've known all along: my dad was one of a kind. He will be missed by many, many people.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Regret

via Pinterest

"In the end, we only regret the chances we didn't take."


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Life happenings

by bayasaa via Flickr
July was largely a good, albeit busy, month for me. I'm happy to report that I have a new boyfriend in my life and he's pretty great. I usually go for older guys, but he's a few years younger than I am, so I'm shaking things up a bit.

The Bay Area has been entirely too cold for my liking- July should be a sweaty month, not a month of wearing a coat everywhere and wishing I had put socks on before I left my apartment. I constantly forget it's summer and that kind of makes me sad. Oh well, at least I have a boy to cuddle up with now :-).

So, what have I found around the internet lately?

Have you checked out 40 Days of Dating yet? I find myself checking on the two friends' dating progress every morning out of sheer curiosity and secretly rooting for them.

Don't always assume heavy bass means rap.

It often seemed like I had trouble finding good pizza when I traveled from home and I finally found out why: I grew up in the pizza belt.

Beer terms for the casual beer drinker.

62 of the world's most beautiful libraries. I've been to two of these!

Want to swim in the clearest waters on Earth? Here you go.

Super helpful if you're planning to fly any time soon: security line wait times!

The 5 best west coast road trips

5 Chinese restaurants in my backyard that I must try

As the owner of a fat orange tabby, these famous paintings with a photoshopped fat cat had me in stitches.

I hope you had a great July and have plans for a wonderful August!


Monday, July 29, 2013

The 2000 Things challenge: part 4

by delete08 via Flickr
I feel like this update on my 2000 Things challenge is a little sneaky. I'm sure most of you were thinking that by "things" the items gotten rid of had to be physical items. I took a broader interpretation of "things" and decided to include electronic clutter as well. Lucky for you, I'm not including email in this challenge (because I would have hit 2000 ages ago), but am sticking with locally hosted files instead.

First, let me give you a rundown of my sad physical item count:

  • dry rotted bathing suit
  • tin of lotion
  • 1 sample that was mailed to me
  • 3 books
  • a box my cats stopped playing with

That brings me to 219 physical items gotten rid of thus far. I have a number of things that I've been eyeing to get rid of, so this number should get much larger soon.

To keep me from falling down the rabbit hole too much in terms of electronic clutter, I focused on things I could delete off of my smart phone. I knew there were probably a few contacts and some old pictures I could wipe without much thought. Boy, did I ever underestimate how much was lurking on my phone:

  • 893 files, mostly pictures, deleted off of phone
  • 7 contacts deleted off of phone
  • 1 app deleted off of phone

Yup, 901 things got deleted off of my phone last week. Hard to believe something so small can hold so much. I think it's just as important to keep your electronic files well organized as it is to organize your physical items since a cluttered hard drive can cause just as much of a headache and inefficient use of time as a cluttered desk.

Since all I'll need is an afternoon of deleting things off of my laptop to reach the 2000 goal, I'm going to keep the physical and electronic tallies separate. I still have a lot of physical items to go through, so I don't want to use the electronic clutter as a cop out.

Were you ever surprised by the amount of files you've been able to delete off of your phone or computer?


Friday, July 26, 2013

Little things

via Pinterest

"We sometimes underestimate the influence of little things." -Charles W. Chestnutt


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Someday is Today: Stop hitting snooze

I was never much of a snoozer. I never saw the point; that is, until I moved in with one of my exes who was a big time snooze button abuser. At first, the blaring of the alarm every 10 minutes for half an hour was incredibly annoying, but then I got used to the sleep disruption and, one day, discovered that I was starting to hit snooze myself to eke out a few extra of minutes of sleep. Now, 6 years later, that habit is still firmly with me.

I have a hunch that I could find scientific proof to back this up, but waking up every ten minutes just can't be good for you and can't possibly make you more rested. I'm basing my decision to call it quits with my snooze button on my personal experience of feeling groggier when I hit snooze than when I get up when my alarm first goes off.

Since I am not a morning person in the least, this goal might take a little self trickery. Placing my phone far away from my bed will probably have to happen at some point so that I'll have to physically get out of bed to turn the alarm off and reduce the chance of falling back asleep. I think for starters though, I'm going to set my alarm for the absolute latest time I can get out of bed so that I'll know that if I hit snooze, I'll inevitably be late for work.

Do you hit the snooze button? How do you trick yourself to get out of bed on time in the morning?


Friday, July 19, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Travel lately: Chicago and Clearlake

I had been trying to make my way to Chicago for the last three years to visit friends and see what this iconic Midwest city had to offer, but didn't manage to make it there until a few weeks ago for a conference. I was there for just about a week, but sadly did not see as much of the city as I would have liked since my conference kept me incredibly busy. I did stop into Millennium Park to see the infamous "Bean" (actually called Cloud Gate).



Hiya!

Attracted by the bright colors, I also walked through the Boeing Galleries and saw an exhibit by Jun Kaneko titled "Legends, Myths and Truths." I had seen his "Dango" pieces before, but the standing bear type creatures (apparently they're supposed to be a badger or raccoon type animal) called Tanuki were new to me:


Kinda creepy, especially when walking alone

I really liked the vibe Chicago had and I plan to visit again to really spend time seeing its attractions and eating its highly rated food.

The day after I flew back from Chicago, I hopped in a car and went up to Clearlake, CA for a long July 4th weekend.


I water skied for the first time in 9 years, went swimming, got a tan, saw fireworks, pigged out, and just generally relaxed. Not too shabby of a way to spend a few days.

Have you been anywhere new lately?


Monday, July 15, 2013

Things that I love: time away from electronics

by nyoin via Flickr
Sometimes, a step back from the computer is a great thing. More and more on these summer weekends, I find myself outside instead of planning blog posts. I intend to continue to post my 3 posts a week, but if I miss a post here or there, don't be too remiss, okay? Less to read here means more time for you to spend outside too!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Absolutely terrified

via Pinterest

"I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do." -Georgia O'Keefe


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The 2000 Things challenge: part 3

by joel_nz via Flickr
Well, boys and girls, it's time to update you all on my progress with The 2000 Things challenge. Life has continued to be very busy, but I've managed to throw things away and set things aside to give away in my spare moments. I'm still working on low hanging fruit, so some, if not most, of these things may seem painfully obvious or unexciting.

I did a sweep of things that I use that need to be replaced regularly that I haven't replaced since I moved 6 months ago- whoops. Time sure flies. I identified the following to get rid of and am now using a replacement that I already had at my disposal:

  • my kitchen sponge
  • my toothbrush
  • my razor blade
  • my Brita water filter

I mentioned briefly before that I had participated in a mud run in June and I wore old items I could just throw away afterwards. I got rid of a t-shirt, bra, and pair of underwear that way.

The rest of the items include:
  • 2 jigsaw puzzles I finally finished
  • 1 issue of a journal I receive that I used as stuffing for a package I mailed (I have a whole stack of journals to read through... hopefully they will be listed as gotten rid of soon)
  • 2 viles of salt and pepper that I put in my salt and pepper grinders
  • 1 broken salt grinder

These 13 items bring me to a grand total of 212 items gotten rid of so far. Hopefully next time I can come up with another impressive haul like I did the first time I worked on the challenge.


Monday, July 8, 2013

West coast travel goals

by susivinh via Flickr
Having lived all but the last six months of my life on the east coast, I've seen a decent amount of what the east coast has to offer. Now that I'm living on the west coast, I get to explore my new backyard. So, what am I most anxious to see? Here's the beginning of an ever growing list:

California: Yosemite, Tahoe, Los Angeles, San Diego, redwood forests. California has so much to offer and I've only seen one iota of it.

Hawaii: I've never traveled to anywhere tropical before and this seems like a great place to start. I'll probably never live closer to it than I do now, so I should probably take advantage of the relatively short and fairly reasonable flights.

Oregon: Portland especially. I've heard so much about this crazy town (thanks, Portlandia), that I just have to check it out.

Washington: Seattle especially. Another city I've heard so much about. I want to brave the cold and the rain to see what makes this place special.

Utah: I had a short layover recently in Salt Lake City and seeing the landscape flying in was mesmerizing. I want to experience this gem up close.

Alaska: Even though I hate cold weather and snow, I think seeing the rugged Alaskan terrain would be awesome. Perhaps an Alaskan cruise?

Colorado: Another beauty of a state that I'd like to visit and hike around.

Mexico: I've never been before and I feel like it would be pretty easy to wrap Mexico into a visit to southern California. I'll need a Spanish speaking companion though.

Western Canada: I've only been to Montreal before (for a mere day trip) and Canada is such a big country, I feel as though I should visit more of it to get a real feel for it.

What are your favorite places to visit on the west coast?


Friday, July 5, 2013

Opportunity


“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” -Albert Einstein

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Things that I love: freshly cut hair

by hckyso via Flickr
After 6 months, I finally got my hair cut last week. Man alive, did I need it. I have naturally curly hair, so if I go a little too long without a trim, my curls get really lank and droopy looking. My hair has much more body now with nice, full curls that even form corkscrews. I'm still getting used to the shorter sweepy bangs I got, so I've been preoccupied with pushing my hair out of my face and pinning up greasy looking bangs at the end of the day.

I went to a really nice salon a block away from my apartment and had a great experience. Maybe my close proximity will be a helpful push for me to better maintain my hair. Maybe.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Life happenings

by daniandgeorge via Flickr
If the beginning of July has you wondering, "where the hell did June go?!" you are not alone. This month was a whirlwind of working my ass off, fun social events, starting a new almost relationship, doing a mud run (!), and conferences. I'm currently in Chicago for a conference and am about to fall asleep on my keyboard. So, I'll keep this short and sweet and give you some of the best things I found on the internet this month (apparently I was really into travel, Harry Potter, and cats).

10 best castles in Austria. I'm pretty sure I've only been to the one in Graz.

30 amazing abandoned places.

50 best drives. I've been on parts of Route 66, Pacific Coast Highway, Alpine Road in Germany, and Blue Ridge Parkway.

23 smile inducing pictures from behind the scenes of the Harry Potter movies.

American soliders playing quidditch- whaaaat.

Some great advice from Yes and Yes about what to do when people are jerks to you.

Kitten vs. lizard

Cat + glasses= the best gif on the internet. Deal with it.

Here's to an excellent and less hectic July!


Friday, June 28, 2013

Apology you never got

via Pinterest

"Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got." -Robert Brault


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

From the archives: touch

by wtlphotos via Flickr
Sometimes, especially when I feel down, I like to go back and read things I wrote when I was a teenager. I wrote this entry in 2003 and find it fitting to read it again as I traverse the beginnings of a potentially new relationship.

words can lie. and words are not always the whole truth. but truth can be found in actions, in a simple touch. you can say anything you want, however many times you want to say it. but it's a completely different thing when it is put into action. the most truthful action in the world is a touch. you don't touch another unless you mean it. hand in hand, people find the truth about how they feel. nothing is held back when you touch the skin. it is as simple as that. the honesty is so intense you can barely stand to touch them, but that's the thrill of it. how long you can withstand this intensity. yet somehow, you want more, it's practically addictive. how good it feels, and yet how truthful it can be. all the walls are torn down and you are faced with the complete truth. you almost feel naked, as though all of your secrets have been revealed and it's simply you, in front of another. to be touched is to be honest, completely truthful about how you feel. nothing is quite as scary, surprisingly comforting, or enticingly breath-taking as a humble touch.


Monday, June 24, 2013

What makes the Bay Area different

by pifou95 via Flickr
Now that I've been a California resident for almost 6 months, I feel like I can reflect a little bit on what it's like to live here. Here are the three major differences I've noticed between living in the Bay Area and everywhere else I've lived.

1. Drugs are everywhere. It seems like the majority of people here don't realize that pot is illegal in America. I smell it on the street. I smell it in my apartment building. I smell it on public transportation. Hell, I've seen people smoking pot on the street, on public transportation, at concerts. Don't get me wrong, if that's your thing, by all means, go for it. I'm not being Judgey McJudgerson over here. I'm just used to it being more taboo and hush hush. The people of the Bay Area, on the other hand, like to let their freak flag fly.

2. Homeless people are everywhere. I thought there were a lot of hobos in Richmond, VA. Boy, was I wrong. The laws are much more lax here, so homeless people can pretty much sleep and loiter wherever they want. I've smelled and seen more human excrements than I care to admit and I know I'll only be seeing more while I live here. More than anything, the daily sight of all of these homeless, mentally ill, and addicted individuals makes me really sad and uncomfortable. If I had to choose one thing that I like the least about living here, this would be it.

3. Recycling is everywhere. You guys, I get to compost my paper towels and banana peels at work. I no longer have to worry about what number plastic my containers are. As an avid recycler and general environmentally conscious person, it tickles me to see how little I throw away on a daily basis. The stereotype of Californians being a bunch of tree hugging hippies isn't too far off the mark.

Have you ever been to California and the Bay Area in particular? What struck you the most about what makes this place different?


Friday, June 21, 2013

Missing reality

by marilynjane via Flickr
"People who are grieving walk with death, every waking moment. When the rest of us dread that we'll somehow remind them of death's existence, we are missing their reality ... A rendezvous with death, for them, was waking up each morning without their [father]." -Barbara Kingsolver from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The lost email

by gregoryjordan via Flickr
A few days ago, I logged into an old email account to retrieve a password. I only check this email once every few months. For some reason, I was slow to give my dad my new email address when I switched a few years ago and, on the rare occasion he emailed me, he almost always continued to send it to this old address. Before I found the password I was looking for, I searched my inbox for my dad's email address to see if he had sent me anything since the last time I checked this address and before he died. Lo and behold, he had.

He emailed me the day before he left for vacation with my brother, sister in law, and nephew, which is when and where he passed away. The email was mostly full of news about his progress restoring his home and working on his art. His last lines, however, sent me crying instantly. The words are heavy with extra meaning considering the context, but the message is still excellent advice regardless of when it was given:

"Be good, keep your chin up and be your best.
love ya, dad"

I'm trying, Dad. On all three counts, I'm trying.


Monday, June 17, 2013

The 2000 Things challenge: part 2

by linus_art via Flickr
A few weeks ago, I began my 2000 Things decluttering challenge. How have I been doing lately? Well, life got pretty crazy there for a second. I've been working long hours to meet deadlines and a new love interest has sauntered into my life, so I've had very little free time to do my regular errands and things, let alone extra projects. But! I still managed, in the extra seconds I've had at my disposal, to get rid of a few more things and identify things I need to work on using up.

I got rid of:

  • a box of tea that only had one teabag left in it (I used the teabag to make a cup of tea before I recycled the box)
  • a compact of blush that I finally used up
  • a pot of lipgloss that I've had since high school (seriously)
  • 5 samples I had received in the mail that had been lying around for awhile
  • a broken spray bottle that I finally got a replacement for
  • a nearly empty bottle of hand soap that needed to be emptied into my soap dispenser

Compared to my initial 189 items, these 10 look measly, but progress is still progress, no matter how small.

I think that it is potentially just as important to work on getting rid of things as it is to actually get rid of them. For example, I have some containers of lotion that need to go, so I've been trying to remember to use them whenever I can. Also, I've been trying to finish a jigsaw puzzle and work through some really ancient crossword puzzle books so they can go out the door too. It's not possible to throw everything out immediately when you identify it as something you no longer what or need, so making it a priority to use up is crucial. Otherwise, it's just going to continue to sit there.

My grand total thus far: 199 items. 


Friday, June 14, 2013

Darkest skies

by fabioricco via Flickr
“It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” - Richard Evans

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

From the archives: patience

by acousticskyy via Flickr
Sometimes, especially when I feel down, I like to go back and read things I wrote when I was a teenager. I wrote this entry in 2003 when I was starting to date my second boyfriend. He wound up breaking my heart. As I ease myself back into dating, this is a nice reminder to have patience with the process.

i haven't felt this way in such a long time, this intoxication from happiness. i keep thinking of what happened the last time, how badly i got hurt and how careless i was. am i ready for this? have the wounds healed enough for me to get involved with someone? i'm so scared, of almost everything. i just don't know what to do. i know how i feel. and i know what i'll be getting into. i don't know if i could handle another heartache in such a short amount of time from the last. the desires of my heart keep contradicting the reason in my mind and i'm left completely confused and frustrated. ugh! to be 16 and have your heart flying is not the easiest thing in the world to deal with. it's such a shame i have the past blocking something that could turn out to be wonderful. how could i have been so stupid? i was such an incompetent freshman girl. who knows, i still might be just as incompetent. this though, this is different. the situation is quite different. and i do know better, at least i hope i do. i just wish that there was some clear cut answer amongst all of this confusion. this intense attraction is not exactly helping the circumstance any, it's only making it more difficult to find a solution. i could so easily fall head over heels for him, no stopping me, completely jump into this. but i can't. if i'm going to do this, i want it to be progressive and slow, i don't want to rush into this. that would completely ruin this wonderful chance i have. the very last thing that i want to do is completely screw this up by rushing and not being patient. if this is going to be, i want to take it slow and savor every moment. i want to be content with just holding his hand and being close to him. i don't want to move on until i am entirely satisfied.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Things that I love: beach wine

Ending a super stressful week by sharing a bottle of wine on the beach with a cute boy is my new favorite thing.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Be where you are

via Free People

"As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life." -Siddhārtha Gautama


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The artist's daughter

This past weekend, I visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) because it was the last weekend they were going to be open before they closed for 3 or 4 years for a major expansion. My interest in art coupled with the knowledge that my dad would have loved to go further propelled me to make the effort to visit.

The museum was incredibly crowded because they offered free admission to everyone on their last days. I slid in and out of the groups of people to see photography exhibits, dystopian architecture drawings, and even some Matisse before I drifted into the rooms of abstract paintings. My dad was primarily an abstract painter and was incredibly influenced by Richard Diebenkorn (who just so happened to live the Bay Area for a large chunk of his life and so his paintings are found all over around here). Going into the museum, I was worried that I would be flooded with memories of my dad, but the way that the museum was arranged, I got distracted and kind of got lulled into a false sense of security. That is, until I went through a room of nothing but Clyfford Still and then, bam, turned my head to see this Rothko:

No. 14, picture from Wikipedia

I don't know if it was the radiating orange glow or the sudden realization that I was in a room full of my dad's idols, but tears flooded my eyes and I had to turn around and sit down on a bench in front of a Clyfford Still to minimize the number of people who saw me breakdown. 

On one hand, it's wonderful to have an artist father since he left so much of himself behind for us to cherish forever. On the other hand, knowing what inspired him and having his work at hand makes for a lot of gut punching moments of sadness. 

Diebenkorn's daughter is giving a lecture in a few weeks to kick off a special Diebenkorn exhibit at the De Young Museum. My dad would have killed to attend these events and so I am planning to go and enjoy the experiences, regardless of the potential tears I will cry and how much of a tool I'll make myself look. Maybe I'll even manage to tell Diebenkorn's daughter about how inspired my dad was by her dad and bond over being daughters of artists. 


Monday, June 3, 2013

Life happenings

by pocait via Flickr
So, how was May for you guys? May was a bit of a tough month for me because having a birthday so close to losing a parent is pretty damn hard. I had many friends and family members reach out and make me feel special, so it wasn't a complete downer. Also, after visiting Boston for my conference, I was able to spread my dad's ashes with my brother, sister in law, and extended family. While it was harder than I thought it would be, I was able to find some closure through the act and mourn properly, so it was a necessary step in this whole process. Work's been stressing me out and will continue to be very stressful this week. June is looking like it's got some potential, so hopefully this summer won't be a complete loss.

On to some fun links I found this month:

This butt poking gif found on Twitter made me laugh.

Have a bunch of memberships that offer discounts at different places, but it's hard to remember them or keep them straight? This writeup at Lifehacker about Larky, a website that reminds you of the discounts you're entitled to, might be of interest.

A collection of 10 obscure museums around the world.

What not to say to a librarian. Hint: avoid Dewey Decimal jokes.

Sexy men and adorable cats imitating each other? Yes, please.

Gorgeous aerial footage of San Francisco.

To remember if/when I visit LA: an ultimate cheapskate guide to Los Angeles.


Friday, May 31, 2013

Be kind

via Pinterest

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." -Plato


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dating lately

by 23236076@N06 via Flickr
Tell my love to wreck it all
Cut out all the ropes and let me fall


I've been working on a jigsaw puzzle for the last few months and I find myself having some deep thinks as I shuffle through the pieces, trying to arrange them into their full, predestined picture (which is fitting considering that's what I'm trying to do with my life in general). On my more sullen days, as I turn the pieces this way and that, I tend to think about how lonely I am and how my dad is probably worrying about me being taken care of, but how I can't really imagine being in a relationship right now. At the same time, I find myself to be a little dissatisfied with the lack of depth I have with the two guys I've been seeing casually lately. Which brings me back to feeling lonely. In my really morose moments, those thoughts devolve into how I kind of want kids (clock is ticking after all), but how can I justify bringing someone into this world to only have them deal with the pain I'm dealing with right now when I die?

In the end, my dad always just wanted me to be happy. If I started talking about doing something that he couldn't quickly see would lead to my happiness or betterment, he would ask me why I was even bothering. Now that he's not here to check me on that, I've got to do it myself. 


I know that it's nearly pointless to question why I want to get married or have kids in the wake of my dad's passing. My knee jerk reaction is clearly tainted by my recent over sensitivity to mortality. I know it's senseless to think about denying myself the full range of the human experience because I'm afraid of going down this path again and wondering how the hell I could ever withstand this much pain again. But that still hasn't stopped me from thinking about how awful it would be to have a husband and to have children and then die, forcing them in my current position. It just seems so selfish. But, I mean, I already have friends and my other family members who are still alive that would have to go through that if I were to die right now, so, since I can't spare everyone, why even bother trying to spare anyone? At this point, my thoughts tend to spiral into nonsense. I think it just goes back to the happiness question. Would I be happier starting a family and setting them up for devastation or would I be happier abstaining from the whole thing?

Ultimately, I know myself well enough to know that I don't think I could remain single for that long even if I tried. I couple easily and naturally, so I don't really stand a chance dying as an old maid.

Also, I know I can take care of myself. I'm far too independent and stubborn to melt into complete worthlessness. My dad, ultimately, knew/knows that as well. But as a dad, he always worried about me. He constantly wanted reassurance that I was doing okay, that my plane didn't crash, that my boyfriend was treating me well, that work was treating me well, that I arrived at my destination. Every time I've been in an airport since his death, it takes all the strength I can muster to resist the urge to text him to update him on my travel plans. He didn't say it, but I'm sure he worried about me finding a good man to take care of me in the event that I couldn't take care of myself. 

I think it's natural, given the circumstances, that my feelings have been oscillating wildly between "I want to be alone forever" and "I want to marry the next guy who looks at me." Once I start acting on either one of those thoughts it will be time to worry about my state of mind. I've been going on dates and enjoying myself as much as I can, which is a good sign. I am incredibly wary of meeting someone entirely new and starting to date though. I think it has something to do with the fact that I feel as though something fundamental in me has changed and I haven't completely been able to wrap my head around that change yet. I think it's kind of dishonest to date without really knowing who you are and what you bring to the table, so I'm backing away from clean starts for right now. Also, I'm kind of damaged goods right now and I don't think it's fair to burden someone with all of that from the start.

While I recognize that the people who care about me the most won't view this as being burdened, I know that it's hard for my friends right now because there's really nothing that anyone can say or do to make me feel better or to make the situation better. Hardly any of my friends have had to deal with losing a parent yet, so that makes it doubly hard because barely anyone knows what this feels like. I don't know if it's insecurity or humility or insanity, but I hate to be a burden on anyone for any reason (I think the real root of this has to do with my mom and how she's treated me, as a burden, for the majority of my life). It's not that I've been keeping everything in or hidden, but I've definitely been careful not to completely unload on anyone. I think it's partially because I don't want anyone to feel this kind of pain that I've been feeling, but the awful thing is that almost everyone will at some point. I guess I'm just trying to save everyone from a sneak peek of their future. Granted, if they're lucky, they won't have to do this for at least another 20-30 years (which is insane to me and just underscores how fucking unfair this all is).

The most marked change I've noticed in how I relate to guys is that I'm only comfortable with certain kinds of vulnerability. While I usually love to cuddle and be cuddled, I've been putting up walls when it comes to signs of affection. I feel as though I will completely break down if I allow myself to be comforted in that way and I don't want to break down like that in general, but especially not around guys who aren't going to be around for a long time. I don't want to give up that part of myself easily. I don't really know what I'm afraid of. I just know that right now the thought of a man loving me and caring for me in that way is incredibly painful and uncomfortable.

The super negative side of me is telling me that I will never get over this and that I will die alone because of how deeply this will scar me. The super positive side of me is telling me that there's a man out there who will understand completely and will want me to be as happy as my dad wanted me to be, who will cry when I cry about the fact that my dad isn't there to share in our happiness. The realistic side of me is telling me that the immediate future will continue to be really hard, but that I will get through this one way or another, the pieces will fit together naturally one at a time, and that I'll be lucky to find a guy who is half the man that I'm dreaming of.

In sum, everything is a complete mess and I'm struggling to find a balance, but no matter how lonely I feel, I know I am not alone. I have far too many great people in my life for me to be neglected for too long.


Monday, May 27, 2013

The 2000 Things challenge: part 1

In the beginning of April, I interviewed TC from the blog, The 2000 Things. She has a yearly goal to purge 2000 things from her home. I was inspired by her quest and figured, despite my strides to live a simplified life, I could probably find a good number of things to get rid of too. Since I live by myself and just moved into a small one bedroom apartment (and got rid of a number of things before I moved), I doubt I can reach 2000 things, but that won't stop me from seeing how many things I can find.

Since my dad passed away in April, I've just kind of been throwing my mail and a random assortment of papers on top of my bookshelf to deal with later. This is how it looked before I cleaned it off:

Yikes

I figured this was the perfect place to start my 2000 things challenge. I had been putting off going through these papers because there were a lot of sympathy cards and paperwork related to my father's passing mixed in and I just didn't want to pick at that healing wound. My dislike for clutter won out though and I hunkered down to sort it all out.

I have a general problem controlling paper clutter, so unfortunately, my bookshelf starts to resemble a more toned down version of this pretty often. I need to find a better system to deal with paper in the near future and am open to suggestions.

After I finished going through the items on top of my bookshelf, I went through some of the cubbies in my bookshelf, another little stand I have in my living room, and a pile of things I had gotten from the conference I went to recently. Since this was my first time doing this challenge and I didn't want to spend all day at it, I wasn't looking for much beyond what I could easily throw away or recycle. The next time I pass through my living room, I'll be more focused on items I can donate or sell. Despite my focus on toss-ables, I did manage to find a few items to donate, most of which came from my car before I sold it and which are pictured here:

I highly doubt I'll need an ice scraper in the Bay Area, don't you agree?

I also found some colored pencils I no longer use and plan to give them to a friend or coworker's kids. 

So, how did I do? Here's the pile of junk I decided to throw away or recycle (plus those colored pencils):

Not too shabby for only about 2 hours of work

As part of the challenge, TC tallies up her efforts, so I did the same and came up with, drumroll please:

!


189 items! 

Can't wait to continue the challenge to see how many more things I can find to get rid of.

Have you ever kept track of how many things you intentionally get rid of to declutter and simplify your home?


Friday, May 24, 2013

Truth

via Pinterest? I forget

"Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes."


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Things that I love: bouquets

by doug88888 via Flickr
Not one, but two sweet people gave me bouquets of flowers for my birthday this week. You can't help but smile when you look at flowers and I needed all the smiles I could get to help find the positive in celebrating a birthday when half the reason why you're alive is no longer here.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Boston in a nutshell

I jetted off to Boston for a conference in the beginning of this month. While I spent the majority of my time inside the conference center attending meetings and sessions, I did manage to explore the city a little bit. The last time I was in Boston was in 2005 for a day trip with my best friend, so I was well overdue for another visit.

I found a phenomenal place to stay through Airbnb that was only a few blocks away from the convention center. My room was on the third floor of an historic row home and had a rooftop deck that had a great view of the city skyline. The woman who owned the house was such a sweet and interesting person. I wish I had more time to sit and chat with her while I was there. I really cannot recommend Airbnb enough to anyone who's looking for affordable and alternative places to stay while traveling.

Here were some highlights from my short visit to Boston (which, sadly, did not include a baseball game at Fenway):

I crashed a vendor party that was thrown at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Being served hors d'oeuvres and champagne while circling an indoor garden and listening to a harpist is quite an experience. This woman's eclectic collection and home reminded me very much of the European museums, castles, and estates that I've visited in my time.

I dedicated the morning of my last full day in Boston to walking around the Back Bay area of the city. I saw Northeastern's campus (artsy), the marathon memorial in Copley Square (a tearjerker), Boston Public Garden (in full bloom and especially goregous), and Boston Common (playing second fiddle to the garden). By some stroke of luck, I was in the public garden for the annual tradition of returning the swans to the lake for the summer. The parade and marching band were a great surprise to witness.

I ate very well while I was in Beantown. The top restaurant I went to was Stephanie's on Newbury. I had the very rich and very delicious lobster pot pie.


I found myself very comfortable in Boston. It seemed like a really good sized city with a lot to offer. I hope to visit again soon.

What are some of your favorite Boston haunts?


Friday, May 17, 2013

Will

via Pinterest

"Life has many ways of testing a person's will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once." -Paulo Coelho


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

From the archives: Dad's coffee mug

by drawcity via Flickr
Sometimes, especially when I feel down, I like to go back and read things I wrote when I was a teenager. This entry, written in 2004, made me break down in tears. My dad's coffee mug is currently sitting in my living room, watching over me.

Did you ever take a second to look at something that is so familiar to you, something you've seen practically everyday since you can remember, and really look at it? For the first time, you actually see its details and realize that maybe things wouldn't be the same if that object were never there to begin with.

My dad has always sipped his coffee from the same set of mugs since I was a wee tot. The set consisted of either 4 or 6 mugs that my grandma (my mom's mom) gave to my parents in the late '70s sometime when they were married, but now only one remains (just think crash, bang, boom). It's kind of odd that over all the years I've seen this mug and my dad drink from it, I never really looked at it much, nor consciously acknowledged its details. I looked at it tonight when I was finishing my dinner. It's white and stained. Inside there's dark brown coffee stains that fill in the enamel cracks that have formed over the years. Some of the stains appear in rings with scratch marks from stirring spoons through them, revealing the mug's true color. Outside there's mostly unidentifiable spots; some paint smears, some coffee drips and age is a thin film along the creases of the handle and the rims of the mug. The design is perhaps one of the least masculine there is and some may think it strange that I would associate its image with my father. The only remaining mug has hand-drawn red plums on the front and handwriting on the back. I always see the plum side because my dad is left-handed, therefore the most appealing side is facing away from him. The plums are on a branch with plum blossoms in bloom. The handwriting is in cursive and looks as though a woman wrote it. I've never read what it says, but I know that it's about those depicted red plums. One day I should read it when the mug is lying unused on the counter, next to the coffee machine.


Along with my dad's paintings, drawings, and other various artwork, I want that mug to remain when he passes on. I hope to place it on a shelf somewhere, perhaps on a bookcase, and leave it stained and spotted, exactly how it looks today. The one thing that pops into my mind when I think of my father is not paint or abstract art, but that coffee mug. I will probably cry if it is ever broken because it is the one thing that conjures up memories of my father over the whole span of my life, from when I was three up until an hour ago. It's like the timeless object ever-present in my memories of my father. 


One day, I should seek out those other mugs that were broken sometime along the way and give them as a gift to my father. I think he would enjoy that.



Monday, May 13, 2013

Reader questions

From time to time, a reader will reach out to me via email to share their story and ask me for some advice. I think that sharing my response on the blog while maintaining the reader's anonymity could benefit other readers and perhaps even spark some further advice in the comments. I received the following email from a reader about what to do about her brother who is currently living in the hoard (some details have been omitted):

Dear Sarah,

I am also the daughter of a hoarder. I have been on my own for many years now, but my mom's life choices still seem to come to mind every holiday time, especially when finals are here (I'm sure you can relate). Tonight I felt compelled to stop ignoring the situation and do something. I googled hoarding. It feels strange now, realizing that I've never actually done it. All these years..and I'm just finally trying to find some support, to maybe connect with people that have been there. I came across the COH website, and your self interview. 

What has me really thinking was lately realizing all my discarded hobbies and passions, that I've always known stemmed from my childhood. And this gets me thinking about my brothers; my full concern is my 14 year old brother. He lives there with my mom and her husband (along with 3 or 4 cats). The house last I peeped was worse than ever. All I could think about tonight is what he must be going through alone in that house, and how guilty I feel for not trying to do something for him. I know how hopeless I felt at that age. The beginning to the end of your childhood, there is so much pressure to perform and become this amazing individual. Yet being the child of a hoarder, that potential is buried somewhere among the clutter. This is how I see it. 

I am terrified of him feeling like I did for those last years. I am terrified of him not living to his fullest potential because of his current environment. It seems like such a waste of a young brilliant kid. I see him struggling when I get a chance to go visit. I see him shutting off and I know he has so much in him but I'm afraid of her killing him (in not such a literal sense). I just need to reach out and find an outlet to help me, to help my family...Hopefully make something change, even just for the sake of this awesome kid. 

I really don't know where to begin, or even how to proceed in this situation. I am really just looking for anything, something to start turning things around. 

Here was my response:

I'm honored that you felt comfortable enough to share your situation with me, so thank you for reaching out. I understand so very much of what you feel and think about your life and your situation.

Knowing how hard it was for me as a teenage child of a hoarder, my heart simply breaks for your younger brother. I personally do not know a teenager currently living in a hoard, but I have some ideas based on my personal experiences that might help both you and your brother.

I think that it's incredibly important to talk to your brother about the situation, so my suggestion for getting started would be to start a conversation with him. Make sure that he knows that it is absolutely not his fault that the house is in the condition that it's in. Talk to him about how you felt living there and what you did to cope with the situation. It's very important that he does not feel like he is alone and that he knows that someone else has been there. He may not talk much, but I think having him hear what you have to say would be helpful. Let him know that you're there to listen and that he should not be afraid to ask for help. 

I would highly encourage him to pursue his hobbies and interests, especially the ones that take him outside of the house. If he can redirect his attention and passion to something constructive and fun, it will make life more bearable for him. Also, it may help build a future for him down the road outside of the home (if he likes basketball, he could work hard at it and get a basketball scholarship to a university so he can leave home, etc.). Having a part-time job would also get him out of the house and start some skill building. 

I'm not sure how close you live to your mom's house and, as a working student, I know that you're busy, but if at all possible, it might be good to set a date once a week/month/whatever that can be reserved just for the two of you to spend time together outside of your mom's house. Maybe he could even stay a night or a weekend at your place so he can see that you were able to get past living in a hoard and have a normal life and also so that he can experience being in a normal home. I know I felt like I was in paradise when I got to spend the weekend at my dad's house since it made me feel more normal. 

I would highly encourage counseling for anyone. It wasn't until I spiraled downward rapidly that I finally spoke to someone. It truly made all the difference.

I hope my suggestions have at least helped a little bit. I wish the best for your family.


Do any readers have further advice to offer?