Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Life happenings

by finlap via Flickr
It's hard to believe that March is only a few days away. February simply flew by for me!

I've noticed that I usually feel exhausted and antisocial when I get home from work. It feels as though I am working way more now than I did at my old job even though I am working the same number of hours. Maybe I'm just working harder and that's why I feel the way that I do. Regardless, all work and no play is dull.

I've been busy settling into routines and learning my way around my job and city. I'm slowly making friends and being more social. I've even seen an out of town friend a few time whose job and family bring her to the area often (hi, Jen! :-).

I'm trying to be patient with myself and my situation. I'm inclined to tell people who ask that things are going fine, probably as well as they could be going. If I were more honest (pessimistic?), I would say that I'm not loving it, but I'm not hating it either. Most days, I don't really feel like my whole and complete self. My heart is on the east coast while my body is on the west. Missing a lot of people is draining on the spirit.

A coworker invited me to join her book club and for February we read Beyond the Beautiful Forevers which was an engaging, but very sad book about an Indian slum. I'm now reading a biography about the marriage of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning called Dared and Done. I'm about halfway through and reading their letters to one another makes me want to write everyone letters instead of emails and just write in general.

This is my sad, play on repeat jam these days. Really, Waxahatchee's whole album would suit you well if you're looking for something slow and depressing to listen to. The singer, Katie Crutchfield, reminds me of a female Kevin Devine.

What have I enjoyed on the internet lately? Let's see:

I'm a big Downton Abbey fan and have been entertained by this Sesame Street parody and googly eyed Edith.

Grumpy Cat always delights. This time he's dissing Michelangelo and here he is hating on The Beatles.

The 15th century equivalent of your cat walking on your keyboard

Hoping for a great new month ahead!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Beauty in the breakdown

Two weeks ago, I got into my car to go grocery shopping, but when I turned the key, my car wouldn't start. My battery was dead. I hadn't been running my car enough and so my battery wasn't holding a charge. I called my insurance company and they sent out a person to jump it. If you've ever gotten your car jumped, you'll know that you typically have to drive your car for at least 20 minutes in order to charge your battery enough so that it'll start when you turn your car off and on again.

I was on my way to go grocery shopping and I had a million other things to do that day, so the thought of having to drive around for at least 20 minutes was not appealing. Not at all. It felt like such a waste of time. But I had to do it if I didn't want to have to call them again to jump my car in the grocery story parking lot.

So, off I went, past the grocery store, and I continued driving aimlessly, not having the least idea of where I was going in this new city. I wound up going north and decided to head for some hills instead of the highway. I found my way into a nice development and decided to turn around at the top of the highest hill since I'd been driving for at least 15 minutes. As I headed back down toward the city, I was greeted by this gorgeous view of the Bay Area. I stopped my grumbling immediately and was simply in awe of what I had stumbled upon. I had no idea that this view was behind me while I was complaining about traveling forward up into the hills. If my car battery hadn't died, I probably never would have found my way up into these hills to see this view.

In this case, it would have been nearly impossible for me to miss the silver lining of my situation. Often times, it's not as easy to see the positives when life doesn't seem to be going your way. It's easier to get mad or upset about being inconvenienced instead of finding the opportunities, the humor, the beauty in the chaos. But it's there. You just have to look for it and be willing to see it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Virtual clutter

by mikemcilveen via Flickr
It should come as no surprise to you that I hate clutter. I have a pretty low tolerance for stuff lying around my living spaces and don't generally like useless things that fill up space. I find that it's hard for me to think and be efficient if I'm surrounded by things in disarray. I tend to feel very frazzled and go in circles, physically and mentally, when there's just too much around me.

While it's not as immediately obvious as actual, physical things in front of me, sometimes I find myself feeling overwhelmed and circling and I'll realize it's because I have too much virtual clutter demanding my attention: email, text messages, voice mails, friends on social media. When I find this is the case, I take a few extra minutes to get it organized. How? Here's my general plan of attack:

  • Delete the obvious: an email with an expired coupon code; an invitation for a past event; spam; texts from an ex; a one night stand's phone number; a voicemail reminder from your doctor's office for last month's visit; a person you friended on Facebook, but haven't seen or talked to in a year (or find their updates particularly annoying). Delete! Just get it out of your life. 
  • File away the important, but not urgent stuff: create folders and or tags and use them! Did a friend email you a long article that you'd like to read, but don't think you'll get around to it this week? Put it in a "too read later" folder. Just bought something online and they emailed you the receipt? File it away in a receipts folder. This stuff doesn't need to be in your sight every time you check your email.
  • Act on things that need to be done: Need to pay a bill that you just got an email about? Pay it. Did an invite come in that needs to be added to your calendar? Add it. A la Getting Things Done, if it takes less than 2 minutes, just do it right when it enters your radar and then either delete or file away the corresponding message. 
  • Hold on to the good stuff: the things left over should be things that bring you joy to see. Keep that text and or voicemail from your significant other that gives you butterflies, the encouraging email from your best friend. When you're having a bad day, seeing these bits of greatness snuggled in between more daunting things can really make a difference.
  • One last bit of advice: less stuff coming in means there will be less stuff to pile up and create clutter for you. If you find yourself barely looking at an email subscription or newsletter that comes in, be sure to unsubscribe. Find all of those social media notifications annoying? Change your preferences so you don't get emails or alerts on your phone every time someone breathes while they're using Facebook.
I know that none of this is rocket science, but I find that I start to feel like it's normal to be completely inundated with useless virtual notices if I'm not constantly reminded that my mind is much more at ease when I get my online life organized and less in my face all of the time. 

Speaking of which, my email is in disperate need of inbox zero. Guess what my weekend project is? :-)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The art of being happy

"The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things." -Henry Ward Beecher

Monday, February 18, 2013

Someday is Today: Making new friends

Everywhere I've ever gone in life, I've managed to make friends. Every summer camp session, every international trip, every school. Despite being a natural introvert, I do have the human desire to be well liked and agreeable.

Since moving to California, I have managed to meet a few people who may very well turn into friends. Most of these people have fallen into my lap though, with very little effort on my part.

Over the course of the next few months, I want to put considerable effort into making new friends. I've been making the excuse that I've been too busy getting adjusted and settled to meet people. Well, that sounds like a very poorly disguised cover up for fear and laziness. So! I'm going to be social, damn it, and start making this place feel like home.

For the people who have already reached out to me (a coworker, a neighbor, a guy I met at a bar), I need to stay in contact with them and propose things to do instead of expecting them to always make the first move. If it turns out that I don't have a good connection with any of them, I shouldn't feel bad or try to force a lukewarm friendship. Just put my efforts into other friendships.

For the two people I know already who are living in the area (an acquaintance from Richmond and a distance relative), I need to send them messages and or emails to propose hanging out and actually see it through. Again, if these turn out to be a poor use of my time, keep on keeping on.

Lastly, I need to pursue ways to meet people. I am a member of MeetUp and have joined various groups, but I have yet to attend any events. I need to place more of a priority on being active in these groups. I've been meaning to sign up for a gym to swim and attend yoga classes. Perhaps I could meet people there. Keep brainstorming and looking for ways to meet likeminded people. Think of social ways to pursue my hobbies and interests I will no doubt encounter some good people.

What ways have you successfully made friends in a new city?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Just do it

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Interview series: Rae

My children of hoarders interview series continues with fellow blogger, Rae, from Not Just Clutter.

My name is Rae, and I’m the daughter of a hoarder. I try not to let that define me, but my blog is all about my relationship with a compulsive hoarder. Otherwise, I’m happily married, with 2 beautiful daughters, and have a great career. I’m creative and love to sew, read, and pursue photography. And yet I struggle with my Mother’s mental illness. My blog is where I try to sort out my feelings about the situation, and deal with the stress of trying to help someone who doesn’t want it.

Whenever I discuss compulsive hoarding with others, I find they think it’s just slightly more than average untidiness. They’re amazed to learn how serious it is, and how devastating the results can be for the family of someone with the disorder. They watch the shows like Hoarders or Buried Alive, and are disgusted. Often, they’re compelled to go and purge some of their own belongings, or clean their fridge. ”How can anyone possibly live like that?” they ask me. ”Why don’t they just throw the garbage away? They’re just being lazy.” Well, that’s just not the case.

And so explains the name of my blog…I want to give you a personal view so you’ll see it’s ‘not just clutter.’

Do you have any hoarding tendencies? I'd like to say no. But there are times when I'm faced with decluttering something and I have to talk myself into tossing it away. I can easily put emotional value on something, but then I let my analytical side kick in and get me past it.

Is there a history of hoarding in your family? If so, who else hoards? I don't think there's a history of hoarding. My maternal grandmother kept her home very tidy and didn't seem to have too much of anything extra laying around. Despite that, I suspect being the youngest child in a poor family with a drunken father probably had a big part in my Mom's mental health development.

What are your mom's favorite things to hoard? Mom loves to keep anything crafty. Vintage or modern patterns (especially if they're doll-related), bits of antique lace, scraps of leather, and wool. She's got the tools and supplies for just about any handicraft you can imagine. She's actually very talented, and her "craftiness" is definitely a bit part of her identity. Now that she has eliminated all useable work space and her own physical health has deteriorated, she doesn't do any of her projects anymore....that hasn't kept her from collecting more though. You know, for "someday."

Craft supplies aside, she has also kept all the stuff I left there when I moved out, and all of my Dad's stuff. He passed away almost 7 years ago but she still has all his clothes, and everything from his concrete lawn ornament business. She also loves the thrill of the hunt. If she hears that someone is even casually looking for something specific, she is on the job! Which is sometimes cool, but other times unnecessary. And if you express an interest in something, she loves to add to YOUR own collection. When I took up sewing as a hobby, she loaded me up with all sorts of sewing manuals and fabrics that were outdated and not my style.

How has your relationship with your mom changed since you moved out of the hoard? We used to be really close and I'd look forward to our weekly calls. Now, I almost don't want to be bothered because all she wants to talk about is the people she meets at her favourite thrift store and what deals she scored there. I find our conversation is very shallow now. I don't feel like sharing as much with her anymore because she's lost touch with reality. I miss the vibrant, creative woman that used to be my mother. I suspect she's in there somewhere, but buried under all her piles of stuff. I wonder if I actually have it in me to dig her out, or if it's even possible.

How does your relationship with your mom differ from your sister’s? My sister has less patience than I do, and I think could walk away from Mom and never deal with her again. One major thing both my sister and I notice is that Mom's hoarding problem ends up being the main topic any time we chat. It's so totally consuming. I think that's something people don't realize when they think about mental illness. It really does become a focus and distraction for all the loved ones.

How did your dad handle the hoarding while he was alive? Did his death trigger worse hoarding behavior? In his last few years, I think Dad started to contribute to the hoard in his own way. He had a few things he collected, but nothing was ever put on display, it was just piled on the table. The hoarding started before his death, but it certainly took over after he passed. I can imagine why...suddenly finding yourself alone in a big house after being married for over 40 years, and before you know it, you're filling the void with stuff.

Who else, besides your sister, knows about your mom’s hoard? Mom's physician, who is also my Sisters physician. Mom doesn't know she knows. We also have a family friend who is close to Mom who is aware, and it's often from her we learn extra details to Mom's life that she doesn't tell us. It takes communication between this family friend, my sister, and myself to figure out the truth of any story Mom tells us.

Do you think you have a stronger relationship with your sister because you survived living in the hoard together? Do you two talk about your mom’s hoarding? We talk about it alllll the time. Ad nauseum, really. We sick of it, but we're always just racking our brains about how to handle it. My relationship with my sister has waxed and waned over the years depending on what's happening in our individual lives. We didn't live in the hoard like it exists today. When we were kids, the house was always cluttered and untidy. It took a lot of work from the whole family to get the main rooms ready for guests.

When did you first realize that your mom's behavior was abnormal? As I got into high school, I think. I wanted to bring friends home to hang out, but didn't dare without trying to do a major clean up. I usually ended up spending more time at other's houses. It was always so refreshing that I could drop in at any time and be welcomed. That would never happen at our house; we had doorbell dread. After I moved away for college, it got worse. It wasn't until years and years later and I saw Oprah discuss hoarding on her show that I realized that Mom's untidiness was more complicated. I called my sister and told her about it, and suddenly lots of things started to click into place for us.

When were you able to disassociate yourself from the shame of hoarding and begin opening up about it? In the last few years I've noticed compulsive hoarding getting more and more attention in the media. Often the response by the public is disgust and scorn. I wanted to step forward and start creating a better awareness about hoarders and their relatives. I want everyone to remember when they see shows like Hoarders, those are real people with real emotions and people who love them.

Have you ever sought any kind of therapy for dealing with your mom and living in a hoard? Writing my blog IS my therapy. It's been a huge help. Once I type out what's bothering me and hit publish, it's wonderfully liberating. It doesn't solve my Mom's living conditions, but it gets it all off my chest.

Do you have any hope that your mom will eventually stop hoarding? Why or why not? I have no hope about this. Mom lacks any level of insight that she has a problem. She would need to finally admit she needs help and then attend extensive therapy.

What is the most disgusting or interesting thing you encountered in the hoard? I know my sister found a mouse floating in the toilet there once. I also know Mom had a problem with wild critters getting into the house and creating a huge mess in the kitchen. I suspect that's never been fully sanitized.

What is at least one positive thing you were able to glean from living in a hoard and dealing with your mom? That's a tough question. There's lots you don't get while living with a hoarder, like how to properly clean a home, cook a meal, or organize anything. I suppose one good thing I've learned from being the daughter of a hoarder is empathy for anyone dealing with mental illness in their family.

What are some ways you coped with living in a hoard? I had moved away before it really got serious. But as a kid, there was always stuff all over the place. If you wanted to use a table, you had to clear it first. I cleaned the bathroom sink and bathtub myself. But because I didn't know any better, I just wiped them down with wads of toilet paper. I didn't know any better.

What are some ways your sister coped with living in a hoard? My sister is 10 years older than I am, so she moved out way before I did.

Do you have any advice for others currently living in a hoard or trying to cope with their HP? Remember that there's a real person behind that hoard. Probably the trickiest thing is not getting resentful they're picking stuff over you...I really don't believe they would if it weren't for the mental illness. And most importantly, it's not your problem to figure out. You're not to blame, you're not the cause of it, and you are not doomed to living the life of a hoarder, too. And most importantly, you're not alone.

Thank you, Rae, for sharing your experiences! If you are a child of a hoarder and are interested in being interviewed over email, please shoot me a message!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Living alone

by hryckowian via Flickr
Living alone is a funny thing. When you spent the majority of your life in a sea of rotting filth with a person who was supposed to be taking care of you, the act of living in a space that is entirely for you and filled with only the things you put there is a foreign concept.

I decided to live alone when I moved to California because I was entirely sick of living with other people. I've had great experiences with roommates (my college roommate and then a college friend who moved to Richmond) and I've had not so great experiences (an uptight short term roommate and, most recently, my dad's girlfriend). I didn't feel like taking any chances with complete strangers, especially when my two cats would be involved, so living alone was the most appealing option for me.

I lived alone a few years ago after I broke up with my ex-fiance and moved out of the apartment that we shared. I remember feeling a lot of things then that I've been feeling now in terms of adjusting to living solo. Sure, it can be lonely and quiet and boring at times, but it can also be exhilarating. Not having to deal with other people's idiosyncrasies on a daily basis is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

One thing I've noticed that is very different now from when I lived alone the first time is that I feel much more interested in decorating my apartment and making it feel like home. I've been looking at curtains and bedskirts and actually caring about things matching and establishing color schemes. I never even hung pictures in my last one bedroom. I think being in a brand new city where I know practically no one has me looking more inward and placing more importance in creating a safe haven for myself. It's rare that I've been able to think of my home as a truly relaxing place, so being able to do so now has me operating in full nesting mode.

Have any children of hoarders who are reading ever live alone? Did you enjoy it?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cross country road trip notes: wrap up

Now that I've shared lots of pictures and details from Jess's and my cross country road trip (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 if you missed them), I thought a wrap up would be in order.

Even though, it was at times, tiring, trying, or inconvenient, I do not regret deciding to drive cross country over flying. I knew that this was a rare opportunity to see so many things I had never seen before and it may just have been a now or never situation. I like to keep the coulda, shoulda, wouldas to a minimum, so really, it wasn't much of a decision to make so much as a plan to make.

One of my primary concerns was how my cats would handle the trip. They were the biggest reason why I almost didn't drive. I thought of all the worse case scenarios and planned accordingly. But you know what? They were great. There were no accidents and no real incidents. They slept most of the time they were in the car and put up with being in their carriers for hours on end. If I didn't already spoil them, I would spoil them incessantly for being so good.

I think one of the best decisions I made in planning the trip was inviting Jess to come with me. Jess and I were college roommates, so we know that we can share a small space together without going crazy or hating each other. She's a good driver, a great traveler, a cat lover, and we have similar interests. All of these things made the trip very smooth. We also hadn't seen each other in awhile, so we had plenty to talk about and catch up on. She was awesome (especially considering her bout of food poisoning) and I'm so glad we got to share the experience together.

I'm really glad that Jess and I didn't overload our schedule with a lot of stops. We missed seeing a few sights we would have liked to see, but doing so allowed us to keep our sanity and or health in tact. It's impossible to see everything the United States has to offer in nine days, but I like to think we did a bang up job since everything we did see was amazing. I lost track of how many times I exclaimed, "Oh my god" and "wow" and "holy shit" and "you're kidding me." My mind was blown almost everyday. It was an intense nine days.

Driving across the country was one of my many lofty plans for things to do one day. I didn't really think it was ever going to happen and I certainly didn't think it was going to happen when it did. But so many things that I did over the last couple of years culminated in me being able to do this trip: working in libraries, deciding to get my masters, earning my masters, moving to my dad's, applying for the job in California, kicking ass in the interview, saving money. I was planting the seeds and I didn't even know it.

Life is awesome, you guys. Take advantage of opportunities while they're in front of you, especially if they will take you somewhere new.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Like a shadow

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” -Buddha

Monday, February 4, 2013

Cross country road trip notes: part 4

Continued from parts 1, 2, and 3.

After Vegas and the Hoover Dam, we drove into California with Phantom Planet's "California" blaring on repeat because, really, when else would we have an opportunity to do that again? (For the curious, we also listened to an unhealthy amount of Ke$ha and "Call Me Maybe" during the trip because belting out and laughing to ridiculous pop music seemed to make the miles go by quicker and raise morale.) We stopped in wine country for the night and unfortunately didn't have time to delve into any tastings. Instead, we headed straight for the coast in the morning and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway.

Our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, beyond the (jawdropping) hills
Our first stop at a beach and Jess's first interaction with the Pacific Ocean

Shortly after getting on Route 1, we stopped in San Simeon to tour the Hearst Castle and have some lunch. You guys, this place is ridiculous. Jess and I visited the Biltmore in Asheville, NC a few years ago, so we've experienced grand houses before and we were still blown away by its opulence.

This is great and all, but we agreed that Elvis had a more baller billiard room at Graceland
No big deal, just a private movie theatre in the house
The grounds were what I thought really made the house amazing.

Oh and let's not forget about the indoor pool. 

Driving north, we got to see some elephant seals sunbathing and some more amazing views.

It was really, really hard to not stop every 5 minutes to see the next overlook, but we had some places to be, specifically my new apartment, so we said good bye to the Pacific Coast Highway outside of Monterey and got stuck in traffic painfully close to my new home instead. 

Jess stayed with me for the weekend and we did some touristy things in San Francisco while she was in town.

The Painted Ladies (Full House, what what!)
Finally saw and walked on the Golden Gate Bridge

Fisherman's Wharf
Driving down Lombard Street
Jess was super, duper excited

And that, folks, concludes Jess's and my epic cross country road trip! On one of the first days of the trip (before she got food poisoning), Jess exclaimed that we should do a cross country trip every year. Maybe not every year, and definitely not with two cats in tow, but I think I'd be up for it again. It was really an amazing experience.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cross country road trip notes: part 3

Continued from parts 1 and 2.

Ah, Las Vegas. We weren't originally planning on seeing Vegas, just a stop at the Hoover Dam, but once we rearranged the schedule a bit, we realized we'd not only be able to spend one night in Sin City, but two, so the decision pretty much made itself.

As it turns out, Vegas wasn't exactly my cup of tea. I really want to give it the benefit of the doubt though and say that I didn't enjoy it as much as I could have because our time there was limited and it was near the end of a long road trip. I feel like I would have enjoyed myself much more if Vegas had been the destination instead of just a stop. Even though my brain felt like it was going to explode from overstimulation a lot of the time, I'm very glad I saw Vegas and got to experience some of what it has to offer.

The Chihuly glass ceiling at the Bellagio

The Bellagio fountain in action

Jess and me out on the town, in our favorite casino bathroom at Encore.

One very awesome thing we did do while we were there was take a tour of the Neon Museum. Learning about the culture and history of the city made me appreciate the madness a bit more. Walking through the boneyard was one of my favorite activities of the trip.

As originally planned, we did swing by the Hoover Dam to behold the engineering wonder with our own eyes. It's incredibly hard to convey in pictures just how big of a dam this baby is, so you're just going to have to take my word and poor photographic evidence for it if you haven't seen it yourself. 

Next up (and probably the last cross country post) is California!