Friday, March 29, 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

30 travel goals before turning 30: part 2

This is part two of my trip down memory lane while I go through the 30 things travelers must do before they turn 30 list, found here at Huffington Post. Part one can be found here.

16. Have one iconic Americana experience.

17. Go to at least one of the Smithsonian museums.
From what I can remember, I've been to at least 8 of the Smithsonian museums. Since I went to college fairly close to DC, I have traipsed around quite a bit and found myself in many a museum. I highly recommend the Renwick Gallery if you're looking for more of an off the beaten track experience.

18. Summit a mountain.
As I mentioned in part one, I hiked to the top of Old Rag and documented my experience here.

19. Be able to name your top five dream vacations.
This one is kind of tough because there are so many place I'd like to go. If I had to choose 5, I'd go with:
The UK
Hawaii or somewhere else tropical

20. See a game at a classic ballpark.
Okay, so I haven't been to a true classic ballpark, but I like to think I've been to a modern classic. My brother is a huge baseball fan and tries to visit new ballparks as often as he can. I met up with him and his now wife in Pittsburgh a few years ago where we saw a Pirates game at PNC Park during our trip.

Sure, it's not a classic, but does Wrigley, Yankee, or Fenway have a pierogi race?

Didn't think so. I'm giving myself 50% on this one, especially since I'm going to try to visit Fenway this spring when I'm in Boston.

21. Visit a neighbor to our north or south.
By "north or south," the article's author is referring to Canada or Mexico. I got to sneak over the Canadian border a few years ago when I was in upstate New York and visit Montreal for an afternoon. Old Montreal reminded me a lot of Europe and really made me miss being overseas. I would love to go back and explore for a longer amount of time since I'm sure I missed out on a lot of the sights.

22. Do something so adventurous that it requires a doctor's visit.
While I didn't have to actually go to the doctor, I was incredibly sore for days after climbing Old Rag and managed to get some blood trapped under one of my big toenails (which still hasn't completely grown out yet). I'm going to give myself another 50% on this one.

23. Save pennies to go somewhere you really want to go.
While I've done this in one form or another for all of my big trips, I distinctly remember putting every single extra dollar into my savings account for close to a year to pay for my first trip to Europe when I was 16 years old. Withdrawing all of that money was an unreal feeling.

24. Go to New York City.
Having grown up in eastern Pennsylvania, I was pretty close to NYC and got to visit a good handful of times as a teenager and young adult. I haven't been for quite awhile, so I'm well overdo for another visit.

25. Sleep under the stars.
I got to do just that on the camping trips I mentioned in part one.

26. Eat an iconic city meal.
Let's see, I've had a Philly cheesesteak (when I still ate meat), clam chowder in Boston, BBQ (baked beans) in Memphis, an "Indian taco" in Arizona. I also tend to drink the local beer or liquor of choice: hefeweizen in Austria; Pilsner Urquell, Becherovka, and Slivovitz in Prague; PBR in Richmond.

27. Know all of the best places to take tourists in your home city.
I think many of my friends and family can attest to having had a good time in Richmond, VA. I hope to hone my hosting chops in the Bay Area as well.

28. Have one close encounter with a wild animal.
The first thing that came to mind was when a squirrel walked across my foot while I was in college, but then I remembered that I almost hit a bear cub when I was driving on Skyline Drive after hiking Old Rag. I checked all around to make sure the mother bear wasn't about to pummel my car before proceeding. That counts, right?

29. Do something you can't tell your parents about.
Done and done ;-)

30. Know a dance well enough that you could keep up with the locals.
I get a big, fat no on this one. Dancing is something that I've only recently become mildly comfortable doing, so I've got a lot of catching up to do.

So, how'd I do overall? 22.5 out of 30. Not too bad! I still have about 3 years left to check off the remainder. Did this list evoke any travel memories for you?

Monday, March 25, 2013

30 travel goals before turning 30: part 1

I stumbled upon this article from the Huffington Post the other day while I was on Twitter that highlighted 30 things travelers must do before they turn 30. Reading over the 30 travel goals brought back a lot of great memories for me (and I'm a sucker for lists and goals), so naturally I thought I would share these experiences with you all. Since the list is a little lengthy, I'm going to break it into two posts.

1. Jump off something
I once jumped off of a bridge. This bridge, to be exact:

I did a short study abroad program in Austria when I was in college and, one afternoon, the organizer of our group took us to a manmade lake that was near the town where we were staying. The bridge that  was on the opposite side of the lake from where we sat caught our eye and we quickly realized that people were jumping off of it. A number of us were intrigued and walked around the lake to get a closer look.

A bunch of local teenagers were doing the jumping and we decided to join in once we realized that it was fairly safe to do so. The girl I was with went first, seemingly effortlessly, and I was feeling pretty confident until I was swinging my legs over the handrail and trying to turn myself around on a thin lip of metal without prematurely falling off. I managed to get myself over and positioned before promptly second guessing my decision. There was an elderly Austrian woman standing nearby, watching everyone jump. Fear must have been etched all over my face because she leaned over and patted me reassuringly on my arm.

I realized that I probably wouldn't be able to turn myself around and get back over the handrail without losing my footing and falling, so the only option out of this situation was to jump. Once that logic sunk in, enough of the fear disappeared and I lept. I let out a scream, but when I stopped screaming I was still falling and it felt weird to be falling for long enough that your brain could understand that you were falling while you were falling instead of realizing it when you landed.

My body tilted a bit too forward during the fall and so the water smacked my chest pretty hard when I met the water, but the stinging sensation hardly put a damper on me feeling like a more adventurous person after the jump. It sounds kind of silly, but I really did feel like a different person after jumping off of that bridge in Austria. I felt as though I became more of who I truly was and someone who could embrace life more.

2. See one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The author of the article claims that you don't have to have seen the more traditional wonders and that any wonders will do, so according to the lists of wonders compiled on Wikipedia, I've seen the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Internet (wtf?), the Grand Canyon, and the Hoover Dam. Prior to my recent cross country road trip, I had only seen the Empire State Building and the Internet (again, wtf?).

3. Party in Las Vegas.
If you've been reading my blog for the last few months, you know that Jess and I visited Vegas a few months ago.

4. Take a vacation that isn't Spring Break.
I've taken many a vacation, so this one is an easy yes.

5. Attend at least one large celebration.
I've been racking my brain, trying to think if I've attended anything that could be considered a large celebration and I don't think I have. I haven't been to Mardi Gras or Oktoberfest or New Year's in Time Square. Maybe I'm just thinking too big and I'm overlooking something, but for now, I'm counting this as a no.

6. Hit up a nude beach.
This one I can give a definite no to, not because I have anything against it, but more because I haven't really sought one out or had an opportunity to go to one.

7. Spend several days with only what will fit in a backpack.
Hmm this is another one that's stumping me. I don't think I've done this for several days at a time.

8. Swim in the ocean.
I've swum in the Atlantic Ocean more times than I can count.

9. Sleep somewhere where you have to light a fire to stay warm.
Many, if not all, of the camping trips I've been on have involved huddling around a fire.

10. Do some sort of adrenaline sport.
I want to say yes to this, but just barely. When I was a pre-teen, I did some short lived, super easy mountain biking with my dad and brother and when I hiked Old Rag, I had to do a bit of rock climbing. I haven't done any rafting or surfing or true rock climbing though. So can I get a 50% on this one?

11. Hit up one of the Caribbean islands.
This is something I've wanted to do forever and haven't done yet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I can accomplish this before I turn 30.

12. Take one ultimate road trip.
Yes! Jess's and my epic 2013 cross country road trip!

13. Go somewhere alone.
Outside of traveling within the US by myself to see friends and family, I've flown to Europe twice by my lonesome: first to Austria and then to Prague. I've also traveled within the Czech Republic by myself. When I was in Europe, I did meet up with groups of people once I was there that I spent the majority of my time with, so I have a hard time saying that I went there alone. When I traveled to San Francisco for my job interview and apartment hunting trips, I was alone for the vast majority of those trips outside of interacting with my now coworkers. I think most people would qualify this as traveling alone, so I'm going with yes.

14. Take a train somewhere.
I'm hanging my head in shame: I've never taken a train before. Sure, I've taken the subway, but not a train train, like Amtrak. I really, really want to though, so this is another big one to check off before 30.

15. Go to a music festival.
Once upon a time, I was a pretty religious teenager. I attended youth group and sang in teen choir. I also went to some Christian music festivals. I hope to go to some secular music festivals in the near future so I no longer have to explain my Christian music festival experience when asked if I've ever attended a music festival.

So far, I'm 9.5 for 15. Stay tuned for my answers to the second half of the 30 goals (part two found here)!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Far, far better things

via Pinterest
"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind." -C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reader questions

by drachmann via Flickr
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 man who is dating a child of a hoarder (some details have been omitted):

Hi Sarah 

I came by your blog by way of COH. I am not a CoH but my girlfriend and her siblings are. Your interview series on yourself could be the exact mirror image of my Gf and her siblings apart from their father who still lives with their mother, the father is an enabler. My GF has no relationship with her father and hardly any with her mother. 

I have many questions I would like to ask less to do with relationships, but more to do with finding your feet with the outside world. 

Did you or your sibling develop OCD to cope and still have it now? 

Has therapy worked for you in terms of relationships and connection with fulfillment in life? Gf and siblings were taken for therapy when young by mother and mother has been seeing therapists going 30 years. so have negative feelings on therapy. 

When did you feel ready to speak about it more openly outside of the family and not feel that you kept having to create an image of what you wanted people to know. In this case I feel I am an enabler to my GF by not being completely honest with my family about it.

Here was my response:

Thanks for reaching out to me. I feel honored that you feel comfortable talking to me about you and your girlfriend. I'm so glad that you care about her enough to try and understand what she has to go through as a child of a hoarder. So many people don't take that extra step.

I have never been diagnosed with OCD and neither has my brother. There are some behaviors that I have that might be considered similar to or boarder line OCD behaviors that I know are a result of living with my hoarding mother. These behaviors tend to come out more when I have a lot of anxiety or have fallen into a depressive episode. I have an aversion to plastic bags and especially hate the way they feel and sound (my mother uses them all of the time and hoards them). I also inspect my food very closely before I eat it if it was prepared by someone other than me (my mother hoards food and there were times growing up when I was given food to eat that was rotting). I also keep my car very clean and do not leave things in it (my mother has piles of trash in her car). I know that my brother hates having piles of unread newspapers and magazines lying around his house because those are things that our mother hoards. Almost all of these types of behaviors that I have can be linked back to a behavior of my mother's.

I went to therapy for about six months a few years ago. At the time, I was dealing with a lot of anxiety for a number of different reasons, including my mother. Therapy was very helpful for me because I learned how truly messed up my mother was. I thought that the way she treated me was normal since that's all I've ever known. My therapist made it very clear that my mother's behavior is not typical. I decided at that point to cut off most of my contact with my mother. Talking to her did more harm than good for my well being, so I basically put the ball in her court and felt very relieved without that burden. That's not to say that there aren't times where I feel guilty or wish that I had a strong relationship with my mother, but over all, I feel much better about my past since I do not feel obligated to talk to my mother frequently. Sometimes setting up boundaries and creating distance is the only way you can love someone and instead of feeling resentment, I have found a kind of peace that allows me to accept my mother.

Therapy also helped me find some direction in terms of what I wanted out of life. I was able to take the GRE and apply for a graduate program while I was seeing my therapist. The approach my therapist took was more cognitive behavioral therapy. Most of what I learned about while in therapy was mindfulness and understanding that action is required in order to change the way you feel and the way your life is headed. My therapist recommended a number of books to me that I found helpful when I did the activities that they outlined.

It's a shame that your girlfriend is so opposed to therapy. I understand that if someone has had a bad experience in the past with therapists, it can be hard to convince them to try it again. It's possible that she just didn't like the therapist she had back then, but she might be able to find someone now that she can form a better connection with and who understands her problems better. It's surprising to me that her mother has been seeing a therapist for so long. My mother refuses to believe that she has a problem and so she would never think to visit a therapist. Most hoarders do like to be seen as the victim and so maybe her mother feels like as long as she is seeing a therapist, she can still be seen as a victim and get attention for it.

I really started opening up more about my childhood when I was in college and I happened to flip through one of my friends' magazines and there was an article in there about a girl who lived in a home that looked exactly like mine and she described it as a hoard. Before this, I hadn't made the connection. It seemed as though being able to define it gave me so much more understanding about the whole situation. It was in this article that I found out about the website Children of Hoarders and their support group on Yahoo. Being able to read about others' backgrounds and connect with others like me kind of opened the floodgates. I realized that my mother's hoarding was her problem and I was just unlucky to live in it growing up. Once I started talking about it and I realized that my friends still accepted me despite my background, I was able to stop covering it up and just be myself.

As far as you feeling like an enabler in this situation, I don't think you should feel that way. I think it's only a matter of time before your girlfriend is able to talk about it more freely and create some emotional distance from her parents' home. Maybe she just needs to read more about hoarding and read more about others' experiences being a child of hoarders to realize that it wasn't her fault that her parents hoarded or that it's not her problem. Maybe talking to a therapist or talking more to her siblings will do the trick. I think as long as you encourage her to come to terms with her past and let her know that you're there for her and love her despite her past, I don't think you can consider yourself an enabler. Everyone handles things differently and everyone heals at their own pace. Keeping the details from your family is respecting your girlfriend's privacy, just like keeping back other personal things about her, and I think that's okay.

Do any readers have further advice to offer?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Someday is Today: Focus

Last month, I challenged myself to get out more and make more friends. Even though I didn't do many of things that I mentioned (tsk tsk), I still managed to meet people and start some budding friendships. I attended some MeetUp events and stayed in contact with some of the people I've already spent time with. This will definitely be an ongoing goal of mine until I am able to form a strong, local support system and, honestly, that could take years. I'm off to a good start though, so I'm patting myself on the back for now.

Over the last few weeks, I've noticed that I've been having an incredibly hard time focusing and getting things done on a daily basis. It's been especially hard at work. I'll poke around the internet for hours instead of settling down to work on projects and fill requests. There is more than plenty to do at work, so my procrastinating winds up causing undue stress when my deadlines finally roll around. Similarly, I'll sit at home after work and on the weekends and waste away my time if I'm not careful.

I was getting sick of my slothful ways by the end of last week and so I really pushed myself to take care of things that I had let slide for a little too long. I noticed that it was hard for me to do anything because I felt like there was so much going on that I didn't really know where to start. I didn't have a good handle of what needed to be done, so I decided to clean out my burgeoning inbox to see what things I could tackle quickly and rack up some easy wins to motivate me to tackle the larger items. I deleted a bunch of stuff that wasn't important; filed away other emails that were important, but not urgent; and flagged the items that required action. I responded to a few emails that I should have replied to weeks ago and wrote out quick emails I had been meaning to send out for awhile. While I was doing this exercise, I noticed that the new emails that were coming in that required my action or for me to respond  I did right away instead of letting them sit there. My system was working! I think all too often, I mentally turn the request into something much, much bigger than it really is and so I avoid doing it because I think it's going to take far longer than it really does.

In addition to putting in added effort to stay on top of my email, I noticed that when I start to slide down the rabbit hole of social media, if I get up and get some water, use the bathroom, or stretch my legs, I have a much clearer head when I return to my desk and I feel as though I have a clean slate to work with. I need to take advantage of that mindset and get going on a work project instead of checking back into Twitter. Also, it really helps if I don't have any distracting tabs open when I'm trying to hunker down with work. Gmail and Facebook- I'm looking at you!

When I get home from work, it really helps if I just don't even turn on my computer if I can help it. I try to do other things aside of internet-ing: word puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, cleaning, reading. If I must turn on my computer, I come up with a game plan before I open up time sucking websites without even thinking about it. If I need to look at a recipe or my checking account or pay a bill or work on the blog, I put my blinders on and only go to those sites. If I get my task finished and there's nothing else pressing, then I give myself the go ahead to check out other things.

Willpower is a funny thing and even though all of these things sound so simple and logical, it can be a real struggle to snap out of being negligent. Hopefully reminding myself of all of these tricks will cause me to be a little more with it this month.

Do you struggle with focusing? What do you do to get back on track?

Friday, March 15, 2013


by herbraab via Flickr
“A certain darkness is needed to see the stars.” - Osho

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Depression and anxiety workbooks

Occasionally I've alluded here on the blog to having suffered from depression in the past. While I plan to go into more detail in the future about what happened and how I managed to fight off my depression and anxiety, I thought it might be helpful for those currently suffering or prone to suffer from either or both if I highlighted some of the books I read that were especially helpful for me to reset my thought patterns. A comment I hear often is how well adjusted I am considering my past and I want to emphasis, by way of this post and future posts, that my current state of relative normalcy was hard fought for and is something that requires regular maintenance.

I saw both a psychologist and a psychiatrist during my last major episode of depression a few years ago. I had a great experience with my psychologist (just an okay experience with the psychiatrist) and she was the one to recommend the following books to me. If you learn best by reading and writing, you might find these as helpful as I did. I still have the notes I took for a number of the exercises in these books and find it beneficial to review them from time to time if for nothing else than to see how far I've come.

I found these first two to be the most helpful in breaking down the different aspects of depression and detailing how a change in thoughts and actions will improve your quality of life:

The following was one more book that was specifically related to depression. I think I didn't find it as helpful because I had already read through the books above before it and a third workbook was kind of overkill for me.

The final two books deal specifically with anxiety. I personally felt the books that focused on depression were better suited for my specific issues at the time, but for those who suffer more acutely from anxiety and its related issues, you could potentially benefit more from workbooks specifically for anxiety.


Have you found a book to be especially helpful in working through your depression and anxiety? If so, which one?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Things that I love: mug cakes

I don't know about you guys, but sometimes I want something sweet yet I don't want a lot of it. Since I live alone, if I bake a whole batch of cookies or a buy whole bag of candy, I'm the sole person to polish them off and sometimes (okay, always) that isn't pretty.

One of my favorite food blogs, Budget Bytes, posted about mug cakes a few months ago, but I didn't pay much attention at the time because I didn't have a microwave where I was living then. It wasn't until a few nights ago when I was craving something chocolatey, but not too chocolatey, that I thought back to mug cakes, realized I had all of the ingredients on hand, and gave the one on Budget Bytes a try.

This baby is good, especially if you're in the mood for peanut butter too. I began dreaming of a more chocolaty version though and stumbled upon a recipe for a mug brownie on Pinterest.  Yuuuum!

Two more mug recipes to try in the future: blueberry mug muffins and chocolate chip mug cookies.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

3 ways to meet people in a new city

by n_corboy via Flickr
Once you finish school at any level, your trusty built-in social system disappears. Meeting new people becomes a little trickier. Whether your friends move away or you move away, there are times in almost everyone's life when you will look around and there are less people there than there used to be. I recently moved to the west coast and, just like when I moved to Richmond, Virginia, I find myself in need of some local friends and acquaintances. There are many, many ways to meet people, but I thought I'd share three ways that I have found to be the most successful.

1. Coworkers. Just started a new job? Haven't really ever gotten to know the people you work with? Chances are good that you and your coworkers share similar interests and goals. Sometimes your coworkers will take the initiative and invite you out as a welcoming gesture, but you can't always wait around and hope that someone will reach out first. Coffe, lunch, or happy hour are all good, low commitment ways to get to know a coworker better. If you get along well, then you can plan something a bit more personal or time intensive.

2. Neighbors. When you first move somewhere, be sure to at least smile and say hi to everyone you see in your building and or who live on your block. Bonus points for introducing yourself. Not only does this help to foster an inviting and calm living environment, it helps to ease you into the friend making process. Instead of silently tossing your clothes out of the dryer while your downstairs neighbor silently throws his or her clothes into the washer, start a conversation: say hi, introduce yourself, ask what they do for a living, how long they've lived in the building, etc. If you have a pleasant chat, ask to grab a drink or coffee with them the next time you see them in the building.

3. If you've never heard of MeetUp, it's a site where people create groups based around mutual interests and then host events for the group members to attend in real life. I've met a wide range of people through all sorts of groups: Scrabble, German, dachshund owners, 20s and 30s social groups, book clubs. The Bay Area especially seems to have a ton of groups and it's one of the quickest and easiest ways to connect with people who share similar interests.

I've found that meeting new people is more about the effort you put into it than any kind of luck or fate involved. What are some of the best ways you've successfully met new people in a new city?

Monday, March 4, 2013

From the archives: anger

by psycholabs 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, while some of it makes me cringe and I feel slightly embarrassed by my less than stellar writing, I think it's an accurate glimpse into how I felt living with my hoarder mother and how it made my teenage years even more challenging than they already were. I couldn't explain or understand it then, but I was incredibly depressed and hurt by my mother's behavior and it caused me to have very strong mood swings and search desperately for a way out. 

bad mood. completely. i was so happy before. mom came home and now i'm pissed. isn't that how it always goes? i get so irritable when people intrude on my thoughts when i'm in a thoughful mood. i just get so pissy, what the heck is wrong with me? i swear, i am the most insane, craziest person ever. as if my thoughts need special attention, like an infant. i just want to be free. driving. alone. music ringing. i just want to scream. i just want to cry hysterically. about nothing! ugh, mom is driving me nuts. we were having an argument about cars which evolved into a money talk which evolved into paying for college and then she walked out in the middle of her own sentence! and i wonder where i get my unstable mind... if i swore, i would swear my head off right now because i haven't been in this bad of a mood in God knows how long. i hate bad moods, they take you over completely, it's like a drug that runs in your blood stream and it just needs to run its course through your body. and it gets horrible when it reaches your brain- then you know you're in trouble. uncontrollable anger, like your whole body shakes and you want to cry and you just want to die because it hurts to be angry, it's like a slow painful suicide. i am such an odd ball, i guess it's just the mentally ill writer inside of me that likes to camp out in my soul and pop out at the strangest moments. i keep listening to bleed american by jimmy eat world. i just want to scream the lyrics at the top of my lungs, it like releases all the anger inside, like a cleansing. it's so completely odd how some songs just draw all of my thoughts out of me, like they spin the wheels in my head like a hamster on it's little wheel in its little cage in its little world. i wish i had that, i wish i was that. God, why must i be so touchy? i know no one like this. i am a complete freak and mental case who can't just abandon their thoughts. why must i think so much? why must i feel my thoughts? i think i am losing it, completely and utterly. i am slightly unhinged. if i wasn't such a happy person naturally, i swear i would have hung myself sometime within the past two years. hahaha, yes people, sweet sarah does have a bad day, and yes i do have other emotions rather than happy. freak out, i am real. i think i would scare off everyone who knows me right now, because i'm scaring myself. i just want to feel alive. i haven't felt it in so long. i want a sweet release. i got so close last weekend, i want it again, and forever. maybe i'm just really stressed out right now. but how can that be, i really don't have much to stress out about. oh whatever. can i run away and never return? i would love that.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The life that is waiting for us

via Free People
"We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." -E.M. Forster