Tuesday, October 21, 2014

SNAP Challenge: Week 4

This week's soup
Here we are at the last week of the SNAP challenge. Since I bought two weeks' worth of groceries last week, I don't have a shopping trip to report to you, but I'll fill you in on my meal plan.

This past weekend, I ate:
  • peanut butter toast for breakfast (I wasn't feeling super well last week and I didn't have much of an appetite in the mornings... does that make me sound pregnant? I assure you, I am not.)
  • lunch on Saturday was leftovers from Thursday night (I took two of my friends out to thank them for catsitting for me) and Sunday lunch was the last of the potato chowder
  • dinner on Saturday was baked potatoes topped with odds and ends from my fridge (green peppers, enchilada sauce, cheese, and sour cream) and I had dinner on Sunday at a friend's house
Additionally, I volunteered to make a dessert to bring to my friend's on Sunday. I had some leftover baking chocolate sitting in my pantry that I wanted to use up, so I started searching around for recipes. I came across a few good ones, but they would have required me to buy a few ingredients at the store. I almost resigned myself to going out to pick up eggs when I came across a recipe for vegan chocolate chip cookies that I had all of the ingredients for. Score! So, a quick tip for you: if you don't have eggs, search for a vegan version of what you want to make to see if you could make a few modifications to use what you have instead (I used butter for my cookies, so they weren't actually vegan).

My meal plan for this week:

Breakfasts: finish up the freezer breakfast burritos.

Lunches: tempeh tamale pie. There used to be a great vegetarian/vegan cooking blog called Peas and Thank You, but the writer decided to stop blogging. Luckily, some of her recipes wound up on other sites before she took her blog down, so I've been able to still cook some of them. This tamale pie is one such recipe. It's really filling and quick to make. I did a number of substitutions: I used my black beans instead of buying pinto beans, I used real cheese and sour cream instead of the vegan versions, and I used the agave syrup I already had instead of maple syrup. 

Dinners: tortellini soup with peas and spinach. Another super quick and easy recipe. I almost always have frozen peas, spinach, and vegetable broth (as was the case this time), so I only had to buy cheese tortellini. I usually don't make soup two weeks in a row, but I knew I would be cutting it close budget-wise because of the grocery delivery and was looking to use as much as I could that I already had on hand. Also, on a disappointing note, my parmesan went moldy, so I won't be able to sprinkle any parmesan cheese on this soup like I usually do :-(. 

There you have it folks: 4 weeks of SNAP budget recipes. Stay tuned for my wrap up post where I'll summarize my thoughts on the challenge as well as offer my tips and tricks for cooking for one on a budget.

Check out how I did:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

Monday, October 13, 2014

SNAP Challenge: Week 3

Delicious homemade pizza!
Week two of the SNAP challenge went smoothly. The burritos worked out beautifully (they were smaller than I expected though, so next time I'll be using larger burrito shells) and my pizzas were delicious (I wound up using leftover green pepper instead of broccoli like I originally planned). My quinoa was a little watery due to my impatience, so my dal wasn't as good as usual, but it was still perfectly edible.

So, remember how I mentioned that I didn't think I would need to get a grocery delivery while on this challenge? I stand corrected. One of my cats is having some health issues and my vet asked me to change up his diet. New diet means needing to purchase different food and since walking or riding my bike with a 10+ pound bag of dry cat food and a dozen cans of wet cat food doesn't work out so well, I had to resort to a grocery delivery. In addition to cat supplies and a few household items, I wound up getting two weeks' worth of food to make the delivery worthwhile and to make my life a little easier. Did I manage to stay under budget despite this wrench in my plans? Let's take a look.

Safeway grocery delivery (food items only): $55.46

I still needed two ingredients, so I stopped by Trader Joe's and picked up an onion and some tempeh. I wound up getting two packages of tempeh because the price was really good, it's harder for me to get to Trader Joe's, and tempeh lasts a really long time. 

Trader Joe's: $4.67
Total grocery spend for two weeks: $60.13

I came in under budget by $2.87. I'm really surprised I was able to stay within the SNAP budget. I needed to replenish a few things (almond milk, OJ, butter) and bought a good amount of dairy items, which can be a little on the pricey side. Also, I wasn't able to use quite as many coupons and loyalty card savings as when I do my shopping in store.

Before I dive into what I'll be making for week 3 of the challenge, let me go over what I ate over the weekend:
  • Breakfast consisted of eating the leftovers I had from the freezer breakfast burritos I made last week. I had some of the scrambled egg/vegetable mix, shredded cheese, and enchilada sauce left, so I made myself little breakfast burrito bowls.
  • Lunches and dinners were veggie burgers, a grilled cheese, and left over frozen veggie mix. I did have lunch out with friends Sunday afternoon at a street festival.

My plan for week three:

Breakfasts: Even though I have a week's worth of breakfast burritos in my freezer, I need to use up the half and half I bought last week, so I'm going to make scones this week and eat the rest of the burritos next week. I'll be using this scone recipe, but will be replacing the blueberries with dried cranberries. I'm not sure if I'll be making the glaze. If I do, I'll use orange juice instead of lemon juice.

Lunches: Lemon Ricotta Pasta. Another super simple, inexpensive recipe from Budget Bytes. All I needed to buy was the ricotta since I bought the rigatoni last week and already had frozen peas and lemon juice. I was getting really sick of bananas after two weeks, so I caved and bought greek yogurt for the next two weeks. I'll also be having my usual granola bars.

Dinners: It's getting a little cool here at night and I love to make soups to stay warm during the fall and winter. This Cheesy Potato Chowder will fit the bill nicely. I make and freeze my own vegetable broth and have a bag of frozen broccoli that's been begging to be used, so I only needed the potatoes and dairy items.

Stay tuned to see what I make during my last week of the SNAP challenge!

Check out how I did:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 4

Monday, October 6, 2014

SNAP Challenge: Week 2

Groceries for week 2 of the SNAP challenge
Week one of the SNAP Challenge went as planned. I feel like I lucked out having pesto and tofu on hand to use so I didn't have to make very many sacrifices in order to come in a little under budget. Will I be so lucky during week two?

Let's see how I did at the grocery store:

Safeway: $22.65 (saved $6.57 by shopping sales and using coupons loaded to my loyalty card from Safeway's website)

Cash back from JingIt, Checkout51, and Snap apps: -$.90 (two were for bananas and one was for mozzarella)

Total grocery spend: $21.75

I came in under budget again this week, this time by $9.75! Even I was surprised by how well I did this week considering two things:
  • As you can see, I made up for my pasta shortage and bought two boxes of pasta this week. I'm not planning on using either one this week, but I was able to get them for $.64 a box and I couldn't pass up such a good price.
  • I'm going to be trying something new for breakfasts and I actually bought enough ingredients to last me for two weeks. I thought for sure this would push me to end of my budget, but that clearly wasn't the case.

Before I go over my meal plan for week two, let me tell you about what I ate over the weekend.

  • I finished up my muffins for breakfast on Saturday and ate egg in the hole on Sunday.
  • I finished up my broccoli rice casserole and had salad for lunch on Saturday. On Sunday, I finished up the salad and I wound up cutting a fake chicken patty in half to fit it onto the last hoagie roll I had left over from my tofu subs to make a fake chicken parm sub. Gotta make do with what you have, folks!:

  • For dinners, I finished up the last of the tofu for a tofu parm sub on Saturday and kept it simple with a grilled cheese and frozen veggie mix on Sunday.

So, what will I be eating during week two? So glad you asked:

Breakfasts: I've been wanting to make frozen breakfast burritos for quite awhile now and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try them out. I'm loosely using The Simple Dollar's guide, but on a smaller scale. I'll be making 10 burritos with 10 eggs, some shredded Mexican cheese blend, green bell pepper, onion, black beans, and enchilada sauce. The enchilada sauce has been sitting in my fridge for awhile, so I'll be glad to finally use that up. I've been getting into the habit of making a big batch of black beans from dry beans instead of buying cans of black beans and then freezing what I don't need right away. I've come to the end of my frozen reserves and so I'll need to make another batch for these burritos. Like I said before, these burritos will last me two weeks, so I better like them! :-)

Lunches: Dal Nirvana, granola bars, and bananas. This lentil recipe is one of my all time favorites. It's one of those great pantry cleaning recipes since I almost always have most of the ingredients on hand. In this case, I only needed to buy the cream (I chose half and half instead of heavy cream because it was cheaper). Because the recipe is based on staple ingredients, it is very inexpensive to make. I'm going to be making quinoa (that I already had) to go with it.

Dinners: Pizza! I still have lots of pasta sauce to use up, so I figured I would make some pizza dough (I'll be using Money Saving Mom's recipe), get some mozzarella, and top it with whatever I had on hand. So, broccoli and spinach pizza it is!

Snack: air popped popcorn with butter, salt, and nutritional yeast

I think the reason I was able to do so well budget-wise for week two is because I only needed one ingredient for my lunch dish. I'm afraid I'm finally running out of pantry staples and will need to get a little more creative to make it through two more weeks. I will almost certainly be making a pasta dish next week and I'll have breakfast covered, but I'll need to do some more brainstorming to come up with another good, cheap dish.

Check out how I did:
Week 1
Week 3
Week 4

Thursday, October 2, 2014

SNAP Challenge: Week 1

I went grocery shopping on Saturday for the ingredients I'd need to get me through the first week of the SNAP Challenge. Some things to keep in mind about my situation:

  • I typically walk or ride my bike to the grocery store once a week. I do get groceries and cat supplies delivered about once every two months or so from Safeway since I don't have a car and cat litter is heavy! In those cases, I usually get enough food to last me for two weeks. I think I'm pretty well set on the cat supply front, so I probably won't need to order a grocery delivery while on this challenge. 
  • I typically eat breakfast at home, pack a lunch to take to work, and eat dinner at home (which sounds pretty boring, but it definitely saves me money). 
  • I'm a pesco-vegetarian, but usually only cook vegetarian meals at home since seafood and fish can be a bit pricey. 
  • I've been in the habit of meal planning for quite a few years now, so the planning involved for this challenge is pretty old hat for me (but I can definitely see how it would be tricky for someone who isn't used to planning and paying close attention to how much they spend on groceries, how much food typically costs, sale prices, etc.). 
  • I almost never buy drinks besides orange juice and loose or bagged tea. I drink water with practically all of my meals and throughout the day.
  • If it wasn't obvious, I'm only shopping and cooking for me since I live by myself.

So, how did I do during my first shopping trip?

Groceries for week 1 of the SNAP Challenge

Safeway: $25.86 (I saved about $14 by shopping sales and using coupons loaded to my loyalty card from Safeway's website)
Farmers' market: $2.60 (zucchini, tomatoes, onion)
Wholefoods: $.70 (Probably the lowest Wholefoods bill you've ever seen! I needed ground flaxseed and eyeballed a 1/2 cup out of the bulk food bins. A whole package of ground flaxseed would have been at least $7- no thanks!)
Cash back from Checkout51 and JingIt apps: -$.50 (One was for bananas and one was for bread)
Total grocery spend: $28.66

Not too shabby! I came in $2.84 under budget. I should point out that I will not be further calculating the cost per day or per meal because I don't have the amounts of all of my ingredients to go off of. I feel as though the food I already have on hand and the food I buy and don't finish in one week (in this case: bread, veggie burgers, mayo, eggs) pretty much cancel either other out it terms of cost and that's why I'm continuing to use what I have already (not to mention how wasteful it would be not to use what I have). As long as my grocery bill every week is $31.50 or less, I'll consider it a job well done.

I'm planning to write a post dedicated to my tips and tricks for cooking for one on a budget, but I'll give you a rough idea of my approach here. Every Sunday, I make my food for the week. I make one big dish for lunches and one big dish for dinners. I typically pick meals that are casseroles or lend themselves nicely to being eaten over the course of a week. I know not everyone can do this because they get sick of eating the same thing everyday, but I'm usually not bothered by it, especially when I cook something I really like.

I'm usually a bit more lax about planning meals on the weekends because there are usually enough odds and ends left over from the week before for me to throw something together and also because plans with friends can cause me not to eat at home as often. The meals I made over the weekend:
  • Egg in the hole (I make these almost every weekend for myself since I typically have more time to make and enjoy breakfast than during the week)
  • Veggie burgers with toppings
  • Broccoli Rice Casserole: I'm kind of proud of my resourcefulness with this one. Usually, I have some pasta on hand to make spaghetti or something similar when all else fails, but for some reason, I was out of pasta and all I had to make a meal with (outside of the ingredients already accounted for by the meals I was going to make for the week) was frozen veggie burgers... or so I thought. I took a harder look at what I had on hand and realized I had both frozen broccoli and rice. I did some searching and found the above recipe for broccoli rice casserole. I didn't have a can of cream of chicken (or any cream of anything), but I remembered seeing awhile back a recipe for making your own cream soup base. I Googled it and used this one, but there are many that you can use. I also didn't have any cheddar, but I did have some mozzarella for my tofu subs, so I grated just a little bit onto the casserole. Voila! Dinner.

The meals I made for this week:

Breakfasts: Zucchini, Banana, and Flaxseed Muffins. This was a new recipe for me. I usually eat cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, but every once in awhile, I like to mix it up. These muffins taste pretty good and are very moist. I had a handful of pecan pieces sitting in my pantry, so I threw those in too and I'm glad I did. The crunch from the occasional nut gave the muffins a nice change in texture. I'm not sure if I'll make this recipe again.

Lunches: Pesto Chickpea Salad on lettuce with tomatoes and flatbread for dipping. I'm too lazy/pressed for time in the mornings to assemble much of anything, so I went with the deconstructed sandwich idea here. Also, I picked flatbread instead of pita because it was on sale and cheaper. I almost always pack a granola bar and a banana or greek yogurt with my lunch entree. I went with bananas this time because I needed a banana for the muffins anyway and bananas are almost always cheaper than greek yogurt. The granola bars I got this week were less than a dollar a piece thanks to coupons on my loyalty card. I already had one can of chickpeas, lemon juice, and pesto (leftover from a shower I threw last week- not something I normally have on hand) and used dried parsley instead of fresh.

Dinners: Tofu Parmesan Subs. I had a package of tofu in my fridge from a few weeks back, frozen spinach, and lots of jarred pasta sauce on hand. I used the sauce I had instead of making the sauce in the recipe. Usually, when a recipe calls for breadcrumbs, I take a few of the bread ends I freeze from the loaves of bread I buy, toast them, and throw them in my food processor to make my own breadcrumbs, but I had an opened container of panko breadcrumbs in my pantry I decided to use instead. Also, I didn't bother dipping my tofu in egg before covering the pieces in breadcrumbs since the tofu is already moist and the egg never made the breadcrumbs stick any better on the previous occasions I've made this meal.

Snacks: crackers and peanut butter; air popped popcorn with butter, salt, and nutritional yeast

I'm already starting to think about what to make next week and I'm curious to see how I do. I have a feeling that as I go along, I'll have less on hand to use since this budget doesn't allow much room for me to throw in extras to stock up with. My guess is that I will probably have to resort to more basic recipes with less costly ingredients. We shall see!

Check out how I did:
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hello again and the SNAP Challenge

by slightlyblurred via Flickr
I hope you all had a lovely summer. Mine was rather full with mostly positive things. I traveled a good amount, met someone new, discovered some health issues, became an aunt again, began a long distant relationship, and ran my first 5K.

Periods of a lot of change have always caused me to grow reflective and, predictably, I've been in a rather pensive mood lately due to the shift in the nature of my new relationship. His move has got me thinking about what, if anything, is keeping me on the west coast and if I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing with my life. I have these desires to promote my dad's artwork and to write, but I've done very little of either one and perhaps now is the time to devote attention to them. If I never really try, I'll never really now if they will give me the sense of fulfillment I think or at least hope they will. So, here I am, writing.

I discovered that keeping up with this blog has been easier if I challenge myself to do something and write about the experience, giving me that extra boost of motivation that I usually need to get through the life projects that speak to me. With that in mind, I came across the SNAP Challenge on one of the food blogs I follow, Budget Bytes.

What is the SNAP Challenge, you ask? It's a challenge to eat on $4.50 a day (or $31.50 a week), which is the allotment Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants receive. The challenge raises awareness for the cost of food and how difficult it can be to provide enough food for yourself (and potentially a family) to combat hunger. Why am I interested in participating in this challenge? A few reasons:
  • First, a rather selfish one. I tend to keep a pretty close eye on my finances in general, but I have a few extra expenses to pay for (plane tickets, vet bills) that require some extra budgeting on my part. Doing a challenge like this will help to ensure I keep my food expenses low. 
  • While my mother did not receive food stamps while I was a child, she did everything she could to spend very little on food. This was partially due to her low income, but also because her hoarding tendencies made her and continues to make her a rather cheap person. Additionally, my mother hoarded food and so we always had a full fridge, but one that was full of rotten food. There's little worse than looking through a fridge full of rotten food when you're hungry and trying to find something suitable to eat. 
  • I thought this challenge would give me an opportunity to talk about some of the few positive things I was able to glean from living in my mother's hoard. Because of my experiences, I hate to see food go to waste and so I have developed some good methods to use up all of the food I buy. Some of my mom's frugality rubbed off on me and so I have also gotten rather good at keeping my food expenses low (within reason- I am adamant about staying well out of the realm of my mother's cheapness). I think it'll be nice to balance out a lot of the negativity written about my mother and my childhood experiences with some of the positive I got out of it all.

Like Beth at Budget Bytes, I will also do the challenge for a month instead of just a week. One of the "rules" is to not use what you already have, but I think that is unrealistic and would be wasteful on my part (why would I buy a dozen eggs and let the eggs I have go bad?). Using what you have is a big part of eating on a budget, so I'm throwing that rule out. Additionally, I previously agreed to take two of my neighbors out to dinner as a thank you for them cat sitting for me while I was out of town. I'm not going to shirk that gesture because of this challenge. I very rarely eat out by myself (and as part of this challenge, will not eat out by myself at all for this month), but do go out to eat with friends every once in awhile. I'm going to look at these invitations on a case by case basis. Because I tend to think of these types of interactions as an investment in the friendships I have and less of a ding to my food budget, I expect I will eat out a few times during the next month. 

I tend to spend in the range of $30-40 a week on groceries, so I'm curious to see if I will find this challenge difficult. Stay tuned for my post on how I did during my first grocery shopping trip and the meals I have planned for week one.

Check out how I did:
Week 1 report
Week 2 report
Week 3 report
Week 4 report

Friday, June 13, 2014

The stuff of hobbies

by ecstaticist via Flickr
Hello, friends. Things have been a bit quieter around here than I would like. Since the year is almost halfway over (seriously, how did that happen?!), I thought I would update you all on the progress of my challenges, as well as comment on an interesting thing I've observed in my attempts at enjoying life more.

  • Write and mail at least one letter a month to a loved one: I believe I managed to do this every month except for April and I usually send more than one letter a month. I've really been enjoying picking out cards and thinking of reasons to send someone a letter. It makes me feel more connected to special days and the people I care about. I like to think the recipients enjoy this one too :-).
  • Forgive someone who has hurt you in some way and really mean it: I haven't made any intentional progress on this one, but I have a few people in mind that I need to sit down and finish working through the pain that they caused me.
  • Volunteer: No progress made on this one either. Now that my ceramics class is over, I feel like I'll have more time to devote to other things, so I'm hopeful that I'll make some headway soon.
  • Stop dating for awhile: Gold star for this one. I was entirely single for close to three months and while I haven't been actively trying to date anyone, there have been a few instances where guys have crossed my path and we casually saw each other for a spell. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle this in the near future- if I want to continue being rather passive about it or if I want to fully jump back in and try for something more serious.
  • Be more active: Lots of gold stars here! I started running the end of January and I'm currently up to running 3.25 miles. I signed up to run my first 5K the end of June. I'm super, duper proud of myself for this considering how I thought I was terrible at running for most of my life. I've been hiking a ton as well and was even able to swim a few times.
  • Go on a 1 week vacation to somewhere I’ve never been: Can I fudge on this one a little bit? I treated myself to a little birthday trip in May and spent about 5 days in and around Portland, OR. There's quite a bit going on between now and the end of the year, so I doubt I'll be able to take a vacation that's a full week.
  • Be near the ocean regularly: I've managed to get out to the beach and the bay, mostly on hiking trips, about once a month or so.
  • Start blogging again and post at least once a month: As you all can attest, this one is a big no. I've been managing to write a post about every 2 months. Something I definitely want to work on.
  • Go thrifting once every two months: Another nope. Not a high priority, but something to consider doing when I'm feeling low.
  • Make my pets happy: I think this one is a yes. My cats have been getting canned food for dinner and all the extra boxes they want to play in. I've also been paying more attention to why they misbehave and altering things accordingly. I feel as though I generally have been yelling at them less, but for some reason they've been acting like jerks the last week or so, so they may have negated all of that.
  • Take writing more seriously: A big, fat no. I feel as though a few things have been conspiring against me to make this less of a priority. While I greatly enjoyed my ceramics class and am really glad I took it, it took up a good chunk of my free time and creative energy. Now that my class is over, I'm thinking I'll have more time and will be in need of a steady creative outlet. 
  • Make strides to get my dad's artwork out there: Another pretty big no. I did finish scanning all of my dad's slides, but I still need to go back and rescan the slides of the pieces we think have the most potential, so we can have a higher quality image of them. I simply need to make this a higher priority and stop coming up with excuses.
  • Be more creative/allow yourself to pursue hobbies and interests: I feel like I've done a pretty good job at this. Aside from my ceramics class, I signed up for a one day glass fusing class this month and generally feel less bad about and more excited to pursue creative things. I still feel like there's room to grow here though. I've managed to identify one thing that's been holding me back and I thought I would share it with you all since it no doubt has a lot to do with the way I grew up.
It will probably come as no surprise to you that I generally hate stuff. Clutter gives me feelings of anxiety, uneasiness, and loss of control. I feel as though I can't think as well when I'm surrounded by disorder and too many things. Considering I grew up in a hoard, it makes total sense for me to feel these things and I would say that broadly, not liking to have an overabundance of things is a good thing. When it comes to being creative and exploring interests, however, my dislike of stuff tends to hold me back since many hobbies require the acquisition of supplies or equipment in order to do them.

Want to run? You'll need sneakers and appropriate clothes. Swim? You'll need a bathing suit, towel, goggles, and a cap. Ceramics? You'll need the appropriate tools to work the clay. Reading? You'll need books. Knitting? Yarn and needles. Biking? A bike, lock, helmet, repair tools, and spare parts. Yoga? A mat and appropriate clothes. You get the idea.

The stuff of hobbies is what regularly holds me back from trying new things. I don't want to try something out because I'd have to get all the supplies and then if I don't like it, all those things will just sit around. Even if I do like it, those supplies will sit around unused when I'm not actively pursing the hobby. If I take up something creative that requires me to create physical things, those creations will also wind up taking up space, like all of the things I made in my ceramics class. One of the big reasons I'm not planning to continue taking ceramics in the very near future is because I feel as though I already have too many pieces of my pottery sitting around my apartment.

I haven't come up with very many solutions to this problem. I, of course, can try to be selective in what hobbies I undertake, specifically choose hobbies that don't require a lot of stuff, try out a hobby before I commit to purchasing supplies, and give away most of the creations I wind up making. The biggest hurdle for me though is the mental barrier I keep coming up against: the "stuff=bad" mentality I've ingrained in my brain. I can take all of these approaches in an attempt to convince myself to pursue an interest, but I will still have an aversion to acquiring stuff. The stuff will damper my enjoyment of the process and the results. The stuff will stop me from being as fully creative as I can be. I think taking my ceramics class was a big step in the right direction and I think the enjoyment I got out of that class will help propel me towards pursuing other hobbies.

There are clearly times when it is a good thing to allow stuff to accumulate: the pursuits of expression and creativity, physical activities, and things that enable pure happiness to be achieved. Rewiring my brain to embrace that concept is definitely going to be an ongoing uphill battle.

Monday, April 7, 2014

One year

I've been running, I've been creating, I've been getting out, and I've been seeing the ocean.

There have been developments over the last few weeks that have made me question how far I've really come this year, how strong I really am. Do I still have shaking, uncoordinated calf legs or am I surefooted enough to navigate some rocky paths again?

I've cauterized parts of me, either purposefully or unconsciously, in an attempt to staunch widespread malaise and ultimately heal myself. Now I'm finding my scarred tissue being picked at. Sometimes I pick it out of boredom, sometimes I do it in my sleep, sometimes I cover my eyes while someone else does it, but more and more I've been doing it with intention. What am I going to find under there? Are the scabs going to be even thicker when they grow back or is this more of a controlled burn that will ultimately lay ground for better things to come?

I'm sorry to be talking in abstractions. I just don't know how else to describe the way I've been feeling lately. The anniversary of my dad's death is this week and it's got me thinking about this past year and the changes that it has caused. Are these for the best or do I need to realign? How's this grand rebuilding really going?

Like most things, only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

For Sarah

by pankaj via Flickr
Almost 5 years ago, I spent a week in the hospital after overdosing on sleeping pills. My dad found me in my apartment after work notified him that I hadn't shown up and couldn't be reached. My dad, quite literally, saved my life.

The anxiety from adjusting to life after I broke off my engagement and trying to maintain an incredibly unhealthy new relationship with a guy with severe mental health issues of his own completely hollowed me out. After three days of not being able to sleep on my regular dosage, I decided that perhaps finishing off the whole bottle of over twenty pills might do the trick.

My dad visited me everyday I was in the hospital. A few nearby friends also visited. My brother tearfully told me he couldn't get off of work to come down. My mother never broached the subject of seeing me.

Many people, including hospital staff, friends, and fellow patients, told me how lucky I was to have such a supportive father. I casually mentioned this to him during one of his visits. The next day, he gave me an envelope containing two pieces of paper. One was a letter, explaining, "I don't know how to be anything except what I am- truth be told, I'm the lucky one." He went on to say that the second piece of paper was ripped from one of his sketchbooks and it contained a poem he had written the day I was born.

The paper is very yellowed and brittle. It has that distinct sweet, earthly smell of old paper. The letters in pencil are faded, but are still undoubtedly in my dad's distinctive, all caps handwriting. His words are as follows:

"If I could give you the sun,
I'll surrender the mountains I'll climb
To give you the sun, if I could.
The gold I'll catch and save the rays,
the shine from within.
If I could, the yellow white sky."

I was less than 24 hours old and my dad loved me unconditionally. He didn't know what I would become, but he wanted everything for me. The fact that he is no longer living, the person who has loved me most of all, fills me with an almost inexpressible loneliness.

I could sure use the sun's rays at times like these.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Challenges for 2014

by artisrams via Flickr
At the end of 2013, while pondering change, I came across an idea to ask friends and family members who are close to you to give you challenges to work on for a year. I took a shining to the idea and sent an email to those who are closest to me. A few good souls responded with some excellent suggestions. I've compiled them together and would like to share them here, with my comments:
  • Write and mail at least one letter a month to a loved one: I've always been a fan of writing and receiving letters in the mail and I have continued to write letters here and there throughout the years. I really like the challenge of doing this consistently and have already mailed a letter for January. I had been thinking about how I wanted to get back in the habit of sending birthday cards, so that will help in my efforts to send at least one letter a month. 
  • Forgive someone who has hurt you in some way and really mean it: Forgiveness is huge for inner peace, so this suggestion is perfect. I like to think that I've been pretty good about this, but I can definitely improve and be more intentional about it.
  • Volunteer at least twice: Volunteering is something I've been thinking about a lot lately and have been trying to decide what I would like to do. There are a number of animal shelters here that I'm thinking of picking from and volunteering for. There's also a literacy group that gives out free books at community events. So many worthy causes, so little time!
  • Get off of OKCupid: I disabled my account a few months ago and have no intention of reactivating in the foreseeable future.
  • Consider a dating sabbatical/Be single for 2 months: Two of my friends challenged me to cool it with dating and I not only was thinking that myself, but have already set that boundary for myself. I'm hesitant to put a timeframe on the sabbatical, but I'm sure I'll know when I'm truly ready to get back in the game.
  • Set a schedule and swim X times per week/Exercise 3-4 times a week/Do yoga at least once a week for 2 consecutive months/Go hiking regularly: Being more active is another thing that's been on my radar, it's just a matter of being more intentional about it and setting real goals for myself.
  • Plan, schedule, and execute a 1 week vacation in which I do zero work and travel at least 500 miles from home to somewhere I’ve never been: Traveling is a love of mine and so I naturally really love this challenge. My schedule is already starting to look really busy with conferences and such, but I'm hopeful that this can happen.
  • Be near the ocean regularly: I was thinking just the other day how rare it is for me to see the ocean or the bay considering how incredibly close I am to both. This lack of interaction makes me feel really disconnected with my environment and I need to make an effort to make it a regular part of my life.
  • Start blogging again and post at least once a month: As I've mentioned before, blogging and writing in general are at the top of my list for things that I need to make a constant part of my life.
  • Go thrifting once every two months: A new friend of mine gave me this challenge and I like that it's a fun, easy one to have. Going to thrift stores is something that I enjoy doing, but something that I forget about easily. I've gone maybe twice since I've moved here and I need to map out some more stores to visit.
  • Make my pets happy: Yelling at my cats makes me grumpy, but knowing that I'm taking good care of them makes me feel like a competent human being, so I'd like to do more of the latter. I've already been working on this- I got my cats a really nice scratching post to redirect their scratching and have started feeding them some canned food to help my younger cat lose weight.
I have some pretty great friends, don't you think? Many of these things I had thought about in some way recently, so I was glad to discover that we were often on the same page.

The five challenges that I've set for myself for this year are:
  • Take writing more seriously: In order to be a writer, a writer needs to write. I need to make this passion a top priority and write consistently, even when I don't feel like it or if I think it's too hard.
  • Make strides to get my dad's artwork out there: My dad created an incredible amount of artwork in his lifetime and I feel very strongly about promoting his work. It would be a shame for it to simply sit in a storage unit forever. My brother and I are interested in finding an art licensing agent to represent my dad's artwork and hopefully find some companies who are interested in using his work. One step I've taken so far was to purchase a high quality scanner to create digital images of my dad's slides and negatives. It'll be a long process because there are so many, but I'm very excited to dig in.
  • Be more creative/allow yourself to pursue hobbies and interests: I've always enjoyed being creative, but I got into the habit of denying myself that pleasure because I convinced myself I have better things to do. Instead of becoming a better person for cutting this out, I've become a more repressed individual. One step I've taken so far was to sign up for a semester long ceramics class and I cannot wait to get back on the wheel.
  • Be more active: As stated above, I need to decide on what I'm going to do and how often I'm going to do it.
  • Volunteer: As stated above, I need to narrow down which organizations I'd like to spend time with.

Many of these challenges need more work in order for them to become goals and for me to gain any traction with them. As I mentioned before, transitioning into this year has been tough, so I'm glad that I've at least been able to find some clarity in terms of what I want to change. Stay tuned for more updates on this front.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


by aerust via Flickr
It's difficult for me to wrap my head around the enormity of 2013. There were so many changes- both good and bad- that I can't believe they all took place within one single year.

I moved across the country by way of a cross country road trip, started a new job, made new friends, lost my dad, became closer to my brother, had my heart broken twice, started seeing a therapist again, traveled way more than ever before, sold my car, bought a bike, and somehow survived.

I don't like to admit how bad or hard things are because admitting it somehow makes it more real to me and makes it an actual problem when I'd rather just be in denial and continue to solider through without comment, but you guys, 2013 was hard. I feel like I have a hangover from that year that will just not go away no matter how many times I throw up and no matter how many glasses of water I drink.

January 1, 2013 was the last time I ever saw my dad alive. I was never a huge fan of New Year's, but now I have a whole new level of animosity for that day. Now, when I am trying to be hopeful and optimistic toward starting a new year, I won't be able to help myself from thinking about the death of my father, how eager I was to leave him and start a new chapter of my life, how he cried at the realization of me leaving, how I'm pretty sure I consoled him with the words "you'll see me again soon." Oh, how wrong I was.

As I mentioned previously, I've been thinking a lot about how to make 2014 a better year. While I can't stop things like death from happening, I feel as though I should try to improve upon the things I can control so that I'll be able to be happier while also withstanding the bad with more stride. Thinking about a whole year is rather daunting; however, and I may need to break it up into smaller chunks of time to be able to imagine and implement any kind of change.

So, day by day, this is the new year.