2020, who ordered the rollercoaster?

I think I can speak for most people when I say, what.the.fck.2020? There’s falling to pieces and going to hell in a hand basket, but this year has reached new levels of insanity.

And I’m not even talking about the worlds problems like political and social unrest, and a global pandemic. I’m only speaking about my life. Let’s countdown the last year:

Got divorced. (check)

Moved out of my home. (check)

Bought a new house. (check)

Spent thousands on emergency repairs to said house. (wrote lots of checks)

Got metaphorically kicked in the gut (twice) by person with whom I used to share a name. (double check)

Had a covid test. (check, and negative)

Still have BOTH kids doing school online from home…where I also do school online from home. (triple check)

This year has been anything but normal, and anything but easy. It has in fact broken me on many occasions. I’m not ashamed to admit that this has been the very worst year of my life. I have felt alone for most of it. If it weren’t for my kids, I’m not *quite* sure I would have made it. I also must give credit to my dog, who has demanded attention no matter if I felt like getting up to take her for a walk or not. Sorry for cursing you, Mocha, you are the best crazy dachshund in the world and life would be a hell of a lot quieter with out you, but not nearly as much fun.

The other day I made a four year plan, because I really like having plans, and in this land of you-thought-your-life-was-going-to-look-like-that? having a plan really feels good when things are crumbling around you. Despite my best efforts of not taking a single break from school (we are talking every semester including summers and this year I’m not even taking a December holiday break, I’m signed up for winter session hell), I will not graduate until next fall.

It is what it is.

I set high standards for myself, and part of that four year plan includes a BA that says Summa Cum Laude on it. I cannot achieve that while being a single parent and taking five classes. Not while dealing with all that from above. So, I’m learning to be okay with what I can manage, and I’m managing fine (3.9 thanks to my summer psychology prof who gave me an A-, damn her.)

My four year plan will include my BA, spending a semester pushing out my best manuscript, applying to, and getting accepted into, a masters program, my son graduating from college with not one, but TWO degrees (kid’s damn smart, I can now say he takes after me), graduating with my MFA and seeing my daughter walk across the high school stage. Somehow find a rewarding career that actually pays me.

That’s my plan and now that I’ve written it, I feel like it is achievable. One of the best things this year has taught me is that I can do anything. I can be anything. It’s sometimes just one slow step at a time.

Downsizing. The first step.

This month, with the grace of the housing Gods, and if things do not implode ala the Dow Jones (anyone else freaking out about that? I’m freaking out about that.) I will be  a home owner. Solo. As in my first very own home that is just mine (well, plus my kids). This is something I have never done before. I have always had a roommate/fiancé/spouse in the past. I am very excited to do lots of things with this home, and will probably share them here, and definitely over on Instagram.

Moving means downsizing. I currently live in the house purchased while I was married (3,300 square feet). It’s too much for me in upkeep and there are rooms no one even goes in. My new house is a condo at 1,800 square feet. There are things that are easy to downsize, furniture for example. It doesn’t have a room or space, out it goes to donations or to Craigslist. But what about the rest of the Stuff That Clutters Up Life? I have three big under bed type storage bins of fabric. I used to sew sometimes. I might again if I ever have any downtime (as a full time student taking 3-4 classes per term even over summer, that puts ‘free time’ landing in fall of 2022-23 if I decide to get my masters?)

The decision needs to be made in the next month what is moved and what goes to the charity shop. This is difficult. We all like stuff. Most of us have LOTS of stuff if we are honest, far more than we actually use or need. I started this journey towards less Stuff four years ago. I read about capsule wardrobes on Project 333. The idea, as most people know, is to limit themselves to a certain number of clothes every season (you can apply this to anything in life). To only wear and use those items. I did do that for awhile. But as time went on I felt myself slipping back into the ‘more stuff’. Now I have a more all-round closet because Seattle can mean sweaters in July sometimes. It’s simply easier to keep everything but the super summer clothes out and available  (hello shorts I rarely wear languishing in a  drawer next to that polka dot bikini).

Moving to a smaller space is going to be good in lots of ways. Smaller footprint means less to clean, less to heat, less to clutter up (and I’m pretty minimalist in décor, the majority of my decorative bookshelves have actual books on them and a few photos. Everything need to have a purpose.) As I continue to sort through things closet by closet, I find myself being happier the bigger the giveaway pile gets. It’s very freeing to look at something and say that it has no purpose in my life and should go to someone else. (I’m not a Marie Kondo follower. I tried to read her book years ago, I never made it through the whole thing.) I see how many things I’ve kept because it cost xx amount of money or I might use it ‘someday’, and it sits cluttering up a space and taking up room.

There are two big incentives to get this done.

One: all this stuff has to fit somewhere in the new house. There are only two big closets (besides bedroom closets). It’s not all going to fit.

Two: Every item has to be packed and moved. Every item that is packed and moved has to be paid to be packed and moved. I might as well shave a few dollars off my moving bill by having less Stuff!

As I posted about in my last post, I want to go Tiny in four and a half years (or at least into something 1,000 square feet or less). This downsizing is a step along the way. Essentialism by Greg McKeown is a book I’ve really enjoyed. It’s not about less physical stuff, but it’s about only doing things that have meaning to you, making choices to say no. We can all use some help in that area. I’ve listened to the audiobook and have the paperback book. I found the ideas in it that compelling. I also became pretty taken with this phrase from the book.

Weniger aber besser.

(Less but better, by Dieter Rams.)

Less but better. I’m looking forward to it.

A little bit of crazy

It would take far too long explain all the things that have happened in the last four months. A lot of very hard things (the end of a marriage), and some positive things (earning a 4.0 gpa for fall). But it’s a new year and there are lots of new things. I’m currently house hunting for my first-ever bought all by myself home (very scary!) and I’m continuing on my educational path (and very seriously looking at grad school programs. I am crazy.)

I am also falling completely in love with this:

Vistabule,+Teardrop+Trailer,

Photo from Vestibule Trailers

This is a Vestibule Teardrop Trailer. And it is BEAUTIFUL. Let me say two things: I have always wanted to travel around the US in a trailer. I’ve never hauled anything before in my life.

The good news? You can pull this with a Subaru Outback, or lucky for me, a BMW X3. The trailers are lightweight (about 1500-2500 lbs depending what’s in them), maneuverable (if YouTube people are to be believed), and are simply stinkin’ cute. I’ve seen other teardrop trailers when camping previously and am obsessed with them. They were never an option before, but on my own or even with Chick, they suddenly are.

Miller+pup+and+pines

Mind you, it’s basic. There’s a bed inside that can become a couch, and a small kitchen in the back with a Dometic cooler as a fridge.

DuskTrailer-2Add-ons+-+Pullout+Cooler+Cab+&+3+Drawer

I’m under no illusions about that would be like. But the adventure side, and all the places you could go side of me simply does not care. Camping in the Arches? Done. Yellowstone? Done. The prospect of doing it simply makes me happy.

As I house search now there’s another criteria to go along with a small-ish yard for the dog and three bedrooms; a garage big enough for a teardrop trailer or a neighborhood that allows trailers in the driveway.

Then the only thing left to do is dream up all the places I could go.

September Hiking

One of my favorite hiking trials hasn’t seen me more than twice this year. With summer now officially over (and summer classes behind me and fall classes yet to start), it felt like the right time to get out and get my hike on. As I always do, because I am the Queen of the iPhone photo (7,362 and counting), some pictures from this afternoons hike at the Summit.

 

Looking for a beta readers

I am looking for beta readers for a novel I wrote awhile ago. It all started with this piece I submitted for a (now-defunct) blog called Fiction Five Hundred. The blog featured stories of no more than 500 words. I submitted the piece below in September 2010. Holly’s story surprised me and I found she needed to tell me everything, so I wrote it for her.

 

New Year’s Eve  

The dark shadowed her movements as Holly walked resolutely towards the edge.  The wind, cold and wet, blew her straight black hair around her face whipping strands into her eyes.  She pushed them back uselessly.  The salty tears mixed with the rain as they ran down her face.  In her black silk dress and red leather boots, the cold cut her to the quick.  But her goal tonight would not be deterred.

At the ledge that ran around the roof she paused.  The images in her mind assaulted her; the red tie on the white carpet, the discarded shirt.  A single gold stiletto sat on its side hidden under the bed, kicked off in a fit of passion.

Holly placed one hand on the small wall in front of her and placed her foot on top.  The twinkling lights of New Year’s Eve sparkled down below.  The last day of December was a turning point, a time for a new beginning.  She stood now, unsteady but determined poised for fate’s hand to set her free.

The images weren’t the only things fogging her brain tonight.  The sounds sent her stomach churning in revolt and she grabbed onto the rail of the fire escape next to her.  She could hear them as clearly now as when she had been frozen outside the bedroom door.

“You know I want to,” he said.  

“No one will ever know,” she answered.

The other images, the ones she’d buried deep inside herself, would remain there.  If they came forward now she’d take the final step to her destiny.  She needed a few more minutes.  This was the only way to rid herself of the pain.

The faces of her children swam before her.  Instantly her eyes overflowed; this time with love instead of pain.  Two cherub angels, they were too little to know what their father had destroyed.  He had destroyed all their lives.

Charismatic and handsome; cunning and manipulative; Holly reflected, he stopped being her husband and became a man she no longer knew.

He betrayed me.  Holly let go of the railing.  If you do this, he wins.  

Her father’s voice answered in her head.  “You’re a strong woman, Holly Martin.  For your children, you have to survive.”  

“How do I do this alone, dad?  If he really knew me, he wouldn’t love me,” she said aloud.  If she trusted him with the truth, it would destroy him.  Their life would be eaten alive by her secrets.

“You’re not alone.  I’m here.”   Was that enough to live on?  She could get down from this rooftop and go home and hug her children.  Somehow she could be the mother that they deserved again.  This didn’t have to be the end of everything she had.  

“Holly!” Conner screamed running towards her.  “NO!”  Startled, Holly turned towards him.  The heel of her boot slipped.  Before she could right her balance she felt herself falling over the edge.  

There would be no return.

The rock and hard place

Last week I started my final journey to finishing up my bachelors degree. My first class through WSU Global Online began. Friday I graduated with my AA degree, that’s one more step finished (though I still have one more class to take that starts Monday, thanks to a very long and complicated saga involving a less-than-proper professor). It’s the beginning of week two of my WSU class, and, I’m not enjoying it. It’s not the accelerated pace (summer classes cram a semester of work into six little weeks), though that’s not exactly fun either, it’s more that through the entire course there isn’t a single powerpoint, lecture note, or audio from the professor. Not. One.

This really bothers me.

I’ve taken 6 online classes before this one. Each and every class has had either powerpoint lectures or audio lectures. This is the best way to learn (for me). My current class the teacher (I won’t say professor as he’s a PhD student, which for $1560 a class, I wasn’t super happy about that) simply assigned us six books to read, discussion questions and essay assignments. There is no other interaction other than a whole lot of people asking why nothing links correctly or why there are multiple assignments in multiple areas and everything’s a bit confusing.

But zero lectures. This is not what I was expecting. I tried multiple ways to find out if this is how all the classes are, and the only two items I could find, both non-favorable reviews, said there are no lectures for the online classes. I sent my advisor an email and asked if this is the standard format for online classes through the university. She says it varies but the situation I described is typical.

So we arrive at the crossroads part of the story.

After researching UW Bothell (38 minute drive without traffic which would probably make it like 60 minutes depending on the time of day), there are some classes I can take there if I need an in-person format. UW also does an Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Social Sciences degree. All online. All with recorded video lectures. I attended an online webinar for the program today and while it’s not exactly the same degree as the WSU humanities, it’s similar, and across most of the platforms (which they call themes) and more socially related than straight history. Which I like but don’t necessarily completely love. It would certainly given me a more varied skill set though.

What to do? They are still accepting applications for autumn, which are due July 1 (including a 1000 word personal essay, which lets face it, would take me about an hour to write). Spaces are available, though it is a limited program. They currently only have 360 students.

Do I switch after investing in the WSU program, and put my one class at WSU towards the UW degree? Or stay at WSU and deal with the non-lecture classes (which honestly does not make me feel really excited to continue). I have six days to come to a decision about what to do.

Do I stay a Cougar or become a Dawg?

Body shaming and the way we put each other down

A few weeks ago, I was participating in a conversation on social media about finding clothing for different body types. The majority of the people in the conversation were talking about not finding great clothes in larger sizes. Believe it or not I understand how that feels, even though I am petite and thin.

The thing that bothered me most about the conversation was that I was told my opinion didn’t matter. I ‘didn’t understand’. I am 5’6 and wear a size 0-2 depending on the manufacturer. I have long legs (another thing that made me ‘not understand’). Everything I say next will have some people rolling their eyes; I can eat what I like, I don’t obsess over exercise (in fact other than a few yoga sessions I haven’t made an effort to juggle exercise into my schedule in months). I can not help the way my body is. My weight hasn’t changed since I was in my early 20’s (I’m about to turn 42).

When I expressed that its hard for me to find clothes sometimes; often they don’t make a small enough size (because companies keep adjusting the sizes to accommodate the growing American waistline, the sizes at the very bottom of the spectrum get pushed out and stop existing). People were confrontational, and a little rude. Why do we do this? Why isn’t my opinion still a valid one just because I am experiencing the opposite end of the spectrum from someone else?

I’m certain having a weight issue is very hard, and takes an incredible toll on self-esteem. I’ve seen others feel frustrated because the clothing company doesn’t make something in their size, or they simply don’t cut the style correctly for their body shape. I do empathize with that, and I wish companies would recognize that there are a lot of people in the world and we are all beautiful and we all come in various shapes and sizes.

But it is disheartening to be told what I’ve experienced doesn’t count, and that other wish they were as lucky as me. My experience, in essence, is the same. I feel frustrated that I can’t find jeans that fit right in both waist and leg. That I feel like I have freakishly long arms that a lot of tops in order to fit right elsewhere means I show wrist a lot. Why should my experiences be less valid that yours? I’ve been called names for the way I am walking stick among them. That is just as hurtful to me whether you choose to believe me about it or not.

I recently watched the Brene Brown special on Netflix and started reading her book Daring Greatly. She talks about vulnerability and has studied shame for over 15 years. I haven’t gained enough insight to be able to understand why people put others down. Maybe they want to build themselves up, maybe they truly believe they are the only one who suffers through the same issues. I think enough is enough. We have to stop body shaming, parent shaming, not-good-enough shaming. The only thing we are doing is reinforcing the idea that someone isn’t good enough. I am good enough, you are good enough.

My quote for my senior yearbook was “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a tough battle.” Maybe it’s time we focused a little more on kind and a lot less on a battle.

A week of insanity

In the last week we have received 2 feet of snow. I double checked. We DO live in Seattle. We haven’t been plowed out of our street because the city doesn’t have a plow big enough to handle the amount we’ve gotten. The kids (and I) have missed 4 days of school now and even if the college was open tomorrow I couldn’t get there!

For a city that doesn’t receive snow this has been a bit of a disaster. The bread aisle at the grocery was empty by Friday afternoon, the milk case looked anemic and forget about finding eggs. However the donut and ice cream aisles were still in good shape. People’s priorities were out of whack! (Always go junk food. You need the fat content to stay warm in case the power goes out!)

I grew up with snow like this from November to sometimes as long as April. But some of my neighbors don’t even own snow shovels. I’ve been shoveling paths for my dog in the backyard (the same as my dad used to do for my childhood dog).

All this snow has sent me straight back into childhood. Next up, hot apple cider!

She was supposed to offer advice, instead the doctors words were complicated

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Yesterday, I went to see a ENT specialist (ear nose & throat). For years, I’ve had ringing in my ears and it had finally gotten to the point where I’d had enough. Whenever I went to see my general doctor I filled out the ‘why are you here’ form and marked ‘ringing in ears’ as one of my symptoms. No one ever commented on it, and I admit, I never brought it up. I should have. Now that the ringing has gone on so long, there’s nothing that can be done.

Not that there is anything you can do for tinnitus anyway. There’s no medically proven cure or help for it. I was told to try to find something that distracts me from hearing the ringing, like ocean sounds, or rushing water in the background. I ordered a sound machine that hopefully might help. If nothing else, one of the settings is woodland/night which would sound like nighttime on the east coast, and that is one of my favorite sounds. Crickets and cicadas.

The unexpected part of the visit to the doctor came after she did a full hearing test. With ear bud like devices firmly planted in my ear I said the words I heard and acknowledged the beeps. I really thought nothing of it. Just a standard test for someone with ringing in their ears. But what the doctor told me has significantly thrown me.

I have mild hearing loss in my right ear.

This is why my right ear rings. They go together and there’s nothing to be done about either one. I do not listen to loud music, I don’t go to very many concerts, or to the movies. I have never been around firearms, so where this has come from is a mystery. And so very unexpected. From now on, every year when I get my mammogram, I also will need to book a hearing test. The doctor wants me to be checked yearly to track any decline, and should I experience sudden diminishment or loss of hearing in my ear I should come back immediately.

I am so stressed out by this, I’ve already triggered a migraine. I was annoyed enough that there’s nothing to be done for the ringing, which at times makes me feel like I am going crazy, but the loss of hearing on top of it seems cruel. I know there is plenty that can be done if I do lose hearing in that ear. In London, a friend had hearing aids in both ears and you could not even tell she had them. Things are not like the past, they are so small now, no one would notice unless you told them. But at my age, I am still young, and this has really thrown me.

Cope and move on is what my mind is telling me, but it’s a little harder for the rest of me to manage. It is not the end of the world. I am not sick, or hurt or anything more terrible that plenty of others face. But it is perhaps a shot at my vanity.

So if you ask me something and I don’t answer, I’m not ignoring you, I really just didn’t hear you.

We should read things that make us cry, here’s why

When we read something, often we do so for fun. A lighthearted book can lift us into a better mood, provide entertainment, and frequently serve as a departure from everyday life, if only briefly. But here’s why I advocate for reading things beyond the lighthearted, beyond the fluff. This is why you should read something that makes you cry, feel, makes your breath catch, and makes your heart beat faster.

In the last month or so, I’ve a lot of books about the military. Not so much on military history (as yet), but on the stories of my generation and the generation after me. The compelling stories of the cost of war, what everyday soldiers, marines and people in the very thick of things go through. I have no relatable experience to draw from to understand what a war is like. I only know that for me, 9/11 will be my generations Pearl Harbor. I know exactly where I was (at work) and exactly how that day unfolded (with my boss running from his office to let our small group of 5 know what was happening.)

I started reading personal stories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because of something I am writing. My character is a former Army soldier. While his past service only plays a small role, understanding what military life would have been like for him, helps to define who my character is now. I am nothing if not thorough in my research. Accuracy is one of the things I try to get right even in the imaginary worlds I create. Details matter.

It was in reading these books about personal sacrifice, that I started to have a deep appreciation for everything that these men and women give. I have always believed in and supported those who fight for our country (my dad was in Vietnam before I was born and saw most of his friends die. That is not something I can ever understand.) Two of my cousins are/were Air Force. One has chosen to make it his career, and as I type that it reminds me he’s not much younger than I am, and is close to hitting his 20 years in already.

We should read these stories to get an understanding of what these people go through. I believe most would shrug off the mantle of hero. They are simply doing their jobs. But to me, as someone who does not risk my life every day, they are heroes and more. They fight for my freedom to say what I think, and live a free life. These heroes should be celebrated and read about. Even if I do not believe in the unending war we cannot seem to get out of, I will also 100% have the back of the person who puts themselves front and center to the danger. That is what every American should do. Find fault with the people behind the war, not those on the front line. I’ve spent 6 years living as an ex-pat in Europe and traveled to 23 countries in the last 14 years. Not everyone enjoys the same freedoms that we do.

Everyone should read a book that makes them think beyond themselves. I have thought of the people in the following books almost daily in the weeks since I read them. I encourage everyone to go to the library or bookstore and pick them up. Take five minutes out of your world to inhabit a little part of theirs.

The Fighters by C.J. Chivers

One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

The Things They Cannot Say by Kevin Sites