Monday, January 29, 2018

Seen, Heard & Bookmarked

I have an hour before my last pottery class and all I want to do is blog. To put virtual pen to paper. And so here I am, tucked into a corner table at a little coffee shop down the street from the studio, perched in front of my laptop. This certainly won't be my opus, but gosh it feels good—like a long stretch after you've been curled up on the couch.

Last week I made a trek to Texas to interview at a potential grad school. It was a 2-day affair and as I made my way home last Saturday night I found myself feeling tired, teary, and emotionally tangled. I also felt conflicted.

Sunday morning I woke up to absolute clarity. A good night of sleep and my instincts were back on point. My gut told me the program that accepted me back in October is The One. And my gut hasn't wavered for one single second since. I am relieved and feeling confident now that the decision has been set in stone. This week I started my deep dive into all the assigned pre-work and it has been onward and upward ever since.

Wednesday brought my first 11a-11:30p shift at work. Let's just say I'm not a fan. That time frame seems to combine the worst parts of each shift into one. I agreed to try it for this schedule but imagine it will be a short-lived affair. Though I want to work, and more importantly make money in this interim period, I have other priorities too. Like my sanity, my preliminary coursework, and my family. So while my goal is still to work about 24 hours/week, I'll be looking for a different combination of hours to achieve that. Sometimes you just have to say no.

We are leaving for Grand Cayman in about 3 weeks, and I'd like to spend the time we have before that re-centering my wellness routine. (Establishing a solid routine, more like.) Husband and I are each going to pick a couple recipes to prepare for the upcoming week and I'm committed to wholesome (mostly Whole30) eating for all 3 meals. That way I won't get too derailed due to our vacation and can transition back into good habits when we return. I've stopped waiting for everything to be "just right" before starting these things. Right now is as good a time as any.

In the meantime, here are some things I've seen, heard and bookmarked lately:

Justin Timberlake + Chris Stapleton forever and ever amen. I first became acquainted with this unlikely pairing a few months ago when I stumbled upon their awesome CMA performance on YouTube. And now they have a new single which I'm equally smitten with. (The music video is good.) I'm not a country music fan by any stretch, though my music preference has a wide range, but I've been listening to the complete works of Chris Stapleton on Spotify often. His voice hits me deep down in my soul.

Egg Roll Soup (Come. On.) It's on the menu for this week.

Adding collagen to my daily routine for a number of reasons, primarily joints + skin. (I went with this one.) I'll report back.

Saving this SpƤtzle and Cheese with Hot Dogs recipe for one of those comfort food kind of days. (Very occasional cheating is a-ok.)

5 Hairstyles for Short Hair (Mine has vacillated between chin length and shoulder-skimming for the past 2 years and I don't see that changing. It is my hair's perfect length.)

Ben & Jerry's Non-Dairy ice cream. So many new flavors, kiddo loves them!

How to Supercharge Your Dopamine Levels

This Loaded Kale Salad looks right up my alley.

Decided to try blue light blocking glasses to help with electronic eye strain + sleep hygiene. They help so much! The ones I ordered on Amazon are out of stock, but these are very similar.

Obsessed with these apple (and pear!) chips.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Organization, simplification and downsizing.

This year I was especially prompt when it came to putting away the holiday decor. Though I totally understand those who leave their tree up throughout January (a less jarring transition into the New Year and glum First Month weather), I like to make the transition a quick one for practical and emotional purposes.

This year is a little different. We are facing the likely prospect of apartment or condo living for a few years starting this summer. We will be living as close to my grad school as possible to limit time spent commuting, which places constraints on our housing prospects since both programs are in very urban areas. Plus, we are feeling a strong pull to simplicity: someone else mowing the lawn; a smaller area to clean; walking distance to amenities; an on-site gym; etc. But that also means whittling down our belongings to fit in a significantly smaller space. The plan is to have a yard sale this spring/early summer, but a lot of sorting has to occur and decisions have to be made before that can happen.

I decided I wanted to start this process early and tackle it as organically as possible as opposed to putting aside entire weekends to sort through all the totes in our garage. So last fall I resolved to go through our holiday decor as we put it out and took it down. This past weekend I sorted through everything we didn't use and put items into boxes labeled for donation or a yard sale. Then I carefully packed up the stuff we do love and use and put them into labeled totes. What was once many boxes and totes with zero organization became a succinct storage system so we will know where everything is when we go to look for it in the future. (One tote for fall holidays, one for Easter, several for Christmas and so on.) What we were left with was a fraction of what we had before and I feel just fine about that.

This is absolutely the way to tackle the problem of stuff! We usually do it just prior to moving which inevitably ends in copious amounts of stress and a good dose of arguing. Four days before a cross-country move is NOT the time to be deciding the fate of that box of broken ornaments from your childhood. (Our previous moves have felt like last minute adrenaline-fueled affairs and I'm eager to do away with that particular habit.)

And just like that a project I've been avoiding for years was completed in a couple days. Because it seemed so much bigger in my head than it actually was.

I've had Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in my nightstand for a year but have yet to read it. (I'll get to it next!)  Still, I've seen enough interviews and read enough articles about it to understand some of the core principles. A big one for me is taking the time to evaluate individual objects while sincerely considering its value in my life. I also have to be honest with myself about why I hang on to certain things: is it really the love of an object that keeps it in my life or an unhealthy emotional tie I need to sever? I went through that process, briefly, as I put all the holiday decor away and cleaned out totes. Do I love this? Do I see myself using this for years to come? Is it going to hold up? and other such filters crossed my mind before deciding its fate. It works.

We did a giant stuff purge when we moved from New Hampshire to the Pacific Northwest 3 1/2 years ago. And yet so much still remained. (Enough to have a lucrative yard sale this past year.) We also have to consider that we are going to be transitioning from a 2400 sf house to something, well, much smaller, so we will have to be even more committed to letting things go. Which can be so very hard + anxiety-inducing. We have accepted that we will likely need to keep a storage unit for a few years, but we don't want that to be an excuse to keep stuff we aren't passionate about. Our future selves will thank us for tackling this now.

I got the ball rolling early on and that feels good. Now it's just a matter of keeping up the momentum as our moving date grows nearer. There are so many question marks in our lives right now that I don't want to add more stress to the mix. Slow and steady is the key, I think.

This year I resolve to be surrounded by only the things I love, to have less clutter, and to spending less time worrying about the state of our stuff.

Friday, January 12, 2018

All the feels in the New Year

The first part of January was over in the blink of an eye. Kiddo had a gloriously long Christmas break, and Mario and I each took a week off of work so we could focus on family time. I remember sitting in the living room on January 1st reflecting on how perfect this break seemed; the first in a long time to really stand out. I felt so connected to our family. Before I knew it the decorations were being stowed and life resumed its normal rhythm. Kiddo went back to school, I went back to work, and Husband left this week for an extended business trip.

At one point during the drive home from Montana my belly exploded with butterflies thinking about the year ahead. Mario just accepted a promotion at work and is chartering a new(ish) course in his career; Kiddo graduates from high school in about 5 months; and the culmination of nearly a decade's worth of work means my life's goal will be realized starting this summer.

For all the anxiety and frustration that has bogged down periods of my life, I look back and see how fortunate I've been. This life and my relationships have afforded me some amazing opportunities: the ability to stay home with my son (and also work, when the time was right); to travel; to attend college (and now grad school); to explore my many creative interests; and to establish rewarding, lifelong friendships throughout the country. I didn't often see it for what it was when I was in the thick of it, and sometimes I find that regrettable. Life could have turned out so differently, and not necessarily for the better, a realization that has instilled a deep appreciation for the less sunshine-y periods in my life. Because they were important, too.

Over the years my memories of the hard times have softened—the sharp edges becoming rounded—and what is left is profound gratitude. Gratitude for a husband who becomes more beautiful with time, both inside and out. True story: the other day I was meeting him for lunch in downtown Portland. I looked up as I entered a crosswalk and met eyes with a man whose attractiveness nearly stopped me in my tracks. A half second later my brain processed that it was my very own husband. It was an impactful moment and I've mentally relived it numerous times since that day. Because, you know, daily life and work and dish duty sometimes get in the way and you forget just how enamored you are with each other. The fact is, my fondness for that man has grown exponentially since the day we said I Do and I don't take for granted the fact that not everyone is so fortunate in their relationships. I have total equality, love and support from Mario and I strive everyday to make him feel just as loved. (Though my intensity makes me considerably less easy to love, I imagine.)

Last weekend we met up with some friends for an afternoon. We played pool (flashback to my friend's basement rec room in high school!), ate, and chatted. There was so much laughter. On the drive home my heart ached with the thought of packing up and leaving the life we've made here. We are uprooting ourselves again for all the right reasons—for the sake of an amazing future—but the heartache is real. I love the PNW, Portland, and all the amazing people we have in our lives because we chose this place to call home. Feeling equal parts excited and heartbroken is a strange place to live emotionally, but I'm trying to let all the feelings have their moment of recognition as they pop up.

Work has been tough lately. The end of the year is the busiest for the surgical services department, with people scheduling procedures before their deductible resets in the New Year. January has been busy, too, with flu season raging and traumas and unscheduled procedures. Last week I stayed several hours past my shift to assist with a deluge of emergency cases, finally crawling into bed at 2a feeling mentally and physically depleted. Yet I feel this intense responsibility to work more. To pick up all the extra shifts, to change my direct deposit to savings, and to throw money at our account for my remaining months in the workforce before school starts. This pressure is solely self-imposed, but powerful nonetheless.

In a matter of 6 short months I want to pay off every cent of debt we carry and have a savings account that is bursting at the seams. Come July I want to set all of our bills to autopay and not think about them once while I'm in school. And yet, that's completely unrealistic. An unfair expectation that only serves to create more stress and strife. The fact is we are in the best place we've ever been financially, making it the perfect time to leave the workforce for a few years. But the subject of money is complicated and emotionally charged and I am prone to overextending myself for the sake of possibly stowing away a few extra dollars. I imagine a lot of it originates out of guilt: I'll be taking on significant debt in the form of student loans and relocating our family for the sake of my dreams. (Mario doesn't feel this way at all, and reassures me all the time. Though guilt is guilt is guilt.) That internal drive that has led to my successes in life has a dark side: it often provokes me into putting unnecessary pressure on myself to make everything just right. It's an overarching lesson in self compassion I work toward perennially. Perfectionism aside, this coming endeavor is a big one; an undertaking that will require a great deal of time, money, and sacrifice. I am working to mentally prepare for all it entails, as much as one can having not yet personally experienced its intensity. In the meantime I need to cut  myself some slack and prepare in a realistic way, which means accepting imperfection for the sake of sanity. As much as I'd love to enter school with zero life interruptions and every possible scenario and snafu accounted for, it's simply not how life works.

Earlier this week I received an email from my program. It has our class roster, complete with the photos taken during our interview session, and several essay assignments. We are roughly 7 months out from our start date and already there are books to read, documentaries to watch, and a 17-week medical terminology course to complete. Upon reading the email it all became very real. Soon we will be shopping for new technology (switch to a Mac?!), tools of the trade, and a white coat (with my very own name on it!). There will be financial aid packages to negotiate and a house to pack up. Where will we live? (Apartment/condo vs house?) What plans will Kiddo make post-graduation? (Work, college or both?) What will life look like for us this fall? What do I do with my houseplants? When do I give my notice at work? Butterflies + anxiety. Butterflies + anxiety. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Compounding matters is a choice I made about a month ago: I accepted an interview at another program. There were two pipe dream schools, you see. A year ago when I was compiling my list of potential programs in preparation for the upcoming application cycle, I had a definitive Top 2. I thought I'd likely be invited to interview at one of them, and I was right. I have a seat with my name on it and have been absolutely over the moon since finding out. Mid-December I received an invitation to interview at my other top choice program. In the end I decided to go for it. Next week I will once again hop on a plane, suit in hand, to go through the arduous interview process just one more time.

Here's the thing: this second program costs $30,000 less overall and is in a state with no income tax, which combined would save us tens of thousands of dollars over the course of our time there. If I am accepted (the big IF), and my gut tells me there is a clear winner, money will not factor into my choice. However, if I'm presented with equally excellent options I'll likely be changing programs. Which leaves me feeling unsteady and uncertain. And more than a little guilty for even considering somewhere else in light of the amazing opportunity already awarded to me. (Again with the guilt!) In the end this is the absolute right decision and what is meant to happen will come to be. My life goals are too important to not thoroughly vet every amazing opportunity that comes my way. In addition to being nervous, I'm also incredibly proud of myself and humbled by my fortune. I've worked really hard and it feels amazing to have these highly competitive programs recognize my efforts.

At the end of the day these are First World problems, at best. As word gets out at work that I was accepted to PA school, I have been inundated with questions and comments by my coworkers. The physicians tell me how hard is it to get into a program (agreed) and others lament about how much they want the same opportunity. ("Yes, grades matter." "Yes, you have to have a degree first." "Yes, it's very competitive." and so on.) I am one of the fortunate ones who had the drive and ability to jump over the many hurdles this process has presented. (And the stamina to keep pursuing The Dream, always.) The fact that I have a rock solid support system in place allowing me to take on this venture hasn't escaped me for a second. Some have it easier, but there are many, many more who've had it harder.

And so I'm feeling all the feels and thinking all the thoughts. I'm putting the impending assignments on hold until the final decision has been made. Instead I'm actively trying to focus on the right now. Parenting a teenager, holding down a job, learning to throw pottery, and trying not to look too far ahead. There will be a time and a place for that.