Happy Anniversary, Washington

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One year ago today, I had packed most of what I owned into a moving truck, and the rest was stuffed into a bulging duffel bag, one rolling suitcase and my Vera Bradley overnight bag. I enjoyed a last day in Denver–coffee with a friend, trying to sell my car, a lingering lunch with my mom at my favorite restaurant.

Then I was on a plane, headed across the country to start a new life in a new city in an apartment I had only seen on a poorly lit video call and a few photos. It was a life-changing step, and I had no idea whether I was doing the right thing.

As soon as I landed and saw husband waiting for me at baggage claim, I thought, “Oh right, this is home. He is home. It doesn’t matter where we are.” And then we stepped out to our friends’ waiting car, and the air smelled clean and moist, and we were still only at the airport, but I felt better about the place too. And when we got home, though we had no furniture except a borrowed air mattress and generously sized window sills, we also had champagne and the first of many wonderful bouquets from Pike Place. And when we went upstairs and I realized we also had that view, I thought definitively that I was doing the right thing.

So began a summer of exploration, a slow acquaintance with our new home. We rediscovered the rhythms of a life together in a new place, and we adventured at every chance. I slowly developed routines; I found my yoga studio, my produce stand, my favorite place to get oysters, my favorite place to talk on the phone and fill all of the people closest to me in on my new life. My family visited, and when they left, I was happy knowing they could picture where I was when we spoke.

With fall came cooler air, the rain and a new job. I was excited to have something new that was my own here. Autumn flew by in a whirlwind of reestablishing myself into the working world, re-adapting to wearing real outfits everyday, navigating sometime fragile and tense workplace politics, finding the balance between solace and relationship time in the midst of a very, very busy schedule.

Winter was dark, literally, the downside to living so far north, but it never snowed except for one afternoon for a couple hours while I was on the phone with a friend. I got a lot of use out of my trench coat, and we visited both of our families, revitalizing ourselves with the love of the people who have known us longest and some much-needed Vitamin D.

I’m not exaggerating to say that when the end of winter came, my whole life grew measurably better. I didn’t feel sad when it was rainy and overcast for days on end, but how thrilled I was to feel the sun again. And on top of that, Seattle finally felt like home. We have friends we see regularly; we are settled into our jobs; we have our usual spots but still try to go on as many adventures as possible.

If you know us at all, you know that we’re a couple who has moved around a lot. It’s part of the DNA of our relationship. But here, we feel at home; the wanderlust will never leave, but there’s a palpable relief each time I come back.

And though we love it here, apartment life is temporary, and we need another grand adventure. For the last three years, we’ve talked and dreamed and researched and planned to “move to the forest” and live our adventure every single day, facing new challenges and building a home for us and our friends and family. So now we’re embarking on our biggest adventure to date. As of today (what a great anniversary of living-her gift!), we are land owners. Set in the idyll of San Juan Island is a cozy 39 acres we get to call our own.

As the terrible 90s song says, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,” and as I end my first year here in Washington, the next beginning has only just started to unfold.

 

 

I get by…

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…with a little help from my friends.

It’s an old adage, and really, could one be more true? I was sitting in a division-wide weekly meeting at work today, paying very little attention to the meeting and a lot of attention to the group text I have with my two close friends. It was an unimportant conversation; one that could have easily happened later or not at all, but it was also the highlight of my (and I hope theirs too) day.

I met another friend for Starbucks this morning to rehash our night out yesterday and chatted with a different friend on my walk home. Every day, no matter how tedious work can be or how dreary the winter skies remain, or how bloated or crabby I am or what stupid life mistakes I make, I know that I have a truly incomparable circle of women doing all the same things right beside me. Even when we don’t see each other for months or even years at a time, when we don’t talk on the phone, when the texts are few and far between, I know that I could reach out and expect it to be like no time at all had passed.

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The dictionary defines a friend as one with whom one has a bond of mutual affection. I love the thought of that. Each memory, over years, is a bit of glue holding you together. Nights driving around aimlessly in high school, dorm room naps in college, post-work happy hours, weekend phone calls, all these insignificant pieces of every day, combined with breakups and weddings, consolation over ice-cream, brutal honesty about outfits and boyfriends, trips taken and lessons learned–these are what create that bond, that mutual affection holding us together.

I have part of a love poem by e.e cummings tattooed on me, and the other part isn’t tattooed on my husband, who would be the traditional choice for that sort of reciprocity, but on my dear, dear friend. Because friendship is also a lifelong love story, but without the struggle of balancing a budget together.

They say if you’re not losing friends by the time you hit 30, you’re doing life wrong. I tend to think that “they” make a lot of broad statements, but friendship is probably one of those things that is better quality than quantity. How lucky I am to have both. I prefer the Girl Scouts method of “make new friends but keep the old.” And then my friends both new and old can share a box of Thin Mints, because let’s be honest, if you’re not down for cookies, we’re probably not close anyway.

Happiness — how to?

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I just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness at Home, checked out from the library in the hopes that her happiness would rub off, and I would become a generally happier, more fulfilled person. As i was reading, it occurred to me that this was only the most recent in a long list of happiness themed books I’ve read, not limited to Rubin’s own previous work The Happiness Project. I’m on a quest to better my life, clearly.

I find myself envious of these writers for having the luxury of a job that consists of asking themselves what makes them happy and then recording it. I yearn for the freedom to not just write and get paid but to write what I want and get paid. It seems like a miracle to me that people are able to do that. Professional happiness seems like a linchpin to a happy life. Idleness leads nowhere, and a poor work situation looms over everything else like a furious thundercloud.

While, and possibly because, professional fulfillment still eludes me (though I am trying!), I have been trying to focus on other things in life that please me. I recently wrote about the importance of small rituals, but I think there are broader ways to focus on my happiness. In her books, Rubin comes back to a key component of finding happiness time and again: be herself. What makes me happy may not make someone else happy, and vice versa. So in the spirit of mindfulness and a bit of accountability, here are my top five (that I can think of now; I don’t have a year to write this blog) hows to happiness.

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  1. Stay Connected: I live faraway from my closest friends and family, and though I love my husband dearly and absolutely depend on him, our relationship cannot be everything. I must be conscientious about staying in touch with the people who know me, ground me, light me up. I make quick phone calls on my walk home from work. I make long phone calls on the weekends. I keep long text threads active. When I feel poorly, I tend to disengage, and that only serves to make me feel worse. I need my people in order to thrive. I’m also trying to expand my circle here, connecting with a new couple-friend, reaching out to people I haven’t spent time with recently. I don’t love crowds, but I love close relationships, and knowing people and being known makes me happy.
  2. Allow for Small Indulgences: At Christmas, I returned a few gifts and spent the money on frilly lacy items and new lipstick. To me, this was a thrilling indulgence that I never would have allowed myself on my own dime. I love little pretty feminine things, but I generally eschew them in favor of more practical purchases. To be able to partake in them without the guilt over finances was a Christmas gift I will treasure for a long time. I also love fresh-cut flowers. Tulips are just coming back into season, so I bought a bouquet of 20 and took pleasure in cutting and arranging them in a crystal vase just-so on my shelf. Thanks to my mom’s Christmas gift to husband, we were also able to discover places close by that sold white truffle oil and sipping chocolate, and we happily partook in both. Taking pleasure in small things frequently makes it easier to wait for the big thrills in life.
  3. Be Present at Home: Rather than coming home after a long day of work, throwing myself on the couch and losing myself in a Netflix marathon (although that is a deserved treat from time to time), I am happiest when I take in all that being at home means. I love to cook, so when I am home, I spend time in the kitchen, pleased with my magnetic knife rack each time I chop something, pleased with the little bookshelf above my sink as I look for a recipe or grab the olive oil. I take care while tending to my small collection of houseplants and angle myself while reading on the couch so that I can glance up and take them all in. As I fall asleep at night, I admire my little vignette of pretty and meaningful art and objects within my sight, and I luxuriate in the comfort of two down pillows and a soft blanket. Home is where we can most be ourselves, so I make my home a place of intentional enjoyment.
  4. Read More: It’s so easy to just watch TV, or frankly, on some nights, just stare at the wall. I’m happier when I read. To fall asleep reading after a long day is a great pleasure. To spend a morning lost in a book with a mug of something warm by my side is a joy. I love to scour the library for titles that jump out at me and then get lost in each different world. For my entire life, reading has been the thing that has most consistently given me pleasure, and it’s worth that little extra effort to get a book started.
  5. Sleep Enough: I have always been one of those people who need a lot of sleep. I remember one of my first boy-girl sleepovers for NYE 2000 and being just desperate to get to sleep as soon as midnight struck and the world wasn’t over. One of my best friends from growing up and I used to have sleepovers nearly every weekend in high school, and we would sleep until 10:30 and not get out of bed until noon. Last year we took a trip together that involved a lot of separate napping. This is probably why we’re so close. My husband teases me because he doesn’t understand proper napping, but a day with a nap is a thing of beauty. If I don’t sleep well or enough, it ruins my day, so I know that no matter how exciting life seems, sleep matters.

Figuring it out

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My husband and I are very different in that he is a long-term planner type, setting goals, achieving them and then moving the goal post a little further out. I tend to dream big and achieve small. I’ve started to suspect, as I near 30, that I might be one of those people who peaked early in life, and not even in a cool way, like the all-star high school quarterback of a small-town football team. All throughout my childhood and adolescence, people told me how smart I was, how I would do great things, that I had “leadership potential” and on and on. I took those adult words of encouragement to heart in middle school, when I was awkward with braces and long limbs I hadn’t yet grown into. As I got into high school, I wasn’t any less smart, but I became more interested in other things. In some respects, this made me an exceptionally well rounded college applicant, but in other ways, I began to lose my focus, yearning for acceptance and exciting relationships more than making plans for my future. Once away at university, I was focused on being a good student, and I excelled. Instead of pursuing my own future though, I allowed myself to be shifted by the relationship I was in and focused on my emotional present instead of a whole future. Similar reasoning led me to grad school, which I justified as a good move for my career but then failed to make it into a long-term move.

I’m not unhappy with where I am in life by any means. But the new year is a time of reflection, as we know, and I think I could certainly stand to be more purposeful and satisfied in my career. I know that I am intelligent and capable, but the planning has totally eluded me, somehow. I have watched my husband build and then switch careers, starting from the bottom and building again. He is excited about what he does–able to honestly answer “great” when people ask him how work is going. I want that. I think admitting I want more is a good first step. Figuring out what exactly “more” entails is probably an important second step. Rather than whirling around and then landing on the first opportunity presented to me, I should pause and think about what might serve me beyond the next year or two. What can I do to build the life I want? What is the life I want? Then, the hard part, figuring out how to get there. I’m so impressed by people who make and meet professional goals. Objectively I know making changes isn’t that hard, but I often feel overcome with the weight of all that lies in front of me. Maybe that should be step four. Become less overwhelmed, in general, by life.

So this is my long-winded 2016 resolution. It boils down to “Figure out what I want and then go do it.” It seems to me like a luxury, to do what I want, but the older I get, the more I realize it is a necessity. Life was not made for toiling away without pleasure. So here I go, ready to follow my gut (but with a stable, logical plan!) and find my path.

Ritual & routine.

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I began writing this blog a week ago. I started in the morning before I left for work, and I was promptly swept away into a sea of long, long hour and mind-numb nights. Truthfully, the fact that my week was so difficult makes what I had intended to write about that much more relevant, and even critical for me to consider each day.

If routines compose the structure we build our lives upon, then rituals are the rich upholstery softening all the hard edges. It is my routine to wake up at a certain time, to do laundry on a certain day, to follow a certain order when getting ready in the morning. I get on the same bus, head to the same office to do the same work; this is my routine. The rituals are just for me. I choose a warm beverage reflective of how I feel that day (coffee when I’m feeling businessy, tea when I’m calm, an eggnog latte when I’m festive and/or in need of self soothing). I choose my music. I arrange my pens just so. These small things are ritual.

After I work out, I take a shower. Routine. If my workout is at night, I might shower by only the light of my favorite candle, standing there until the hot water washes away the literal dirt and figurative weight from my day, the dim light leading me toward sleep. I also routinely wash my dishes (you’ll be glad to read (In fairness, husband is in charge of dishes.)). It is a little ritual of mine to, on the first meal after a dishwasher unload, use the spoon left accidentally with my silverware by a favorite roommate many years ago, because in the midst of something as mundane as eating cereal, it gives me the pleasure of nostalgia.

Life is so often a series of motions that we make without thinking; we are conditioned to do the one and onto the next ad infinitum. When we allow ourselves to step outside the rote actions we take, life becomes just a little more. In most cases, for myself, ritual is nothing grand. I’m not suggesting we attempt to pull off a Catholic-style blessing before bed. It’s just a moment of awareness, of honoring the fact that even if a day is nothing special, we certainly are. Treating moments with a little ceremony, a little more thoughtfulness and perhaps a hint of decadence doesn’t take away from the efficiency of a busy workday but rather enhances it. Life is not just lived in the times away from our routines, but in the glimpses within them when we allow ourselves a small ritual.

Just breathe.

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Yoga, by definition, is more than just an exercise method. It is described as providing a path to control over your mind and to well being. I remember all of this…during class. I control my breath and movements, and my mind stills and the vague but constant feeling of anxiety lifts from my chest. I flow through the different postures, challenged but calm, sweating but content to be within each moment. I even can manage something pretty close to real stillness during our final savasana. I’m lucky to practice yoga in a studio that has a great vibe and excellent teachers. The space does half the work for me. Once I get back into the world, it’s usually only a matter of minutes before I become disconnected and allow the troubles of life, in all their big and small manifestations, to fill me and replace any sort of centeredness I work toward. This week, someone I’m close to was in an accident, and as I was waiting to hear news (they’re fine, thankfully), I stopped breathing. Not entirely, of course. I didn’t pass out at my desk or anything dramatic like that. But it became shallow and erratic, as it does to so many of us during moments of tension. I texted a friend about my state of worry, and she said, “Time for all your yoga breathing and focus to kick in.”

Oh yeah. That’s a thing I have at my disposal. I’ve spent years doing yoga, but it’s so difficult to let it permeate into life off the mat. So I took her advice and began to count my inhale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… exhale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. And my heart rate slowed down, and I began to see with a little more clarity that it does no good for anyone for me to be in a panic.

Another thing we do (and by “we” I mean most of us: overly busy stressed out American working adults) is carry tension in our bodies. I’m sure you’ve felt it in your neck, after a long day at work. You’ve sighed as your body relaxes in a hot shower. There’s a reason why we say we’re going home to unwind. Well, I bet you’ve rarely given thought to the stress you hold in your tongue. I bet, without even realizing it, many of you reading this are pressing your tongues to the roofs of your mouths right now. Let it go. Breathe in. Notice how much more breath you get when you’re not blocking the way with your own tongue? (I know; the word tongue is getting weird to read.) Seriously though, it’s such a small thing that I never would have thought about without yoga, but I find myself doing it all the time. I am aware of the amount of stress and tension I carry, even when I don’t feel particularly burdened.

It’s hard to bring yogi principles into the hustle of the work week. It’s difficult to even carve out the time to make it to the mat, much less develop habits built from that time. But since the alternatives are to either flee to an ashram in India or live with a constant weight of general unease and stress, I think being mindful, relaxing my tongue (which was already back up on the roof of my mouth, pressed as though it has the job of holding up my whole head), and remembering to just breathe will certainly help me through.

Teeter-totter

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There are a lot of things that we convince ourselves we deserve. I worked out, so I deserve a cookie. Work was rough today, so I deserve an extra-big glass of wine. I’m “on” all day, so I deserve a Netflix weekend.

Sure, sometimes we absolutely need to cut ourselves a break, but I’ve found that that break becomes the habit rather than a true reward when earned. Since starting my new, stressful job, I’ve found myself on the couch, wine in one hand, dessert in the other, primed to ignore the whole world in favor of a mindless marathon. And I’m doing this nearly every night, not really even paying attention to husband, except for that 15-minute “how-was-your-day” talk when we get home. It’s easy to lull ourselves into a routine of thinking one part of life has been a challenge, so we deserve to let the other areas slide.

I’ll say though, for what it’s worth, the best weekend I’ve had was the one where I managed to grocery shop and meal plan, cook and bake; where I went to an extra-long yoga class; where I spent time out of the house with a friend; where I went to church; where hubs and I went out and did a real activity together, and in the midst, I also got to take a nap.

Balance. It always comes back to that, doesn’t it? The tough part is remembering that balancing hard work doesn’t mean becoming a human lump when away from the office. It means engaging fully in all the different things we love–hobbies, relationships, keeping ourselves healthy, finding the time to write before heading into the rain to catch the bus…

Try, try again.

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What really is life but a series of steep learning curves? We’re born, and everything is new and hard and overwhelming, so we cry. And then we learn to hold our heads up, to sit up, to crawl, to stand, to walk. And then we start talking, and at first it’s just about our immediate focus, but then we get introspective and learn to demand what’s rightfully ours. Then it’s out into the world to make a friend or two, and boy if that’s not a challenge, maybe even resulting in getting pushed down on the playground a time or two.

Then comes school. OK, reading, got this. Oh man, now there are way more letters in each word and way more words on each page and many more pages in each book. You want me to divide how many numbers by the square root of what?? And the social navigation only becomes more difficult the more we grow and develop awareness not just of ourselves but of the game in which we find ourselves unwittingly playing.

And after high school there was college and then grad school. And the first full-time grown up job (followed of course by a slew of part-time after school and summer jobs) followed by a different opportunity followed by a misstep, and then back up the ladder I go. And now here I am, in another new job with a learning curve that the company seems to pride itself on being particularly overwhelming.

But I’m going after it, and I wasn’t as dumb and overwhelmed as I was last week, and I won’t make as many mistakes tomorrow. I’ll learn to breathe and manage, and soon the work will become rote, and I won’t have to think at all (or at least not as much about every little step, like I am now). But even then, I’ll find another step to work my way toward, be it professionally or personally, because what are people but sharks, really? Keep moving forward, or die.

It’s why I’ve lived in 4 states in as many years. Why I craved adventure. Why I keep pushing my body to do what it couldn’t before in yoga. Why I read books about grammar in my limited free time. We are designed to take it all in, process and take in some more. Harder, better, faster, stronger. New and improved. Life is built on the moments of struggle that take us to where we want to be. And sometimes, if I feel a little more overwhelmed than I’d like on a Monday evening, I can just remind myself that at one point, I didn’t even know how to speak, so look how far I’ve already come.

Dr. Seuss knows best. “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”

Hi-ho, hi-ho…

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Off to work I went.

Last week was my first week of work, in a while. My first week of work in an office in an even longer while. After six months off, four years in retail and one year of grad school, I find myself back in front of a desk during most daylight hours Monday through Friday.

It was, predictably exhausting, an overload of information and new routine and new faces and trying to ensure I did nothing stupid. Nights last week were spent prone on my couch, willing myself to stay up until at least 10 before crashing into bed. Rinse, repeat. By yesterday, I had ironed the wrinkles out enough to eat a full breakfast at home (scrambled cheesy eggs on sourdough), knock out my work tasks, see Air Force One fly by, hit Happy Hour, then go to dinner and a movie with husband, and I stayed up reading when we we got home. OK, I can do this. Sure, my sink is piled high with pots needing to be cleaned, and I have a vase of dead flowers on my shelf, but some of the pots are already clean, and I kept up with washing the sheets.

The unorthodox retail schedule, while often inconvenient for weekend fun, is great for getting errands done. Don’t work on a Tuesday? Knock that stuff out. Going in to close at 1? Work out and then bake banana bread before heading in. There’s never really a break like the Saturday/Sunday weekend provides, but somehow, there’s always enough time to do everything. Not to mention, for the first time in our relationship, husband and I are on the same schedule. We have never worked the same hours, ever. Jury’s still out on how this will affect us, but suffice to say, we definitely did not make our mid-week run for groceries.

There’s also the question of time together vs. downtime. We’re both people who need to be alone and recharge. I could do that during my weekdays off. He could do it during my nights at work. Now we’re gone together and home together, and we, of course, love each other, but I think it’s ok to say that neither of us wants to spend every moment not at work with the other. I’m not really worried; it’s just another thing to adjust. In fact, today, he’s at a computer event, and I’m typing this, then going to yoga. We’re doing fine.

You think starting a job is just, ok, I’m going here at these times to do this work, and then I get paid. But nothing is ever just what it is at face value. So we’ll see. I’ll go in to week two after these glorious days off, and I’ll learn more and still be tired, but maybe I’ll walk through the market on my way home, and maybe we’ll get the pans washed right after dinner, and maybe I’ll go to an evening yoga class. Maybe. What I will do is acknowledge that change is hard but inevitable, and I’ll adapt, recalibrate my days and keep moving forward.

Forest weekend

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As John Muir famously said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” So this last weekend, we listened to our inner Muirs, and the mountains, and we headed out of town and up to the Olympic Peninsula (home of Twilight, for you non-Washingtonian vampire lovers) for a weekend outdoors. We drove to Olympic National Park, found our campsite after dark, quickly pitched our tent and went to sleep. Waking up was nothing short of spectacular.

This is the back of our campsite. Not a bad view to crawl out of the tent into.

Once we had breakfast, we set out on our day hike, which turned out to be a rather grueling but extraordinarily pretty 12 miles. The first part of the day led us along the river up to Sol-Duc Falls, and then we turned straight up the mountain to end up Deer Lake, where we stretched out on the bank, basked in the sunlight that was finally reaching our faces, enjoyed our trail lunch and imagined a life for ourselves in the forest.  
  
  
  
  Once we made it down, it was a relaxing camp night. I snuggled into my camp hammock; we built a big fire, and we tore into our meal and later into the honored camping tradition of s’mores. Our rest that night was well earned.  And then we packed up, drove out and headed back into the city, into the busyness of everyday life. But first we stopped in the small town of Port Angeles, and I looked out over the water and felt lucky to be where I am.