Just Down the Block

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I started the New Year off with a bit of chaos – I moved apartments. I am still in the DC area and I’m not going very far at all. I literally moved two blocks down. The move was a bit of a mess. There was miscommunication with my old apartment and of course it rained. I had assistance from All Star Movers (they’re actually saints and the quickest movers in the DMV) and my lovely parents (though one half was sidelined with injuries). Bits and bobs were moved over the week and my plants got special treatment in their transportation and will now enjoy a sunny spot in my window.

I find moving stressful. Partially because there are so many “what-ifs” and partially because its the end of an era. I’ve moved every year (if not twice a year) for the past six years. Mostly it has been from my parent’s house to college and back or into a suitcase to Australia and back. Things have been accumulated (mostly plants) and things have been tossed (r.i.p. the black leather chair that was older than my parent’s marriage). And I try to prepare, but can never quite get it right.

But I found a few things helpful in making the moving process slightly less anxiety-inducing.

One: start packing before the moving truck arrives. This seems logical and yet you’d be surprised. I started putting non-essentials away about two months before I was set to move out. Then I stopped buying food about two weeks before my move. The week of my move, everything went into bags or boxes, one night at a time. The few days before my move, I did a capsule wardrobe challenge, using only ten items of clothing and packing everything else. And the night before, my loving mother and I broke down my bed and pushed everything the movers would be lugging about into the living room for easy access. It worked. There’s not a whole lot that was left to be dealt with after the movers left and things are packed in a semi-organized fashion.

Two: give yourself wiggle room. It’s tempting to move out the last possible day of your lease, but having a day or two or a week overlap to move helped me stress less about getting everything done in that deadline. I could spend three days moving my plants and my last bits over, rather than three hours. When it started snow/raining, I didn’t have to power through.

Three: cry in advance. I knew that I would end up crying (and I did!) but I figured getting some of those stressful emotions out of the way before the movers arrived would be helpful for all involved. So the night before, I watched a movie I knew would make me cry and I let it out. And then in the morning after picking up my apartment keys, but before meeting with my parents, I cried again. And voila! No tears during the actual move.

Four: let the professionals do their job. Other than bits and bobs and plants, we let the professional movers handle the tough stuff. They figured out how to get things into and out of the two apartment buildings and they carried the heavy things.

Five: know when to quit. There’s a certain point in my day when I have to acknowledge I need to rest. As an introvert, I know that too much socialization will eventually mean hitting a wall of exhaustion that can only be fixed by time alone. After a stressful day of moving, I needed to acknowledge that everything wasn’t going to be put away right then and there. I could rest and handle what was left over the next few days (see tip two).

Can I just say I’m happy I don’t have to do this again until next year?

Starting Fresh

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It’s almost the new year and it’s almost a new decade. So it’s time to leave some baggage behind. I know everyone loves spring cleaning, but I find the end of the year to be an incredibly satisfying time of the year to kick anything that isn’t sparking joy to the curb.

First things first: emails. I hate having notifications for emails. So I’m clearing my inbox. Anything that needs responding to, gets a response. Any ads or coupon codes are get marked as read – if I need them, I can always search for the brand or store later. Anything that sends me hourly emails, unsubscribe. I will not start the year with a little red bubble next to my email app.

Then on to social media. Almost yearly, I go through my social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and clear out the people I just don’t care about. Maybe it’s someone who I was friendly with years and years ago or a comedian I followed and have regretted following ever since or a friend’s ex. Whoever it is, if I don’t love seeing their posts, they’re gone. If they aren’t sparking joy with their content, unfollowed. No more hate-liking or skipping through three hours worth of concert video posted to their stories. If I don’t know them, they’re gone. (And anyone I can’t avoid – i.e. coworkers, family members – gets muted. They don’t have to know.)

Next up, moving on to more physical things. My car becomes a dumping ground for bits and bobs. I’ll be starting the year off with no receipts waded up in my cup holders. Nothing in my trunk. And a full tank of gas. Because I’ll be moving in January, I’ll also be stealing my parents’ shop vac to clean up the evidence of many a fast food stop.

My apartment stays relatively uncluttered and will end up being cleaned and organized when I start packing, but I’ve got a couple of things that need sorting.

It’s so easy to fill a kitchen with half-eaten bits and bobs and then still have nothing to eat. So the last few meals of 2019 will be sourced from what I already have. That bag of chips from that party two months ago will be eaten (or tossed once I realize they’re stale). Anything in the fridge that’s past expiration date will be dealt with. The freezer will be explored and it will reveal whatever I’ve stuffed in there. Basically, I’ll have to come to terms with all my impulse Safeway purchases.

Like most proper adults, I receive mail. This mail usually relates to bills, information about my work benefits, catalogs I’ll never read, and cards from my mother that I never dealt with. Fortunately, I’ve only been adulting for about a year, so it hasn’t accumulated to an unreasonable pile. Yet. So I will be sitting down to sort through what can be recycled, what can be shredded, and what should be nicely filed. Because most of this paper lives on my bedside table, once it’s clear, I’ll actually be able to keep important things next to my bedside like my phone, my glasses, and a candle (or three!).

Speaking of candles, I’ve been burning candles for about a year now and I’ve gone through quite a few. At some point, I considered dealing with the empty candles, getting all the wax out, and reusing the containers. But I’m lazy and they’re in the way. So I will instead just be recycling the containers and moving on. Once those have been cleared of my shelf, I can justify my purchases of more candles!

If you’re like me, you went a little crazy during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales and you bought new clothes. Unfortunately, my closet isn’t big enough (and currently has a hole in the ceiling from my upstairs neighbors’ water leak! Yay adulting!). So I’ll be downsizing. I’ve done this many times before but I’m excited to clear out the things that don’t fit or that I haven’t worn in a year or that just aren’t my faves anymore. Don’t worry – they’ll be donated (first to friends and then to a local charity shop).

Lastly, I’ll be clearing my head. (Yes, I went there.) It’s one thing to get rid of physical clutter (the piles of unread mail) or the electronic clutter (the unfriendly “friends”), but emotional clutter is draining too. Especially in the middle of the most exhausting time of the year. An hour or two of journaling. A yoga class or a run in nature. A mediation session surrounded by candles. A hike in the wilderness. A mental reminder to let it go.

It’s a new year, a new decade. Why carry shit with you that you can leave behind?

Creativity for Creativity’s Sake

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I’ve been thinking about the benefits I get from being creative in a variety of ways. I sang and played instruments for years; I tried cross-stitching and embroidery; I wrote prose and poems and blog posts; I spent hours making little watercolor roses. I have artsed and I have craftsed. And I was never amazing at any of it.

But I’m starting to realize that that is quite alright. If I find joy (regardless of the outcome), isn’t that enough?

I think I grew up placing a lot of pressure on myself to perform to high standards (set both by myself, as well as by my education and my upbringing near a city like Washington, DC). If I was going to do anything, I wanted to do it well and I wanted to do it with purpose. Because of my mentality, I struggled to be creative if I wasn’t “good”. Writing or painting or crafting seemed to only be worth it when I liked the outcome, regardless of whether I enjoyed the experience. I could never start a creative project if I was concerned about whether the outcome would be good.

(If you haven’t yet seen Set It Up, it’s a rom-com on Netflix with a scene where the main character’s roommate encourages her to write the worst article of all time in order to break her writer’s block. 10/10 recommend for any rom-com lovers out there.)

Now that I’m a little older, I’ve accepted that I will probably never be a professional artist or a professional crafter – and that’s okay. I like where I’m heading career-wise.

But I miss the feeling of creating. So the other day, I pulled out my paints and a mini canvas and started painting for the sake of painting. A layer would dry and I wouldn’t love the outcome so I would paint another layer. After a while, I felt comfortable with letting this cheap canvas sit. It won’t be on the walls of the Louvre any time soon but I enjoyed the feeling of a paintbrush in my hand.

A lot of this reflection is related to November being right around the corner. Each November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Nanowrimo is an online challenge where participants write throughout the month with a word count goal (usually 50,000 words). Fun fact: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen was a NaNoWriMo book. The idea is to get in the habit of writing everyday and in the habit of writing without self-editing. The challenging part is getting everything written without giving in to the urge to edit each paragraph – that’s what December and January are for. The organizers set up writing meetups around the world and have accounts designed to challenge you to write in different ways over different chunks of time. I’ve participated with various levels of success in the past and am debating trying this year.

But it fulfills my desire to creative without an expectation of perfection at the end. I don’t think I’ve looked back at what I’ve written during past Novembers, but that’s alright by me. (I may look back in ten years and die from laughter and/or embarrassment) but at the time those were the words I needed to form.

Will I succeed in writing a novel (with no edits) by the end of November? I don’t know. Will it spark my creative juices? Perhaps. Will I expect perfection? Hopefully not. Happy NaNoWriMo, y’all.

Let me know if you’re planning to participate or if you have in the past.

Winter Essentials

Travel

It’s getting chillier here and I’ve even considered putting on a scarf once or twice. (Disclaimer: it’s definitely still 70 degrees here on a regular basis.) But the cooler temps had me thinking about what I always pack when traveling in colder climates.

Maybe you’ve got a trip to Scandinavia planned or maybe you’re visiting family in Upstate New York. Either way, I hope my essentials might be helpful for your packing needs.

Like I mentioned before, I love a good scarf. My particular favorites have been a big red blanket scarf (R.I.P. – if anyone ever sees one on the DC Metro, let me know.) A good travel scarf should be thick enough to actually keep you warm, should be large enough to wrap around you like a blanket or to create a nice pillow for you. I also recommend getting one that’s somewhat colorful – every photo from my time abroad in Europe included my black winter coat and my bright red scarf. It added a pop of color to my otherwise all black ensembles.

I mentioned my black coat above – I highly recommend a light weight puffer jacket for winter travel. I believe mine is from REI but I’ve also heard good things about the Uniqlo versions. Essentially you want something that will keep you warm, will layer nicely over thicker sweaters, and that you can smush down into nothing when packing your suitcase. Some of these puffer jackets come with a little bag that they smush into. Can 10/10 recommend these for travel – especially if you’re going between temperatures.

I dream of thick sweatshirts and cozy sweaters, but unfortunately they’re quite heavy and unless you’re going to the Arctic Circle, they might be overkill. Instead I would recommend packing layers – lots of layers. The trick to layers is to start thin and work your way out. A thin turtleneck or a tighter tee shirt can be worn on their own or under another thin sweater. That next layer should be thin enough to layer under your coat but could also be worn on its own. I’m a big fan of a thin sweater over a dress with tights. And we all know you’ll be popping in and out of museums and restaurants, so you want to be able to take off layers as you’re reintroduced to the warmth.

I like tights under dresses (and under pants when it is particularly cold), but nothing beats a thick pair of socks. If you’re planning hikes or a walking tour, your toes might get chilly. Grab a thick pair of socks or two and throw them on. Your toes will be happy (and if they’re good quality- warm and dry) and you won’t feel the chill quite as much. I’ve got good pairs from REI in the past and they’re the best.

If you are planning on thick socks, make sure they will fit in your boots. Personally, I don’t think a pair of hiking boots is necessary to wander around Paris in the winter but you’ll want a nice pair of flat boots for your travels. I recommend a black pair that’ll make you look chic and European, while also going with everything you’re bringing for your trip. Top tip: wear them around the house or to work a few times to make sure they’re extra comfy before you go.

I bring a well-stocked purse with me in the winter – Chapstick is essential (this one’s my favorite), hand lotion is nice. A good moisturizer with SPF is key. (You can get sunburnt even in the winter!) Sunglasses are also helpful – especially on windy days. Hand sanitizer will keep you from getting sick, but just in case cough drops and emergency Day-Quil are also good to have around in the winter. I also try to take Vitamin D supplements because lack of sunshine really does on a number on me.

My last essential is my phone to double check hours – a lot of touristy spots have different hours in the winter. Double check before you go!

What are your winter essentials? Please let me live vicariously through your trips – where are you heading this chilly season?

Roadtrippin’ 101

Travel

Whether you’re headed for the beach or a music festival, someone somewhere deemed summer the perfect opportunity for road trips. Immortalized in films and tv shows as a freeing experience, there’s few things as painful as being shoved in a car with a friend and all of your worldly belongings, hoping traffic isn’t this bad for the rest of your 12-hour journey. Despite my distaste for the realities of road trips, I figured I’d share how I’ve managed to survive them thus far.

Plan accordingly. Factor in bathroom breaks and rush hours into your drive time. If you’re gonna hit a major city at exactly 5 p.m., maybe a bathroom break before the mayhem is appropriate. Or maybe you’re visiting a friend on the first weekend of summer vacation – maybe avoid those roads that head straight to the beach. I also have a rule that if you’re making multiple stops, you never want to drive more than three or four hours a day in a row. Sure, that final day may have to be a horrible six-hour drive, but if you can avoid three days in a row of seven hours in the car, you should.

Dress appropriately. Sure it may be chilly at home, but cars heat up. People are hot and sweaty, and it’s pretty gross when you hop out of the car at Grandma’s house to give her a sweaty hug. Short sleeves and layers are your friend. If you run cold, grab a blanket. Wear shoes that aren’t too smelly and are comfortable. Comfort is important because if you’re anything like me, you will inevitably end up snoozing at one point and it ain’t fun to nap in your tightest jeans. I also recommend socks, even if you’re in sandals, but my toes are always cold so I might be biased.

Snackage is key. Hungry people require more stops on the road, so be prepared. A salty snack and a sugary snack will cover basic cravings. I’d avoid chocolate in case of meltage, anything particularly stinky, and anything too messy like Baked Cheetos or powdered donuts. This isn’t to say you should bring a full twelve-course meal. Instead, these snacks should cover you between gas and dinner stops. Hydration is also important. A bottle of water for each person will cover basic needs. I avoid coffee or anything that’ll spill and leave my car smelling of bad milk, but up to you on that one. I would also leave the straws at home; not for environmental reasons necessarily – just because I drink five times faster with a straw and then have to pee five times more frequently.

Pack an activity bag. My mom instilled the power of an activity bag in me since I was a wee thing. Bring along technology and technology free entertainment. Kids might enjoy a toy or a coloring book, while adults might like a Sudoku puzzle or that magazine you’ve been meaning to read. Knitting needles or a crochet hook for those crafty folks will keep your hands busy. Grab a notebook for keeping track of every state license plate you spot or to do a quick game of hangman in the backseat. Boredom can kill a road trip in thirty minutes, trust me.

Music is crucial. I’ve probably said it before but I don’t trust technology. I’d rather go old school with a few prime CDs than rely on my phone. Plus I’d rather save the charge for directions and finding the closest Dunkin Donuts for my random cravings. I recommend having everyone in the car contribute a CD or two that they enjoy (if people still own CDs like my family) and avoid CDs of contention (in my family, the Beatles and Grateful Dead stay out of road trip playlists). I’m a big fan of Stadium Arcadium by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sam’s Town from The Killers. Other good ones are Hozier‘s first album, Signs of Light by The Head and the Heart, Lord Huron’s Strange Trails, and anything by Elbow or Passenger. Or make your own mix CDs – really lean into the throwback. Anything you enjoy and can sing along to or jam along to.

Binging/Bingeing

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I binge. I watch hours of the same television show multiple days in a row, and then I forget about it for months. I read the same book from start to finish, and then I go weeks without even reading a magazine article. I devour YouTube videos locked away in my room, and then I completely move on.

It’s not that I lose interest or something else comes along, but my brain prefers to scoop up all the information or entertainment that it can before shifting focus.

It’s the same with writing.

When I first started a blog, I thought I would write weekly. I needed to get all my feelings about traveling out to the masses at weekly intervals so that they would be both satisfied and not overwhelmed. But then I myself became overwhelmed.

I moved home. I got an internship, working 9 to 5 everyday and commuting 2 hours everyday. I didn’t have time to come home and reminisce on the travels I was fortune enough to experience years ago. My focus was on staying calm as I dealt with regular social interaction on a daily basis, while also taking on the stress of what I’ll be doing after the New Year (I’m an introvert, through and through. I recharge by being alone, which is something of a challenge when working in a social office and then living with your parents.).

All this stress and cover letter writing, and the month of September flew by, and here comes November. Last year, I completed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Over the month of November 2017, I wrote 50,000 words of a “novel”. It was a rough, rough draft, much of it simply the result of brain dumps that vaguely related to a topic. I haven’t looked at it since, but I enjoyed the sensation of finally giving in to what I had been thinking about writing for years. It was on paper (well, on a word document, but same thing) and not written on scraps of paper (well, iPhone notes, but same thing) fluttering about.

It was probably not my best idea, as I was also in the middle of a Master’s and was stressed enough without an additional burden. But that was always my excuse. NaNoWriMo is every year, every November. There would always be something to keep me from writing.

So as I sit here on my semi-abandoned blog debating whether I will be too stressed/busy/overwhelmed/social to write 50,000 words of a “novel” this year, I can’t help but think this would be a good binge. Write 50,000 words in a month and then take a few months off. But at least I’ll’ve caught that focus before my attention went elsewhere.

P.S. Is it binging or bingeing? I can’t decide since neither looks quite right. If you have any input on this debate, I’d appreciate it. ktnks.

Making Plans

Travel

I’m an anxious human being. I get places thirty minutes early, I plan out walking paths and bus routes before, during, and after I’ve left the house, and I love lists. So traveling (especially alone) can sometimes be stress inducing, which is why I’ve got this whole planning thing down to a science.

My first step is a browse through Pinterest, or if all else fails a Google Search. Depending on the length of my trip and whether or not every travel blogger on the planet has visited, I can usually find enough to do. (I’ll also find things that might interest my traveling buddy, but might not be my cup of tea, just in case they aren’t the plan ahead type.)

I’ll also do a search of free walking tours in whatever city I’ll be visiting. (I loved my Sandeman’s walking tours and they’re in a good number of places through out Europe.) They’re a good starting point for where ever you are, allow you to get your bearings in the city, and they tend to point out things to do and eat that you might have otherwise missed in your planning.

The next step is to head over to Google Maps. Because Google Maps can be downloaded or used without data, I prefer it over Apple Maps or any other city specific app. A browse through the interwebs has probably left me when a thousand tabs open on my computer, all waiting for me to decide whether or not to visit. My tabs are searched on Google Maps and their location is saved either as a “Star” or a “Want to Visit”. If I’m feeling real fancy, I’ll make a separate map for the trip. I’ll also make a mental note of which things open early or late (a note I’ll revisit once I’m actually there).

I don’t like to plan out my day(s) until I have arrived, unless necessary. Exhaustion levels, weather, and the chances of finding somewhere new to explore all keep me from being that Type A. I do, however, find myself booking things I know I want to do in advance. This way, I don’t have that nagging feeling in the back of my head that something will sell out between my planning and my actual trip. (Most of the time it’s not a worry, but you never know. Better safe than sorry!)

Side note: I, personally, like printed versions of everything. From plane tickets to admissions tickets to hostel business cards to maps of the city (if I can find them for free), I’d like to have a physical copy. It means that even if my phone dies from taking too many pictures, I’ll have what I need to cope. It also means I’ll have something to stick in my travel journal when I get back home to remember my trip!

Once I’ve booked everything, starred everything in a map, and triple checked what time my bus/train/plane/car leaves, I can worry about packing. For day trips, I always empty out my purse and refill it. If it’s not essential, it’s not coming with. My Waitrose card and the twelve pens that sit at the bottom of my purse are removed. For longer trips, I pack what I think I’ll need a few days in advance, then repack the night before. That way my last minute panic of forgetting my *insert crucial item here* is done while I can still find it, rather than once I’ve already left the house.

The day of my trip, I’ll take an allergy medicine, just in case, make sure I’ve grabbed any last minute items (chargers, headphones, book or kindle, chapstick, etc.), and I can head out the door.