Enjoying lately

The Pacific Northwest. We’ve been on vacation since Saturday, May 2, enjoying family, the outdoors, and food. We started in Washougal, WA, headed to Portland, then Bend, and now we’re in Seattle. It’s back to Portland tomorrow before heading back home to NC early Tuesday morning. There’s not much better than being mostly off the hook responsibility-wise and enjoying amazing scenery and food with loved ones.

DogVacay. The last time Tonks came home from being boarded at the vet, she had barked so much that her bark was hoarse. In preparation for our current trip, we needed to find a different solution. Through the DogVacay website, which is essentially airbnb for dogs, we found a dog sitter, who is taking care of Tonks in her home. So the pup is living like a queen, sleeping on their couch, and getting taken out for potty breaks every hour. The dog sitter texts me photos and updates multiple times a day, and it’s the next-best thing to having Tonks with us.

Libraries. I have access to four local library catalogs (city, city, county, university), and I still use one in our former home city electronically. With all the possible places to get books for free, I can now usually get away without buying any. Because I belong to three book clubs (one in real life, two virtual) and listen to a lot of audiobooks on my bus commute, not buying books is crucial. I especially love Overdrive, the app that downloads mp3 audiobooks from the library to my phone and lets me keep them for three weeks.

ReChaco. I sent in a pair of well-loved ZX/1 Chaco sandals that I wore pretty much every day from March-October for the past four years. After re-webbing and a new sole, I effectively have a new pair. I paid for the revitalizing, but I like that I did, rather that just throwing the old ones out. I also asked for a color webbing that wasn’t pictured as available online, and I got it! Plus, it took only nine days from sending them in to getting them back.

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Tidying up

This book is everywhere these days. Back when I blogged about my 2015 word (simplify), my aunt introduced me to it by emailing this story. My inspirational friend, Sarah, and I have talked about it. Kelsey blogged about it and talked about it with Erica on the Girl Next Door Podcast. When I had it on my desk at work, a colleague saw it and said how much it inspires her for an upcoming cross-country move. And when I read it, I really liked it. It was already in line with my plans for a pre-move purge and garage sale. I energetically dove in. The purge happened and garage sale went surprisingly successfully (thanks in large part to support from friends and equally sharing in the work by Hubs).

So now we’re in our new place. Much of our stuff is unpacked, and we’ve turned in the keys to the old, musty, scary house. Still, I don’t feel settled. According to Marie Kondo, everything in my house should either spark joy or be there out of absolute necessity. But rather than focusing on this seemingly simple concept, I’ve been making Target/Home Depot runs and Amazon orders in an effort to further organize things that probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.

So much of The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up resonated with me that I thought it would be easy to do what Kondo suggests: that people take six months to a year to fully tidy up their lives. At first I was confused about why she said it would take so long. I assumed that I could do a lot of de-owning pre- and post-move, and then it would be over. But my relationship to my stuff is more complicated than that. It has changed immensely as we’ve gone from 1800 square feet to 850, and from nine closets to three and a half. The de-owning pre-move may have been enough for the larger space. I’ve taken three completely full carloads to the thrift store since then. But the new space still does not feel right. In the effort to find a place for everything, I’ve bought into the illusion that storage will solve the problem of owning too much. I am only just starting to see just how much of a process it will be to deliberately choose to have own only that which sparks joy. Luckily, I chose simplify as my word for the whole year.

Have you read the book? How has it affected your life?

House search

I already wrote about the mice in our current house. We’ve also had an electrical fire (turned out to be very minor THANK GOODNESS, though no less scary) and broken glass that was in the yard when we moved in, which the management company never had cleaned up, in spite of promising for 9 months that they would. We eventually cleaned up the glass, and the outlet that caught fire was replaced, but coping with the poor to non-existent communication that has underscored our entire lease term has been pretty terrible.

Our initial lease term was scheduled to end at the end of July, but I’ve been on the lookout for something else since the electrical fire in November. We also considered buying a rundown duplex in our neighborhood as an investment strategy (live in one half and rent the other), but that didn’t end up making any sense. Someone did buy that duplex though, and on dog walks and on my way to yoga, I’d been peeking in the windows and monitoring the renovations that whomever had bought it seemed to be doing. Last Sunday, I decided to put a note on the door of the duplex introducing me, Hubs, and our pets and asking if the duplex owner needed any renters. He called me back within an hour and invited us to come look at the duplex he was redoing, as well as at a nearby triplex he was renovating also.

Well, we loved the triplex and the price is right (it will save us probably $500 a month in rent and utilities), so we’ll be moving mid-April. (It’s not yet clear what will happen with our current lease. We are manifesting that someone else will come along to rent the place starting in May, at which point our management company has said they will let us out of the lease.) Until we found the new place, I had no idea how much our sketchy house was stressing me out. Now that I know that it’s settled, I feel so much lighter.

Plus the new space is smaller by probably 700 square feet, which provides an incredible opportunity to simplify. Coming soon: a huge purge accompanied by a garage sale pre-move, and ruthless culling of anything that we don’t absolutely love post-move. I can’t wait!

Contentment

I confess that the scholarly part of my yoga training—reading and reflecting on yogic texts—didn’t resonate with me at the same depth as the physical practices of breathing, chanting, and moving or as the practice of satsang—discussing yogic philosophy in community—did. During my teacher training, I completed (and even sometimes enjoyed) the assigned readings and wrote reflections, and I am thankful for the intellectual base that I now have for cultivating my own practice and for the understanding of the context of the texts that I am sure makes me a better teacher. But I don’t really ever get the urge to just sit down for some study time with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

The beautiful thing about a yoga practice is that sometimes you have a need filled that you didn’t know you had. One of my favorite teachers has been leading us through part of the Yoga Sutras that refers to the yamas (good things we do for other people) and the niyamas (good things we do for ourselves). I always appreciate the teachings around these concepts in a sort of vague, the-class-starts-at-6-am way, but this past Tuesday, her words cut sharply through my early morning haze.

Santosha, one of the niyamas, means contentment. Contentment, my teacher said, can be described as “falling in love with your life,” but not the kind of honeymoon-ish love where all the ducks are in a row and everything seems perfect. Santosha is falling in love with your life in the way that you love a partner or a friend and, in doing so, accept what this person offers every day no matter how well it aligns with your idea of how his/her behavior should look. You commit to finding contentment there regardless. Contentment isn’t a perfect life that’s easy; it’s a commitment to a practice.

Enjoying lately

In weather: spring-like temps and finally gone snow. I feel my shoulders relax (rather than tense against the cold) when I step outside. It’s been cloudy, but at 65 degrees, I can’t be bothered about the sun.

In TV: Friday Night Lights. The whole series is on Netflix, and it’s an amazing combo of real-seeming relationships, poignant musical scoring, and Texas high school football, which takes me right back to my marching band days circa 1999-2003. We are huge fans of Parenthood, which recently aired its evocative final episodes, and a friend shared with me that the two shows share their executive producer/head writer—Jason Katims—and suggested that we might like FNL (thank you!). Hubs and I tried it out on a snow day, made it through 11 episodes in one sitting, and finished season one last night.

In books: I read Wonder this week on the suggestion of another dear friend. This book is quick and emotional juvenile fiction with enough struggle to be believable and enough resolution to be extremely satisfying.

In blogs: Erica at Laddventure has been writing beautifully lately about her and her husband’s journey to adopt from foster care. I’ve been both educated and moved to tears by her posts, and I feel so excited for their family as they move through the process and so thankful that she’s been sharing it with the interwebs.

In podcasts: I regularly listen to podcasts on my bus commute to avoid motion sickness that I sometimes get from reading. My two top podcasts of the moment are:

  • Dear Sugar Radio with Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, two writers who have each served as online advice columnist Sugar at The Rumpus and now teamed up to read Dear Sugar letters and give advice in podcast form. The podcast includes literary references, guest advice-givers, and a lovely conversational tone. Strayed also published a collection of her Dear Sugar columns as the fantastic Tiny Beautiful Things.
  • The Girl Next Door Podcast with Erica Ladd (see blogs above) and Kelsey Wharton. These two next door neighbors chat about their lives, and topics range from light (neighborhood news) to weighty (how to know if you want to quit your job). Before I listened to this podcast, I didn’t imagine that I would love it as much as I do. Extremely likeable hosts, well-planned, yet natural conversations, and good sound quality combine to make me download this one immediately every time a new episode comes out.

My yoga

I have my friend Linds to credit with beginning my yoga practice. I was well into graduate school, and she and her husband moved across the parking lot from us and had memberships to the YMCA. Folks, they drove me to the Y every Tuesday and Thursday, so that Linds and I could take yoga with the silver sneakers crew (senior citizens). It was a perfect way to begin yoga because the teacher was really focused on alignment and it was gentle. We practiced there together until these dear friends moved away, and then after a Creepy interaction with an old guy at the Y after a different yoga class I stopped going to the Y.

I found my practice again at a studio in Nashville, dropped it and picked it up again in Chicago, and then found my yoga community here in North Carolina, which has been invaluable in this state finally feeling like home. But as much as the people in my community of teacher trainees and studio, what I so appreciate about my practice these days is the relative ease with which I can access it.

My mom practiced yoga daily for years before I finally got into it myself. When you practice something [mostly] every day for even just seven minutes—the minimum time our teacher used to define how we should think about our daily practice—your ability to refer back to it increases exponentially. Yoga is so much about taking a moment to pause and connect with my breath and myself that it makes a huge difference in my ability to do that, and get through the day with greater equanimity.

I went into my teacher training with the idea that I wanted to deepen my own practice and probably not really teach, but my feelings on that have changed, based on the profound change that yoga has made in my life. I am definitely not perfect, but I am so thankful that the emotional reactivity that I’ve struggled with my whole life feels much less a problem now than it ever has. After just seven minutes a day.

PHinisheD

After seven and a half years of it hanging over my head from varying heights, I received this email:

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Somewhat anticlimactic. I haven’t worked in the lab since May 2013, at which point lack of funding, opportunities to move into science writing, and Hubs moving to NC all combined and I left. Because I was just so close to finishing that it felt silly not to, I continued to be associated with my scientific work throughout my paper and dissertation writing, my defense last April, and my paper’s acceptance by a peer-reviewed journal last month. (It should be said that I owe quite a lot of the successful end of the story to the labmate who is co-first author on my paper and to my grad school boss). While I’m lucky that I could start a postdoctoral fellowship without officially having the doctorate, the unfinished PhD was ever-present in my mind over the last year and a half. I am incredibly relieved to be finished, but I don’t think I quite believe that it is over.

My adult life has been defined by being a graduate student, and I feel exhausted in the way that I imagine someone ending an eight-year relationship might feel. And the PhD process was so like a relationship. I gained friends through my PhD, as well as experienced great joy, immense frustration, and huge emotional growth. I sought the answers to questions like, can I continue to depend on what other people think of me? What do my values say about how I want my work and career to look? Is it wrong to put so much time into something and then leave it behind as it becomes more and more clear that it doesn’t serve my highest good? How do I define professional success, and in what ways does my personal life intersect with it? I don’t regret anything about my PhD experience because of what I’ve gained in self-knowledge, understanding, and experience. And in the same breath, I am so thankful to move forward, degree [finally] firmly in hand.