On being alone

I found myself alone last week.

I’m never alone. Um, unless I’m in the bathroom or something, I guess. But generally, my life is lived around other people at work and at home. Even when I’m alone, I’ve got people nearby.

I’ve never minded being by myself — I’m fine with eating or sitting alone or going somewhere on my own — but I’m never completely solo, at least for very long.

Here’s the thing: Eric and Johanna went on a school-related trip Tuesday, and I decided to stay home. It was a cool fieldtrip … funded mostly by parents. The parameters were a sure anxiety attack — and, as I pointed out to Eric, I can be anxious at home for free! Plus I didn’t know if I wanted to burn through my vacation days doing something I wouldn’t enjoy. Not to mention potentially stress out Johanna, who is very tuned in to my moods.

My worry over Johanna going out of state without me, however, was just as anxiety-ridden as tagging along would have been. My acupuncturist told me that instead of fretting, I needed to make it Trisha Week and plan things for myself that I normally wouldn’t do. “Maybe get a massage,” she suggested. “Maybe just hang out in coffee shops?” I countered.

She said perhaps I wasn’t quite grasping the concept of Trisha Week.

I did make a list of things I wanted to do with my time: Have dinner at a certain restaurant and pizza place, have a coffee date, binge watch a TV series (The Crown?), read late into the evening, lots of writing time, and lots of decluttering and cleaning.

Here’s what I actually did: Facetimed Eric and Jo, and then Abby, literally every night, went for pizza (which was a bad idea because I’m not supposed to eat wheat, gluten, or tomatoes … and it messed me up, yo), hit the next town over and bought a laptop, and realized that a house stays a lot cleaner a lot longer when there’s just one person and a few cats hanging around. I had a coffee date AND a walk date with a friend, had dinner at my parents’ house (my mother’s French fries are the best) and ate what could only be considered incomplete dinners most nights. (There’s nothing wrong with scrambled eggs or toasted cheese.) I managed to clean out my bathroom drawers and get caught up on laundry. My anxiety levels were good, then bad, then good again, then absolutely terrible (WHERE WERE MY PEOPLE?), and then it was time to pick up two of my three favs from the airport Sunday and it was all over.

Whew!

I’m not really sure what to say about all of this except I need to work on time management or something because damn! That was not how this was supposed to go. Although I’m sort of wondering why I put “binge watch a series” on my list when I don’t even like TV or movies … well, except for Stranger Things. And 30 Rock. And The Office.

And also that even when I’m alone, I’m not alone. I don’t know, that’s actually kind of comforting.

But hey! At least I had some adventures to report on Friday when I saw my acupuncturist again. She had the grace to pretend that all my coffee stops were actually brave and daring.

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Okay, okay: Yes, I finally got a laptop. A friend suggested a certain office supply store, and a very nice young man (who was probably in his 30s) helped me figure out what I wanted: Cute, light, with Word and the internet. Apparently he doesn’t make commission because he was very straightforward and patient and explained my options without trying to sway me at all. The super cute light one was more expensive than the heavier not quite as cute one … and it was a hard choice, but I decided to go cheaper rather than cute. Because it has a bigger screen and a 10-key. And it’s still pretty cute.

So I also spent a lot of time setting it up. I got both my work and home emails going, Word installed (well, Office) and then got to work uninstalling the bloatware. I didn’t even know that was a thing until I was talking to a co-worker and he was like, “Oh yeah, the bloatware is terrible on PCs,” and I was like, “Say what?” and he was all, “Those free trials and crap no one really wants.” Goodbye, Skype and DropBox! Nobody likes you!

It was more money than I’ve spent in a while — even if I did get a hell of a deal — but my work life is about to get way more awesome. I’ve named my laptop Freedom, which should give you a good idea of what this device means to me. I can write articles and format press release and public records logs just as easily from a coffee shop as I can in a cubicle. And I daresay the coffee shop will be a much better scene. I spent part of an afternoon loading templates and story notes, and was just giddy with the knowledge that I am now mobile.

Totally worth it.

Oh, and I’m being mindful of the programs I keep or load onto my new friend Freedom. Nobody likes you either, Facebook. I’ve got better stuff to do.

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Further reading

Life is getting in the way of my writing this week — I will perhaps go into that later, although it’s about my girls, so maybe not — so I’m going to send you to a couple of other sites:

THIS segment on CBS’ Sunday Morning was fantastic — it’s about how money doesn’t necessarily buy happiness (unless you’re spending it on something you don’t want to do yourself, i.e. cooking or laundry) and that HOW you make your money is more important than your salary. Really interesting!

THIS post by Cait Flanders is a great look into redefining the way we shop — and I like her repeated emphasis that spending money isn’t a bad thing.

THIS post by Manal Ghosain (from 2011!) is all about digital detoxing. I’ve recently deleted Facebook from my iPod and iPad — now I can only check it on our home computer or at work (which is acceptable because I help manage the paper’s page) — and I’ve also taken off all news apps for the same reason (it’s just too much). I’m finding it rather freeing. There’s only so much I can do on my devices now … which means it’s easier to put them down and go do something else.

P.S. The girls are fine, so don’t worry.

Whatever comes to mind

This past week I’ve been working on giving myself plenty of space for activities that I find most relaxing and enjoyable — basically just reading and writing — after a day at the office. And I’ve been trying to pace myself and set boundaries at work, which means I come home in a better frame of mind.

Instead of a to-do list to greet me when I get home, I’ve simplified it to what I’ve dubbed an after-work routine: Dinner, kitchen/chores, something fun, family time and getting ready for bed. I give myself a time limit that encompasses dinner and chores, and then I’m free to read or write, cuddle with Johanna, chat with Eric and play with kittens.

This means chores are often done to a certain point and then discarded, i.e. dirty dishes in the sink or clutter on the kitchen table. I’m trying to tell myself that means people live in our house 😉 and does not mean I’m lazy. And when Eric takes on chores that I would normally do, I am working on being grateful instead of making excuses as to why I haven’t gotten around to do it myself. Case in point: I’m writing while he’s mopping the hardwood floor. I am making myself sit here and continue. I want to stop and start cleaning the house too. Because I feel guilty.

Nope nope nope.

Anyway, this is why I’ve managed to read a novella, two novels and start another in the past 10 days. It’s been lovely.

Things are getting settled down on the newspaper front, incidentally — we’re getting a new workflow established in light of our new composing system, and while THAT hasn’t completely sorted itself out yet, I definitely do not feel as frustrated or hopeless as I did a couple of weeks ago.

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One of my “chores” has been to go through my wardrobe and cull items I’m no longer using. I ended up with a garbage bag filled with stuff ranging from a bathrobe I got when Abby was a toddler to Halloween-print leggings that were a big ol’ mistake. These are headed to the church rummage sale in June.

This is part of my Whole House Decluttering Project Round Four, and yeah, this is the easy stuff. I’ve found that starting off with what is sure to be a win is a good way to gain momentum for tackling the harder areas, like my books and kitchen tools.

Hey, what the heck am I supposed to do with our cassette and CD collection? We don’t even have a way to listen to these things anymore … but would they be worth donating?

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Speaking of wardrobes, this fall I did something I haven’t done in years: I went shopping.

I mean, I really went shopping. I replaced nearly everything in my fall and winter capsule. I was intentional about it — a couple pairs of pants for work (beige and grey), a skirt (grey, actually a skort, never underestimate the power of sewn-in shorts), a cardigan (dark grey, cozy as heck), a pullover (red), three long-sleeve t-shirts (navy, red and plum), a turtleneck (black), and a new coat (black, puffy, awesome). Everything was from one store — to remain nameless because who cares, really?, but they have tall sizes, which I need and appreciate — and everything goes together. And this little wardrobe has not ceased to bring me joy, even now when I’ve been wearing the same things for six months. I should probably mention this isn’t all I’m wearing (I have jeans, a couple of other cardigans and pullovers, plus a sweatshirt from Abby’s college), and that I have been tempted to order another skort and cardigan in different colors. I haven’t, though, because it’s not so much the types of items as it is these particular items, if that makes sense — I like this cardigan and this skort, and having them in other colors wouldn’t necessarily help my closet any.

I should also probably mention that I’m cool with wearing the same cardigan three times in a week. If that’s what I want to wear, I’m going to wear it. And I like that everything mixes and matches (mostly. I don’t like navy and black together and I have plenty of both) because it makes getting dressed so much easier.

I’m not doing Project 333 anymore, but I did learn a lot of lessons from participating in that for five years or whatever it was.

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What else do we want to talk about today? I rather enjoy just chatting …

Noticing minimalism

If this post feels rushed, it’s only because it IS rushed. We went to visit Abby this past weekend for Easter, which was really fun, but wow, did it mess up my usual routine. 😉 I like to write Saturday morning, then go grocery shopping, and have Sunday to clean house, cook and veg.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. Not that I have any regrets.

Monday I compensated by going to the grocery store on my lunch break with 5,000 of my best friends, and then coming home after work and doing a bit of batch cooking to get us through the next couple of days.

Stuff that I can eat, incidentally, in light of my newfound food intolerances (probably a more accurate word than “allergies”). I’m trying to keep track of what I eat and how it makes me feel, and that’s been enlightening — it’s not SO bleak. I’m feeling pretty good, so it must be working.

I tried to keep to a time limit for my chores so I didn’t spend my entire evening working what amounts to a second job. I’ve decided that I’d like to enjoy my house rather than just look at it as a chore factory.

Anyway, who cares about any of that? Let’s get to the point: our weekend with Abby was just great. We got to do a few things that have been on her list — explore parks, coffee shops, bookstores, secondhand shops and bakeries — because she doesn’t get off campus very often and she hasn’t really seen much of where she’s living. And we really haven’t seen anything because we never stay. I love her college campus (gorgeous!), but think the town is a bit, shall we say, iffy — but after getting to explore a bit, I decided that while it’s terrible, it’s not THAT terrible.

And also, bonus: I had some amazing cups of coffee in that place, so really, how bad could it be?

Oh, bonus story: When we were at the thrift shop, Johanna found a cool flannel for $3 or something, and as we left, she was like, why don’t we go to secondhand stores more often? Better for the environment, no child slave labor, and it’s cheaper!

We don’t really have thrift shops where we live, I guess that’s the main reason. And I’m not patient enough to come back every week to see if what I need is available. But I agree, we should be frequenting them more often.

Back to the original tale: We went out to eat a lot and I noticed that most of the places we went had good minimal waste practices in place, like real tableware and plates and glasses/mugs. Still paper napkins, and still straws. But what I saw was encouraging. At one coffee shop, the kid behind the counter pulled out a mug and then noticed my travel mug. She was like, oh, you’re set, go ahead and get your coffee, but it warmed my heart to think she grabbed a mug first and not a paper cup.

I also noticed that many places we visited, like parks and restaurants and campus, had multi-level trash system in use (not sure what else to call it), with receptacles for compost, recycling and landfill. I thought that was pretty cool.

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Abby will be home for summer break the second weekend in May, which is just insane. Life will be back to normal in less than six weeks! It’s funny how we slip back into our old family routine when the four of us are together. I try to remember that when I’m feeling panicky because it feels like we’re scattered.

Lesson learned: It’s okay when they leave the nest. Because they come back again (ha) but also because … that’s the way it’s supposed to be. How pathetic it would be if she just stayed with me forever instead of flying on her own.

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I gave myself 30 minutes to write this. How’d I do? Actually, don’t answer that.

Minimalism great and small

I love my job as a community newspaper reporter.

I am getting really burned out.

I am the sort of person everyone comes to because I will drop what I am doing and help you right then and there. I will answer your question, proof your story, make a change to a layout — whatever you need, I will do it now. Although I like to think my glowing personality and my ability to colorfully use swear words has something to do with my popularity and not just the fact that I have no boundaries. 😉

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Guess who else has no boundaries?

But I’m learning. I can’t be calm in my heart if I’m pulled in every direction. I cannot be skipping my walk breaks and lunch hours if I want to maintain a healthy stress level. And I can only do so much.

Still, setting boundaries is hard. Knowing I should and putting that into practice are two vastly different beasts.

This past week was a perfect storm of awfulness: We had our two editions to put out, which is work enough, but we also are sorting through three upcoming special editions — all of which require content — as well as switching to a new composing program (how the paper is laid out for printing).

By Wednesday, I knew something was going to have to change drastically if I was going to make it through the rest of the week. I could literally feel my brain reach its limit — I mean it, there was no more space for anything. Being at that breaking point is exhausting. I couldn’t get enough rest, and I was having to forgo breaks in order to get everything done.

Which is when it occurred to me: I am purposely pacing myself when I get home from work — why not pace myself at work, too?

So on Thursday, when an ad staffer breezed in asking me to drop everything to find the article she was looking for, I deferred: There are other people in the building that can help find articles, today I’m swamped and cannot help you. She responded by arguing, and the look she gave me when she finally conceded would have withered a lesser being (also, I was too damn tired to care), but hey, she eventually left me alone, so win!

And on Friday, when I was juggling that new computer program, proofing copy and making edits, I asked for help — from our editor, and from our composing guru. They did not argue; they just pitched in, even if all that was stuff I’d normally handle.

Another good lesson for me: The world did not fall apart when these people realized I’m not superhuman. I’m bringing this forward to this week, too. We clear out our attics, so why not clear out less tangible spaces, too?

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Speaking of tangible spaces, I have been making huge strides in cleaning out the freezer and pantry. On Sunday, I grabbed a few odds and ends — from the freezer, a homemade pie crust, a couple jars of chopped greens and tomato sauce, some corn tortillas I bought before I knew corn was a no-no for my gut; from the pantry, a quart of locally sourced dried pintos — and got to work: Mexican Lasagna and quiche, plus a crockpot of now cooked pintos I can freeze (eh, it never ends) and incorporate into recipes. Irony, because of my food allergies I can’t necessarily eat this stuff … but having meals already made for the rest of the family will make weeknights this week (and next) a lot easier.

I see an endgame here, and that makes me happy. I am taking a serious look at what I preserve during the summer months, pantry and freezer, and that will determine how much I do this year. Being down a kid most of the year, my new-found food allergies and the fact that good intentions do not a dinner make are all being taken into consideration.

I’m also focusing on spring cleaning and decluttering the house in general, although this is going much slower. I’m okay with that — this is a stroll, not a marathon. I don’t really have to have either finished until June, when the annual church rummage sale kicks off — that’s the end game for our usable, unwanted stuff. The cleaning is just because I’m sick of cat hair everywhere and if I’m getting into nooks and crannies anyway, I may as well go all in. The good news is it’s a nice distraction from the other aspects of my life. It’s nice to have something mindless to tackle.

Trashy trash

I’ve finally come to terms with how an international change in recycling policy is affecting the way materials are being handled locally — or not being handled, which is closer to the truth.

You can read my posts about this HERE and HERE if you need a more thorough recap, but the Reader’s Digest condensed version is simply that all recycling in our county is going straight to the landfill because we don’t have a Plan B when it comes to transforming our recyclables into usable products. Our Plan A has always been to toss everything in one bin, ship that sucker to Portland and let their material recycling facilities sort it out for us, then send it on to China.

China is no longer accepting recyclables with more than .5 contamination rates, and our facilities can’t get down to that level (because people are idiots, basically, myself included). Moreover, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality hasn’t quite figured out what to do about it all yet. Ergo, all recyclables in our county are trashed, although we’re supposed to keep recycling as usual for now.

(Partly because they don’t want us to get out of the habit, but mostly because if we start tossing things in the garbage, trash rates are going to go up and people are going to rebel.)

Anyway, all of that is just to say that I’ve decided that, until “they” figure out what our next step is, I have to take the bull by the horns and do what I can to limit our family’s trash output. The good news is that we have lots of great habits in place because of my zero waste Simple Year. The bad news is that I have let some items back into our lives with the idea that they come in recyclable packages, so while not great, it’s not terrible, either.

Well, now it IS terrible. Hello, Johanna’s favorite yogurt!

During my weekly grocery trip on Saturday, I did my best to reduce the amount of trash filling my cart — that’s how I look at the food I purchase now, since most of its packaging IS trash. This means there’s a new hierarchy of purchases. I did my usual spin around the produce aisle, got my shampoo, conditioner and dish soap in bulk (not zero waste for the store, but trash-free for me in my own containers), as well as bulk items like dried cranberries and maple syrup (I know, STUPID LUCKY).

Because I can sort out cardboard and tin cans to take directly to our transfer station — those things will be recycled as long as they are clean and prepped properly, i.e. flattened and label free — I figure those are “bye” items on the ol’ grocery list. I didn’t have much of that this time, though, as fate would have it. What did make it into my cart that I hate, but can’t figure out a way around: I just tested positive for a wheat/gluten allergy (and corn, peanuts, cane and maple sugar, yeast, nightshades — damn the luck, tomatoes are my life! — and lactose, but not dairy, because my jerk of a stomach likes to be ironic). I purchased a package of spelt tortillas and a loaf of gluten-free bread (which is … well, gross, but not as gross as I expected).*

I have to live on something besides coffee and chocolate (apparently my gut is okay with those, I must be getting rewarded for good behavior), so these are now my own bye items (along with Eric’s cereal and bread, and Johanna’s potato chips).

I came to the conclusion long ago that zero waste isn’t possible, but minimal waste is, and now thanks to policies beyond my control, I have greater motivation to put what I know into practice. And I still think that individual responsibility is the way to go, even when policies get sorted out. That’s the goal, I suppose: To do what we can in the confines of our own situations.

*P.S., in case anyone is worried: These foods affect my stomach to varying degrees ranging from twingey to full-on death (or it just feels like I’m dying). This is in addition to my longstanding artificial preservatives/colors/flavors allergy. But I will not stop breathing. So that’s a plus.

Choices

The weather is gorgeous today (um, Monday, when I wrote this), and Abby is home for Spring Break, and Johanna is super spunky, and Eric is giggling, and the cats are big balls of purr. So basically everything is perfect in Trishaville. At least for this moment.

Things were not so perfect last week. My jerk of a stomach decided to be extra jerky, and I ended up taking Friday off from work. That was not an easy choice to make. We are a small staff, so anyone not available — let alone on a deadline day — is a true hardship. But after powering through on Thursday, I knew I needed time to just get my act together.

What helped me decide was this quote from my Nourished Planner:

“We find ourselves saying yes to an unending list of obligations intended to make other people’s lives easier rather than saying no to make time for achieving our own goals and finding time for ourselves.”

It was a good lesson to say yes to myself and see that the world did not end. I was able to get my act together, and this week will be better because of it. Good job, me!

Hell yeah!, if you will.

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Lately I’ve been scheduling fun stuff onto my to-do list instead of just chores. Because chores are BORING. And also because when you’re looking at your planner and all you see is a never-ending compilation of stuff you don’t find any joy in doing, it’s kind of deflating. THIS is all I get to look forward to? Laundry and dinner and cleaning my kitchen?

You have got to be kidding me.

I’ve decided that one or two chores a night when I get home from work is plenty, and the rest of my time is better spent doing whatever the heck I want. Because at the end of the day, what do I care about more: Having a spotless kitchen, or hanging out with my family? No dust on my hardwood floor, or cuddling up in a quilt and reading? Worrying about the clutter on my computer desk, or writing?

Some decisions make themselves.

Also, why am I only thinking of this now? Am I really that dense? (Apparently.)

This week, I’m going to try a new coffee shop, read Blood by Blood (I read Wolf by Wolf last week and loved it, thanks Abby for the recommendation), and hang out with my girls as much as possible.

The rest will sort itself out. Um, probably.

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P.S. Links are just so you know what I’m talking about. Don’t buy anything!