Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Turning off the television (or how I have no self-control)

At start of this year I gave up watching television.  I intended to last the whole year, but I only made it to mid-March (when I got sick and wanted nothing more than to watch a Grey’s Anatomy and drink ginger beer).  I originally made the resolution because I have discovered that I am a happier, more balanced individual when I do not watch television.

I love television just as much as the next person.  In fact, I may love it more.  I have little to no discretion when it comes to quality—bring on trashy reality shows!  It’s like a train wreck; I just can’t look away.  When I’m watching Toddlers in Tiaras or 19 Kids and Counting, I know that it is not a productive use of my time.  I know that when I finish an episode most of the time I will have wished I had done something else—read a book, gone for a walk, wrote a blog post, stared at a wall, etc.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I think there is a time and place for everything.  When I’m feeling crappy the only thing I want to do is curl up on the couch and watch guilty pleasure television, minus the guilt.  I am not above watching television by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, the problem is how not above it I am.  I have extremely little self-control when it comes to television.  Most people can watch one show, turn off the set, and walk away.  Me?  I become obsessed.  I can’t stop myself.  Once I start, I have to keep watching.  Even though I know I am happier doing other things, I keep going back for more.

It may not sound like a big issue (who doesn’t spend a little too much time in front of the tube?), but it negatively affects my life in a serious way.  Henry and I were spending less time at the dinner table and more time on the futon with plates in our laps.  We had fewer interesting conversations because screen time was replacing face-to-face interaction.  I spent less time reading, even though I find much more joy in a book than a show.  When I started dreaming about tv characters, I knew we had a problem.

So I gave it up cold turkey.  The result: more time spent with my husband, more time spent reading, more time spent being active, more time spent with family, all of which added up to a happier me.

After my slip-up in March (which I feel no guilt about, because I was sick and watching tv when I’m sick makes me feel better), I watched in moderation.  That lasted approximately a week before I was back to full-fledged addiction.  Part of my steep slide into television oblivion was a result of my circumstances: we had just moved to Texas and I had A LOT of free time on my hands.  Watching television filled the time beautifully.

The number one thing I despise about television?  At the end of the day, it makes me feel worse about myself, my life, and the way I spend my time.  Watching television goes hand-in-hand with so many other bad habits.  When I have a lot of screen time (either television or internet), I eat terribly (maybe that connection isn't logical, but it’s true).  So for me, television equals being unproductive, eating junk food, feeling bad both physically and mentally, and spending time in front of a screen instead of with human beings.  Not much positive to say about it, is there?

Other people can stop at one show.  Other people can watch in moderation and not let it take over their life.  I envy those people.  I am not one of those people.  We have never had cable and do not actually own a tv (we watch shows on our computer) specifically because I know I would watch horrible tv non-stop.  Now that we don’t have internet (which is a whole different story) in our apartment, it’s easier than ever to give it up.*

Inspired by my friend over at Inviting Joy who recently got rid cable, I am taking a television break.  Henry and I may still watch an occasional episode on DVD together, but I am cutting myself off during the day.  Here’s to making positive, productive changes in my life.

* Except for when I go to the public library and rent an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy and proceed to watch the entire thing in a week.  Then it’s pretty easy to watch an insane amount of television even without cable, internet, or an actual tv set.  What can I say? I'm resourceful.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dumpster diving

It’s been a good dumpster week for us. Dumpster week, you ask?

Neil and I enjoy dumpster diving. Okay, we don’t actually dive (except the one time three weeks ago when Henry went inside the dumpster to fish out the drawers of a beautiful dresser that is now in our bedroom); we just take items lying beside or on top of dumpsters, the side of the road, etc.

Since our apartment is a student complex, there are always good finds by the dumpsters the last weekend of the month. So far we’ve found three dressers, a glass/cast iron coffee table, an end table, a futon frame (which Neil disassembled for its wood), a front bike rack, a bike (with some key pieces missing), a bike seat, two puzzles (still in their bags), spoons, a cooler, a box fan, light bulbs, digital bathroom scale, stainless steel water bottle, tea kettle… and that’s just what I can remember from the last few weeks.

Most of it we keep, but some of the bigger pieces (dressers and coffee tables for example) we sell on Craigslist. Why do people throw away so much perfectly useful stuff? I’m not complaining, since clearly we benefit from their wastefulness, but I am always shocked by how much gets thrown away.

Today I went “shopping” curbside after someone put out the stuff he did not want after cleaning his garage. My haul today? For myself I found two vintage sweaters, a short sleeve top, jean shorts, a duvet cover, and a nightgown. For Neil, I found two undershirts, six pairs of boxers** (his are falling apart, so this was a much needed find), and a sweater.

I did not grow up garage sale-ing on the weekends; it’s a newly acquired pastime. We first got bit by the garage sale/dumpster diving/buying used whenever possible bug when we moved to Oregon for graduate school. Neil and I packed all of our earthly possessions (or at least the ones that weren’t kindly being stored by our parents) into “Rocketstar”, my beloved 1992 Honda Accord.We brought clothes, kitchen items, and … well, that’s about all that would fit. Clearly, furniture didn’t make the cut. The first item on our agenda (after stocking the fridge) was to find furniture to fill our apartment. In short order we found a futon, a bookshelf, a dresser, two desks (beautiful, old, solid wood desks I might add), a table, a lamp, three end tables, a coat rack, a vacuum, an entertainment center (that we used for kitchen storage), and a fan. I could not get over not only how much cheaper it was to buy secondhand, but also how much more fun I had in the process. (We did buy a new mattress because I’m freaked out by used mattresses and couches… we all get to have our things, right?)

Finding free (or cheap if bought at garage sales) items brings me so much more joy than buying new things. When I buy something new I agonize over it for days. I rarely go shopping with other people because they get annoyed by the fact I have to try on an item at least five times (and several times in the size above and below to make sure I’m getting the right one) before making a decision. Even after that lengthy process I still end up walking away empty handed more often than not. I experience none of the agony and only joy when I buy things secondhand. I love that I am giving an item new life, I love that it’s environmentally friendly, and I love that I am getting something new to me. The feeling of finding an item curbside you’ve been wanting for weeks? So much better than if I would have gone to my local box store and bought it immediately.

My addiction has only grown stronger since our first adventure in Oregon. Admittedly, my husband caught on to the beauty of it all before I did and he has been a regular garage saler for years.  It took me awhile to get my act together enough on a Saturday morning to bike around town looking for deals, but now I’m sold. Updating my wardrobe for a quarter an item? Now that’s worth waking up for.

*I know it’s odd to get your (or your husband’s) underwear from the side of the road (or in a dumpster as Neil did last week), but really, why is it any different than any other item of clothing? Once you wash it, it’s clean, but it still seems strange to use someone else’s underwear. It clearly didn’t stop me from picking it up and it won’t stop him from using it, but it did give me pause.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Holistic Healthcare

Why is it so hard to find good quality, holistic healthcare that my insurance will cover?  Let me start at the beginning.

Growing up, we had a family doctor that I loved.  I did not fully appreciate how great he was until I left town and had to find doctors on my own.  My original doctor took the time to actually listen (which I’m now realizing is a rare trait among doctors) and did not turn to pharmaceutical drugs as a first option.  Instead, he took the approach of least intervention.

Since those days, I have experienced many a horrible doctor.  When I say horrible, I mean horrible.

Like the time that the doctor blew off my concerns (after I had been referred to him by my ob/gyn because she wanted a second opinion), patronizingly talked to me while I laid half naked on the table with only a flimsy sheet covering me.  How did I respond?  By sobbing on the table, insisting (in between hiccups) that the doctor just let me finish explaining my symptoms before brushing me aside and moving on to his next patient.  That went over well.  There was s nurse there the entire time and I got a call from the office afterwards saying, “So we hear you didn’t have the best experience today…” (Translation: “The nurse told us you were sobbing hysterically and yelling at the doctor…”)

Then there was the doctor who told me my knee was fine and I should start walking on it.  Good thing I didn’t listen to her and got a second opinion the next day since I had a torn ACL and meniscus.  Maybe she didn’t catch it because she didn’t even bother to compare one knee to the other or test for an ACL injury.

And what about when I had a cyst on my foot?  The doctor I saw didn’t even look at my MRI scans.  He was in the office with me for less than five minutes before telling me the appropriate course of action and starting walking out of the room.  I asked if he saw my scans, and he said, “Oh, no, I haven’t.”  Once he did, he found the cyst.  What kind of quack doesn’t even look at scans when treating an injury?

At first I thought I happened to stumble upon a bad doctor.  Then another.  And another.  After several of these experiences I began to question that theory and wondered instead if I was some sort of magnet for idiot physicians.

Now that we’re in a new city, it’s time to find a new doctor—a process I now dread.  Since we are here for the foreseeable future, I want to do it right.  I want recommendations, I want impeccable credentials, I want excellent bedside manner, and I want holistic healthcare.  I want a doctor who is going to take the time to listen, engage me as a partner in my own healthcare, and be open to alternative therapies.

Oh, and it would be great if my health insurance company would cover this care.  Minor detail, right?

Today I spent some quality time with my friend Google looking up “integrative family medicine” and “holistic family medicine” practices.  I found several that I would like to try.  Only problem?  None of them accept insurance.

On the one hand, I love that they don’t work with insurance companies.  My disdain for corporate healthcare runs deep and deserves an entire post of its own.  Bottom line: a for-profit company’s ultimate goal is to make money, not to look out for your health.  They are not on your side.  You pay a monthly premium.  You pay a deductible.  You pay co-insurance.  When exactly does the insurance company pay?  I know the other side.  I’ve lived the other side.  Having two knee surgeries in one year?  I used my insurance like never before.  Even so, I find it sickening that these companies profit off of other people’s misfortune.

Ultimately, I’d love to get rid of my health insurance.  It isn’t in line with my values and it doesn’t cover the type of care I’d like to have.  (I want to give birth in a birth center or at home; doesn’t cover it.  I want holistic family health care; doesn’t cover it.)  At the same time, I’m a weenie and the thought of being pregnant without health insurance?  Scares me.  So I suck it up and pay my (ridiculous) monthly premium.  For now.

I wish there was a third option.  I wish the choices weren’t a) pay into a company you find reprehensible or b) go without healthcare and then go bankrupt if you get into a serious accident or are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.  Where is my option c?  Where is socialized healthcare in this country?

I digress.

I’ve made an appointment to get a physical with a new doctor on Monday.  Hopefully I’ve found a winner.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Some call what I’m doing being lazy.  In all honesty, it’s hard for me not to see it the same way at times.  Here I am, perfectly capable of being employed at a highly skilled job, and yet, I’m not.  I’m not even looking.  It’s not that I’m not busy—I am—but I’m not generating any income for our family.  My lack of financial contribution leaves me searching to define my role outside of society’s values.

I’m also left wondering where I’ll be if anything were to happen to Henry.  I am uncomfortable being dependent on someone else in such a fundamental way.  As a unit, our situation is seamless (or as seamless as any partnership can be), but as individuals, Henry is better prepared to face the world alone.  Isn’t that part of what marriage is about though?  Trusting each other, depending on each other, supporting one another, even in the face of the unknown?

Others may argue that in an equal partnership both individuals contribute to all aspects of the household.  Two years ago a stumbled upon the website Equally Shared Parenting while doing graduate research and became fixated on the concept.  The premise is that each partner should participate equally in each of the four areas: breadwinning, child rearing, household responsibilities, and leisure time.  Henry and I discussed this model in depth at the time.  I was strongly in favor, but he had reservations.  He was concerned that he would have to compromise some of his career goals in order to make it work.  Since I have very few career ambitions, it is not a problem for me.  I agree with him that in order for the situation to work either both parents have to work and the child is in daycare, or both parents have to have incredibly flexible hours at their jobs (one person going in early, the other staying late, or working longer days and having a shorter work week).  I do not want to put my child in daycare*, which leaves us both having part time jobs or never seeing each other (if one parent is watching the child while the other works and both are working forty hours, it leaves little time for the whole family to be together).  All of this is to say that I find the concept fascinating and in a perfect world it would be how our family operated.  But we don't live in a perfect world, and in our situation, Henry loves his job that requires him to work standard hours, and I don’t have a clue what kind of job I want to have.  So for us, it makes sense for me to stay home (which I know I want to do) and for him to continue working the job he loves.  (And make no mistake, I have no doubt that Henry will be an incredibly involved and loving father, he just also cares deeply about the work he does.)

Am I worried that somewhere down the line I’m going to wish I had a traditional career?  Sometimes.  But that’s a risk I’m willing to take.  I’m not exactly the “climbing the career ladder” kind of gal and don’t think I ever will be.  Maybe that makes me lazy.  I like to think it means I contribute to our household in other ways.

*I see the value in daycare and I think it is a wonderful option for a lot of families.  It is simply not an option I want to use if I have the ability to stay home with my children.

Monday, August 15, 2011

On writing

I want to write more.

I have had a negative association with writing because up until this point, most of my writing has been at the direction of a teacher or professor.  And I hate writing papers.  Hate it.  Sitting in front of the computer and having the churn out five (or ten or twenty or even a one) page paper?  I will do everything in my power to avoid it.  The only way I wrote papers throughout my academic career was by putting it off until the last possible moment when I had no choice but to complete the assignment.  It was an amazingly effective strategy.  Even as I sailed through school, this process left me with a strong distaste for writing.

In high school I used to love to write--not papers, I still hated those with every fiber of my being--but writing for me?  I loved it.  I would spend the hours of study hall or class just writing.  Stream of consciousness, describing what I was thinking and feeling on any scrap of paper I could find.  It helped me process.  I would spend hours looking up different quotations because I loved collecting these phrases that distilled so much into so little in such a beautiful way.  I found it inspiring.  I still have folders full of random note pages filled with quotes, thoughts, poems, discussion… it was my own disconnected journal.  I have never successfully journaled in the traditional sense of recording the activities of my life for posterity.  When I travel I try to "journal" because I know a year, or two, or five years down the line it will all be a haze and I’ll wish for a more detailed account than what I can pull from my memory.

All of this is to say that I’ve written myself off as a writer because I can’t journal and I detest academic papers.  Somewhere along the way, I forgot that I actually used to love to write.  For me.

So I’m starting again.  I’m going to try and write something every day.  Even if it’s only a few sentences and makes no sense to anyone but me.  I think writing could be an important creative outlet for my thoughts and energy as well as a tool to with which I can both navigate and remember my life.

For now, my blog with be anonymous.  I’m not going to share the link with my family and friends, I’m not going to post pictures, I’m not going to share identifying details.  I want to be free to explore my life, the world, and this medium without wondering how so-and-so is going to perceive or interpret it.  I want to get my writing legs back before sending it out to the masses with whom I interact on a daily basis.

So for now, it’s just going to be for me.

And any random person who stumbles here through the maze that is World Wide Web.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Job searching. Or not.

My nineteen years of education prepared me for a job I do not want.  It prepared me to sit in front of a computer screen, synthesize complex material, and then write about it.  While I hated writing for school, I always thought that when it was for work, I would enjoy it.

I was wrong.

In the few months as I desperately tried to write my final essay (read: thesis) for my master’s degree, I decided I wanted to farm.  I wanted to be outside, to do something physical.  I wanted work where at the end of the day I could physically see what I had accomplished.  While many of my peers and some of my friends wrote it off as a phase or one of my half-baked ideas that would never come to fruition (I have many of these), I continued to believe.  Unlike my fellow graduates, I did not start looking for work in my field.  Instead, I looked for places to farm through the World Wide Organization of Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Lucky for me, Henry more than willing to take a break from the grind and delay the job search in the name of learning to grow our own food.  After two months on two different farms in Oregon, we went back to reality.

Sort of.

Neil did the job search, I held down two minimum-wage jobs to pay the bills until he found something.  Not the best months of our lives, aside from the fact I was living in my home town and got to see my family, who I adore despite (or perhaps because of) of our quirks.  Let’s just say that working in a popular bookstore and waiting tables in my hometown during the holidays meant I got to see everyone I knew from high school, and their mother.  It’s great fun to see all your classmates years later when you’re working an unskilled labor job.  Let’s just say I ate my fill of humble pie.

Three months later: Henry secured a job, which meant it was my turn to figure out what the heck I was going to do now that school is behind me and the dark cloud of looming bills was not pushing me to work more than forty-hours a week at low-wage jobs.

At first, I tried to find jobs in my field.  Every morning I would browse the job search engines looking for openings in our new town.  Every morning I found find several that I qualified for and I would dutifully open them up into new tabs with the intention of drafting cover letters and tailoring my resume to fit the bill.

And then I’d close my browser.

I didn’t want any of those jobs.  The thought of sitting at a desk analyzing policies was enough to make me want to bang my hand against a wall.  Repeatedly.  I didn’t see the point of applying for a job I didn’t want.  When anyone would ask I would say I was doing the job search, but it was a lie.  My heart wasn’t in it.

While I may not have wanted to jump into the workforce, I also knew I couldn’t stay in our apartment with nothing to do.  Less than a week of that and I was already losing my mind.  Quickly.

So what’s a girl to do?  Volunteer.  I Googled urban agriculture in our city and emailed every place I found.  I wasn’t bringing home the bacon, but I brought home plenty of squash.

I loved it.  I loved being outside, I loved meeting people who had common interests, I loved working with my hands.  The more I volunteered, the less I motivated I was to apply for “real” jobs.  Whenever anyone would ask, I continued to say that I was doing the job search.

It was a lie.

Some point along the way (shortly after reading Radical Homemakers), I decided that I wasn’t going to say I was doing the job search.  I was going to tell people that I was learning how to grow my own food.  If that lead to awkward silence, then it would lead to awkward silence.

So here I am, five months into our lives in the Lone Star State and fourteen months as a Master of Public Policy, pulling up weeds in 100 degree plus weather.  For free.  I won’t say there aren’t times I have questioned where I am and where I’m headed, but I do know that it is the right decision for right now.  Sometimes I wonder whether I’m setting myself up to fail five or ten years down the line when I want a “real” job and have no experience and have emptied my brain of everything I learned in school, but then I push the thought aside and focus on what’s good for me today.  Because who wants to trade happiness now out of fear of the future?

Not me.