Monday, December 16, 2013

This is how grad school ends: not with a bang but a whimper.

Today's the day.  Yes, the one I thought might never come, the glorious, praise heaven, and hallelujah day where all of my professors say au revoir and send me on my way with a shiny, new Master's degree.  I had counted down, buckled down, fallen down, broken down, and finally--FINALLY--I got the last class attended, last final taken, last paper written. I had one last meeting with my independent study adviser today at lunch, and we closed out the semester with a fist bump and a "don't be a stranger."  I's dotted.  T's crossed.  With very little fanfare, it's finished.

Who remembers when it all began?  It seems like so long ago... I beat myself up mentally many a time, regretting my decision to go back to school and trying to push through the growing pains of limiting my social life while cramming my brain full of information.  Weekends were too short to catch up on real life AND stay caught up for classes.  I wondered if the degree would be worth it, if I had enough drive to even see it through.  I caught myself thinking that the worst that could happen is that I quit school because it wasn't for me.  It was those little head voices that tell you you weren't cut from the right cloth, that you aren't as smart as that person.

And then slowly but surely, I started getting it.  Life little-by-little began chugging back to a state of normalcy as I made my way through classes, which turned into semesters, which turned into an entire school experience full of great people (and some weirdos, too!), great classes (along with the boring ones...yaaaaaawn), and an overall learning experience I cannot believe I survived.

I could not, would not, DID not do this on my own, though.  I'm not saying my papers were plagiarized--heavens, no.  But I had countless people cheering me on during every step of the way: 

Friends who helped me come up with paper topics and listened to me drone on about the research.

A mom who did things like spend an entire afternoon and evening helping to design a stupid newsletter assignment for me.

Friends who rearranged plans time and again to accommodate my school and homework schedule.

A dad who always sent me home from his house with a quiet word of encouragement to keep on going.

Siblings who know just how to make me laugh.  Or who give me a place to stay.  Or always take my side when I'm up against a problem.

Friends who bring me care packages or let me vent or find me the best television shows for me to keep up with.

Sisters who each individually texted me (without realizing the others had done it!) the same Ryan Gosling "Hey Girl" meme about finals.

Friends who put up with every stupid school status I posted on Facebook.

A job that is supportive of part-time students. 

Friends from the MPA program who helped me study and commiserated with me over and over about professors and classmates and papers and tests and classes.

And Steve.  He wins the prize, ladies and gentlemen.  When he met me, I was 3 semesters deep, not even halfway done.  I don't know if he fully realized what it would mean to date a graduate student, but seriously, he filled in all the cracks and more.  Sometimes he would surprise me by doing things like cleaning my bathroom (which got sorely neglected) or filling my fridge with Diet Coke (it's like he knows me...) or watching cheesy Christmas specials with me while figuring out how to list citations for my papers.  I know he hates when I brag on him, but I do not feel like I deserve the amount of amazing he brings to the table.  For the last year and a half (almost), he has seen me through the ups and downs, the crazy highs of getting an A on a paper to the despairing lows of melting down into a crying heap of madness because I cannot for the life of me face one more edit on a paper.  He picked me up on an almost-daily basis, dusted me off, believed in me, and helped me power through the darkest, hardest parts of this whole school adventure.

It will take awhile for all of this freedom to sink in.  People have been asking what I will do with all of my free time.  Play the piano, volunteer, quilt, bake, organize my house, go do things with my friends, see Steve more often than on weekends, read, veg...I could blather on and on.  But do you know what I'm most excited about?  Getting my brain back.  Not devoting such a huge portion of it to always being in school mode. Being able to rid myself of "the school guilt."

So now I'm taking a deep breath.  Patting myself on the back.  Reveling in that quiet moment of achievement, because I worked hard for it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

7 more Mondays

I have a new app on my phone.  It counts down how many days until the end of my graduate school career.  Today, it's ticking timer is showing me that there are 48 days left.  Let me give you a little picture of what this means.  48 days ago is just a little less than 7 weeks.  Did you know that just over 7 weeks ago, it was Labor Day?  Think about what you were doing on Labor Day...I was hiking up to the U.  See?

Counting down to the end has been fun, and it does seem close, but I've been driving myself crazy with how much I have to get done before they actually give me the degree.  Lots and lots of pages to write, classes to attend, books to read, etc.  Near-hyperventilation happens about daily 'round these parts, but each day, I wake up and hit it hard, do my best, and then crash.  Know that saying that you can sleep when you're dead?  My new mantra is that I'll sleep when school is done.

But it isn't all pain and misery, I promise.  I try to pack in the fun whenever I can, and I have a lot to look forward to between now and the end.  My sister AND one of my best friends are both pregnant and due within the next few weeks.  I'm going to Boston for work very soon.  And every weekend, I get to hang out with my fella and find new adventures as we work on our "Utah Tour," which includes seeing all those fun tourist things around the state.

That's what makes Mondays hardest.  Not that they haven't always been kind of the worst...but it's difficult waking up after a mostly carefree weekend and realizing it's time to face the reality of a job, school, and trying to keep up with the whirlwind of life.  It's usually the day I have to cram in all of my school reading and try to clean my house after being lazy or putting it off to have fun.  I consider the fun to be completely justified and necessary.  Of course I have plenty of hours in the day to get it all done, but that's not the point--do I have the sanity?  Gotta fill that cup and let off some steam in order to slowly but surely make it to the finish line.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with Steve and I predicted he would probably see about 2 more crying breakdowns before I'm done.  So far I haven't used either of those up.  That's because he listens to me complain, buys me Diet Coke, helps me do research, and helps put the pieces back together.  In fact, I have a lot of huge supporters: my family--who cheers me on and listens to my babblings on Uganda or survey evaluations; my friends--who understand when I can't go out all the time because I'm cooped up in my office, banging out a paper; and my boss--who patiently waits and recognizes my schedule is wonky and trusts that I can finish this up so I can be 100% at work again.

And if I'm really lucky, I'll get to pour my heart out here on this blog a little more than once a year.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A broom, a hanger, and some duct tape

Before I begin, let me just excuse myself a teensy bit and say: people--paper writing season is upon us, the beautiful, er--painful? time of year when things in this joint haven't been getting done as they usually are.  Laundry is in piles throughout the apartment, the kitchen is a disaster area, and I haven't put anything away from the party I had here a week ago.

A WEEK AGO.  Whatever.

Anyhow...I knew I hadn't been keeping up with my normal day-to-day tidying activities when I began to wonder what that gross smell was in my kitchen...and realized that it's the nasty water in the mixer bowl that's been sitting there for five days, waiting its good, sweet turn to be washed.  So instead of pouring the water down the sink (like a normal person would have done), I decided to be rid of the gaggy smell once and for all, and I took the bowl out on the balcony to chuck the filthy contents.

You know that saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater?"  I'm beginning to understand it more, because as I went to give that bowl a good hoist to dump out the water, I heard a clink and knew in my head it was too late.  Cue the slow motion, low-voiced "NOOOOOOO!" in my head.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my mixer whisk was a story below me, in the weeds.

What to do...what to do...?  I looked for access to the "side yard" of my apartment building only to be faced with this:

and this:

Ok, so I put on my thinking cap.  I could climb over my balcony.  YEAH!  Great idea!  I even got so far as getting one leg over as I was thinking, "Maybe this isn't the best course of action for one of the world's clumsiest girls ever..."  Then the next thought struck me, "Ok, so how will I get back UP once I've gotten the whisk?"  I quickly scrambled back onto the balcony and decided Plan B might need to be concocted on the double.

Plan B?  Going to talk to the downstairs neighbors and having them go out there and get it.  Hmmm...maybe I'll just go on Amazon and find out how much a replacement whisk would be instead...

Aha!  Then it hit me, ladies and gents: I remembered a time when I was little and we lost a baby toy down the sewer catchy thing on the street.  My mom got us all to chew bubblegum, and we put it on a long stick and snatched that thing up.  I also remembered an episode of Friends where they tape a lot of chopsticks together to poke their fat neighbor across the alley, just to make sure he's alive.  I could work with this...

This idea evolved into what I could find around the house.  And I'm pretty proud of the final contraption: a hanger duct taped to a paint stirrer stick, which was then duct taped to a broom handle.

Eh voila!  Mixer attachment: SAVED.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Home life

Let's rewind 6 1/2 years.  I was a year out of college, making decent money, loving the idea of owning some real estate.  And so I invested!  What do you know, a mortgage can be just dollars more than rent payments...and everyone says it's such a great idea because you're also gaining equity.  I jumped in, became an honest-to-goodness homeowner, complete with mortgage, worries, and a place to call MINE.

Ok, so you're still with me?

Jump forward in time from there three years.  Salt Lake City called my job, crazy life roller coaster, became a landlord in order to keep paying the bills and remaining a homeowner, gaining equity, building a little nest egg for myself.

Ah, the landlord life.  Not for the faint of heart.  Floods, mold, broken things, getting rent checks, HOA, worrying about a place you don't even call home.  Some of my tenants were GOLDEN.  Others I had to evict and take to small claims court.  ("Flames...on the side of my face...")  Ups, downs, sideways, and across...being in charge of a property is rough business, and I've done so for 3 1/2 years.

Which brings me to 2012.  When the new year was rung, I had ONE goal: sell, sell, sell the condo.  It was becoming too much of a burden and not enough of a goldmine (thanks, burst housing bubble), so I readied the place to sell.  I painted cabinets, fixed up little things, spent a good amount of time and money making the joint look as good as I could.  Then I listed it on the market and waited.

And waited.

More waiting...

I was ready to throw my hands up in despair, when one day I got a text from my Realtor saying he had a possible offer.  Did I dare get my hopes up?  Could there be a light at the end of the endless mortgage tunnel?  I was bleeding cash every month and struggling to stay afloat (hooray for student loans!), so I was keeping my fingers crossed that the deal would go through.

Blah, blah, blah...doing paint touch-ups, dealing with homeowners insurance, moving out appliances, crying my eyes out when the appraisal came back for way less than the offer (which, is bad news...), worrying that somehow the buyer would back out.  And lots of chocolate and Diet Coke along the way, of course.

I bet you're getting antsy to know how this story turns out...and I was, too.  Until today when I got the call (finally!) from the title company that said I could come bring them basically the equivalent of my entire savings and some signatures and take care of the whole thing.

Now I wash my hands of it.

I thought I would feel relief.  And I do!  But as I was driving home, I began thinking about all of the memories, all of the time and energy and money I put into that place.  I try not to get too wrapped up in the money side of it, but when you move from thinking you'll make enough from a place to pay for the rest of grad school, to the thought of hopefully breaking even, to then realizing that you will be in the hole for a long time, it's no picnic.  And the tears started flowing remembering all of the friends I made, all of the amazing times I had at that place, and how that part of me is kind of a closed chapter now.

Sometimes moving on is hard, but after you hit a low low (and let's face it, it wasn't even that bad!), it's nice to just get going on building anew.  I'll still be able to go to school.  I can still lead a normal life.  Things are looking up.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hiking Y Mountain

When Steve and I decided to hike Y Mountain, I was pretty excited to finally check this one off my list of to do’s.  I had lived in Provo for SIX years but never made the popular hike up to the famous Y.  I figured it couldn’t be that bad, since people did it all the time.  And then we’d go the rest of the way to the top and see the great views from there…sounded like a great plan for a fun few hours.

I was enthusiastic at first, but let me set the scene: not enough calories in my body + fairly steep trail up the side of a mountain = worn out Annie.  We reached the actual Y by resting at every single turn, even if it was only a tiny way down the trail from the last.  I knew I wasn’t world’s greatest hiker, but I felt completely lame and annoying as I asked for breaks as often as possible.

From there, it got better for awhile—great fall foliage, a bit of a relief from the continuous sharp climb…it made me feel like I could get to the top of the mountain and get that sense of accomplishment that would come from finishing something awesome.  And then the sun set quickly, and the trail got steeper than my legs would have liked, and I started to get mad.  Not mad at the mountain or at Steve—just angry that I couldn’t will my body and mind to conquer this on my own.  It got to the point where I was thisclose to crying and I would count 100 steps and then take a break.  Our goal to see the sunset from the top was quickly out of reach, thanks to my ridiculous need to stop every minute and a half.  Worn out Annie turned into outrageously exhausted Annie, but I refused to turn around before reaching the goal: the top of that massive mountain.

I ultimately kept going because there was promise of ice cream when we got done.  I kept saying, “I know what I want: a Strawberry Oreo Blizzard from Dairy Queen,” and then using a voice tinged with sadness, “Dairy Queen will be closed by the time we're back, won’t it?”  Luckily, Macey’s is open all night, and as it turns out, they sell ice cream.

I think my favorite part of the hike was at the very end when Steve almost stepped on a tarantula but instead turned it into a Kodak moment.  That thing was gigantic!

Long story short, 6 ½ hours after we began our ascent, we made it back to the car and almost crumpled on the spot…well, I did.  I fell a few times coming back (owing to some sharp hip pain I still can’t pinpoint the origin of…), and I was grateful for the foresight to pack a few snacks (even the dried pineapple in the trail mix was like manna from heaven…).  

Steve deserves a huuuuge commendation not only for his patience as we made it up that steep path but for being supportive of either decision I made to turn around or continue going up, keeping my hands and arms warm when the temperature dropped unexpectedly, distracting me with jokes and conversation, and showing me some amazing views when we finally got to our destination.  I kept telling him I was glad he came prepared with a headlamp and extra water, because that meant we could hike down in the dark and take our time without worry of getting dehydrated on the way back.

The next day, my knees were incredibly unhappy with the torture of coming down that mountain.  But I smiled on the inside, knowing that even if I did it stubbornly and with a whole lot of help and support, I made it aaaalll the way up and back. Take that, horribly difficult hike!

“Are you sure you like hiking…?”

“Yes, I just suck at it.”

Did I really make it all the way to the top and back of this thing...?! (I didn't take this picture but found it with the help of Google.)
At the Y. I thought the hard part was over...that's why I was smiling.

Great contrasting colors on the difficult trail

Amazing nighttime view of the lights in the valley

I survived!

We made it!

The tarantula that could have beaten us up...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Challenge: Hobo burgers

I learned two lessons last night:

Lesson #1: When a guy offers to wash the dishes, you let him do it...especially if he's been making a mess in your kitchen--no, this isn't metaphorical.  I guess I did help in making said mess, but dinner was satisfyingly worth it.  And I gotta say, it's pretty nice not having to cook alone and then face all of the clean-up by myself.

Lesson #2: If you get challenged to eating the entire huge burger filled with cheesy goodness (see: scrumptious picture to the left), you don't hesitate in consuming every last delicious bite, including the fries on the side.  Then you revel in the triumph and ponder on whether or not your appetite will ever return.

The burger on the left is a pizza burger, and I don't think my description will do it justice--pepperoni, mozzarella, a zillion spices, sealed up between two patties of beef, and then grilled to perfection, then pepperoni, mozzarella, more spices, and marinara sauce on top (did I miss anything, Andrew?)...its creator really went to town, but the bite I had was freaking fantastic.  My hobo burger (what some call it when you stuff a bunch of awesomeness between two meat patties) was a little more conservative, but I packed it full of three cheeses (blue, mozzarella, cheddar) and then topped it off with some applewood walnut smoked cheddar I bought at the Farmers Market this weekend.  For a girl who loves cheese, this sucker was heaven on earth.  And yeah, it was a daunting task to fit all of that food on the plate in my stomach, but my competitive spirit rose to the challenge.  All in all, a delectable dinner and a delightful evening.

Now if only I could think of a way to get my dishes washed more often...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You've got a friend

"I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and new."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lately I've been thinking about the friendships I enjoy.  I'm not only talking about the ones with the people who go to the same parties as me or people who "like" my Facebook statuses.  No, I want to discuss the true, deep-down friends who really know how to prod you on to be a better person or who support you in your falls from grace.  The ones who talk you off the road to Crazytown (population: me) and are genuinely interested in your success.

I have MANY of these friends.

You know the ones.  Friends I can text about whatever current drama I'm blowing out of proportion and who will text me right back and ask if I'm ok and what they can do to help.  People who go see ridiculously cheesy Zac Efron movies to lift my spirits and satisfy my sweet tooth for eye candy.  The ones who listen to you complain the joys of selling a condo or the stupidity of study coordinators at work.  The friends I don't have to pose for, don't have to get dressed up for, don't have to spend money to impress, and don't have to worry that they are judging me (or if they are, that they'll tell me straight to my face).  Buddies to go on road trips with or to talk until 2:00 in the morning.  Friends who tell you things that might be painful to hear, but they swallow their fear and do so anyway because they love you and want you to be the best you possible.

And all of this has gotten me pondering...I hope I give as much as I get.  When a friend needs a metaphorical shoulder to cry on (or an actual shoulder...), I want to be there, cheering them up or just lending a listening ear.  If one of my good friends has exciting news, I want to be the first to send them texts with a million exclamation points or take them out for celebrations galore.  So often we look at what we can GET instead of what we can GIVE, and as cliche as it sounds, you really do reap what you sow.  So, I'm on a mission to be that friend.

But there are some things you should know:

I struggle with small bouts of anxiety in my life, so making friends hasn't always been my strong suit.  I would tell myself that it's better to have a few really good friends than lots of acquaintances.  I still think there's something to that, but it doesn't mean I should shut myself off to new friendship experiences.  Believe it or not, I've come a long way in mellowing and deepening and becoming comfortable with myself and my relationships with others.  I have found that if I stick to my true, genuine self, the friendships I make are golden.  No posturing...full acceptance of an imperfect package.  Let's face it...that's what we all are.  And if I can help shoulder the burden on your back, and you do the same for me, we're both better for it.

For a long time, I thought if I wasn't the person filling the gaps, that I was the cause of an inadequate friendship.  I would give and give and give until it hurt, and then feel empty because my generosity wasn't being reciprocated.  Have you ever felt like that?  Like you're trying so desperately to get someone to appreciate you that you step outside of who you really are and go way above and beyond...only to fall flat on your face?  I'm not talking about a romantic relationship here.  What I mean is giving up who you are to impress someone--anyone--who isn't willing to meet you halfway.  No one needs the wear and tear of the friend who drains...and we've all had them.  Each should feel like friend time leaves their "bucket" feeling refreshed, or at the very least, not bone dry.  Sometimes there can be a painful parting of ways, but standing up for yourself is a great policy in my book. Don't let someone take advantage of you, hoping one day they will return the favor. Get out of an unbalanced friendship if it's making you more stressed than it's worth over the long-run.

Here's one thing I've figured out in life: it is so much less exhausting and heart-wrenching to just be you and accept what and who comes your way organically than to fight and try to swim upstream against nature.  And I'm sure I'll keep re-learning that lesson as life goes on.  True friends will be symbiotic, giving and taking at an equitable rate, and the rest will fall by the wayside in the natural course of things.  I guess I feel like I'm old enough now that I'm mostly comfortable with the Annie I've become, and if someone doesn't like that or appreciate me, why would I waste my time trying to convince them otherwise?  It's not like they have a job opening for friends and I've filled out the application and turned in the resume and they're turning me down.  I don't have to like everyone and everyone doesn't have to like me.  And hey, that's ok!

So here's to my friends who like me for my quirks--or in spite of them.  To the ones who will defend me in my madness and soothe me in my sadness.  For the people I've been friends with for twenty years or those I've only known a month, young or old, you are building blocks in my life.  I don't think I can fully express how grateful I am for friends who are usually in the right places for me at the times when I need them most.