Keeping up with the Donners -or- It's All About the Journey (Even if it's Futile)

For those of you who don’t know, I teach fourth grade. 

We’re reading a book right now that is realistic fiction called Patty Reed’s Doll. It’s from the perspective of -you guessed it- Patty Reed’s doll. Patty Reed was a member of the infamous Donner Party (I imagine every reader going “ohhh” right now). Everyone knows about the Donner Party, right? They had a ROUGH experience. While traveling west, they tried to save time by taking a short-cut to California (in their defense, they got the idea from a dumb-dumb who wrote a book saying the way was super safe and fast) and they got snowed in and most of them died. There’s speculation that they were forced to eat each other to survive. 

Cue this joke:

Not a very fun trip, right? These people made a daring move to try something new and the outcome was catastrophic. I’m pretty sure if they had chosen not to go, they would have always talked about it what could have been. At that time everyone wanted to head west. Was there really any other alternative for them if they had the desire to try?

Probably not. But they could have NOT taken that dang Hastings Cutoff. Come ON, GUYS. 

I do this ridiculous thing sometimes where I take a red-eye bus down to LA for the weekend, go to an improv class, see an improv show, and take a red-eye bus back home. I did that this past weekend, in fact. On Friday when I rode my bike from my car to the bus in pouring rain I thought, “this is funny. It’s stupid, too. I could be dry in my house right now. I could be well-rested.” 

Arguably, while sitting in my dry house, warm and rested, I would be thinking about what it would be like to take that improv class. 

Paying Attention to Progress

It's mid-January. 

I'm getting a bit freaked about about my #make30count bucket list. It doesn't feel attainable in 7.5 months. There are a LOT tasks on the list and they're all very different. ACK. They would be pretty easy to finish up if it weren't for a few things... 

I have a job, and it occupies a LOT of my time. While I acknowledge the season of work that I'm in and see the value in all of the hours I spend, I still desperately wish I had time for more creative endeavors. 

I live in a place where I have to commute everywhere. I drive at least two hours a day. I try to maximize that time but it still makes me a bit sad and stressed out that those hours can't be applied somewhere else. 

I'm going to sound like a stubborn little five-year-old, but I'm also angry that sleep requires so much time. I love sleep and NEED it, yet I wish I could function on less for the sake of time. 

The best way I know how to suppress these feelings (which can snowball and lead me to feel like all of my effort are fruitless and life has no meaning) is by taking choice moments to look back on what HAS been accomplished. (Actually, my therapist helped me with this. I didn't really think of it myself) 

I'm always pleasantly surprised by what I find. 

Wow, I spent two years getting a teaching credential and now I HAVE A TEACHING CREDENTIAL AND I (you guessed it) TEACH. I did the thing I set out to do!

I completed Khan Academy's "Intro to Code" and have a basic understanding of how code works. Cool!

Dang, I watched Lawrence of Arabia. Well, I didn't like it and now three hours of my life is gone, but sometimes that happens!

Reallythat's how I feel about Lawrence of Arabia. Sorry. Maybe I'll try to rewatch it someday. 



Applying Skiing Concepts to this Thing Called Life

Let me start by saying that learning new things is NOT easy, especially when you are on the cusp of turning 30 (#make30count) and that thing is SKIING. I started skiing last year at the ripe old age of 28 by taking 3 intro lessons in December and then 1.5 lessons in March (I had a meltdown during the .5 lesson and quit at noon in tears, thus the 1/2 day). This December I took one lesson and then skied for about 8 of the 16 days I was be in Colorado. 

Side note: my husband is a beautiful skier. BEAUTIFUL. Manly man Jeff Neckers is to a mountain as a prima ballerina is to Swan Lake. He's technical, fearlessly fast, and he emanates pure joy when he's in the snow. He's been a skier since the age of five, raced in his teens, and is now teaching in Colorado (and receiving the added benefit of skiing on his off time for free). Here is a picture of Jeff when he was a adorable little racer in spandex and all:

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No pressure, ol' Erin. If you hate skiing you'll just spend EVERY WINTER UNTIL YOU DIE stagnantly eating over-seasoned french fries in a ski lodge while your children become little ski demons and forever share the love of a snow sport with your husband but not YOU. WIMPY BABY. 

Fortunately, skiing kind of clicked for me this winter. I finally went on a blue run this week, I'm linking turns, and in the act of skiing I no longer exclusively think about what will happen if I wipe out. Success!

This post isn't actually about how much of a novice skier I am or how wonderful my husband is (although he is quite wonderful). It's supposed to be about how skiing relates to life (because I think it does). Here are some things I learned about skiing that I think apply to the sport of LYYYFE:

1. Lean DOWN the mountain. I love watching people ski while I'm riding up the ski lift. You see all kinds of people and such a spectrum of ability. You can always tell if someone is inexperienced because they look pretty rigid and as they go down the hill and they lean back as if that's going to be helpful. All that does is put you off-balance and make you fall on your butt. It also tires you out and puts a lot of strain on your body. Leaning down the hill feels very counterintuitive, but it helps you to move efficiently and in a safer way. 

APPLICATION: In life sometimes we figuratively lean back. I equate this to being wishy-washy or reactive to things that happen. Making bold decisions (or just a decision)  helps you to move forward on your terms. 

PERSONAL APPLICATION: Getting my teaching credential popped into my mind. Student teaching, classes, etc. gave me a LOT of anxiety. Credentialing was terribly overwhelming because there was always an obligation to fulfill. Your "work day" starts at 7 am when you fulfill the requirements of working in a classroom. Then you get out of "work" (not paid) and go to classes. if you aren't doing that, you're studying for a test, developing a lesson, or trying to have a life. This experience taught me to make decisive choices and finish tasks rather than waste energy. 

Minnie skiing!

 

2. Look where you want to go. When you ski it's very easy to only look as far as the end of your skis or as far as you're turning (lest you don't crash into a grove of trees). I was corrected in this action and told to look to the bottom of the hill. Even if your body is physically turning, your head is always pointing toward your ending destination. 

APPLICATION: Is this one pretty self-explanatory? Stay fixed on your end goal.

PERSONAL APPLICATION: I don't know what my end goal is. It makes it VERY difficult to "face my destination." I am very easily distracted by every turn. I'm learning how to write code, speak French, improvise... oh, and I'm teaching, Uber driving, giving guitar lessons, blogging, eating Whole30 compliant food, watching as many television shows as I can keep up with (currently WorkaholicsTwin Peaks, and Transparent! TOO MANY!)... YIKES. I'M FOCUSED ON EVERY TURN and unfortunately, it's very disorienting. Here's the good news: I'm about to start seeing a career coach, so I'm hoping that will help me to focus my interests a bit. Otherwise I'm going to go crazy!

Doubletake

3. Slow down (by turning) to stay in control. HAHAHA! This is funny! Erin is a terrible hypocrite. Did you read what she just wrote for #2? HAHAHAHA. 

Here's the thing, though. Turning is the way to stay in control when you ski. When I started out I thought it was the "pizza" wedge that kept you in control, but that's super boring after awhile and it tires out your legs. It's way more fun to point your body down the hill. As you gain speed, initiate weight on whatever ski will become your "downhill ski" and you begin to turn! You also reduce the weight on your uphill ski and work on pointing your knees where you want to go (more or less). By the way, this is terrifying at first! After a lot of reps, you start to see it as a way to maintain a consistent speed. 

APPLICATION: SLOW DOWN. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.

PERSONAL APPLICATION: *laughs to self* SELF CARE! If this week of skiing taught me anything, it was that I do not apply turns to my life. I barrel down the hill and crash. Over and over and over and OVER again. If I were applying turns to my life I would be getting enough sleep, not taking work home with me (if I can help it), and LISTENING to MYSELF.

4. Have FUN. My ski instructor this December was really delightful. He had a little phrase he would say for every skill related to skiing and he LOVED to tell us things in groups of four (ex: "What are the four best parts of finishing a day of skiing?" "1. Taking off your uncomfortable boots, 2. Getting out of your sweaty clothes, 3. Sitting in a hot tub, and 4. Drinking an adult beverage of your choice."). He also had us practice skiing straight down the hill as long as we were comfortable- as we would initiate a turn, he told us to growl loudly or say "yeahhhhhh." Honestly? I still say "yeahhhhhhhh" loudly when I turn. It's a way for me to remember to have fun and enjoy what I'm doing. 

APPLICATION: What is your "yeahhhhhh?"

PERSONAL APPLICATION: My "yeahhhhhhh" is Bruce Springsteen. He always reminds me that life -in whatever form it's taking- is SWEET. 

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Whole30, We Meet Again.

I did the Whole30 this summer. It was AWESOME for a lot of reasons. People complimented me on losing a few pounds. I felt AMAZING and EMOTIONALLY STABLE (abnormal). I fixated less on food (it's hard to when pizza and donuts are out of the running). Probably the biggest pitfall of the experience was, well, not eating pizza and donuts. Oh, and margaritas. And whiskey. And rice. That's it, though. And parmesan cheese. 

I went to visit my parents for a week and that brought my Whole30 (extended) experience to a close. There's nothing like food your parents cook for you and insist that you eat, am I right?

I started teaching again and since September I have basically fallen into a ritual of five days Whole30 (Whole5?) and then two days off. Sometimes it's more of a Whole3 or a Whole1/2. It's been a hard school year so far, and there is a lot of choice candy in our school office. 

I'm starting again, right in time for Peppermint Mocha season. I'm actually on day 3! Congratulate me!

I'm nervous about navigating the holidays, but mostly about navigating people I will see during the holidays who will silently (or very vocally *cough* DAD *cough*) judge my choices. I know it's the right choice, and that's why I'm writing this. I'm finally going public. No more Whole1/2. Just a Whole30. If I really miss the marshmallow yams on November 26th I will make myself a giant vat of them on December 7th. 

Making a Mark

I just found out a friend from high school passed away. He was lovely. In fact, I probably (definitely) had a crush on him at one point or another. He had a gorgeous smile and was friendly in a way that could disarm any human. He was the kind of human who managed to be laid back and ambitious at the same time. He did so many cool things with his short life. 

It hurts. Death hurts all of us. It hurts when anyone leaves, but there's a specific kind of pain you feel for someone who could have lived fifty more years. Maybe it hurts because it resonates more; I am almost thirty years old, and if he died, I could certainly die. 

I have been running myself into the ground lately. I want to be SO MANY things. I'm trying to be a teacher while pursuing improv and writing on the side. I'm also doing a few odd jobs to make extra money to pay off debt (one may or may not be Uber). I'm trying to stay fit and get sleep and eat clean. In the sprint to discover what I "should" be doing with my life and trying to "balance" my life by checking things off a list, I'm SO exhausted.

Fitter. Happier. More productive. (Thanks Radiohead, your song is going to haunt me forever)

On one hand, I want to say that the death of a thirty-year-old friend should "put things into perspective," making me step back and evaluate my life. It should make me want to chill out and slow down. Give some of my ambition.  Life is short. Live, laugh, love. 

I think it actually makes more determined. It makes me think of Jack Kerouac in On the Road:

"the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."

I think that this year might be the one where I find out just how much of a roman candle I am. 

 

Welp, Here's to 29.

Tonight as the clock struck twelve I happened to be driving down Sunset Boulevard with two great friends. It was the best possible transition from my 28th year to my 29th. My last 28-year-old day involved good coffee, an improv class, an evening improv show, brussels sprouts, and seeing two movies in the same movie theater. My day was the definition of being an adult, but being that kind of adult that isn't really tied down and has a lot of freedom to still act like a college student (I mean, two movies in a day?! Ant Man and Trainwreck, if you were wondering). I loved every second of my irresponsible, unencumbered, twenty-something summer day.  

As fun as today was, I also managed to ponder my mortality as many of us do when another birthday approaches. Unfortunately (more often than fortunately) I am a human who fixates on my outlandish dreams without taking tangible steps to approach them. I go into spirals of self-doubt and worry because I interpret that my inability to turn my dreams into something real RIGHT NOW means that I will never do anything that makes an impact or makes me truly happy. This carries over to many areas of my life. It challenges my husband who hates to see me beat myself up. It makes me fear my future. It makes me resentful of the present. Being a dreamer has the potential to do way more harm than good. 

This year, I hope that when I examine my life for progress I will truly see it. I will be able to identify the steps I'm actually taking to live with abandon (and by "live with abandon" I mean I will probably still go to bed every night at a reasonable hour). This year I will write, because I say I want to be a writer. This year I will share what I create with others, because feedback, while not always necessary, can aid in growth. This year I will (TRYYYY) to trust my skills as an improviser and acknowledge that being a female comedienne is difficult but by no means impossible. Most of all, on Saturdays when I accidentally sleep in too late, I'm going to TRY REALLY HARD to not let it ruin my day. Some days can't be devoted to the "Great American Novel" because you just need to be a bum and sleep for ten hours... followed by binge-watching Parks and Rec. 

The Autoimmune Monster

"Oh, wow, you're gluten free? And paleo?"

"Kind of. I mean, I try to be."

"Why do you torture yourself?" 

"Well... I mean, I have this autoimmune condition. My rheumatologist hasn't really given me an official diagnosis. I mean, yeah. A doctor a few years ago thought I had Behcet's Syndrome, but it's really only found in Middle Eastern men..."

These are the kind of conversations I end up having with other humans about my autoimmune problems. It usually starts with an observation about what I eat (or don't eat). Then I'm forced to talk about my vague experience battling an autoimmune disease. People usually ask me if restricting my eating actually makes a difference, or if I fart a lot when I cheat and eat a donut. Some humans have the audacity to ask if I actually just do it to control my weight. The answer to that is "NO!!!!" if you were wondering. I would probably enjoy my dietary restrictions more if they did result in me looking like a supermodel. 

The other day I went to see my rheumatologist for a routine visit. He has lived in the Bay Area for decades but still has a hint of a Brooklyn accent. A few years ago, when I moved to Santa Cruz, I was forced to seek him out when I experienced an outbreak of skin lesions on my left shin, because that's the kind of thing that happens to me. The medication I take had successfully eliminated this symptom from my daily life. Then, one day in May, about five of them cropped up, forcing me out of lesion remission.

My rheumatologist looked at my blood panel results, which were stable. He did the usual routine checkup things. He commented on the fact that my gums looked healthy. Yep, I have annoying gum inflammation too. Then he said, "you appear to be stable. Let's see how things go over the next year. Maybe we can get you off medication. Who knows. Maybe you don't even have an autoimmune condition." 

"Who knows. Maybe you don't even have an autoimmune condition."

Such has been my life with an autoimmune condition. When I was fourteen, joint flare-ups began that led doctors to believe I had Juvenile Arthritis. Only a few months later this symptom disappeared, only to reappear during my junior year of college for a few painful weeks. When I was fourteen the skin lesions began to appear. Doctors would put me on different doses of medications that would alleviate the lesions for awhile and allow my legs and arms to heal. Going off of gluten in 2009 made these spots almost disappear entirely, and then going on a low dosage of a medication called Dapsone eradicated them. Until the left shin outbreak, that is. 

There are countless other weird symptoms and experiences that have happened to me over the last fifteen years. Do I believe I have an autoimmune disease/condition? Yes. Does it keep me from doing some things? Yep. I didn't even try to apply for the PeaceCorps, because when I emailed them with a description of my health problems and asked if I could work for them I received a prompt "no." Additionally, I am not allowed to give blood anymore because of the medications I take, but I'm not that sad about it. 

I do not regret this circumstance, but only that I have occasionally allowed it to direct the course of my life. At the same time, we all have something that can direct the course of our lives if we let it, right?

How to Make New Friends When You’re 28

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could step outside your body and be able to objectively observe yourself so you could know how to be better at the things you suck at?  If I could do this, I would examine why I’m consistently bad at making friends and being a friend. In theory, I know the things I need to do to make and keep friends, but I’m not good at any of them. Here are some of the things I’m really bad at:

1. I am the worst at initiating time with people.

I am a task-oriented person and my brain is constantly filled with things I should be doing- whether they be work or house-keeping or fitness related. Along this vein, I’m an “input” person, so I prefer to be collecting “relevant” information (most of this has to do with Saturday Night Live or improv these days, but a few months ago it was Battlestar Galactica). So, if you can track with me and nerd out on the things I like to nerd out on, fantastic. Or, if you can do tasks with me, yippee! The problem is, most people don’t jive that way. Most people I know are great at sitting in a coffee shop and chit-chatting with no further agenda. I envy you, you coffee shop chit-chatters.

2. The older I become, the less I feel like I have common ground with others.

Even though I swore it wouldn't happen, being married has changed the nature of my relationships with single friends. I really wanted to be the cool married person who could just crash on a friend’s couch. As it turns out, that’s not restful for me. Ending up next to my husband at the end of the day is.

On the other end of the spectrum, I feel like I don’t know how to fully relate to my friends who have kids. I don’t want to talk baby. I am SO tired of talking baby. I am so sick of text message threads of baby pictures post milk coma. I have nothing to say on the matter, except sorry, all of my friends with babies. Don’t exclude me from the threads, but know that they’re one of my least favorite things ever.

3. I don’t easily connect with most people.

I don’t find comfort in being surrounded by a posse of giggly girls. It makes me feel lonely and sad (talk about Debbie Downer). I totally get why girls surround themselves with other girls. It just happens to make me feel awful. So, for those of you who know me and wonder why I was so grouchy at the bachelorette party, that was why. Kind of like the text message thread, don’t leave me out of it- just know it’s not where I thrive.

4. At some point in my life I actually became an introvert. 

In college, I was an extrovert on crack. Or maybe I was in introvert who had convinced myself I was an extrovert. Do I love working out alone? Could I possibly go for days without seeing another human? Do I sometimes pretend I don’t recognize someone I know at the grocery store? Would I be awesome in a zombie apocalypse (I wouldn't mind a pet in this scenario). The answer to all these is YES. In my ideal life, I would get enough sleep, drink enough green smoothies, and go to spin class every day so I could feel 100% awesome when I have to be around people. The reality is that when I’m done teaching 4th graders, interacting with their parents and my co-workers Monday-Friday, scrambling to think of what to cook for dinner and racing to get that spin class in, I’m not necessarily in the mood to “hang out” with friends.

I know, I know. Not a lot of hope for this old 28-year-old gal. But Erin, the title of this article is “How to Make Friends When You’re 28!” While I have some strategies that might help you, obviously I need them to help me too. Here are some things I’m going to try to do in the new year. Baby steps are key. But this is the goal.

1. Eat in the staff lounge 2-3 times a week. 

As a teacher, it feels far more responsible for me to NOT eat with my co-workers. But, I have pretty nice co-workers, and I don’t connect with them enough. BUT they’re the people I’m in the vicinity of the most. I’m going to hang out with them even though there are papers to grade, parents to email, lessons to plan, and papers to copy. (Update 9/8/15: I still have FAILED AT THIS MISERABLY)

2. Be intentional about interacting with 2-3 people every week. 

This is going to be hard. This will probably happen on my weekend. This will probably require an occasional dreaded coffee date. But I do dinners better, so maybe it will be just that. Maybe it will be sitting with someone at church (yep, I go to church, and absolutely, it gives me social anxiety). Or lunch after church. We Christians love post-church lunches. (Update 9/8/15: I still have FAILED AT THIS MISERABLY)

3. Check my attitude. 

I hate that I just wrote that. I love having a bad attitude about interacting with people, but obviously it’s not getting me any friends. I will go to that bridal/baby shower with a smile plastered on my face. I will figure out a way to give myself rest before that dinner party (just enough to curb my resting bitch face). My husband, who is an awesome and loyal friend, constantly reminds me to check my attitude. But it’s time I do it myself. (Update 9/8/15: I've improved about 5% in this area. But I think this is mostly because I haven't been able to attend any bridal/baby showers recently.)

4. Think About Others. 

I think this looks like a text message, email, or nice note. I don’t do this nearly enough. But it can mean a lot, and it can tell someone they’re important to you. I sure know it makes me feel nice. I’m going to shoot for 1 of these a week, because I’m afraid my introverted brain is going to explode if I venture into much more social self improvement. (Update 9/8/15: I think I've improved about 10% at this.)

I don’t like articles that give me “5 Ways to Cure my Acne,” or “30 People that Look Like Marilyn Manson.” So I’m not putting my 4 meager suggestions for making friends in the title of this blog post. But, take them to heart if you so choose. I know I will, because as the Ringo said, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” And, to be frank, I’m just not quite getting by right now.