Caring For My Parents, Caring For Myself
While I’ve stayed pretty busy microblogging on my Facebook page and Instagram feed, it’s been awhile since I did a deep dive here. If not for your amusement, then at least for my own accountability, it’s time for a little reflection on the last year and a review of my 21 for 2021 and a look ahead to what I’d like to get done in 2022. In some ways, 2021 wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined, and in many ways, it was exactly what I wanted and needed. I librated, significantly in the form of oscillating between my two homes, my primary residence in the Bay Area and my parent’s property in the OC I’m taking care of and clearing while dual probates grind on at the speed of bureaucracy. With the world beginning to open up again in early 2021 and vaccines rolling out, I was able to make several trips down to my parent’s house and made good progress on making the house livable and getting contents organized and cleared where needed. There’s still a metric shit ton of work to do, though if you’d seen it then and now, you’d understand my sense of accomplishment. It meant spending a lot of time away from my Bay Area home, my SO, and my cats, and less time working on my goals there. I spent a lot of time in solitude alone in that house and learned hard lessons around the boundaries I must set for my own well being. I spent a big chunk of the summer there, including my birthday, which I truly didn’t think would be a big deal until I was having a total emotional meltdown. Something not explicitly outlined in my aspirations for 2021, I knew coming into the year that my overriding priorities for the year were two primarily, and an important third: about half my bandwidth now belongs to administrating the messy affairs of my deceased parents, the other half must be dedicated to reclaiming my health and well-being, and in the cracks and spaces in between, I needed to keep at least a toe hold on my career pivot. I can say with great satisfaction that I have, indeed, done all three of these things in good measure. 2020 left me shook and utterly depleted, from the collective traumas we all witnessed in daily headlines, to the rapid back to back loss of my remaining parents, to crippling burnout at work, to the resurrection of a whole menu of personal traumas going back to my childhood as a result of my parent’s passing and, as if 2020 just wasn’t giving enough, a sexual assault scandal that tore through the blind community just as we were about to close the door on the whole chaos bag of a year, 2020 had just one more fuck you to vomit into my life by presenting me with buried sexual assault traumas of my own that I’d never made space for. 2020 just left me all broken and full of garbage and shattered bits that I knew would take all year to even begin to sort out, and it has. To make matters worse, I got real sedentary the minute WFH started at the beginning of 2020, and I’m barely recovering from that, too. The greatest assets I came into 2021 with was a deeply caring and supportive SO on whose income both of our frugal habits can lean on for a while, a pile of my own savings that kept us whole until about September (not too shabby for leaving my job with so much uncertainty), and a tremendous bestie who recognized my darker moments and offered me a hands up. Oh, and my kitties, even though they’re mostly assholes.
Reaching out to my health care professionals to get therapy and other supports in place, and rededicating myself to doing my part for my physical well being, particularly as it relates to my mental and emotional well being, was weirdly one of the hardest and definitely the best things I’ve done for myself. By April I’d at least begun scheduling appointments, even if getting services was painfully slow, thanks to a spotty history of service delivery for mental health services at Kaiser and complications and delays related to the pandemic, no doubt adjusting to a new, remote service delivery model and the system probably being impacted with lots of people like me. By May, I used Gretchen Rubin’s strategy of pairing to finally build a solid habit out of two long time habit goals, daily meditation and journaling. A tiny bit spotty, especially when things are really irrecular, like travel days or other special events and holidays, though I’m doing both now, daily, and have been since May. I was also partially inspired by Seth Godin’s The Practice, determined that if I was going to be a writer, I needed to do it every day, or I’m not a writer, another muscle I needed to flex regularly to strengthen, like those for self love and self compassion, not to mention my gut muscles, but we’re getting there. By fall I was actively working on being more mindful, even if not always perfectly so, about what I feed myself and how it affects my physical, mental, and emotional well being. Actively checking in with myself before reaching for alcohol, because in 2020, I didn’t even lie to myself about using it to self medicate, I embraced it, and I started noticing a direct connection to alcohol and my mood, and I didn’t like it. No caffeine after 2 p.m., not that I really drink much caffeine in the afternoon, though once I set about being more mindful about it, I noticed I did it more often than I realized in occasional afternoon fancy teas with my SO or an afternoon 3-in-1, instant cappuccino, or hot chocolate. Anything I could do to iron out the wrinkles in my oft disrupted sleep patterns, the better. I finally embraced that most/all of the alternatives I’ve been using, all different kinds of books, Netflix, Facebook scrolling, white noise, relaxation and breathing, counting, for years to get back to sleep, regardless of how they may have worked in the past, just don’t anymore, and mostly they just agitated me and kept me more awake. I discovered sleep stories, and while occasionally they leave me awake and frustrated that I’m not sleeping, overall, they work like a charm and are the only thing I turn to anymore to slip smoothly back into the Land of Nod. I saw melatonin gummies on sale and decided on a whim to give them another try and have been delightfully satisfied with the results. While I consider it my personal responsibility to curate the quantity and quality of content I consume before bedtime, this is just one area I’ll wave the flag of surrender and be ok with the melatonin taking this out of my hands, it keeps me from staying up too late scrolling, even though I know it’s not good for me, I tend to do it anyway. It also didn’t hurt that we treated ourselves to some fancy expensive new sheets for our anniversary, paying close attention to fiber quality and thread count that don’t just feel nice, they really do sleep cooler than the cheap ones we bought when we moved into our house, and when I stripped the bed to put them on, noticed wear on our firm mattress, a gash of a split seam, right about where my SO usually flops into bed, and decided this was a perfect time to get rid of this mattress and bring up the spare we had in the garage, one with a fluffy mattress topper. This mattress with our fancy new sheets made the bed, and our sleep, noticeably more restful and comfortable. With my broader well being much better handled, my fall visits to my parent’s house were a positive exercise in solitude in which I was in a personal retreat of sorts, spending quality time focusing on eating three meals a day comprised of whole, nutrient dense foods and writing furiously in pursuit of my first NaNoWriMo finishing the month with a smoking 66,323 word foundation for a memoir.
As 2021 closed, I’m wrestling the most with my gut, inside and out. In the spirit of getting my eating habits more solidly on a healthy trajectory, I impulsively raised my hand to join a friend for a Whole30 spanning October to November. I’m glad I did, because it solidified my growing habit of eating three times a day, countering a lifelong habit of mostly skipping food all day then having a heavy dinner, which I know intuitively is not healthy and yet, it’s how I’ve run for almost as long as I can remember. I also proved to myself that I can eat healthfully while in a house without a fully functional kitchen, casting aside the limiting belief I held that with just a fridge, freezer, and microwave, all I could eat was processed garbage, which was only contributing to my poor physical and mental state. I conjured a slow cooker and a George Foreman Grill thanks to a Buy Nothing group, stocked up on tinned fish and chicken, and filled the fridge with eggs and produce, and even got some frozen chicken breasts and salmon patties, and proceeded to stay in compliance with my Whole30 goals for the whole month, despite setting myself up with a loophole for the uncertainty of working and eating well in a kitchen sans an operational stove or oven, not much space to work with, or very many dishes.
The less exciting takeaway from this round of Whole30 is that the digestive issues that first led me to try this form of elimination are, in fact, worsening and I’ll be leveling up my mission to figure out what is up with my gut and finally adjust accordingly. It’s not yet a significantly life altering condition, though it is now well in the territory of a definite quality of life issue that is, well, making me nervous to eat in public spaces, or at least nervous to be away from a restroom for too long. Next stop, FODMAP elimination and reconnecting with my medical team to not just address my gut issues, but to also look at a number of other health issues that have arisen on my radar since the pandemic set in.
Then there’s the outside of my gut. I wasn’t super sporty before the pandemic, just barely enough to be minimally healthy. This is the girl who failed a semester of PE in high school and had to go to summer school to make it up. My dad fell and broke his wrist the first time he tried roller skating. If it wasn’t for years of square dancing, my mom wouldn’t have gotten much exercise, either. My parents crocheted, yes both of them, and read SciFi. I do not come from athletic stock. I’m reasonably extroverted and social, and have always just as much or more enjoyed the solitude of puttering around in my home, so when the pandemic basically gave me an excuse to stay home all the time, I was kind of stoked. I’m a GenXer, a Latch Key Kid, we were made for staying home and amusing ourselves endlessly. So what exercise I got out of my commute and bustle around the office and my weekly or so pole fitness classes went right out the window. It’s 2022 and the struggle to reclaim regular exercise habits is really real. Housework has me out of breath these days. There have been a number of false starts, intentions never fully followed through with, like calendaring exercise, finding a new accessible exercise app to replace the old one not supported anymore, and even taking my travel yoga mat to my mom’s now that there’s just enough room to roll it out. Despite these well intended actions, I’m still not exercising, save taking my SO up on neighborhood walks, whether for running errands or just for the sake of walking. Seeing that this was already an issue by the end of 2020, my SO hopped on the habit change train by challenging us to walk 121 in 2021, printing an 11X11 grid and taping it to the refrigerator to write a date in each blank box in which we left the house for any distance beyond the corner outside our gate, where we usually wait for ride shares when we’re travelling by car, so no counting anything up to that point, like meeting deliveries at the gate. Usually we went out together, though sometimes I’d go out to run an errand on a day he commuted into his office, something he’s been doing a few times a week for much of the past year, so I’d count that. It comes out to even just a short walk 2-3 times per week, and while he certainly exceeded expectations on his own with all his commuting, this was more about getting me moving, and we fell far short of the goal.
The good news is that it has served as a useful enough tool to help us lay a foundation for habit change, and by us I mean me. If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it, and we measured it, an amortized average of 1.42 walks per week, and now I know I can and must do better and how much more I can and must do better. I am really sick and tired, literally sick and tired, of being out of shape, and since my general well being is so much better than this time last year, I’m doing better, bit by bit, to move the needle on my physical fitness back where it ought to be. As the year closed, I found myself more inclined to ignore the list of things I’d rather be doing when my SO motivates me with the “wanna go for a walk?” question, to not need a purpose or destination, to do it even if the weather is cold or wet, and to more mindfully appreciate the opportunity to explore seemingly boring or uninteresting parts of our neighborhood by virtue of plotting a loop route in a new direction that will cover at least a mile. There’s also positive externalities here with our tighter budget, and honestly, in the face of the rising costs of goods and services, we’re pumping the breaks on deliveries and going out more frequently to local markets, getting fresh air, sunshine, movement, and saving money. At the end of the year, he loaded his backpack with 2 gallons of water to add a little extra benefit and soon thereafter ordered and stowed in his backpack a 30 lb. weight shaped like a large laptop designed to go into that internal sleeve, and I’m thinking about ankle weights or water in a backpack. I have noticed since we moved into this house almost 5 years ago that my patience for walking, especially without a destination or purpose, is about a mile, and by the end of 2021, we were walking first a mile and a half, then a mile and three quarters, then nearly three miles without that familiar impatient annoyance, though that last one was more challenging due to some random severe heartburn and the familiar fatigue of caning San Leandro’s cracked sidewalks and streets. Still, it felt good to notice how far we’d improved our habits in a relatively short time and we’ve modified our 2022 walking goal to walk at least 22 minutes every day, which I may or may not also measure in steps. We walk a pretty solid 20 minute mile, so at least 1.1 miles a day. I am pretty solidly 2,000 steps per mile, so my daily step goal will be 2,200 steps. 22 minutes or 2,200 steps in 2022, and yes, I fully recognize that daily step recommendations are 10,000, and at my most mobile and active, I struggled to get past 8 or 9,000 most days, probably not insignificantly because I’m tall with a long stride, so I’m working all the more for that goal. This goal holds me to a daily practice, better for habit change, and is raising my bar on where I am now, not where I was then, and building the habit is more important to me than the quantifiable target, I can build on an established habit, this is about the journey more than the destination. Have I mentioned I hate goals?
If I had to look at one indicator of how 2021 has ended, I’d look at my fingernails, and I’d say I did a lot of good work and I’m doing something right. As a rule, I don’t think my nails are strong by default and I’ve definitely noticed over the years that they are healthier and stronger during times that I’m eating well and exercising. Healthy or not, I’m a neurotic nail biter and cuticle chewer in times of stress. Getting manicures has traditionally been a form of self care that created a virtuous cycle, the better manicured, the less I took out my stress on them, and let’s face it, when your nails look hot, you feel the fire. I’ve not had a manicure since the beginning of 2020 and the last two years have been a roller coaster of stress and poor health, and I don’t think they’ve been this healthy since before the Pandemic, when regular manicures facilitated the process. Over the last few weeks of 2021, I noticed that I’d sprouted a nice set of claws without trying very hard, save the occasional filing of a rough edge and a little clear polish to give them some shine. They are verging on unsustainable, catching on things and tripping all over my keyboard and will probably get trimmed back a little soon. This is my body pushing out more dead matter, like I’ve been clearing broken, dead shit out of my head, heart, and soul; it’s healthy and I’ll take it as a sign that it was a good year and to keep up the good work.
At the beginning of 2020, Work From Home put my office in my kitchen. At the beginning of 2021, my kitchen became my office. To the greatest extent possible, in the spaces and cracks of my responsibilities administering my parent’s estates and caring for my own well being, I embraced my kitchen as the center of my new universe. Traditionally, my SO and I split household management duties fairly evenly, though now I’m taking on quite a bit more of the kitchen management, cooking meals and cleaning up after them, both because I enjoy it, and because I can, and if I’m not contributing a steady source of monetary income to our household, this is a logical signature strength that I can contribute to the overall management of our household. Beyond that, every day that I get into my “koffice,” is another day I can keep my kitchen skills sharp and expand them by practicing industry hygiene guidelines, experimenting with new ingredients and tools, recipe testing, generating content for my social media presence, and otherwise engaging transferrable skills and learning new ones, and practicing methods of food preservation and food waste prevention. I continue to make homemade stocks and bone broths and delight in creatively repurposing leftovers. I prefer to DIY my products as much as possible, though I learned while it’s quite reasonable to make your own brown sugar as you need it, I’d recommend buying powdered sugar. I preserved lemon in all its sunshine component parts, I made my first go at canning, and started getting playful with desserts and other dishes to share with loved ones and for special occasions, like fulfilling special birthday cupcake requests for my favorite littles, amusing them with raw ground beef rice krispy treats for Halloween, Bringing a savory and hearty Sheppard’s Pie to the farewell party for a friend departing for London, including a vegan alternative, and taking on food service as my way of celebrating the holidays. I shared my mom’s beloved recipe for holiday yams and marshmallows with the Youth Program at the LightHouse San Francisco and created a pre-recorded tutorial for homemade egg nog in a pinch for a holiday party I wasn’t able to attend. I’ve established myself as a go-to resource for food questions in my community.
So Now What?
As 2021 charged for the finish line and the baton of 2022 was being thrust into my face, I, like many, was delirious with confusion over where 2021 had even gone and looking for the brakes, how could I even think about entering 2022 when I’m still processing and recovering from 2020? That said, let’s take a look at how my 21 for 2021 fared and revise them for the coming year. I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of items I’m checking off and in the spirit of exercising self compassion, will happily roll over most of the incomplete items to keep working on.
Get Your House In Order
1. Identify, inventory, and quantify the categories of closet items and purge at least 10%: “That’s great,” a purge positive friend encouraged me last year when I shared this item with her, “I think you’ll find 10% isn’t enough,” and she was right. Inventorying items like these was an eye popping exercise in seeing how much stuff like this I’m inclined to hang onto, and while some or most categories were easy to purge, like underwear, I really do wear them way too long, easily tossing out the requisite 10% worst for wear. The habit of identifying items I can give myself permission to get rid of took root and over the next several months, more and more of them just went into the trash because I was over saggy, stretched out, stained, and falling apart skivvies full of holes, even if it means I need to do laundry a little more frequently, I’m actively choosing quality over quantity here. Oh, and treated myself to new skivvies anyway. Shirts, on the other hand, were the more difficult end of this spectrum. I really do have a moderately unreasonable number of them and agonized to purge just 10% of them. Still, close enough for government work, as my dad would say, I’m calling this one good.
2. Move items marked for purging out the door: Getting much better at this thanks to the necessity of building this skill to manage my parent’s property and bringing some of those skills and motivation into my own home, especially now that I’m not formally employed and stuff that clutters your life can reasonably be turned into cash, yes, please! It will probably always be a work in progress well integrated into my life moving forward and I’m checking off this item, too.
3. Hang pants/skirts: Knocked this one out early in the year and they’re all still there, tidy and organized, it still delights me every time I walk into my closet.
4. Have a blanket made from old t-shirts: I’ve identified places for doing this, though haven’t operationalized yet, definitely still want to and rolling this item over.
5. Sell/purge vintage items: I’ve identified a few options for doing this, and may even just defer to the buy/sell platforms I’ve used to get junk out of my mom’s house. Definitely still keeping this one on the list.
6. Set up a craft/hustle work space in the garage: In addition to the need to carve out a space for crafting and side hustling, as my daily meditation and journaling habit grew and I was participating in more and more online therapy and classes, my need for a quiet, private, disruption free space in the house also grew. While I’ve not made a lot of progress on the more organized vision of it, I have started just jumping in and using my “garoffice,” which is basically just a random wooden kitchen chair, the last of the set that originally came with the kitchen table we inherited from friends, and a cardboard box turned on its side as a side table. I’ve literally used jars of pickled jalapenos or jugs of salsa to prop up my phone on a plastic storage tub for video calls. It’s minimally functional, though I’ll definitely roll this one over and keep working toward my grander vision of a dedicated work space of my own.
7. Investigate and if available, acquire and install door attachments for hat cubby: Not even close, rolling over. The boxes shoved up against it to keep my cats out of the bins is a major happiness stumbling block.
8. Tackle mending/alterations pile: Not even close, rolling it over to keep it on my radar.
9. Create better use of space over shelf in coat closet: Still an aspiration, rolling over.
10. Hang decor & pictures: I have heard it said that if you don’t hang stuff and decorate in the first six months in your new place, you never will, and I think it’s true. I’m determined and rolling this one over.
Get Your Mom’s House In Order
1. Close probate: Not quite there yet, though progress was definitely made. We had to open seperate probates due to the complexity of the whole mess, working first to close my step-father’s, as he passed first, then moving on to resolve my mother’s. As of close of 2021, we are on the verge of closing his and moving back to hers. Not optional, rolling over.
2. Make the house livable: In a very minimal sense, it finally is, and will just improve as we move forward. In 2021, we went from camping in the backyard, to sleeping on a full size air matress in the living room, to moving the air mattress into the back office, to putting a queen sized fancy self inflating air mattress into the bedroom. I finally let go of my fantasy of repairing the old, broken dryer that my mom told me wasn’t working before she passed, had it scrapped, and repurposed the new modest plot of real estate to store cleaning supplies. The property gets plenty of southern California sunshine, hot and brutal like the desert at times, for drying clothes. The washer doesn’t work all that well, though good enough to get us by until a reasonable solution can be implemented. The plumbing has been more or less operational all along, though not without calling a plumber, so that’s something we now know more about.No HVAC means the house is pretty cold this time of year, even for a southern California winter, and that made it a good time to take a necessary break and spend winter in my fully functional Bay Area home. The kitchen was the hardest part for me. I spent most of our first visit in 2020 just trying to clear access to the sink and the counter to the right for clean dishes, making a little space at the table to work at, and making sure the fridge and microwave were clean. It felt like so much work for so little progress, I waved a flag of surrender on the kitchen in deference to prioritizing other areas of the house. In small increments over the last year, I raised the level of minimally functional and keep making small improvements all the time. Brought a spare water kettle to boil water for instant coffee, and a spare thermos to make it in, cleared the entire kitchen table, creating a storage space for non-perishable items and a prep/work space, cleared out a bookshelf full of jumbled Pyrex and other dishes for storing the more utilitarian dishes and utensils for practical use, finally have the floor mostly cleared, and cleared and scrubbed the butcher block the microwave is on and all the stuff piled on top of it, because, gross. With the addition of the slow cooker and George Foreman Grill, which fit perfectly in the corner to the right of the sink, we are operational in the kitchen and only improving. The oven is broken and only full kitchen renovation is likely to remedy that, and I still can’t bring myself to clean the stovetop for use; I’m all about just clean it up and use it, but this is even too gross for me. So yeah, not a show place, but livable.
1. Coffee roasting school: Working on this one around the edges, though don’t feel enough of a sense of completion to check it off the list, definitely rolling over.
2. Mojo List: Barely paid lip service to this and need to continue working on it, rolling it over.
3. Meditate at least 5 minutes every day: So checking this one off! A goal I’ve aspired to for literally decades, I can finally solidly say I’ve integrated, usually 20-30 minutes a day, paired with my daily journaling. Check!
4. Resurrect some language skills: Ah, a little sentimental about this one, considering how deeply I immersed myself in foreign language study as a young adult and how clearly low priority it is for me now. Still, it feels like a signature strength I’d be wise to exercise somehow and I’m definitely going to roll this one over.
5. Learn at least 12 origami well enough to execute without following directions: Yeah, no movement on this one, still a quirky skill I’d like to come back to, so rolling over.
Get Your Finances In Order
1. Pay off your student loan debt: Having been out of the formal work force for a year, translate no steady income, I’m not going to complain about continued pandemic extensions on student loan repayment deferral. While the plan leading up to the most recent extension and at such time as extensions are no longer available, I’ll likely opt for the income based repayment. As it is my intention to both return to generating a steady stream of income for my household and to resolve this debt, I’ll roll it over to keep it on my radar as a priority.
2. Inventory/check in with your portfolio: While I sort of worked on this around the edges, it still needs attention and will roll over.
3. Write living will: My SO and I have definitely talked about this, and while I do an awful lot of talking and thinking, my SO is more action oriented than I. He checked this off his to-do list, I still have not, so roll over it must.
4. Investigate long Term Care Insurance: This is a thing that we totally did! We opted, for the time being, to drop a modest sum into an investment account, approximately what we figure we’d be paying for the insurance, to begin accumulating a resource for that time when one or both of us forgets what buttons are for, which we affectionately call the Buttons Fund, and will reconsider purchasing actual LTC insurance at a later date, so check!
Drum Roll, Please… 22 For 2022
First, my word for 2022: Go!
With only a moment’s thought, I knew my One Word Theme for 2022 had to be something related to motion. While I’ve made a lot of good progress in the last year on a lot of fronts, my continued struggles where I’m giving a little more love are moving, both my body and my mind, or focus, to be more precise. I must exercise more and I must move my ass off the couch and my focus onto things that are important, moving away from the rabbit hole vortex that is our virtual online lives and into my present moment. “Move?” Boring. I briefly recalled a moderately reckless period of time as a very young adult when I adopted a philosophy of “Just Go!”, a default response to spontaneously and enthusiastically follow my gut and the impulses that life led me to, which resulted in a crystal meth fueled road trip to Tijuana at night in the car of someone who was probably legally blind that involved at least three life threatening incidents and I’m still not sure how I made it through that night alive and not in jail, to the much wiser spontaneous decision to take out a modest student loan to go on a study abroad trip to the Pacific Rim that kind of changed my life. Just as quickly, the infectious and driving fuzzy bass line and urgent shouted title of Tones On Tail’s Go! Made my head and shoulders start bouncing relentlessly and I was pretty sure I had my One Word Theme for 2022. What I could remember of the lyrics seemed appropriate and thanks to the magic of the interwebs, I confirmed a perfect fit, basically a driving anthem to get over negative self talk and live your one life explosively. Sounds like a perfect uplevel to the work I did last year.
Get Your Body In Order
1. Walk 22 minutes or 2200 steps daily.
2. Address multiple health issues that have arisen during the pandemic.
Get Your Day In Order
1. Adopt more structured “working” hours.
Get Your House In Order
1. Purge at least one, preferably more, of existing items for each new one that comes in, especially clothing and accessories, extend to other items where reasonable.
2. Purge jewelry. Not sure how I’d like to measure this, so I’m leaving it open to intuition or guidance from the interwebs or a good book.
3. Have a blanket made from old t-shirts.
4. Sell/purge vintage items.
5. Set up a craft/hustle work space in the garage.
6. Investigate and if available, acquire and install door attachments for hat cubby.
7. Tackle mending/alterations pile.
8. Create better use of space over shelf in coat closet.
9. Hang decor & pictures.
Get Your Mom’s House In Order
1. Close probate.
2. Create a clear path of travel through the front office.
1. Coffee roasting school.
2. Mojo List.
3. Resurrect some language skills.
4. Learn at least 12 origami well enough to execute without following directions.
Get Your Finances In Order
1. Generate income.
2. Pay off your student loan debt.
3. Inventory/check in with your portfolio.
4. Write living will.
2021, I honor you for the year you were and the year you weren’t, now get out, we’re moving forward, onward, and upward! Happy New Year to all, let’s get this party started!