Chickens + Happiness

I’m all settled in Nashville and starting a farm! Mostly kidding about that, but I’ve been fostering some adult chickens, I’m getting chicks this week, and I’m growing mint and tomatoes…so it’s not too far off.

After having two cross-country moves behind me, I finally feel like I can breathe and settle into a space — something I hadn’t realized the value in until now. Our move to California was fraught with second guesses about whether we did the right thing, about whether I could be happy there, about whether living there was worth the things we sacrificed. While I do think that was the right choice for us at the time, I haven’t had a second thought about Nashville in the short time I’ve been here, and that feels indescribably good.

I miss some things about Berkeley. I miss our dog park, I miss my gentle-difficulty climbing gym (good for ego, not for training), and most importantly I miss Brandon and Emily dearly. The biggest pains of being human can mostly boil down to wanting things that are incompatible with one another. By missing things incongruent with things I would also miss I’ve experienced that to be true.

But every morning I wake up, start coffee, let the chickens out, and water my plants. Rooster gets to frolic around the yard when he isn’t busy digging in the compost pile. Bird gets to stare intently at our bird feeder as she pines for the day she can sneak out the door behind me. My grandmother sent my mother up with a shipment of ten houseplants because I’m now only a short drive away. There is green space out my window and these things all bring me great joy.

I sweat often; I forgot how little joy it brings me to see the temperature at ninety degrees. Living in a house comes along with other things such as trimming bushes (not fun, scratchy branches) and mowing the lawn (actually weirdly fun). I’m still getting settled and using the GPS for everything and have to drive instead of bike most places but in spite of all this, I feel at peace in a way I haven’t in a long time. My anxieties and despairs haven’t disappeared, but I’m able to approach these things with an underlying sense of calm that I’ve not known before. It’s amazing how much my surroundings have improved my mental health, and above all else I feel grateful for the privilege that I was able to change this about my life, as many people are not.

I have a lot of love for California (and I hope to be back and see Yosemite real soon!), but I struggled so much with the dissonance between the life that I wanted and the life that I had. I’m in a space where those are starting to align, and that is a really nice feeling.

Musings on Moving (Nashville Here We Come)

Life comes at you fast, but in my experience, a cross-country move comes at you faster. Before we know it, we’ll be packed and Nashville-bound.

We were never planning to stay in the Bay Area long-term, but we also weren’t planning on moving after just two years. It’s a time of change and sadness and excitement all rolled into one, but because of the turns life has taken, getting to spend time with our families is the most important thing.

Every day I have to remind myself that we’ve only been here for 24 short months. Coming here involved starting from scratch in so many ways, and calling it a difficult adjustment would be a short-sell. But I made it through, and while I’m feeling some trepidation about doing it all over again, I can’t imagine any move could be more difficult than the one we’ve already done.

The best way I’ve found to describe a move of this caliber is like having A Big Scary Thing ahead of you on the road, but you can’t tell exactly what it is until you’re very close — then suddenly you have to grab everything you own and go to it. Because we keep things pretty minimal, there’s not much pre-packing we can do, and because we’re moving somewhere so far, all the things like house hunting and car hunting have to be done virtually or after we arrive. So as we count down the days until it’s time, we just have to focus on eating all our heaviest pantry foods and hope everything else will fall into place.

Until then, I’m just trying to focus on not losing too much brain space on obsessive research about everything under the sun. And getting Bird used to her harness for our cross-country drive — that’s quite the challenge as well.

Amanda McDowellComment
2019, A Year For Lists

Y’all know I love a good list and a strong set of goals, so it’s no surprise that I love New Years’ resolutions. Not the weird kind — the lose a thousand pounds and hike up a mountain even though you hate hiking kind. I love the type of resolutions that represent everything the turning of a calendar means to me; a fresh start, a chance to re-evaluate and re-assess, and the opportunity to re-orient your energy to get to where you want to be in 365 days’ time. I mean, how often in our busy lives do we take the opportunity to examine our truest selves, our deepest desires, and our biggest accomplishments to date…much less get a national holiday for it? Once a year, that’s how often.

So regardless of if you’re eating black-eyed peas, sweeping your house’s dirt inward or throwing dishes at your neighbors’, take a moment to reflect and a moment to hope. It’s been a hard year for many of us, and we’re all daring to believe 2019 will bring better tides. And honestly, if we all try to be a little better, I think it will.

So without further delay, my goals for 2019 are as follows:

  • Meditate every-ish day. I’m not a fan of goals that require me to do something every day. Even my goal to pursue my first and longest and most passionate love (reading) every day failed me last year — sometimes the days are just too damn hard and choosing to watch The Aristocats instead of doing what you ‘should’ be doing is what you should do. That being said, I think meditation is important, both for anxiety management and overall well-being. After just a month of using Headspace, I can see a difference and I want to pursue that more readily in the coming year.

  • Share with purpose. In a digital world with seemingly-endless places to share, I like my blog because it is mine. However, posting twice a week every week, while doable, has pushed me into a routine that’s caused the enjoyment to fade. Sharing my life in a genuine and artistic way is something I love, but coming up with things I don’t feel passion for in order to hit a post deadline is not. Ultimately, I want to share my life as it is — not just the way I want it to be. I don’t know what that will look like yet, but I plan on sharing less, and sharing more authentically in the coming year — and I hope you’ll stick around!

  • Speak up. The amount of times I’ve done things I didn’t want to do/gone places I didn’t want to go/accepted conditions I didn’t want to accept in the interest of not making waves is appalling. Combine that with the innate urge to never call attention to myself and you have one silent girl, miserable by her own making. I no longer want to settle for things I’m empowered to change, or bury my voice when I have every right to speak.

  • More salads. I LOVE salads, but making your own salads is kind of a lot of work? If I ate out all the time, this would be easy because every restaurant is packed with delicious greens that require no prep from me…but I’m still going to try because vegetables are the best and I should eat more of them.

  • Become photogenic. It’s weird and it’s vain but it’s a real desire of mine so it’s on the list. I hate photos of myself. I get this weird double chin that (I promise) I don’t have in real life. I look like I don’t have eyelids. I sometimes look like a chipmunk with things stuffed in my cheeks. That all changes in 2019. By this time next year, I will have mastered the head tilt/soft smile/bright eyed gaze that everyone else in this world seems to understand.

  • Nurture my creativity. Now that I’ve invested myself into pursuing a passion (writing), I’ve learned just how quickly the flames of excitement can be diminished. Whether it’s through monetizing or burnout or just plain feeling BAD, it’s hard to let that creativity shine through when so much is getting in the way. That’s why I’m going to focus on nurturing my creativity instead of self-sabotaging it by being hard on myself. I’m going to let myself try and fail and step away when things aren’t flowing. I’m going to hope this works and I write something worth reading some day. WE’LL SEE.

And finally, some cool things 2018 has brought me:

  • A DOG. The love of my life sweet baby angel scruffy Rooster man. Committing to getting a new dog was so hard for me — if you knew Hazel way back when, you knew that she was a dog with a larger-than-life personality that left a giant hole in me when she left. But nearly three years later I decided I would be ready should the perfect dog come along, and that’s when my matted, shaggy boy showed up on the local shelter’s page. I knew I loved him from the moment I saw him, and now I love him so fiercely it sometimes makes me cry. Loving him has been my biggest joy of 2018, followed in close second by watching Bird love him as well. They’re the best of pals and things feel very whole in my little family unit.

  • A PASSION. Enrolling in a writing class was one of the things I was most nervous about and also turned out to be the most beneficial. Having a “thing” — even if right now I am under-educated and under-published for my chosen field — has filled me with a sense of purpose I don’t think I’ve ever had before.

  • AN EXERCISE. I’ve been bouldering off and on since college, but this is the first time I’ve ever been serious about it — and I am having SO MUCH FUN. I am scared and tired and exhilarated every time I go to the gym and it’s amazing. It’s also brought me together with one of my dearest gal pals (HELLO EMILY IF YOU’RE READING THIS I AM DEARLY THANKFUL FOR YOU) which was so needing in my life. And I feel ~healthy and fit which I am very grateful to be able to feel.

  • A STRONGER SENSE OF CONFIDENCE IN LIFE/LOVE/EXISTENCE THAT I AM STILL CULTIVATING BUT ACTIVELY DEVELOPING. I’ve made a lot of self-progress this year. I’ve pushed myself, loved myself, and worked on myself a TON and it’s made such a difference in every aspect of my existence. I’ve given myself space to introspect — something that once seemed so scary and traumatic that I wholeheartedly avoided it — and though it isn’t always fun it is always so rewarding. My internal monologue is better, my relationships are better, and everything I do has gotten a little bit better as a result.

Amanda McDowellComment
My Top 10 Books of 2018

What a wonderful year for literature it has been! I’ve been lucky to read some incredible books (I’ve also spent a small fortune on said books, but that’s beside the point), visit new bookstores, and fall in love with things that are outside of my normal scope of reading.

I started out with a private goal of reading fifty-two books and a public goal of reading every day. I’ve never catalogued my reading before this year so I didn’t know if that would be a good place to start. While I actually didn’t manage to read every day of the year, I did manage to hit & surpass my total goal and I should be up to fifty-four by years’ end.

People always ask me how I read so much, and I promise I’m not just blessed with tons of free time. As with any habit or hobby, it has to take priority over other things to become a regular part of your life. My biggest advice is always keeping a book handy! Whether you’re waiting at the doctor or sitting on the bus, you’d be surprised at the progress you can make when you swap your phone for a book during this downtime. I also don’t watch a ton of television, and use the time I would spend on that to read instead. Both of these things are immensely easier when you’re reading something you’re excited about, too!

To keep track of what I’ve read this year, I kept a numbered list on my phone that I updated each time I completed a book. If it left me with that incredible just-finished-an-amazing-piece feeling, I put an asterisk by it. Pretty simple, but I started to look so forward to adding to my list! I also wanted to push myself this year to read things I normally wouldn’t, and some of those ended up being my favorite ones. Also, these are in the order I read them in, not in the order of preference!

  • Rules of Civility - Amor Towles. An early love for Fitzgerald has me doomed to be enamored with anything set in the golden years of New York City, but even without my internal bias this book can hold its own. This was the first book I read of 2018 and it started the year on a great note. Is it anything complicated or overtly intellectual? No. Is it a well-written and thought provoking glimpse at the gilded haunts of old Manhattan? Yes. It may be a basic plot, but the prose will stop you from putting it down. Full disclosure, I did not like this author’s later work, A Gentleman in Moscow, but this one I thoroughly enjoyed.

  • This is the Story of a Happy Marriage - Ann Patchett. I’m obsessed with Ann Patchett. I love Ann Patchett. Ann Patchett is one of my heroes, and this essay collection is what made me feel this way. This is the book that inspired me to write, inspired me to live, and reminded me that we’re not alone despite life’s weird and crazy circumstances. Patchett has an otherworldly gift for communication via prose, and this book will make you feel like you’re having a cup of coffee with her. If you’re looking for gift ideas, essay collections are perfect for the casual reader because you can come back to them whenever you have a small snippet of time.

  • This is How it Always Is - Laurie Frankel. This book stirred up so many feelings in the best way possible. Instead of alternating perspectives, it’s written in a way that gives you a small glimpse into a family’s life. As they learn, grow, & struggle together, you’re transported right along with them. It’s incredibly well-done and a lovely way to learn about an issue many of us have likely not had experience with firsthand.

  • Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) - Kate Bowler. Tiny in size but packed with inspiration, this book is a memoir piece of a woman diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. She shares her open struggles with religion, fate, & the meaning of life with gripping prose that will have you feeling it all right alongside her.

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman. This book is so many things — heartbreaking, heartwarming, and hilarious to name a few. This is a novel to read when you want to be reminded of the joy a good book can bring. It’s rare that I read books so shortly after they’re released (only because I’m cheap and they will eventually go down in price), but this one is now sitting just under the $10 mark, making it perfect for a last minute gift.

  • Abandon Me - Melissa Febos. This is the book that all my hip literature friends were talking about this year, and for good reason. Writing a memoir at a young age might seem a bit strange, but with a life like Febos’ it’s well warranted. Not only is the subject matter interesting on its own, but her gift for structuring sentences carries what could be a dry essay collection to a new level of flowing prose.

  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies - John Boyne. I ordered this early in the year and put off reading it for awhile because it is THICK. Oftentimes, I find that large novels tend to be less about a story that takes up a necessary amount of space and more about the author not having a great editor but this one is an exception. It spans the protagonist’s entire life which allows for full character development while layering multiple stories into the overall work. Once I got through the first section I could not put it down and read it just as quickly as I’ve read books that are a fraction of the size.

  • The Incendiaries - R.O. Kwon. I have trouble officially declaring a No. 1 Read of the Year, but if I had to it would be this one. It’s short but beautiful, and one of the best debut pieces I’ve seen. The story is fascinating if you’re into religious theory (I am) but what sets the novel apart is the pacing and dialogue that carries the story. As the novel builds up to its crescendo so does the prose carry you faster towards a resolution. I read this way too fast because I was so immersed, and the ending left me stunned by its beauty. It’s a book that will stick with you — every time I see the bright colors on my shelf, I’m reminded of the haunting characters the binding contains, and that’s exactly how a novel should make you feel.

  • Self Help - Lorrie Moore. Oh, Lorrie Moore, how I am obsessed with your work…and this short story collection is no different. Collections are great because you don’t have to love every story, but this one is special because I do love every story. My personal favorite is “How To Be Another Woman” followed closely by “How To Be A Writer.” In every piece she picks and prods at the definition of what short fiction means and comes out with something entirely her own. Not only is this a beautiful book, but it also inspires me to write more, better, and with more focus so I can get into Vanderbilt and have her teach me everything she knows.

  • Circe - Madeline Miller. This novel is right in the middle of its momentum, but I got lucky because my local bookstore had a used copy for a very decent price. It’s not the type of book I’d normally reach for but I am so glad I did; it was incredible, and this is from someone who loathed Odyssey. If you’re looking for something fresh and different, this is the novel for you.

Amanda McDowellComment
What I'm Loving | 12/2/2018

Rusty got to meet Santa yesterday! The shelter we adopted him from does a Santa Paws event each year that’s entirely volunteer run, so all the proceeds go straight to the shelter. It was so sweet to see the volunteers that helped us adopt Rusty and he was quite the hit with Santa, too. We didn’t mention that time he snuck a loaf of bread off the counter — we figured Santa doesn’t need to know everything.

Here’s what else I’m loving lately:

Reading :: After finishing it, I have mixed feelings about the format of The Argonauts. Subject matter would get a 10/10 — there are shockingly few writers who engage with material like this and produce a book that enters the “indie mainstream,” so I think it’s wonderful that Nelson did that. However, the book is almost a stream of consciousness style that made it difficult to fully grasp what was going on. It’s a small book, so I would say if you’re interested, definitely try it! It’s just on the experimental spectrum so be aware. After, I read Something Wicked This Way Comes. We discussed Bradbury in my short story class and despite having heard his name, I had never read his work. The dialogue in this book irked me to no end — lots of staccato-paced ‘whats’ and ‘no!’s — but the book itself was lovely. I tend to not like anything that involves circus imagery, but this book did such a fantastic job of laying scenes out that I didn’t mind. I’m now reading The February House; this is a SUPER NICHE read but I am eating it up. If you enjoy learning about the lives of literary heavy-hitters (which I practically live off of because of life goals) then I would highly recommend. If not, I’d probably say pass because it could get rather dull!

Spare Time :: I’ve been writing and writing and writing. Making something creative a priority is quite difficult, I’m learning, because sometimes the brain just does not want to cooperate. But bad writing is easier to fix than no writing, as they say, so I’m piling up the short stories in the hopes that something sticks.

Etcetera :: I finally made it up to Pegasus Books! It’s the oldest independent bookstore in Berkeley and they do both new and used books of all kinds. It’s an adorable store with a great selection and I always love searching for books in person instead of on the internet. They also do a frequent reader program where if you spend $200 you get $10 off! If you’re in the area, they also have a location in Rockridge and Albany, too. Totally worth the trip!

Taking a Breather

Just a quick update today — in a nutshell, I’m going to be spending time with family this month so I’ll be taking a few posts off!

Normally my obsession with consistency would push me to work anyway, but I honestly can’t wait to take some time with no obligations. I’m juggling a little too much right now and I feel like my thoughts are pulling my brain in a million directions. Considering my main focus these days is writing, these kinds of thought patterns are NOT good for my creative process. 😅

So while I’m off, I’m going to focus on spending time with family, writing without pressure, and reading (I’m grippingly close to my goal of reading fifty-two books this year, but I’m going to have to buckle down to make sure I hit it!). I’ll see y’all back here for a “What I’m Loving” on Sunday because I can’t wait to tell you about the book I’m currently reading, and then I’ll be back for a post on the 16th. I definitely want to do a recap of my favorite books of the year to give everyone last minute gift ideas, so be on the lookout for that in the week before Christmas!

Until then, everyone have a lovely holiday season and please send me any pictures of your pets with Santa/at Christmas tree farms/etc. 🎄

Amanda McDowellComment
What I'm Loving | 11/25/2018

To be honest, the thing I’ve loved the most this week is a four day weekend. We had friends over for dinner on Thursday, put up the tree and enjoyed a lazy/rainy day on Friday, ran errands on Saturday, and now we still have a whole Sunday left. That’s what I call a good weekend.

Here’s what else I’m loving lately:

Reading :: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: layers! depth! wonder! Seriously, this was a delightful read. It was nuanced — the plot points aren’t in your face, but they’re right there if you look for them. It really came together beautifully and I highly recommend it. Next up, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: I bought this on a whim on our trip to Powell’s, in all honesty because I thought the author was someone else. It turned out to be quite a happy accident because I thought this was an incredible read. The staff recommendation card at Powell’s said to go into it without knowing a thing, which is what I did, and I wasn’t disappointed. That’s what I recommend you do, too, so I’m not going to say any more. Now I’m on The Argonauts, which, so far, is a quick and heavy read about gender fluidity, the oppression of heteronormativity, and love in a queer and unique relationship. It’s equal parts science, studies, and anecdotes which keeps the pace quick and the subject matter engaging.

Spare Time :: Probably the same as everyone this week. Just cooking and eating in an endless cycle, but we also got our tree put up! It’s never too early for Christmas cheer.

Etcetera :: We saw Bohemian Rhapsody over the weekend which was a delight. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about Queen/Freddie Mercury. Their music has been around and popular my entire life, but learning more about their journey as musicians was such a joy. I admire Freddie Mercury for taking his fashion risks and being so open about who he was — and I can imagine that many people feeling oppressed in the time period did, as well. It was a fantastic film.

Climbing Through Fear

(Note: This article focuses on how to power through being terrified out of your mind when you’re bouldering. If you came here looking for a step-by-step/need to know guide, I have one of those too! Check out 5 Things To Know Before Your First Bouldering Comp :) )

My second climbing comp is under my, waistband of my workout tights, but you get the message. If you had told me a year ago that I would have done anything like this, I would have laughed at you. Competition isn’t in my nature and it tends to make me enjoy things less instead of more. Weirdly though, bouldering competitions have the opposite effect, and it seems that I somehow get exactly what I need out of them.

I was scared to do this one. Battle of the Bay was not at my home gym, and was at a gym that produces some incredible climbers due to their innovative walls. My gym's routes are short, technical, and dynamic. Dogpatch Boulder’s routes are long, technical, and TALL. I don’t lead climb because I can’t be too far from the ground, so bouldering on a taller wall stirred up a lot of anxiety in me.

I wish I could tell you I ignored my fears and had the best climb of my life. I didn’t. There were many times when I let go instead of hanging on, chose not to push myself instead of trying harder and risking a fall. I didn’t rise above every self-doubt and anxious feeling I had, but I did overcome some — and I feel really good about that. I made myself climb some things I would have balked at otherwise. I dropped off the top of the wall even when I was sure I was going to break both of my legs and be rushed to the emergency room. I didn’t and I wasn’t. I let go and everything. was. fine.

I didn’t get to climb everything I wanted to. I ran out of time and wish I could have done more, certainly. But what I was able to accomplish has stuck with me. I still enjoy my shorter walls and technical problems, but I’m not so scared to reach for the top. I still have my fears, but I’m more comfortable facing them.

A year ago I had given up climbing because I was too scared/too depressed/too convinced I’d never get better. But here I am, sad because I can’t get in one last session before the Thanksgiving holiday. Granted, I’m not going to be on an REI catalogue anytime soon, but I’m improving and learning new things with every new day, and that feels amazing. While I wish I could have climbed harder or better or whatever, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and know next time it’ll be even easier. I think that’s what sports are supposed to be about?

What I'm Loving | 11/18/2018

Short week, woo hoo! Last year I was so bummed about not being with my family on Thanksgiving. I’m bummed this year too, but it feels much less dramatic somehow. We’ll see if that changes the day of, but I’m excited to have some friends over and make a lot of food.

I’m cheating and getting a pre-made turkey from Whole Foods, but I’m cooking everything else myself. Last year my turkey didn’t turn out great, it was a lot of work, and a friend had one from Whole Foods that was SO delicious I decided it would be worth the splurge this year. Some things aren’t worth doing yourself and roasting a turkey might be one of them.

Here’s what I’m loving lately:

Reading :: The Autobiography of Malcolm X was interesting, albeit a bit tedious. Learning about the key events of his life was interesting, but I would’ve preferred it in a shorter format. I’m now working on The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. I love southern gothic literature and this book has been no exception. I’m 75% through it and she keeps added depth and sustenance to her characters that leaves me amazed. Also, she wrote this AT TWENTY THREE, which is amazing but also making me feel a bit behind in life. 😬

Spare Time :: Unfortunately the air quality has only worsened so we’ve been spending ample quality time indoors. Poor Rusty babe is bored out of his mind — every time we get up he runs to the door thinking we’re going on an adventure. You’d think with all this downtime I would have been reading and writing like crazy, but it seems like every day I go to sleep wondering where the time went.

Etcetera :: When is it Christmas decorating time in your house? I know some people who already have their trees up, while others wait until a week or two before. We’re probably going to put our tree up this weekend, but it’s always interesting when other people think is the “right” time.

Managing Screen Time (When You Manage Social Media)

Is Apple’s new “Screen Time” feature throwing anyone else off? I think it’s a great tool — who among us couldn’t spend less time looking at their screens? — but when social media is a big component of your job it makes it so much harder to draw the line.

I manage the Instagram account for the company I work at and a big part of that is answering questions, responding to comments, and engaging with people. While the chitchat and customer service is a lot of fun, it also sends the time I spend looking at my phone through the roof some days.

But regardless of what the screen time is for, an excess of time spent looking at a screen is objectively unhealthy. Whether it’s for work or leisure, anything I can do to cut those numbers is an improvement. It’s baffling to figure out how to do this in my career field but now that I have a literal graph of how much time I’m spending I’m determined to figure it out.

I’m not sure if this is relatable, but most of the time I spend aimlessly staring at my phone is because I’m feeling bored/lazy. Just got home from stressful errands? Let me sit on the couch and stare at my phone for a few minutes before I unpack the groceries. Don’t feel like getting up to do a chore? Just scroll through Instagram for a minute instead! Rather than something I do because I’m learning or enjoying the time, it’s become a crutch for letting myself procrastinate or self-sabotage — and I hate it.

I’m still in the process of figuring it out, but I have been able to shave a few minutes off each week using these tips:

  • Just Leave It Behind! This is the holy grail of all tips for me. Just by leaving my phone out of reach, I pick it up less — who would’ve known? 🙄 Now when I sit down to read, I leave it on the counter. Getting ready in the morning? Leave it on the charger! I don’t know when I started treating my phone like an extension of my hand, but breaking that habit has made the rest of these steps so much more simple.

  • Keep A Magazine Nearby. Like I said before, most of my aimless scrolling comes from procrastinating or laziness. I want to turn that into productivity but I don’t always want to dive in to whatever book I’m reading at the time. I got a trial subscription to The New Yorker, and making sure I have one of those within reach gives me something to flip through that isn’t my phone. I can read a short feature or part of an article, then get up feeling energized instead of drained.

  • Set Downtime. The downtime feature feels like taking a plunge, but I promise it is worth it. I set it to kick in an hour before I go to bed and end around the time I wake up. This stops any aimless late-night scrolling but if I need to look at something I can disable it for 15 minutes. At first I was worried about having hard and fast rules like this, but I have found it helpful — and I’m asleep for the majority of the time it’s disabled, anyway!

Amanda McDowellComment