Author: therenovationoflillian

In which I opine about Starbucks

Ok, so. I’ll provide a longer update later, but for now, I have some Very Important Opinions (okay, these are actually exceptionally trivial opinions, but whatever, we’re going to pretend that they’re important) about Starbucks.

Look, I know I spend waaaaayyy too much time staring into the void of caffeine consumption — but the reality is that I’m deeply, profoundly basic. Ergo, my veritable cornucopia of Starbucks opinions. Anyways. Behold.

1) As much as I love PSLs, I’m certain that eggnog lattes are even better. Are they approximately eleventy bajillion calories? Yes. Do I need all that sugar and dairy in my life? Not even remotely. Does any of that deter me? Nope.

2) Mobile ordering is the best thing since, like, the invention of the wheel. Anything that allows me to skip the line while clandestinely customizing my drink (look, I get embarrassed when I’m ordering in person and I have an absurdly long and complicated drink; I can feel people’s judgment drilling into the back of my skull) is a huge win.

3) Mobile ordering also is the only way my name gets spelled correctly. Nalin/Sillian/Luann/Lorraine/Lauren/Hillian/Killian/ is funny at first, but it gets old quickly.

And thus, I have spent my Sunday morning opining about a coffee chain.

DIY Hell

General Sherman once famously said that war is hell, and this is undoubtedly true. But so too are DIY projects.

Here’s the problem: I don’t come from mechanically-inclined stock. My people aren’t good with our hands. We don’t build things.

And yet, HGTV and design blogs have apparently warped my mind. They managed to convince me that DIY projects are as easy as they look; that I could definitely take one on and succeed. They erased my knowledge of the fact that construction — of literally anything more complex than baking a cake from a boxed mix — is simply not in my blood. And that’s how I decided to DIY myself a new desk.

This was foolish. Unwise. An act of total hubris and naivete. I did it at my peril.

And it turned out really, really fucking badly.

difficult lemon difficult

This is how it went down: the desk I’ve been using for the past three years, while fine, has a low clearance — so low that I can’t cross my legs while facing forward. Since I’m going to be working and writing from home once I leave my job (IN FIVE WEEKS!), I knew I couldn’t continue to use a desk that causes me to contort myself like a Cirque du Soleil member just to find a marginally comfortable way to sit.

I spent untold hours looking for a desk that would work — the right dimensions, not ugly, etc. — and happened to stumble on a desk that made me audibly gasp with delight when I saw it. No lie. I had a Sofia Vergara moment, during which I exclaimed, out loud, “I loooooooooooooooove it!”

jacqueline-maldonado-the-sound-desk-portrait-white-background-SQUARE-aston-gold_1024x1024
Here it is, dear reader: the desk of my dreams.

And then I saw the price tag ($429) and nearly died. I’ve never spent that much on a piece of furniture all for myself, and I buy nearly everything at Target, Marshall’s, and TJ Maxx. $429 for a desk seemed like outright heresy.

So I decided to try and make something I might like — although I knew I wouldn’t love it like the expensive one, I’d still like it — for much less. I went to The Container Store, got some Elfa shelves, desktop, and legs, and got to work.

Following the instructions from various blogs — all of which are lying liars which spread vicious, dirty lies about DIY projects being simple and oh-so-realistic — and the guidance of my mother-in-law (who thankfully is legit gifted when it comes to crafting, design, and DIY projects), I sanded and spray painted the legs. I got contact paper for the desk top. I figured I had it all under control. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Except that the spray paint was running down the desk legs in kind of a wonky, icky pattern. And the contact paper didn’t fit on the shelves or desk top I’d gotten. So I looked for other kinds of contact paper, but everything was fugly. Nothing was going to work without costing a ton of money. And I was starting to freak out and lose sleep over this.

IMG_4303
Death by DIY.

At this juncture, Brandon made an excellent point: not only were we not going to wind up saving money, but I was losing hours of time trying to figure out how to make this godforsaken project work.

“Look, dude,” he said while trying to get me to stop hyperventilating, “you’ve got your regular job plus your freelance job. You’re preparing to leave your regular job and make a huge career transition. You haven’t got the time or energy to keep working on this thing. Let’s just get the desk you love. I know it’s expensive, but I think it’s actually worth it.”

“But, but, but,” I protested while swallowing huge gulps of air, “It’s expensive! I’m about to leave my job! It’s ridiculous to spend that much on a desk, even if it makes my heart sing every time I see it!”

“I know. But babe, we’re not saving money by you doing this DIY thing. You need to get more materials, and the stuff you’d need in order to make this work — in order to make it be adequate — will cost almost as much as getting a desk you adore.”

Welp. You can’t really argue with that logic.

So that, my friends, is the story of how my dear husband retrieved me from DIY hell. I bought the gorgeous desk (helpfully, I was able to get a 20 percent discount — so I didn’t feel like barfing when I placed the order), and it should be here in 3-4 weeks. Satan and his DIY minions no longer have me in their clutches.

not today satan

But you guys, please: promise you’ll never again allow me to think that a DIY project is worth doing. Like, ever. Someone, please, promise you’ll have me taken out back and shot before I ever try to do this again. Kthxbai.

XOXOXO,
Lillian

Big News

So…I’ve got big news (ya know, as evidenced by the title): I quit my job.

This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time — I’ve been unhappy in my career for aaaaages — but given all the health shenanigans of the last few years, it just wasn’t possible. Once things stabilized, Brandon (the hubs) and I started laying the groundwork: I started a side gig doing freelance writing, and we began setting aside extra savings.

I originally planned to hold on until the end of the calendar year, if not a bit longer, just to get some extra savings built up before noping out of there — but then my mental health just kind of…tanked.

You know how a person can be running a marathon/other super long distance race that I can’t even begin to fathom, and sometimes their body just quits? Everything shuts down, and they can’t take another step. It’s a total system collapse: no matter how badly they want to keep going and how hard they’re trying, it’s simply not going to happen. They’ve hit a biological wall.

For me it was like that, but with my mental health. I’ve been pushing myself for so long, and suddenly I was unequivocally, irrevocably done. I felt it down to my bones — on a visceral, cellular level — that neither my psyche nor my soul could continue without a clearly defined end in sight. There they were, splayed out on the pavement and trying to crawl towards a finish line that didn’t yet exist. Recognizing that this was a precipitous decline in my mental health, the truth became clear: I had to create a finish line, and I had to do it now.

To keep grinding, pushing, and just generally pulverizing myself would be enormously harmful, and I can’t let that happen. I’ve already been through, and lost, entirely too much to let myself fall victim to harm that I have the power to prevent. It’s one thing to be trapped, but it’s an entirely different beast to remain imprisoned when the one thing standing between me and freedom is courage.

I’ve always felt like courage and bravery are my greatest weaknesses — I’m anxious, risk averse, and being brave doesn’t come easily to me at all — and I know now is the time for me to take the leap of faith that I’ve been aching for for such a long time. Leaps of faith aren’t usually my thing (I like lists, and lists about my lists, and plans, and risk mitigation strategies, and at least attempting to have my shit together), but it’s time.

I’m going to stay until the end of October, just so I have time to wrap up my projects, jump through the flaming hoops of bureaucratic out-processing, and generally try not to leave a huge mess in my wake.

But after that? I leap.

 

Our actions and decisions today will shap
This is what I keep trying to remind myself, at least. If it’s a quote on the internet it has to be true, right?! 

Missed Connections: Me and My Career

My darling readers, I have a rando favor to ask. To out this in poorly-executed Spanglish: necessito input, por favor.

As you probably know by this point, I’m trying to figure out how to GTFO my line of work. National security and I are donezo. It’s time for us to consciously uncouple.

Because I’m trying to leave not just a job but an entire field, I don’t have a new job lined up. I’m looking at making a seismic change, and a fundamental piece of that process is figuring what the hell I want to do with my life. (What’s that you say? That being 36 means I’m an adult? FOR SHAME. That’s totally not true. Stop lying.) The one thing I know for sure is that I want to write — but writing only pays about half the bills, so I’m trying to come up with ways to generate multiple streams of income.

After reading the book Pivot by Jenny Blake (which, by the way, is awesome; this article provides an excellent summary of the book), I decided to put together a list of ideas I’d like to pursue. That list boiled down to organizing, social media marketing, graphic design, and college essay/writing tutoring; I’m now in the beta testing/data gathering stage of things, and I want to look at them one by one. To start off, and because my ego is fragile and in need of reassurance, I figure it’s best to play to my strengths.

Aside from writing, the Other Thing I’m Good At (TM) — and immensely enjoy — is organization and interior design. (As my best friend of nearly 30 years can attest, I’ve been doing this kind of thing since we were little kids, when I used to come over for play dates and start organizing her room. I, um, was a bit of an odd child.) My idea here is to work with people to 1) determine what isn’t working about their life, routine, home setup, etc. that makes getting organized difficult 2) declutter wherever possible, 3) find solutions to reign in the chaos, and 4) help style said solutions so that the end result looks pretty. Or, if you’re a dude, so that it looks nice but suitably manly.

So, this is where I need your input. If I were to offer such services:

a) Would you be interested in actually using them?

b) If you were interested in actually using them, would you be willing to be a guinea pig so I can try my hand at this (for a super low hourly rate, because I need the practice and experience)?

c) If you’re willing to be a guinea pig and you like the end result, would you be willing to provide a testimonial and/or let me take before and after pictures?

PLZ HALP. KTHXBAI.

Welp

Soooo. I, uh, disappeared for a bit, didn’t I?

I realized last night – as I was falling asleep, because what better time to have a rando realization like this – that I hadn’t posted in ages. This is due to two things: first, I’ve been doing a lot of freelance writing lately, and working two jobs is, as it turns out, really time consuming. (WHO KNEW?!) I also hadn’t had the time to sit down at my computer and type out a post, so I’ve remedied this by taking the groundbreaking, revolutionary step of…installing the WordPress app so I can post from my phone.

Solutions. I like them.

So, to say the least, things have been busy lately. A quick roundup of all the goings-on ’round here:

1) My freelance writing gig brings me such life, you guys. I’m writing for The List, a women’s lifestyle site, and it’s the perfect combination of research (satisfying my inner nerd), writing (satisfying my inner aspiring author), and on topics I really enjoy (like wellness, women’s issues, and, because I’m nothing if not shallow, celebrities). I try to do at least one article per week, and although it’s time and energy intensive, it’s also engaging and fun. And someone is actually *paying* me to *write* things, which to me, is nothing short of amazing.

2) I passed the two-year post-hysterectomy milestone, which is a big deal in the oncology world. I now get to space out my checkups — so I’ll start going in every six months instead of every three months. Granted, I adore my oncologist and want to be legit, real-life friends with her, so those visits aren’t exactly onerous.

3) I rejoined Weight Watchers, and I have to admit: I’m not doing as good of a job with tracking as I should be. I keep thinking this’ll get better with time, and as I gradually improve my life, my bandwidth won’t feel so limited. Here’s hoping.

4) Remember how I talked about refinancing my student loans? I finally got it figured out, and I was able to use Credible to refinance allllll those bastards — both public and private, which is a big deal. It cut my interest rate in half, so now my payments will actually *do* something! Rejoice.

Anyways, now that I’ve got this handy app installed (can we talk about how old I felt when I realized how long it took for me to think of doing this? Oy vey.), I’ll be able to post and update more often. Until then, I leave you with this autumnal scene, because fall is bae:

#EarlyBirdLife, Budgets, and Diets: The Struggle is Real

There are three areas where I consistently, and without fail, ride the struggle bus:

1) Waking up early
2) Losing weight
3) Budgeting

It’s like I have a giant mental block around all of them – and as part of that mental block, things like my super comfy pillow, cookies, and Amazon Prime act like sirens luring me to my own wreckage. Like, I know I’d be better off if I woke up early, were able to stick with Weight Watchers, and adhered to a damn budget. I know I’d feel better, and that my mental and physical health would both be in a better place.

Similarly, I know I’m just screwing myself over when I hit snooze, eat cookies, and spend entirely too much money buying supplies for arts and crafts projects/decorating ideas.

And yet.

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what, exactly, my problem is, and why trying to do these basic things is like beating my head against the wall separating Westeros from the white walkers. I mean, would it be so hard to resist the allure of the “purchase now” button on Amazon? Would it be so hard to stop myself after a half-cup of ice cream?

Apparently.

I realized that I have similar mindsets about all three of those issues: waking up early, trying to lose weight, and budgeting all feel like massive sacrifices — something akin to voluntarily chopping off a limb. I know the long term benefits would be worth it, but I can’t seem to get past the short-term sacrifices they require. (Why must I be so beholden to instant gratification? Why do my dopamine levels fuck with me like this? WHY, BRAIN? WHYYYYYY?)

I decided to do what all normal people do, and consult the Oracle at Delphi Mountain View, AKA Google. “Why can’t I stick to my budget?” I asked. And lo, the Oracle produced many articles, one of which was…actually helpful. Most notably, this piece from New York Magazine came up, and DEAR GAAAAWD did it ever resonate with me:

There are few words in the English language that conjure a sense of dread faster than the word budget…But the main problem with budgeting is its approach, says Brad Klontz, a psychologist and certified financial planner. “I think the entire concept of budgeting is flawed,” said Klontz. “Your emotional brain responds to the word budget the same way it responds to the word diet. The connotation is deprivation, suffering, agony, depression.” Klontz says hearing the word diet makes us feel there’s a famine coming. We can muster up the motivation to take on that famine in the short term, but in the long term, research shows that diets don’t really work.

Welp. That sure does explain a few things.

I spent some time poking around for other articles within the Science of Us series, and I was happily surprised to find some pieces that helped me ask crucial questions. This piece on the importance of asking what, not why, when trying to figure out how (and, uh, why) we do/don’t do something /feel/don’t feel some particular way, also felt like it hit the nail on the head.

So, that got me thinking: instead of asking why I’m so bad at this, I should ask myself what: what is it that I like and don’t like about making the effort to wake up early, stay on Weight Watchers, and stick to my budget?

What do I like? I like end result.

After I’m awake and out of my cozy cocoon, I’m productive and I have time for writing and art.

After I stay on WW, I like how I feel and how I look. I like that I’m able to run without my knees hurting from all the pressure that the extra weight puts on my joints. I like feeling like I can actually run, not just lumber along like a geriatric water buffalo. I like being able to wear clothes that I actually love, and not just ones that are adequate.

After I save money and stick to a budget, I like knowing that I have more flexibility to do things that really matter to me, like traveling, trying to start a family (egg donors don’t come cheap, y’all) and, ohpleaseohpleaseJesusOprahBuddhaletthisactuallyhappen, eventually quitting my job.

What don’t I like? I don’t like the discipline, effort, or sacrifice. I don’t like having to plan out my meals and exercise. I fucking hate sad desk salads. I don’t like having to plan out my purchases (as opposed to, y’know, just making them whenever the urge strikes).

Part of it, I think, is that my depression, PTSD from the cancer and hysterectomy, and the feeling that I have almost no control over my life suck up so much of my bandwidth that I rely on things like cookies and Amazon to give me little moments of happiness (GO GO GADGET DOPAMINE!). Without those little things, life would feel 99% heavy, dull, and grinding. With those things, it only feels, like, 90% heavy, dull, and grinding.

But really, what am I getting out of that 9% difference? More importantly, even though it comes with an immediate happiness bump, there’s also a rebound effect which amplifies the feeling that I’m not in control of my life: sleeping late makes me late for work, which means I have to stay late to make up for lost time, which then means I have less time to do what I want. Spending money on things I don’t need makes me feel queasy and gives me pangs of guilt. Seeing myself in the mirror, totally devoid of muscles and nearly as heavy as I was at the end of my progesterone treatment, makes me depressed.

The immediate gratification gives me a moment of satisfaction, but it’s quickly followed by guilt and discontent.

So, that 90% is probably more like 95%. Which, y’know, doesn’t seem like much. And it’s probably not worth the rebound effect of the guilt.

When I think about this more, I realize that by trying to actually do these things that I find so hard — self-control, discipline, short-term sacrifices for long-term gain — I might actually start to feel like I do have some semblance of control over my life. And, considering that this lack of control is one of the factors that feeds my depression, I might actually stand a chance of breaking out of that self-reinforcing feedback loop.

So, those will be my next tasks for renovating my life, and it will undoubtedly be among the biggest and most difficult: creating a budget and re-starting — and sticking to — Weight Watchers. Any tips y’all might have for how to make this happen, or how to make it suck less, would be greatly appreciated!

Wee Little Renos: Health and Life Management

After the last few long-ish posts, I figure I’ll mix things up a bit and talk about some of the day-to-day things I’ve done lately as part of my self-renovation effort. I’d originally planned to post about one thing per day, but then I started to worry that it would be painfully boring for people to read.

Like, more boring than standing in an interminably long line, at a place with a slow internet connection, while C-SPAN blares on TV.

One of my pet peeves about reading peoples’ blogs is when they revert to random lists of things they did that day — “And then I went to Starbucks, and then I drank my triple nonfat 2-Splenda frappuccino, and here’s a picture, and then I got my nails done, and here’s another picture” and at this point, readers are actually dying because they’re so bored — and I just didn’t want to go down that road. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that, you guys.

kermit annoyed
Kermie, expressing the frustration in my heart when I read random, and wholly unnecessary, details about peoples’ frappuccinos.

So, instead, I figure I’ll provide occasional lists that round up my recent Acts of Renovation. This way I’m keeping myself on track and staying accountable, but I’m also not running the risk of boring everyone to the point of their untimely demise — unless, of course, there are those among you who’d actually want to read about the details on some of these things, in which case I’d be more than happy to elaborate. (If you fall into this category, let me know! I’m happy to write about nearly anything in greater detail, except for something really heinous like the mating habits of worms, so I’m happy to take suggestions/requests/feedback/whatever.)

I’m going to break these up into a few posts, so as to not feed into the boredom issue (THE STRUGGLE IS REAL, Y’ALL).  For today, I’ll focus on my efforts to get my ducks in a row, both in regards to overall organization/life management, and in regards to my health. Organization comes pretty easily to me — because I’m deranged, I love cleaning, tidying, and organizing things, and I have absurdly intricate systems for filing papers, hanging up my clothes, etc. –

Health, by contrast, has been a consistent struggle for me over the years. (You may have noticed this, in the sense that sometimes one notices that the sun is shining.) I very much want to get back on track with my health: back to feeling strong and energized, back to being able to run and lift, back to looking and feeling like myself again.

Anyways, all that being said — behold, a self-congratulatory list, but partial, list of accomplishments:

Life management: As an official Xennial,* making the switch from analog to digital totally upended all my carefully constructed filing, note-taking, and paper organization systems. It’s been a bit cray since then, but I recently signed up for Evernote — and I then proceeded to spend hours consolidating all my random ideas, lists, notes to self, paper scraps, and other miscellany into organized, easily accessible notebooks. For the last few years I’ve been writing down my ideas, lists, etc. in my email, but because I didn’t want to send myself 20,000 messages that I’d constantly have to update as I added things to the list/fleshed out an idea, I basically amassed a colossal pile of draft messages in my Gmail account. And, because I hadn’t found a good way to categorize or organize them, I had no f*cking idea where those brilliant ideas and lists actually were without painstakingly sorting through said colossal pile. Needle. Haystack. No bueno. So, as you can imagine, I was quite pleased to get everything pulled into one place and organized in a way that makes it possible for me to find them.

Health: The lifting ban is OFFICIALLY OVER! In preparation for this momentous occasion, I found a handful of strength training routines to try, and I’m excited to get started with this. I want to split the different lifting sets over the course of four days, so as to allow for recovery time, etc., and I found some good options for doing that. Now if only I could stop hurting long enough to start lifting again. And to that end…

Health: In hopes of getting some better answers about my chronic pain problem and why it likes to flare up so often, I saw my primary care doctor yesterday and got a handful of referrals to specialists who might be able to help solve this mystery, or at least mitigate some of the symptoms. She also ran a butt-ton of blood work — and yes, “butt ton” is totally a medical term, by the way — to look for any hint of an autoimmune problem, so we’ll wait to see what those tests indicate. She also gave me a course of doxycycline, since this fits the constellation of symptoms that people can experience with Lyme disease — and, as she put it, it can be worth it to treat possible Lyme as confirmed Lyme, because if the antibiotics resolve my symptoms…then poof! I can start getting better. In the absence of proof, though, we need to do some digging to figure out what’s going on, so I now have follow up appointments scheduled next month with neurology, a pain psychologist, and a sleep medicine specialist. So, hopefully this will bring me closer to figuring out why my meat suit** is malfunctioning.

So, all in all, I’m pretty pleased with myself — and hopefully no one has keeled over. 😃

*Xennials are the micro-generation between Gen X and Millennials, and SWEET BUDDHA I’M SO GLAD IT’S FINALLY A THING.

** Meat suit is my not-at-all-weird term for my body. Like I said: not weird. Totally not weird. Don’t judge.