downsizing, simplifying, and letting go

September 20, 2012

This life in LA is now becoming this life in PA. A simple change of that first letter brings a not-s0-simple change for my life as I currently know it. This not-so-simple change means getting rid of things that will weigh me down on my trip back across the country. Simplifying what I own, in an effort to simplify the thoughts running through my head.

That to say, I don’t own very much to begin with. I’m not a hoarder, and I typically do not buy things unless I need them. When I came out here a year ago, everything I deemed necessary for living fit into the back of my Ford Fiesta.

Yes, it still looks like a lot.

But keep in mind it’s a compact car.

But now that Fiesta is being shipped across the country and federal law prohibits personal items from being stored in shipped cars.

And checking bags on a domestic flight can become a bit pricey.

So, out with the old.

But it’s really something I’ve not very good at doing in the past.

I’ve tried getting rid of things time and time again. I got rid of plenty in an effort to fit all of the above into my little car. I left many of my belongings scattered across the country- some in my parent’s basement, some in Jeremy’s parent’s basement. I gave away a few replaceable items. But I held on to a lot.

This time around it’s different. I suppose that in the difficulty of letting go of what I emotionally hold dear, it’s much easier to let go of what I tangibly have. Most of my replaceable items have been sold or given away. I’ve been scouring freecycle boards to see if there’s anything people need that I can give them. I’ve been posting and reposting on Craigslist daily. I’ve taken a trip to Goodwill with a full car trunk of clothes and left with it empty. I do still have some pricer items that I can’t happily just give away, if anyone’s interested (watch, silverware, looping pedal), but all in all, I’ve been amazed at what I’ve been able to let go of.

I do hope that I’m able to continue this mindset of downsizing once I am in PA and go through my belongings that were left in the basement. I am not sure I could ever have the true minimalist mindset or successfully employ the 100 Things Challenge, but there is a lot to be said of living with only what you need.

September 25, 2012

And I have been trying to hold on to only what I need. But what does “need” mean, really? I’ve (male) friends who have moved  with only a backpack or two. Maybe one checked bag at the airport. It seems so simple. But how could I do it? I have a violin. I have a laptop. I have various music electronics- a microphone, a mic stand, a looping pedal, an m-box. I have shoes (and I don’t own as many as most females I know, but I still have six or seven pairs of shoes. Is even that many pairs necessary?) I have clothes and I have hangers to go with those clothes. I have a small floor fan. I have kitchen utensils. I have a small food processor. I have bedding and two pillows. I have toiletries. I have miscellaneous office items. I’ve let go and gotten rid of so many things over the past month. But was it enough? Am I still holding on to things I don’t actually need?

My car does not look half as full as it was when I drove across the country last year. From the outside, you can’t even tell there is anything being stored in it. But a big help for that was two 50lb checked bags at the airport, and an overstuffed carry-on. So perhaps I’m leaving with the same amount of “things” I came with. At what point is too much too much?

I intend to continue to be aware of what I own and any purchases I make. I want to keep whittling down my tangible items to what I actually use and need.

Is there anyone else out there trying to do this? What constitutes an item’s need? What constitutes letting go of something?

this life in LA: driving

You know, I really don’t like driving. I’m not sure when this realization actually set in, but I do everything I can to not have to drive. If I’m not the only person in my car, you can usually find me in the passenger’s seat.

Upon arriving in LA last year, I had many initial scary thoughts about driving in the infamous Los Angeles traffic. I received much advice/consolation when vocalizing these thoughts, and two ideas stood out to me so much then that I still think about them now:

1. Britney Spears drives in LA and handles the traffic. This means anyone can.
2. Make left turns just after the traffic light turns red. Or you’ll never make a left turn.

I was thrown into driving with my first job, and couldn’t even use my own car then. This was upsetting because I bought my car specifically for the move to Los Angeles: a 2011 Ford Fiesta hatchback. I love my car. Sub-compacts are the way to go out here. I can park in the compact parking spots. I have every reason to internally yell at the drivers who park their SUVs in the compact parking spots. I can parallel park without error every time. And in almost any available spot. And there I was driving around a Chrysler minivan. I accidentally cut off my fair share of cars while driving up and down the 5 in that whale. But I digress.

These days, driving here doesn’t phase me. I hate the interstates and avoid them at all costs, and I still do not particularly enjoy driving, but I’ve become used to it out here. My car really did turn out to be the perfect vehicle for LA driving. I take it through Hollywood during rush hour every morning on the commute to work. I’ve learned which roads are the best during rush hour and which roads I am guaranteed to find too much traffic. I am fairly familiar with the area from Burbank all the way down to Santa Monica. If a road is blocked somewhere, I know my way around enough to get back on route. My experiences have also taught me all of this:

1. Drivers switching lanes take entirely too long to merge all the way over. When they are moving to a turning lane, they almost never make it all the way over and traffic has to slow down to drive past them.
2. Do not drive down residential streets during rush hour on trash day. You will hit a trash can. Your side view mirror will lose its back. You will pay $53 to replace it.
3. Side streets are your friends. They are still crowded during rush hour, but you can still get places faster.
4. Make sure you have a live traffic GPS so you can avoid the 101 before ever getting on it.
5. Sometimes the 101 is faster than the Cahuenga Pass. You will always choose the wrong one.
6. Pedestrians have the right of way even during rush hour and jaywalking on Hollywood Boulevard.
7. Driving north on Bronson just before Hollwood gives a very clear view of the coveted Hollywood sign. I don’t care about the Hollywood sign.

I’d like some more additions to this list. Anyone?

this life in LA- parking tickets (and how I got mine refunded!)

I’ve lived in LA for the better part of 10 months now. While I’ve been finding my way on the roads through the crazy traffic and terrible (read: ignorant and insensitive) drivers, I’ve learned there’s even another worry on the roads of Los Angeles: parking tickets.

When I first arrived, I vowed to never EVER get a parking ticket here. California is essentially bankrupt and Los Angeles is out to get everyone with their ridiculously over-priced parking tickets. I did not want to waste my money on that, obviously. So every time I park anywhere, I read and re-read all the signs, I check and double-check the color of the curb, I make sure my car (a tiny Ford Fiesta hatchback, bought specifically for the move to LA) is in the proper confines of the parking spot, and I check all the cars around my to be sure they’re not doing anything special that my car should be doing. When I park in unfamiliar areas, I still walk away from my car wondering if I’m somehow “illegally” parked because I’m not in the know of the rules of the area. Being that careful should be a surefire way to avoid an unnecessary fine, right?

Nope. Wrong. Apparently.

I work on a street that is permit parking only during the entirety of the hours I’m there. I have a visitor parking pass that I display every day from my rearview mirror so that the parking enforcement officers can see that I am legally parked there. Except for that one day I forgot to hang it up.

It was a Thursday, and I remember walking back to the house from The Grove, around 12 noon (having been parked since 9am). I was at the opposite end of the street from my car when it all came crashing into  my mind- “Oh no! My parking pass … crap! It’s still in the glove compartment!” As I approached my car, I saw the tell-tale red and white envelope placed between the windshield and the windshield wiper. Opening it, I found I would now be out $63. What a WASTE of money for a stupid mistake.

I remembered my employer getting a ticket for not having her parking pass properly displayed, and she waved it off saying how it would be easy to fight, she’d just say the pass fell down. I didn’t want to pay the fine, but I also didn’t want to lie. And doing some research online led me to believe that it wouldn’t be easy to contest the ticket either. But I decided it was worth trying to contest it than to just pay the fine blindly.

I was told on the ticket that I had three weeks to either pay the fine or contest the ticket. I could contest it in writing or I could go to the office and try it in person. I am so much better at getting things done through words. I love words. I love putting them together to make them flow. I love having time to carefully plan what I want to say. I love how that time allows me to find a good use of rhetoric. So naturally, I contested the ticket through writing.

I don’t have a printer easily accessible to me, so I (apprehensively) wrote out my contestation with pen and paper. I decided I wouldn’t say anything about having the parking pass visible or not, I would just state the facts of how I park on that street every Monday-Thursday because it is where I am employed, and I have a parking pass, and I always hang it on the rearview mirror just as the directions ask. I included a photocopy of my parking pass. I just wanted to state the facts and see what would happen with them. It was clearly my mistake for forgetting to hang up the parking pass, but I was hoping for a bit of grace.

I got a letter a week later telling me that my ticket was still valid and now I had to pay it within three weeks or I would incur even more fines. I could also try and further contest the ticket by asking for a hearing. I figured that was the end of it, and at least I tried. I had no time whatsoever to go to court and ramble about “the facts,” and risk needing to directly answer the inevitable question “Was your parking pass clearly hanging on your rearview mirror?” I was in the wrong, and at least I tried. So it was over … or was it?

I found also in that second letter that I could request a hearing by mail if I so desired. Yes, please! I once again drafted a letter with pen and paper that looked almost identical to the first I had sent. I stated the facts and didn’t fudge the truth. I also included a photo copy of my parking permit that was identical to the first photo copy, and at this point in the month, that actual permit was expired, so I mailed the physical permit as well. I ended the letter with something along the lines of “I do not know what other evidence I can offer to prove my case except to ask you to take me at my word. I ask that you refund this ticket immediately so that no one else’s time is wasted.”

I sealed it up (along with a $63 check), put it in the mail, and hoped for the best.

A week later I received a letter telling me that my hearing had been scheduled and they would let me know the results accordingly.

Another week and I got what I was looking for in the mail. The first words I saw on the letter were “refund amount: $63” … WHAT?! The rest of the letter outlines what the parking rules are for the street. It outlines what I wrote in my letters, and it is clear when lining the two paragraphs up that I am in the wrong. But then the second page says something wonderful:

… under the particular circumstances of this case, it is evident that Respondent made an error … although parking without a permit visible is technically a violation, the circumstances warrant extending a courtesy dismissal for the citation in the interest of justice …

In the interest of JUSTICE? There are just people in LA? A courtesy dismissal?! Clearly, I caught someone on a good day. June 6, 2012 the stars aligned and someone was in a good enough mood to dismiss my parking ticket. I got a refund check in the mail a week later, and depositing that $63 back into my bank account was ridiculously satisfying.

I’m not saying this will work for everyone (and neither is the city of Los Angeles, as the rest of the letter reads “The Hearing Examiner’s decision for this case is not intended to establish a legal precedent for any other parking citation case …”), but hey, it’s worth a try, right? Sometimes when you catch people in a good mood, wonderful things happen.

“how-to” part two

6. Find friends and family to visit and take a very roundabout trip west. (Leave more of your things at your boyfriend’s parent’s house, due to lack of space in your car.)

Our trip took us from Bucks County, Pennsylvania to Lexington, Kentucky on the first day. A trip that we had made before in 9.5 hours took us 11 (a little rain, a little traffic) this time, but I was fine with it. We spent a day and a half in Lexington, enjoying time with the family I nannied for while living in Lexington, a gathering of friends into the later hours of the night, and plenty of Catan and Canasta with Jeremy’s family. (We also stopped by the local “John’s Run and Walk Shop” to buy shoes for our marathon training, see the link to the right to sponsor my running in the LA Marathon in March by donating to Love Without Boundaries.)

From Lexington we drove 6.5 hours to Springfield, Illinois to visit my roommate Laura from college and her husband Jeremy. It is always so great to spend time with the very friends who helped you become who you are today. The evening included an Irish pub, where the only thing I could order off the menu was a double-decker grilled cheese sandwich (no worries there, I love me some grilled cheese), watching their dog, Connor, fall asleep with excitement about carrots (have YOU ever met a narcoleptic dog?), seeing Jeremy’s (clearly Laura’s Jeremy, not mine) live sports broadcast on TV, and making some ridiculously fattening and ridiculously delicious apple tarts while “Failure to Launch” was on in the background (at least Zooey Deschanel’s character is fun to watch). I was sad to say goodbye (early) the next day, but a 16-hour day of driving ahead of us meant not enough time with some of those who we love.

Springfield, IL to Laramie, WY was our longest driving day of the trip. Luckily, it was on a Sunday, so traffic was not a problem. Driving through the states of Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska did not prove to be entirely exciting, but there’s always one of those days. We were still fresh and happy and not worn out yet, so it was a good day for those 16 hours on the road. And as we were on the way to see my best friend from college, driving 16 hours was the least I was willing to do. (And Jeremy was behind the wheel for 13 of them anyway …)

Wyoming is my “most favorite place in the world.” (Quotations due to bad grammar and a clichéd but true statement.) We got in around midnight and so were not able to enjoy its beauty until morning time. There’s something about the sky there. The reality of the world is so apparent. I love being able to see storms from miles away- storms that you may never even feel. To see an entire cloud in the distance light up with a stark lightning strike. Blue skies with white clouds for as far as you are able to see. The effect of a sky so large that you can see the shadows of the clouds rolling over the mountains. The wide-openness of everything around you. That is Wyoming and that is what I love.

A Monday spent with the lovely Becki in beautiful Wyoming was better than I could have asked for. Some hiking in the mountains, homemade ice cream in Centennial, WY (population 100), lunch at a vegetarian restaurant (in Wyoming, really?!), Farkle and Bananagrams. The hours passed by too quickly and the reality of a goodbye was not fun. However, I left my heart there, which can only mean that I will return.

Early morning goodbyes in Illinois

Wyoming storms

Wyoming sky

See, no lies.

Friends in Wyoming

how to move across the country, part one

Jeremy and I (and most of my belongings) spent August 25th through September 1st on the road from eastern Pennsylvania to Los Angeles. We spent time with beautiful friends and family and saw jaw-dropping sights as we made our way from one coast to the next. Here’s the beginning of a simple “how to” guide, Bekah style, if you’ve ever the notion to make the trek:

1. Buy a new car.I chose the 2011 Ford Fiesta Hatchback SE. 3340+ miles and only $315 worth of gas later, I was still very happy with my purchase.

2. Leave lots of your belonging at your parent’s house.Though I chose the hatchback car, I originally owned a Ford Ranger with an extended bed. There’s no way around the fact that there was more storage space in my truck.

3. Pick up your boyfriend at the Philadelphia airport two days before the road trip begins.While we thought harder about this after the plane tickets were already bought, we realized he should have came earlier. Such is life.

4. The night before you leave, have a get together with all of your family who can make it. Spend the night laughing with/at each other. (Pack the car before this.)

5. Leave Pennsylvania at 7:30am for Lexington, Kentucky. Take the stereotypical (but entirely necessary) “We’re going on a road trip! We’re moving away!” picture.

the coolest thing ever

I am in the midst of packing up my room to head home for two weeks before moving across the country. It’s an interesting concept, to pack up my life. As I moved out of my parent’s house last year, and I’ve been through the process of moving to and from college for four years, it is not new to me to pack up and go. But it has been a new experience to pack up absolutely everything.

Due to the simple fact that I am moving clear across the country, in a compact car, without a place to live yet, I am consolidating as much as possible. Of course, I keep coming across items of sentimental value. I won’t list them all here, save for the one I chose for the purpose of this post.

While consolidating my life (or so it seems) today, I found this memory saved on a piece of paper from last summer. I suppose it’s time for said piece of paper to find its way to the trash can, but not before I immortalize the memory on this blog. Enjoy …

The kids got pillow pets as a midsummer’s present last year. I remember being quite surprised to find them playing with these new toys when I arrived home from work, as my mom isn’t typically the type to buy new toys. I have a feeling these pillow pets happened as a result of boredom on the kid’s part. With no school to go to, less structure during the day, and only each other to play with, the little ones are prone to get quite antsy during the summers. Pillow pets seemed to be a great way to curb those feelings.

I spent some time that afternoon playing with the kids and their new pets, snapping pictures, and showing them how excited! I was about their toys.

This is when Cody piped in.

“You hate it. You hate my pillow pet!”

I assured Cody I liked his pillow pet plenty.

“I like your pillow pet a lot! I think it’s the coolest thing ever!”

Shane, being the level-headed and ever-thoughtful one of the group, had only one thought to vocalize (very matter-of-factly) after I made that declaration.

“I think God’s the coolest thing ever.”

Thanks, Shane. I guess I got beat by a seven-year-old.