Friday, July 11, 2014

Courtney's Dream Home

I love our house, but you know what would make me love it even more?
  • an indoor hammock
  • two stories - upstairs for sleeping, downstairs for rowdiness and mayhem
  • a balcony off the master bedroom for morning coffee
  • self-cleaning floors (really just in the kitchen in the highchair zone - I'm not greedy)
  • a saltwater aquarium with starfish
  • a little free library for the neighborhood
  • a big tree with a tire swing 
  • brightly colored furniture
  • a room with a ceiling painted a fun bright color, like so
  • lots of house plants that I don't forget to water
  • a craft/play room that has a big long table for my sewing machine and a teepee for Pippa
  • man cave for Nathan with a jukebox
  • vegetable garden with space and sun for TOMATOES
  • an open floor plan for the kitchen/den (our house comes close to this, but I'm greedy and want the kitchen to flow into the den)
  • a leather booth in the kitchen
  • a zipline and trampoline in the backyard (and of course, since this is my dream home, we'd still have a pool - duh)
  • a front porch with more seating (hmm, gears are whirring in my head as I consider ways to rearrange our porch...)
  • a pumpkin patch

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Courtney's Ultimate Bad Ass List of Learning Ambitions

According to The How of Happiness, learning new things makes me happy. I fully agree. And as I've noted before, I LOVE LISTS. So obviously it is time for me to make a list of all the things I hope to learn during my life. I am not setting any deadlines for any of these ambitions.

Without further ado, behold! All the crazy, practical, lame, impractical, exciting, amazing, and weird things I want to learn:
  1. how to throw a boomerang
  2. how to ride a unicycle - I have wanted to learn this for at least twenty years now! I was THIS CLOSE to buying a unicycle when I was a senior in college. I was convinced it would make an awesome study break while I was writing my thesis. My friends thought otherwise and convinced me to abandoned that scheme.
  3. how to juggle five objects - I can juggle three tennis balls! I learned how to juggle in the sixth grade, but if I ever want to be a circus clown, I'm going to have to up to my credentials.
  4. how to make a balloon animal - Apparently what I really want to do is go to clown college.
  5. how to change a tire - oh thank god, something unrelated to the circus
  6. how to change the oil in my car - I'm sick of being such a girl with all things car-related
  7. the different parts of a car - I can identify the tires! And the windshield wipers! I'm on my way!
  8. all the presidents of the United States in chronological order - George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson...
  9. five fun facts about each U.S. President but I can't learn the facts from Wikipedia
  10. TAP DANCE
  11. how to execute a cartwheel - the cartwheel does not have to be flawless, but a bystander has to be able to say "Hey, that chick just did a shitty cartwheel."
  12. how to be a bad ass with a hacky sack - back to the clown theme, but this one has a stoner twist
  13. the Thriller dance
  14. how to make pasta from scratch - I actually was signed up for a pasta making class once and then the bastards cancelled due to low enrollment
  15. how to make a pie from scratch - not to boast, but I'm sure I can do this, I just have never attempted it
  16. Spanish - I took Spanish through high school, plus one class my first quarter of college, but I flamed out of that class. But I am working on reclaiming what I used to know and then becoming fluent. I've been using a great app called Duolingo plus reading some books in Spanish.
  17. French or German or another third language
  18. World geography - My education was severely lacking on this point. I want to know where every country in the world is, plus major cities, rivers, mountains, etc. I already know where the oceans are, so this is totally doable - right?
  19. Guitar
  20. Ukulele - I own one, I own a book, I own a tuner, but I can't figure out how to tune the damn thing! Someone I know must be able to help me with this one...
  21. Grilling - This has been Nathan's jurisdiction, but it is time to conquer my fear of the grill. There's only a 5% chance I will become engulfed in flames and have to jump into the pool.
  22. Harmonica
  23. Accordion
  24. survival skills in the event of a zombie attack, e.g. how to build a fire
  25. basic first aid
Okay, I've got my work cut out for me! And I know this list will get longer before I am able to conquer a significant item...

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Air Conditioned Adventure Awaits!

The heat has arrived (oh joy). Our house has air conditioning, but when the temperature hits 95, our poor a/c unit struggles. It is better to seek out corporate air conditioning. Plus, Pippa and I go bat shit crazy if we stay inside all day. We also get bored if we frequent the same places over and over (see my Parks Project).

I started a Beat the Heat Cheat Sheet, but then got lazy and never finished it. I'm going to use it myself, but I doubt I will ever polish it to perfection. Instead, I am challenging myself to take Pippa to at least 25 awesome air conditioned places between now and the end of September and keep track of those places here. Without further ado...

  1. Magical Playground - 7/5/14. My thoughts on this place are here in my Beat the Heat Cheat Sheet.
  2. Petersen Automotive Museum - 7/6/14 - This was a fun place to wander around with Pippa and Nathan. My inner history buff loved the first floor dioramas that showed beautiful old cars in their natural habitats, so to speak. The entire third floor is a play area that Pippa enjoyed. This is definitely the place to bring a child obsessed with cars. Pippa is only mildly interested in cars, so I doubt we will rush back (unless the Model T suddenly replaces her obsession with dogs, monkeys and elephants).
  3. IKEA - 7/7/14 - I assumed this would be either (a) an awesome outing or (b) a total fucking disaster. Yay, it was awesome! Pippa would have stayed in the children's section all day if I let her. We did not even have time to wander through the rest of the furniture floor, and Pippa would enjoy scaling the couches and chairs (and I would enjoy soaking up the design inspiration). Bonus: there is a Barnes & Noble across the street from the Burbank IKEA which we will have to make time to visit next time.
  4. California Science Center - 7/8/14 - Love this museum! It's free, the adjacent lot is $10. There is so much to see that Pippa and I barely made a dent. We will be back soon soon soon.
  5. Kidspace - 7/10/14 - so effin unbelievably awesome

Courtney's Big Ass Parks Project

I love taking Pippa to new parks, but it is so easy to get into a park rut and keep visiting the same two or three parks over and over and over. Then we both get bored and sick of the same effing slides and tunnels. If I visit the same park too frequently, it turns into A Place Where My Happiness Goes To Die. But if we visit an ass shit ton of parks, Pippa and I both have fun and crack up as we run around.

In order to avoid the Park Rut, I'm going to keep track of all the parks I visit. My goal is to visit 100 different parks by the end of the year. (I reserve the right to realize that I'm insane and extend the deadline.)

I thought a lot about whether this list may include indoor playgrounds and decided it may NOT. This is about parks with fresh air and birds. Most of them will involve playgrounds, but the point is to visit new outdoor places.

But I have another list in mind that will include indoor playgrounds.

Parks I Have Visited - Woot Woot!:

  1. Singer Park - 7/5/14 - I have driven by this park at least 100 times and always thought that I should take Pippa there. Finally, this morning, I did and it was awesome. From the street, it looked ok, but once we parked and walked over, we could fully appreciate its awesomeness. It's shady in the morning, there are lots of different things to do, plenty of greenery, and there are fences to prevent little ones from bolting into traffic. We will definitely visit this gem again - but not too soon! I don't want to transform it into A Place Where My Happiness Goes to Die.
  2. Brookside Park - 7/7/14 - The mother of all Pasadena parks.  There are not one but two playgrounds. Lots of open space for toddler adventures. The Rose Bowl Aquatic Center (which I still haven't visited - someday). And of course, there is Kidspace. Today we went to the Pirate Ship Playground behind the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center. I know I will be tempted to include Brookside Park multiple times on this list since it feels like three different parks but I shall resist temptation!  
  3. Memorial Park (the Sierra Madre edition) - 7/9/14 - A small SHADY park. The playground's main structure is simple, but Pippa played happily for 90 minutes.
  4. Tournament Park - 7/14/14 (Bastille Day! And my brother's birthday!) - Tons of shade, Pippa wandered around listlessly thanks to some wicked teething; but the park is great so we will be back. I'm sure she will love the slides and sandbox when she is not in pain.
  5. Mason Park - 7/15/14 - This was another miserable teething day. I had to drive around to help Pippa fall asleep and then schlepped to Chatsworth because I had read good reviews about this park and figured Pippa deserved a diversion from her gums.  The park is fantastic. Amazing playground, even more amazing splash pad. We shall return when Pippa's gums are not torturing her. Poor girl had zero interest in the splash pad, which is very uncharacteristic of her.
  6. Eaton Canyon Natural Area - 7/17/14 - More teething, but since we were having a lovely reprieve from the summer heat, I decided it was time for some Nature. There is a little nature museum with some snakes and bugs in terrariums and turtles outside. There are also a ton of stuffed animals (by stuffed, I mean both "taxidermy" and "cute sewn teddy bears.") There is an easy nature walk, but my teething tot was not interested in walking. Also, there were signs warning about rattlesnakes and recent bear and mountain lion sightings. So yeah, we won't be going back any time soon! (Unless we have daddy to protect us from snakes, bear and lions - oh my!)
  7. Vina Vieja Park - 7/20/14 - Another amazing Pasadena park, but this one has a bonus: there's a dog park! Pippa is obsessed with dogs and she loved watching the dogs romp around, and even got to pet a friendly chocolate Labrador; but she had even more fun at the playground. 
  8. Victory Park - 7/21/14 - The toddler area is pretty shabby, but I still love this park.  Spectacular views of the mountains, lots of open space, shade, and Pippa loves the big kid playground.
  9. Dunsmore Park - 7/21/14 - WOW! Love this place! The playgrounds are fun, clean and safe. There is a ridiculous amount of shade. And during the summer, on Mondays and Thursdays from noon-5, they fill up the little skating rink and turn it into a wading pool. It's FREE and only for kids 8 and younger.
  10. Gwinn Park - 7/23/14 - No playground, just a big ass open green space with lots of pretty old trees. Perfect place for picnics, tossing a Frisbee, cloud gazing and letting a toddler explore the world. 

Update: As of mid-July, I have visited seven different parks which means I have 27 weeks to visit 93 parks. That's 3.44 parks/week. Chop chop, I better get a move on!

Happiness!

When I was recovering from postpartum depression, my sister introduced me to The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, by Sonja Lyubomirsky.  The book describes the science behind happiness and explains how different things make different people happy. Rather than give a one-size-fits-all approach to happiness, the book has a lengthy multiple choice test. The test results identify the best activities to boost your personal happiness. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes to be happy (and I recommend it to the martyrs as well - happiness is so much better than misery!)

I especially recommend this book to moms recovering from postpartum depression. When I was first diagnosed with PPD, I was too broken to do much of anything; but as the Zoloft kicked in and my energy returned, I was able to become more proactive about my recovery. Zoloft was a huge essential piece of this, but it could not heal me alone. I had to seek out activities that made me happy.  PPD made me forget the things that make me happy; but The How of Happiness helped me remember what they are.

According to The How of Happiness, my "happy activities" are having goals and big projects, learning new things, and being physically active. The results could not have been more correct; but before I read this book and took its test, I could not have articulated these truths about myself.

The second half of The How of Happiness describes effective techniques to increase one's happiness, but you only read the chapters that apply to you - e.g. I read about setting goals, learning, and being physically active and then followed the advice in those chapters.

It was tough at first. Thanks to my bout of postpartum depression, and to our societal and cultural expectations about motherhood, I had become a martyr and thought I had forfeited the right to make my happiness a priority. I needed to be constantly entertaining Pippa and attending to her well-being. Now I know that in order to be the mom I want to be, I also have to take care of myself. Also, I'm discovering that the things that make me happy often make Pippa happy as well.

With that said, I have decided to use this blog to help boost my happiness even more. In addition to my love of learning, projects and physical activity, there is one other thing that makes me super happy: LISTS. Oh my god, I love lists! I have lists of places I want to visit, books to read, books I have read, museums I have visited, etc. etc. but the lists get lost or my computer crashes and eats them, and then I am so, so sad for my list.

So now I am going to start keeping my lists here! Woot woot! Time to start the first one...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Having Fun!

Quick synopsis for new (or forgetful) readers: My daughter Pippa was born in March 2013.  I struggled with postpartum depression for four months, culminating in five weeks of insomnia.  I wanted to die and finally went to see my ob/gyn in late July 2013. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and spent four nights in the hospital's psychiatric wing.  

I met my psychiatrist when I was a patient at my hospital's emergency room. I told him that I had had insomnia for the past five weeks and anxious, as if I was being stalked by a serial killer, but I was not depressed. Even though I was exhausted and broken by anxiety, I was very happy and content.

He did not seem convinced and asked if I had been having fun.

It felt like a trick question on a Calculus final exam; but I was confident that I was happy; and if I was happy, I must be having fun. Right? Happy mothers have fun - right? I was a happy mother - right? My life was filled with fun - right? I told my doctor that I was indeed having fun. 

Then he asked, "How? How are you having fun?"

How? WTF? I immediately felt defensive and cornered. The question implied that I was lying, that I was not in fact having fun in my life, that I was a horrible bitter mother who was not enjoying every precious moment with her newborn. If I was not having fun in my life, then I must hate my life; and if I hated my life, I resented my baby; and if I resented my baby, I was the most horrible mother in the world; and I could not bear the thought of that. The possibility that I was not having fun made me feel sick to the stomach. 

Indignant, I started to defend myself... but could not think of a good example to convince the doctor I was having fun. I knew that I was having fun, but my doctor did not believe me. The gears in my head clanged and sputtered, but I could only think of one example: watching t.v. with Nathan. As I explained to my psychiatrist that Nathan and I were new parents and watching television was the most fun we could expect to have, I felt both pathetic and outraged: pathetic that I was a couch potato; outraged that my doctor expected me to be going to extreme measures to have fun when I was busy caring for a newborn.

My psychiatrist and I had that conversation eleven months ago, and holy shit, what a difference eleven months has made! Eleven months ago, I thought that in becoming a parent, I had forfeited the right to have fun. Now I know that having fun is critical to my mental health. Eleven months ago, I thought watching television was fun. Now I know that television can be relaxing and entertaining, but rarely "fun." (I make exceptions for things like Super Bowl and Oscar viewing parties.)

Eleven months ago, I had forgotten how to have fun.  The word had been erased from my vocabulary so completely, that I was startled when my shrink asked me that simple question: are you having fun?

Now I have fun every day. I often find myself thinking, "This is going to be fun!" or "That was fun!" and when the word "fun" comes to mind, I feel grateful. I am so grateful that my psychiatrist did not just prescribe a sleep aid and tell me to lose weight. I am so grateful for all the support I received from my husband, parents, siblings and friends. If my doctor had not forced me to look at my life, if my family had not supported my recovery, I might still think that it's fun to be a couch potato.

So how do I have fun these days?  I started doing Zumba a month ago - Zumba is fun! Now I find myself dancing during random moments throughout the day. I spin Pippa around the kitchen and amuse her with silly dance moves. Dancing is fun!

I took Pippa to a local indoor playground with a huge climbing structure and a big twisty slide. Pippa and I climbed up the equipment together - climbing is fun! - and then she scrambled into my lap and we whooshed down the slide together - slides are fun! Now I am plotting a trip to Raging Waters and contemplating the best way to bribe my sister to hang out with Pippa in the kiddie zone while Nathan and I go down the big slides. (Hey, Katherine, if you are reading this, I'll buy you a Lexus scooter...)

I went on a hike last weekend to celebrate my climb out of the darkness of depression  - hiking is fun! I scrambled over rocks and splashed across a stream - scrambling is fun! splashing is fun! There are lots of splash pads in the San Gabriel Valley and Pippa and I are going to play in them all summer - playing is fun!

Pippa and I are taking swim lessons - swimming is fun!

We had a family trip to the beach - the beach is fun! Building sand castles? FUN! Getting splashed by waves? Fun fun fun!

Every day, I build towers for Pippa with whatever is available - Duplo bricks, wooden blocks, Tupperware, paper bowls - and then she knocks it down and laughs hysterically. Building is fun! Laughing is fun!

Every day, Pippa chases after me, and then I chase after her, and then I hide behind a chair, and then we shriek when she finds me. It's our own version of hide-n-seek-tag, and it is FUN FUN FUN.

Before I had postpartum depression, I took the concept of fun for granted. I did a lot of things that were fun, but I did not deliberately make sure I had fun on a regular basis. When I was stressed at work, I could go days and weeks on end without having any.

Although I started to feel enormously better within 48 hours of starting Zoloft, it took months and months for me to recover. Today, as I type this, I feel as if I have recovered fully; but every month, I feel better and better. So maybe I have not fully recovered. Maybe I am still shaking off the residue of postpartum depression.

But I do know this: eleven months ago, I was not having fun. Six months ago, I was having a little fun... but not much. I was still anxious, and my anxiety made me feel reserved. Two months ago, I was having fun more often, but not exuberant fun. One month ago, I started doing Zumba, and I found myself having fun several times every day. One week ago, I rode down a big slide with Pippa and felt exuberant.

Folks, I am having fun! Life is fun! Postpartum depression stole the fun out of my life, but I have reclaimed it. I feel so energized. Having fun is not just enjoyable. It is INVIGORATING. When I have fun, my skin tingles with excitement, ideas bounce around my head, and my heart bursts with love. The fun of riding down a big slide does not end at the bottom of the slide; the exhilaration spills over the rest of my life. For example, today, while I was stuck in a traffic jam, I did not get frustrated or annoyed and pound the steering wheel, as I am wont to do. I danced. I grooved from left to right, using the steering wheel as my partner, as traffic inched forward. By having fun on a regular basis, I was able to actually enjoy a crappy moment in a traffic jam.

Now you will have to excuse me. I have to go have some fun!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Go, Me!

This morning I went on a hike as part of the Climb Out of Darkness fundraiser organized by Postpartum Progress. I hiked to celebrate my recovery from postpartum depression; I hiked to raise awareness about PPD; I hiked to help erase the stigma that haunts so many women who suffer from PPD; and I hiked to raise money to support Postpartum Progress.

I was not very aggressive in my fundraising efforts (just a few posts on Facebook) but I raised $375 - woot woot! Next year, I am going to hike again, and fair warning: I'm going to be a bit more obnoxious and post about it here, Facebook, instagram and send emails and maybe even some good old-fashioned letters seeking donations.

I learned about the hike when I was searching for organizations that help women with postpartum depression. Bad news: there are very few such organizations. As someone else mentioned on Facebook, it is easier to find grief counseling for the loss of a pet than it is to find help for the most common pregnancy complication. 

I had so much trouble finding PPD organizations that I strongly considered started a non-profit myself.  I still might! I am very impressed with Postpartum Progress, but if we are going to destroy the stigma of PPD, and help the women who need help, there need to be a lot more organizations out there. I am writing my memoir about having PPD to help raise awareness, BUT I WANT TO DO MORE. I have so many ideas percolating in my head, I sometimes have to dance to burn off the energy. (Pippa loves when mama dances like a crazy lady.)

Anyway, the hike. Women hiked in teams or they hiked alone. I hiked alone because I could not find a local team. Next year, damnit, I am spear heading Team Pasadena! (Or if someone else wants to do that, I will be their loyal sidekick and slice oranges for my fellow hikers.)

I hiked to the waterfall in Eaton Canyon Natural Area in Altadena. Nathan and I have done this hike before, so I knew it was safe and doable. Most importantly, the trail is busy with families and couples but not overcrowded. This meant I could enjoy nature and listen to birds, but I did not feel like I was in any danger of being raped by a hiking psychopath. (It's L.A. County - you have to be smart. Women have been attacked recently in Griffith Park.)

I thought a lot about my recovery from postpartum depression as I hiked. The hike truly was symbolic of my journey through the hell of depression:
  • I hiked up and down. Some parts of the trail were easy and other parts made my thighs burn. My recovery sometimes felt very easy and other days, it was incredibly different.
  • The trail crossed rocky stream beds, and it was sometimes unclear which way I should go. My recovery from PPD was also not straightforward and I did not always know what was the best thing to do. But I managed to reach the waterfall, and I recovered from PPD as well.
  • There were other people ahead of me on the trail who I could sometimes glimpse and hear. Although I did not realize it when I was plunged into the darkness of depression, hundreds and thousands of other mamas were plodding along ahead of me. I was never alone.
  • The trail sometimes split in two, and there were multiple ways to pass around a boulder or tree. There are multiple ways to kick PPD in the ass. 
  • I drank plenty of water and wore sunblock and hiking shoes. I was not going to be a martyr and get a sunburn for the sake of hiking to a waterfall! The same goes for mamas - don't be a martyr because that is what society suspects. You have to take care of yourself and enjoy the journey.
  • I made it to the waterfall! And I kicked PPD in the ass!
  • On the way back to my car, I hiked past many fellow hikers. Some were friendly, some were not. Some people know how support a loved one who is suffering from PPD. Some do not. (And that is okay. PPD is so stigmatized and misunderstood, our loved ones do not always know how to react and be supportive.)
  • Some hikers asked me how to reach the waterfall and I pointed the way. I am now trying to find ways to support mamas who are currently suffering from PPD. I recently emailed with a new mom - a total stranger - about the medication I've been taking. I hope I helped her at least a little!
I could spend all day writing about the hike and all the things it made me think about. It was so wonderful. I felt so excited as I waved goodbye to Nathan and Pippa this morning, so exhilarated as I set forth to the waterfall, and then so happy to get home and hug my baby and husband. Thank you Postpartum Progress for organizing such an inspiring event!