Saturday, August 31, 2013

Saturday + {Moving Day}

I woke up today to a text from the apartment supervisor/handyman informing me, quite politely, at 12:03 a.m. that it was "Quiet time." The text was also quite ineffectual, considering that I was in bed, asleep, and Gooligan and Maddi and everyone who came to wish us goodbyes were the ruckus-raisers. 

The rest of the day went surprisingly well. I opened at work and by the time I got off, my parents had arrived, Pumpkin Spice Latte in hand for Gooligan, and they and Gooligan had loaded almost all of our moving truck.

After a quick stop at Starbucks to load up on more coffee and hot chocolate (I'm on day six of being coffee-free, which I'll get into in another post I'm sure), Gooligan and I accompanied my dad to Home Depot to get supplies to fix a hole in our wall left by a previous tenant. Note to renters everywhere: newspaper is not an appropriate substitute for drywall.

We drove down to Seattle and spent the evening unloading, reconstructing our furniture, and feasting on Indian food and coconut ice cream with frozen blueberries. Wake-up time is five-thirty, since I have to be at work in Bellingham at eight. Only three days left at work, which is exciting and scary simultaneously. I'm sure it'll pass even more quickly than usual, considering that Sunday and Monday are huge Labor Day sales events.

On our drive down, Gooligan napped, having worn herself out from all her stupendous work. I spent the time thinking about my homework. I'm focusing on my lecture this month, since my adviser still has three short stories of mine to give me notes on from last time.

My lecture is about world-building in science fiction and I'm going to discuss the works of Ursula K. Le Guin, Junot Diaz, Michael Chabon, and Karen Russell. I'm pretty excited to delve into the topic more. Right now, though, I just need to get through the final push of work and let my thoughts soak in my brain a little longer.

Overall, today was a great reminder about the importance of family. We all pitched in together and got a really big job done in a single day. There's no way Gooligan and I could have done it without them. We're truly lucky to have their support as we start the next step of our journey.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday + {Saying Goodbye}

Tonight, Gooligan, our wonderful roommate Maddi, and I are throwing a goodbye potluck. AKA a housecooling party. Our apartment is striped bare, but decorated beautifully, thanks to Gooligan's hard work. Boxes are piled high in every corner. The cake is baked. (A delicious graham cracker whole wheat and lime cream cheese frosting, courtesy of my favorite cupcake blog, Ming Makes Cupcakes.)

The last time this apartment looked so bare was the day we moved in two years ago. My dad helped us assemble our IKEA bed frame as we ate Chinese take-out. 

It's so easy to say hello. To reach out and meet new people. Establish friendships. When you don't have an end date in mind, it seems like time stretches forever, syrupy and light.

But saying goodbye, that's hard. For two years, this two-bedroom apartment has been our home. Our base as we've grown into the people we are now.

I've met so many people in Bellingham and had so many wonderful experiences. But many of my friends have also moved on already--graduated and waltzed off into their next big adventures. Or they've just moved here and are putting down some temporary roots. It doesn't matter. The point is, I'm so proud of all of these people. They're living life, stretching themselves.

I read an article recently that one of my friends posted on Facebook: 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself. The article urges people to "stop thinking you're not ready." If an opportunity is right, it'll feel scary. Because if you're already comfortable, then you're really not pushing yourself far enough.

This is the number one thing I'm keeping in mind as we prepare for our trip, our move, and our uncertain future.

Whether we're still here, just arriving, or getting ready to leave, we all have a ton of growing still to do. Who doesn't? But with so many adventures lined up and yet to come, I'm sure we'll get there some day!

In the meantime, we'll eat cake and see a few friendly faces one last time before we pack up on Saturday and make the big move.

Gooligan cooked a delicious feast for our last dinner as roommates!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thursday + {Your Itinerary: Part One}

This is going to be a multi-part blog entry, simply because if I created my entire itinerary for a 39-day trip in one sitting, I might explode. I've broken it down into a couple steps, mostly for my sanity, but also to make the process easier if anyone else is in a similar predicament.


As I mentioned before, I approached the financial side of organizing our trip in a pretty roundabout manner. Whenever I bought anything, I took a screencap of the confirmation page, though. I remember thinking to myself, "a-ha! this will make it so easy when I organize this information later." Unfortunately, I failed to name the files with descriptions that might actually help someone locate them later, so they were just called "Screenshot 1" through "Screenshot 1000." The other night, however, I went through my entire folder of screenshots and wrote what the relevant leg of the trip on them. Now my folder looks something like this:

A peek at my amazingly organized folder of confirmation #s.

I repeated this step for all relevant information: for us, that included collecting all of our Airbnb reservations into one spot. Luckily, if you use the same website to make all your reservations (whether it's Airbnb or Couchsurfing or something else), most of your information is collected into one spot for you.


Once your information is collected into one easy-to-access pile (whether it's still on the computer or printed out in hard copies), it's time to start making your itinerary. 

Earlier in our trip, we simply took a calendar and filled it out with the cities we wanted to go to, our host's names once we confirmed them, and how we were going to get between cities. That system worked really well for that stage of our planning, but when it comes to an itinerary, I personally need a lot more detail.

I ditched the calendar idea and simply wrote the date and then all the relevant information for that date under it. Each day is organized by time--what time we need to catch the bus to get to the airport to be early enough to check-in, etc.--but I included a lot more information under each day, too, such as our host's direction of how to get to the place we're staying, their contact information, confirmation or reference numbers, bus routes, fares for buses, etc.


Since Gooligan's sister and her sister's best friend are meeting us in the middle of our trip for a couple weeks, we're lucky enough to not have to do all the work ourselves. They've agreed to take on a lot of our mutual trip places, which means that Gooligan and I are mostly responsible for the beginning and end of our trip. I would suggest just taking it a few days at a time. Spend no more than an hour or two on the project of building your itinerary, since staring at all the information can get overwhelming.

STEP #4, which I'll blog about next time I talk about next Tuesday, is about the fun stuff: figuring out what you want to do in Europe once you're actually there!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wednesday + {The Color Run}

Call us crazy--we probably are--but in-between moving and our trip to Europe, Gooligan and I are competing in a 5k. In Portland, Oregon. We signed up months ago, sometime during Winter quarter, and we got our old roommate, her girlfriend, and her parents on board with us, so we qualified to sign up as a team.

I'm so excited about this 5k. It's our first official race and it's a color run, too, something that has been on my bucket list for quite a while. The official website calls it "the Happiest 5k on the Planet" and describes it as "a unique paint race that celebrates healthiness, happiness, individuality, and giving back to the community."

The track we're running on September 7.

Part of the reason that I am so excited for this race is because it has been a while since Gooligan and I have seen our old roommate. After she graduated, she moved about 250 miles away. Not impossibly far, but not a convenient distance, either, when you factor in arranging three work schedules, gas money, etc. to make the trip. But plans have been made and we're ready!

The other reason I'm so thrilled to be participating in a color run is because it will mark a year since I started running. I don't remember the exact date of my first run; I'm notorious for not making a big deal of beginnings of new habits, in case they don't stick. But I started running in September 2012. 

At first, I used a couch to 10k program on my iPod. That was a lot of help, since it helped transition me from zero running experience to regular running experience in short bursts of walking and running. Since I didn't have a smartphone at the time, though, I had no clue how fast I was running or how far. Not a huge deal, but I was really interested in improving my run and striving for consistency, so I signed up for a gym membership for the quarter.

It was at the gym that I made two discoveries: one, I hate running inside. And two, treadmills are super unreliable.

Luckily, about a month later, a classmate told Gooligan about this Nike+ chip you could put in your shoe and it would sync with your iPod. It tracked mileage and pace and synced with the Nike+ website to show you a handful of other stats.

I ran 62 miles using that app. Then I got a smartphone in November and started using MapMyRun because it used GPS to track where I ran in addition to how far, how fast, how many calories burned, etc. The coolest part of the app, however, is that you can set it to chime in periodically about how you're doing. Right now I have it set on two-minute increments. So every two minutes, it lets me know my average pace in those two minutes and how far I've run collectively. A great tool if you're trying to work on running at a steady pace.

Using MapMyRun, I've run 124 miles. Which puts me at 186 miles total. Not bad for a kid who was adamantly opposed to running the weekly mile in high school P.E.!

I won't lie, though. I fell off the bandwagon once. When it started to get cold, running became harder. Then I went to my third residency at VCFA and my schedule got disrupted. My third semester of grad school was my worst. I was in an emotional sinkhole. But then, in March, one of our friends casually messaged me on Facebook about how she was starting a running group and wanted to know if I would be part of it. I said yes. Gooligan got on board, too.

Even though the group disintegrated pretty quickly into just Gooligan and me, we've stuck to it. Sometimes we don't run as often or as far or as fast as we'd like but we're still running. 

Yesterday, Gooligan and I laced up our shoes and forced ourselves outside. Just for a mile. But we did it. We've made a commitment to each other and ourselves: at least a mile every day this week no matter what.

It doesn't matter how well we do in our 5k. Any time will technically be our best time, since this is our first official race. But it's not about time or distance. It's about having fun and seeing our old roommate again and getting absolutely covered in paint!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tuesday + {Organizing Your Finances For Your Trip}

Do not do what I did. The moment you buy anything for your trip, write it down. And write it down in the same location. Make a giant chart on the way if it's more convenient. Use an app on your phone. Write it in a word document or an email to yourself. Whatever it takes so it's all in the same spot.

Trust me: you'll thank yourself later when you don't have to dig through hundreds of emails trying to find your one Ryanair itinerary.

Granted, with so many things online these days, a copy of practically everything is sent to your inbox. And you can keep track of your card transactions online, if you sign up for online banking.

But still, it's a pain. Especially when you are buying a lot of things and some of the transactions have nondescript names that do not give you a single clue about what it is for.

Which leads to the inevitable go-fish game through your inbox, facebook messages, text messages, and recall of verbal face-to-face or phone conversations to figure out what exactly that $233.13 purchase bought and who paid for it. Not to mention the pain that comes with trying to figure out currency exchanges on top of tracking down receipts.

Speaking of paying for things: among decisions that you could (and probably should) file under "not the smartest move this bear has ever made," Gooligan and I started to buy things for our trip without taking a look at our bank account to figure out how, exactly, it would make the most sense to organize our accounts.

Currently, Gooligan and I are sharing my bank account. And one debit card.  (That was exciting, let me tell you, when I had to travel to my last residency with a cash-only budget because Gooligan needed to deposit her paycheck into my account while I was away in order to feed herself, pay rent, etc.)

It started with the intention of being a temporary arrangement, but visiting the bank and setting up a new account has been a pain, considering our bank's closest branch is in a town thirty miles away and one or both of us works typical bank hours.

Anyway, it has actually been a really great experience sharing finances with Gooligan. I think it has deepened the trust in our relationship, for starters, not to mention make things easier when it comes time to pay bills.

There has only been one drawback: our credit union caps the number of times you can make withdrawals from your savings account without getting dinged. Gooligan and I each have a savings account. If we had split each bill evenly and paid each other back immediately, we'd drown in $20 fees. Instead, we have taken turns paying for things in chunks, then periodically sorting out who owes who what and squaring our accounts.

Our approach has been a little haphazard, and I definitely do not recommend it for everyone. With another person, there would have been some feathers ruffled undoubtedly, but Gooligan and I have done a great job communicating and checking in and it's worked for us.

Just remember to print those receipts and collect them in a safe spot!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesday + {Traveling & Technology}

I am nervous about traveling to Europe in the middle of my last semester of grad school. On one hand, I know that this is the best time to plan our trip: we're between leases, between jobs, between cities. We are coming off four years in Bellingham and are moving back to Seattle to look for work while Gooligan researches grad school. Intellectually, I know we just have to seize the moment and take advantage of our youth and our good health to take this trip. After all, my program is perfectly set up to work while on the road: the Vermont College of Fine Arts is a low-residency school, which means that I only have to fly to Vermont for ten-day residencies twice a year. In-between those days, I am free to live wherever I want, even if it is out of a backpack for thirty-nine days in Europe. The single caveat, of course, is that my schoolwork will not be put on hold.

Luckily, my adviser this semester has been everything I hoped she would be: she is smart, a wonderful resource for book recommendations, intellectually engaging in an incredibly rich way, and organized. She has given me so much direction and focus that I am sure this is going to be the best semester of my program. I just finished reading her notes on my creative thesis manuscript yesterday and feel so grateful for her insights, which I think will propel my writing forward by great lengths.

As part of my final semester, I have to write and present a lecture on some aspect of the craft of writing, in addition to preparing a creative thesis. I will also be producing new work and reading. In one way, the reading is what I am most nervous about; I have to track down copies of several books and lug them around Europe, since I will not have access to the amazing public libraries that we're blessed with in both Bellingham and Seattle.

Since my adviser recently made the switch to digital correspondence instead of merely relying on the USPS, the rest of my work--writing, revising, editing, question-asking, researching--will be easily accomplished on a laptop.

Which meant that Gooligan and I had to make a decision. I wanted to experience Europe technology-free, in the sense that I didn't want to have to lug around a computer and/or worry about our computers being stolen or damaged. But Gooligan pointed out that I was being impracticable and giving myself undue amounts of stress to insist on trying to rough it with composition notebooks and internet cafes.

It's one of those big decisions on a trip like this, though: how much technology do you want to bring with you? We're bringing one laptop. Since so many of the AirBNB places we're staying at have wifi included in the price, the benefits outweigh the risks, we feel: we can both update our blogs, we can access our emails, I can work on my homework, and we will be able to make changes to our itinerary if anything comes up.

It would definitely be a different experience to go technology-free, but at this point in our traveling lives, at least, having that safety line is worth it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday + {Selling Your Things on Craigslist}

We're moving. Part of the reason that we're going to Europe on the dates that we are is because it falls between our life in Bellingham and our life in Seattle. Since we're going to be gone for over a month, that's a month of rent we're not going to be paying, a month of food and gas and utilities and all the miscellaneous expenses of living that add up. When you consider the amount it costs you to live anywhere for a month, the extra amount that it costs to travel doesn't look too bad.

Since the space we're moving into until we find stable jobs and an affordable apartment--a room in my parents' house--is a lot smaller than our current two-bedroom apartment, we've had to make a lot of choices about which pieces of furniture to keep and which to cut.

Gooligan and I have collected a lot of great furniture over the last four years; some of our current pieces are things we bought for our first dorm rooms, some of them are IKEA purchases when we moved into our apartment two years ago, some are hand-me-downs, and others are items salvaged from thrift stores or the curbside.

We are keeping quite a few things. For our roommate who is going abroad for an undetermined amount of time, we're holding onto a cute purple armchair. We're keeping our dining room set--a huge wooden table with black metal folding legs, a pair of colorful chairs that Gooligan is in the middle of painting/reupholstering, and a black bench. We're moving our bed, a wardrobe, a Spanish cabinet with a million useful drawers, a bookcase, and a cute green retro loveseat.

On an impulse one day, I put a few of the things we aren't taking up on Craigslist. I had never sold anything on Craigslist before and wasn't quite sure what to expect. But I wrote a clear, honest description, snapped a few pictures, and priced fairly--and my item sold within hours.

It's not always that easy, of course. You have to know your market, for starters; people are in desperate need of cheap furniture on a constant basis in Bellingham, especially during the end of the summer, when everyone it seems is moving into a new apartment, or students switch to off-campus accommodations for the first time. And sometimes schedules just don't mesh. Sometimes it takes a couple of days. Sometimes people flake. But if you give yourself enough time and price your items fairly, they will sell.

It can be tempting to hold onto everything, but the fact is that it's so easy to find hand-me-downs or cheap furniture from thrift shops, extended family, yard sales or free piles--or off of Craigslist when you really need it--that there's no reason to move all the miscellaneous bookshelves, side tables, etc. if it's not absolutely necessary.
 For non-furniture items, such as clothes, household goods, or books, we either sold or donated most of our clutter. 

For clothes, a lot of places that accept donations of gently used clothes will give you a coupon to their store, so if you need a couple of fresh items, or you're going to be changing dress codes with your job, this is a good way to save some pennies. Depending on the quality of what you're donating, consignment stores might take them, too, and they'll either pay cash or give you store credit. 

Books have a notoriously low resale value, but many used bookstores will offer cash or store credit (usually up to twice as much). If you can see yourself using it, definitely go for store credit, but if you just need the cash or you're moving out of town never to come back, don't get hung up on the cut you'll be taking in price.

If you do the hard emotionally-intensive part of the move now--whittling down your belongings to the essentials--then you'll thanking yourself on moving day. And if you play your cards ride, you can make a decent amount of cash. Treat yourself to something special--a weekend on the town with your friends, a special date with your love--or something practical--a couple of tanks of gas--or just put it in the piggy bank for your next big trip. Just think: your desk could pay for a night in Paris!

Sunday, August 18, 2013


When I was in college, everyone around me seemed to be traveling abroad all the time, for school or vacation or work. It seemed impossible to ever imagine that I would find myself in the same position, just a few short years later. And to be perfectly fair, I didn't just find myself in that position: through a lot of hard work, saving, planning, an amazing support structure, and a generous graduation gift from my parents, I am finally on the cusp on such a trip myself. 

Let's back-up for a moment, so I can introduce myself. My name is Megan. I'm a grad student in my final semester of a wonderful low-residency MFA program. My amazing girlfriend, Gooligan, and I have been together for three and a half years. She just graduated from college Winter quarter. This trip will be, by far, our biggest, most expensive, most chaotic trip together, and I am so incredibly excited to have Gooligan by my side. You should follow her blog at Gallivanting Gooligan

Our trip consists of 39 days in Europe; we will visit Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Spain, Italy, and then hop back to France to fly home. 

This trip will be an amazing experience for both of us, I'm sure. We're just finishing the planning stages and I've already figured out a few things that we probably should have done differently. I refuse to have any negative feelings about this trip, however, and so any regrets that come up now, during, or after the trip I will channel into productive blog posts to help educate other people who might be planning a similar trip.

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