A Juggling Act

by Beth Royston

It’s important to have a good work-life balance. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, many people’s lives are crossing over into one another, the lines and boundaries blurring together. For myself and other students, it’s a constant struggle to stay on top of everything and maintain those boundaries. I work remotely right now, so many parts of my day take place in the same room. I work at my desk, log onto my classes at my desk and relax at my desk. It can also be a struggle to define your day with online classes. Since you can do the work at any time of day, everything bleeds into each other.

However, I’ve had some success keeping my day defined with Google Calendar. I used to rely on a physical planner because I liked having something to hold and write in, but I have permanently switched over to an online one! You can’t beat how portable an online calendar is, as well as mess-free to edit. My favorite feature is definitely the ability to have your task list right next to you when using Google Calendar on the computer. I also appreciate that you can create different calendars for different aspects of your life (and color-code them). For instance, I have a work calendar, a homework calendar and a personal calendar. I can toggle my homework calendar on and off to see due dates for assignments and remove it if it’s causing too much clutter. It’s also helped me to schedule my day, if I know I have a bunch of things to get done but no particular time to do it. This has helped me feel like there’s some semblance of normal during this time, and I’d absolutely recommend it for anyone wanting to get organized. You can also use Google Calendar on your phone if you need to check things on the go. 

It’s also helped me to make some clearer boundaries for my work-life balance. Obviously, it will never be back to normal until I’m commuting again, but I’ve tried to create boundaries where I can. If I’m done with work and classes for the day, I try not to allow myself to drift into homework mode when I have some time to myself. Focusing on homework during a specific time helps me stay productive. Obviously, something different works for everyone, and doing homework here and there throughout the day might work better for you. However you’re getting through trying to live a normal life when things are decidedly not-normal, I wish you the best.

An Aspirational Autumn

by Beth Royston

I may have a slight problem with how much I enjoy autumn. It’s my favorite season of the year, and I always gripe that it never feels like it lasts as long as I want it to — whereas seasons like summer, that I’m not a fan of, seem to go on forever. A large part of my autumn (and winter) enjoyment comes from an upbringing in sunny, desert California. The kind of fall color (and snow) that we get up here is not something I’m used to. I’ve been in Portland for four years now, but it still takes my breath away every time. One of my favorite things about living in the Pacific NW is that we have four distinct seasons, and I really enjoy doing activities I can only do in that season. It helps me enjoy the seasons I’m kind of iffy on. But if you’re new in Portland, or been here for a while but never soaked up the autumn joy like a sponge, I’ve got some recommendations and tips to how I try to spend those precious months.

The stunning colors of fall life at a restaurant near my house!

Visit a pumpkin patch!

Portland has a lot of pumpkin patches. You’ll definitely have your pick. My partner and I usually visit Sauvie Island, as one of the patches there really has it all — a barn with animals, hay rides, a corn maze, a little market, a gift shop, hot food and drink, and of course the pumpkins. We always find their pumpkin prices reasonable, and there are always delicious things to pick up at the market.

Carve your pumpkin!

Although Halloween this year was a little quiet, my partner and I had fun carving our pumpkins and setting them out on the porch. Roasting the pumpkin seeds creates a wonderful snack!

Enjoy seasonal food!

Hot tip: one of my favorite snack spots, Waffle Window, has seasonal apple pie waffles and pumpkin pie waffles that are to die for.

View the gorgeous fall colors before they’re gone!

My favorite thing to do, hands down, is simply take in the changing colors around me. I’m lucky to live right across the street from a gorgeous park, and my street has a lot of trees that change color. This year, my partner and I had a picnic in the fall leaves, and it was truly wonderful. I always make sure to take a lot of pictures! I would recommend visiting some famous spots, like Multnomah Falls or the Japanese Garden, in autumn. We didn’t go this year, but the sights are spectacular with a shift in the color spectrum. Insider tip: the best time to see the leaves, in my opinion, is the last week of October or first week of November.

Pictures from a very pretty hike!
The vivid colors never cease to amaze!

However you spend your autumn, I encourage you to take advantage of the stunning Oregon colors. Throwing myself into special seasonal activities really helps me enjoy the little things in life and get as much as I can out of the year. Are there any favorite fall activities of yours that I missed?

Being Under the National Spotlight

by Beth Royston

I can depend on them, those text messages, every time Portland is in the news. Of course, they are from friends and family outside the city who care about me and are concerned for my well being. But I think it isn’t often realized by people that live outside of the Portland area that life here is not really like it’s portrayed on the news — and we’ve had a lot of coverage lately. 

Recently, with the federal occupation of Portland, it felt like we were under a giant microscope. I was getting a lot of calls at my student position in the Admissions office from concerned parents and wary students about how really safe it was to be here. To be honest, sometimes things happen in Portland and I have no idea until someone texts me about it, and I think I do a decent job of checking the news! Of course, I can understand why people are frightened. Coming from an entirely suburban area while growing up, moving to a city with inner-city challenges was a culture shock for me. Something I think that is important for incoming students to know is that the Park Blocks, the big green space running through the middle of campus, is actually city property. That’s why there are wonderful things, like the farmer’s market that happens there every Saturday. But that also means that protests can gather there that aren’t PSU-related. It can be a lot to get used to, but I am happy to live somewhere where people are truly passionate about standing up for things they believe in. I still remember the shocked expression on my partner’s face when I brought him to his first loud, marching, flag-waving protest (he’s from a suburban neighborhood in Ohio).

It can be nerve-wracking to receive all of these queries, almost as if it’s forcing me to look inward when someone asks if I’ve been affected by any of the protesting, or the wildfires, or this, or that. Being under the national spotlight is tough. I can only ever give my own opinion, which is that I do feel safe at Portland State and in Portland. 

My Path to College

by Beth Royston

I’m in my senior year at PSU and looking back on my idea of the college experience as a senior in high school was very different than how it turned out. I learned a valuable lesson — as much as you can work towards your hopes and dreams, be flexible to the definition of those hopes and dreams changing. 

Initially, I wanted a traditional freshman college experience — going to university after I graduated high school, living in the dorms, the whole nine yards. But my reality began to shift for a few reasons, namely financial. It wouldn’t be possible for me to attend as an out-of-state student, even though PSU’s out-of-state tuition was less than residential schools in my area. I was crushed, but there did remain a thin beam of hope that I could still make things work. 

I knew that above it all, I wanted to live in Oregon — so I moved. I lived with extended family here for a while, and then found some roommates for a place of my own, working a variety of beloved jobs here and there. During this time period I realized that even though I didn’t want to be set back again, attending PCC would make my life a lot easier financially. I also would qualify for resident tuition at both schools due to my year working. 

I finally landed at PSU as a junior last fall, three years after graduating high school. My partner and I both had experience living in small apartments, and reverting to dorm life was a little hard for us to imagine. We like ample space to cook and enough room to fit two desktop computers — to say the least. So we decided to continue in off-campus route. We absolutely love our neighborhood in southwest Portland, it has many great restaurants and a gorgeous riverfront park across the street. There’s space to garden and it’s generally quiet. 

But I won’t pretend that I don’t think about what my life would be like if things were different. I didn’t live in the dorms, or have my four years at PSU. Did I miss out on something? The thing is, I can’t know that. I do know that I made great memories at PCC, live comfortably and happily, and am at PSU now. Hopefully for graduate school, too! I’m grateful for my choices in the past, because I was thinking of myself in the future. There are definitely pros and cons to any route to college, and I’ve faced unique struggles due to the path I took. At the end of the day, I’m just overjoyed to be here, even though the path to get here looked different than what I imagined. I learned instead of resisting change, to go with the flow, as long as I knew I would get there in the end. 

Summer Woes

by Beth Royston

While I am eagerly awaiting finals to be finished, I’m not exactly looking forward to summertime either. I’m a student that chooses to take a break over the summer and not take any classes, and work to save up as much as I can for expenses throughout the year. I usually approach summer with mixed feelings. I enjoy the break from classes, but I also miss them! However, I think this year will be different, and not in a good way.

I really despised the summers during high school — it’s an easy recipe for my depression to fester, sitting at home with not much of a structure and things to do. Now, my life is a lot busier, with a side business to run, a garden to take care of, novel chapters to write. However, there’s a looming possibility I won’t be able to go anywhere or see friends often — something else that echoes high school — and I’m worried about my mental health. While I’m happy to have a break from classes, as all-online learning has not agreed with me, I’m worried about the lack of deadlines. 

I appreciate that PSU has been asking for student input on what fall term will look like. I’m really hoping that classes are ideally split between online and in-person, which is the type of schedule I prefer anyway. If things are due to be all online again, I think I’m going to have to avoid taking the full course load I usually do, as I’m not confident my grades will be able to stick with another entirely online term. Thankfully, I have some leeway in my graduation plan where I can take less classes now and more later. 

A lot of friends and family I’ve been talking to have also been struggling with their mental health during this time, and worrying about their future when they are forced to perform as usual during these incredibly stressful circumstances. I’m also a planner, so I like looking forward to the future. However, when times are uncertain, it’s not easy to plan for things five months from now, because it’s impossible to tell if they’ll be open. I appreciate the opportunity to still be able to take classes and work on my degree during this time, but I feel my resolve and determination slowly slipping through my fingers.

Through Sickness and Health

by Beth Royston

My partner and I will celebrate our five-year anniversary in early July. Last year, we took a trip to the coast after realizing he’d never been, and visited a lovely aquarium, which was very nostalgic. One of our first dates was at an aquarium — that first date was on our one year anniversary, after he’d flown out from Ohio to California to see me. It was a beautiful trip, and I can’t help but feel tinged with sadness this year. We’d hoped to do something similar, but my health makes it uncertain if we’ll be able to complete another drive to the coast. However, I’m grateful I even get to think about that at all. 

This has been the toughest year of my life with my health scares, but the steadfast presence throughout it all has been my partner. We spent every hour of the day together for a week in a tiny hotel room, and then a hospital room, while I was the sickest I’ve ever been. He saw me at my worst and took such good care of me any way he could while we were both terrified and alone on the other side of the world. One of the most vivid memories I have, among the fear and despair, was feeling overwhelmed with how in love and grateful I felt to him. I had always been sure he was the person I wanted to spend my life with, but this was beyond certainty — an assurance that no matter what happened, he’d be there.

 I’ve been grateful that we’re quarantining together. We both value our individual space, and sometimes, that can be difficult to get when my roommates also need the downstairs area. Tensions and worries are high. While my health struggles have improved, they’re certainly not over, and we frequently have to navigate the ups and downs that this new reality requires. It’s caused us to take a look at our relationship, what we both need and how we communicate. Thankfully, we’re going through it stronger than ever. I wouldn’t choose to be stuck inside with anyone else, and we make it a priority to do things together and talk frequently about how we’re both doing. No matter what we decide to do to celebrate our anniversary this year, I’m glad that we have each other.

Out of Oven, Out of Mind

by Beth Royston

A lot of us have a lot more time on our hands recently, and I’ve been getting back to my baking wishlist. I’ve always loved baking and have watched The Great British Baking Show on Netflix more times than I can count, but took a bit of an unenthusiastic break while I was in a series of apartments (with the exception of a frantic stint of weekly sourdough) so small the fridge couldn’t fully open without hitting the oven. Thankfully, my partner and I moved to a bigger living space with an actual kitchen, and I had no excuses anymore, right? Apparently not. I’d forgotten that baking can take a lot of time, and I didn’t exactly want to be in the kitchen for an extra couple hours after coming home from a six-hour day at PSU and having to make dinner and do homework. It became an occasional, wistful thing. 

However, the opportunities have come up a lot more and I worked with my partner to make a list of all the things I wanted to make. Nothing too crazy, like the recipe for the galaxy mirror glaze cake I saw once (I would feel a little guilty for presenting my stuck-at-home roommates with a huge cake) but small, enjoyable things, like scones and tarts and light pies. It’s been a small part of my week that I can savor in the following days, and adds a sense of formal normalcy to meals. There’s a slice of apple tart to have afterwards, just like there was before all of this happened. I remembered how much I love baking, especially when I get to be creative with pie crust decorations or figuring out how to make something there’s no recipe for. I once developed a recipe for savory, cheese-and-herb creme puffs, and I remember it fondly. It’s a nice distraction, too. I also realized that I’ve never had a key lime pie, so that’s on the list. Hopefully my household forgives me for continually churning out desserts.

Lots of Lather

by Beth Royston

I’ve always enjoyed hands-on hobbies, like sewing, ceramics and gardening — to name a few. Soapmaking always seemed really interesting and one of those things that you don’t really think about how it’s made! I made the switch a few years ago to bar soap only. Most of the time I buy locally from other small-business creators. I have sensitive skin and have found that my skin is a lot happier when using these kinds of cleansers! I was worried about my workload and thinking about maybe starting over the summer; but as we all know, our current worldwide situation grants some of us a lot of time at home. I decided to jump into it, and my journey has been exciting, hot to the touch and rewarding.

There are a few different methods of making soap, all tuned to different levels of skill, preference for final design, colors and more. I decided to go with one method called cold-process after some deliberation on what I wanted my creations to look like. The downside of cold process, I would say, is that you have to wait about a month before being able to use your soap, as it needs time to “cure.” However, I appreciate the designs I’m able to do, and it’s kind of exciting to have to wait. I’ve been making several batches with a variety of different colors and scents, causing my house to smell very different every day! My favorite so far has to be the first batch I ever made, tomato leaf scented. It’s such a specific scent, but I was elated to find the candle and soap supplier I was purchasing from had it! It smells exactly like being outside on a summer day and smelling your tomato plants. Most batches have gone well, however, I’ve had a couple that went not so great. Sometimes, the fragrance you use can cause the mixture to seize, or turn to a solid in a matter of seconds. It’s still safe to use after cure and workable, but it can make it hard to get definition in your final design, and is a little cumbersome to use! Sometimes suppliers warn you ahead of time to expect this, sometimes you find out the hard way depending on the temperatures of your ingredients.

Overall, I’ve had a blast trying out my new hobby, and am really excited to share the final result with friends and family. And, of course, to have a lifetime supply of soap to myself. It’s made me want to try other hobbies that share a supplier, like candlemaking! I’m trying to pace myself for the moment, but the possibilities seem endless.

I’d warn, however, that certain methods of soapmaking, including cold process, involve toxic chemicals and can be dangerous. It may not be right for you if you don’t have proper ventilation in your space or can’t properly prep. However, if it sparks your interest, I’d definitely recommend it! There’s a lot you can do design and scent-wise with soapmaking, even if you’re just making a batch for yourself every few months. Have you begun any fun and interesting quarantine hobbies?

You can follow my soaping journey on Instagram @poppy_and_harper! 

Unexpected Calm

by Beth Royston

It’s safe to say I was worried about what was going to happen when the coronavirus finally hit Portland. I was extremely ill over winter break and for most of this term, and have been dealing with a lot of trauma about what happened to me. Some of those trauma symptoms were exacerbated by staying inside for long periods of time — and that’s what I was about to do as coronavirus continued to spread. 

I was unsure how my mental health would be impacted, especially with not being able to work as much as usual. I’m a productive person and getting things done is what makes me happy and fulfilled. Sometimes getting through a single two-day weekend at home was difficult, but I felt strongly about wanting to keep myself and others safe and therefore resigned to stay home. I had fought really hard to keep myself going to classes and work this term, battling physical and mental symptoms, and when I felt like I had finally reached a point of things being okay, I was about to be thrown into the fire I had spent so much time gently easing into.

Surprisingly, though, things have taken a turn for the better. I think I’ve been so occupied with keeping tabs on friends and family members and others affected by the coronavirus that I haven’t had time to worry about myself. A lot of my anxieties have faded, and I’ve had a lot to work on to keep myself busy. I usually prefer to take one or two online classes alongside one or two in-person classes, so I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with our new format. I definitely miss being on our beautiful campus, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to still attend classes. 

I’ve found that keeping a daily routine, eating healthy, trying to get outside for walks, and keeping busy has helped my mental health a lot. I’m looking forward to being on campus again, but I’m glad that I’m not putting myself or others at risk, and I’m thankful that my body seems to have decided to give me a break from my amplified anxiety. 

I’m very thankful that I am safe and healthy and all of my loved ones and friends are too. Continuing to hear about some of the things going on can be anxiety-inducing, but I try to watch how much I’m checking the news and reading stories and balance it out with things that I enjoy. Hopefully, things will be back to normal soon.

A Listening Ear

by Beth Royston

I knew that I wanted to squeeze in some more volunteer work this term, in order to feel as prepared as possible for my application to my graduate program in the fall. However, I was almost out of the house 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. already, and wasn’t sure if I would be able to make time to add another commitment on. I heard from a couple of my psychology professors that crisis counseling was a great way to break into psychology volunteering, but to be honest, I was a little intimidated by thinking of going to a center, taking calls, and essentially getting empathy exhaustion. Then, I’d have to go home at night and probably go to sleep right after, which I knew wouldn’t help me feel cheery. 

With a bit of research, I found I could actually apply for a volunteer position with a text line and take conversations on my laptop. I’ve only been doing it for a little over a month, but to be honest, I wish I had started much sooner. I really appreciate the ability to choose my schedule, and change it week to week. There’s also the ability to debrief with other counselors when hard conversations happen, and you receive constant support from your supervisor. 

It is tough though, especially when you can tell someone doesn’t feel better after talking with you, and there’s not much more you can do for them. My hardest conversations are with younger people that text in, and may have a harder time understanding that we can’t say or do certain things for them when they’re clearly in need. But I’m glad that I’m giving some of my time each week to volunteering and offering my trained and compassionate ears to people that really, really need it. 

I currently put in about four or five hours each week, shifting back and forth between splitting that up into two days and doing it all on Saturday. However, over spring break, I’ll probably be putting in a lot more time. 

It’s great practice for my future as a therapist to learn to leave it behind when I close my laptop and to learn that you can’t fix everything for someone, only be there for them to provide support, resources, and validation of what they’re going through. But that’s still pretty special, in my opinion. It can weigh on me sometimes, and it’s not for everyone, but I think I’ll probably be volunteering for a long time.