Have You Ever Tried Embroidery?

by Beth Royston

While I’ve had more time to bake during quarantine — something I’ve always loved to do — I finally tried something new with soapmaking — something I wanted to try for a long time. However, a new goal of mine was to pick a new hobby to try that had only appeared on my radar recently. For me, this was embroidery.

I’ve seen embroidery hoops before, but never really connected the dots that this was something that I could try if I wanted to figure out how to get started. I spend a lot of time on Etsy, as that’s where I run my business, and after one craft kit was recommended to me I started looking at a lot of them. There were almost an overwhelming amount of options with really unique, cool patterns that I thought would look absolutely spectacular on my wall. Plus, I’d be supporting other small creators. I asked for a few embroidery kits for Christmas, and have to say, I’m hooked. When I was younger, I was very interested in sewing, and this was definitely reminiscent of the magic that was spending long hours crouched over painstakingly small stitches, eventually being able to triumphantly present your creation (and aching back). What can I say — if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. But I enjoy hobbies that make me feel like an old woman living on a homestead, and thus that fire inside me was reignited with embroidery. 

The kits I tried came with everything I needed — fabric with the pattern in water-soluble ink, a hoop, a needle, thread, and instructions. Even though they were rated for beginners, I sought some outside help on YouTube for some of the stitches that the brief directions didn’t really explain. It was so satisfying to feel myself get the hang of french knots and a stem stitch, working on something vividly colored and beautiful that I was able to hang on my wall. I’ve since ordered myself a few new kits, and allowed my mind to wander to what types of projects I could accomplish. Pillowcases, tea towels, even little flowers on the pockets of my favorite jeans. Thankfully, embroidery supplies are relatively inexpensive and easy to find, and if you happen to already have that stuff laying around, the PDF embroidery pattern availability on Etsy is as large as the premade kit availability. If anything, PDFs are easier to find. The most difficult part of these projects is choosing colors, especially ones that I’m doing without a pattern, like embroidering some leaves on my favorite hat. 

I’m thrilled to have picked up this new hobby, especially one that grants gorgeous art for around my house. I love to work on my projects while some Netflix is going in the background and a candle is lit. I’d definitely recommend it if you are looking for something new and relaxing to try!

Here are some photos of my beginning hoops. My next project will be two pillowcases!

Cautiously Optimistic

By: Adair Bingham

The year 2020 has come and gone. I think it’s safe to say that “good riddance” doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of what a horrid year it truly was. Going into 2021, I’m going to do my best to not jinx anything. Rather than establishing half-hearted resolutions and plans this early on in the game, I’m simply trying to take everything as it comes and hope for the best possible outcome, no matter what’s thrown my way. If anything, I can at least reassure myself that, “If I survived 2020, I can make it through another year.” 

Last year tore all of my foundations down and forced me to rethink all of my plans — plans that I had for 2020 and for the greater future. I’d been looking forward to attending conventions, possibly manning a booth at one of these said conventions, and the simple pleasure of enjoying my spring break. All of that was rudely interrupted.

So, this year, I am going to let life take the wheel and guide me as it sees fit. I need to make peace with the fact that it’s perfectly normal for things not to go according to plan. And that it’s perfectly OK to have no plan whatsoever. After all, as we’ve learned so well, things are always subject to change.

I have no intention nor desire to conjure up resolutions that will likely never see the light of day. One of my most silly resolutions was my desire to try and take on more academics. The desire for that dissolved quickly, especially as the pandemic hit. As such, I don’t intend to come up with any grand or even small resolutions this time around. Rather, the only thing that I hope to change is my perspective regarding my current circumstances. I’m set to graduate in roughly three months with my bachelor’s degree in psychology and I’m equally terrified and excited about what comes after. These three and a half years have come and gone exceptionally fast and I still can’t even begin to swallow the fact that my degree is within arm’s reach. In just a few short months, I’ll be a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Perhaps that’s all the change that I need for the new year.
If there’s any phrase that can sum up how I’ve decided to navigate these upcoming months, it’s “cautiously optimistic.” I’m hoping for the best until things go back to normal — or at least some semblance of normal. From small goals to big goals, I’d like to take everything lightly and not dive headfirst. No strict resolutions or half-baked goals — all I want for myself is an attitude adjustment and a healthy dose of optimism.

When You Just Can’t Stop Worrying

By Claire Golden

It’s normal to be nervous from time to time, and some anxiety can be helpful. For instance, if you’re nervous about giving a speech, those feelings can encourage you to prepare and practice. But there’s a difference between being anxious sometimes and having an anxiety disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 19% of adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder…almost one in five people! So what is the difference? And how can you tell if you’re one of the more than 40 million people who has one?

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There are five main types of anxiety disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Social Anxiety. I have a few of these myself and sometimes refer to this as my “alphabet soup” because of all the abbreviations. GAD is the most common and is usually what people mean when they talk about “having anxiety.” Put simply, in order to have GAD, you have an overwhelming sense of worry and being out of control most days for at least six months. This is extremely different from situational anxiety, like before a date or the first day of classes.

In my experience, the hard thing about anxiety is that there often isn’t anything concrete that you’re worried about. You’re just worried. Sometimes I’ll say to my boyfriend, “I’m nervous.” He’ll respond, “Do you know what you’re nervous about?” And I’ll say, “No, I don’t!” (Usually followed by a hug or him bringing me the cat to cuddle.) It’s frustrating, because if there was something specific that was worrying me, I could deal with that problem and the anxiety would go away. But I just feel like something bad is going to happen without knowing what. It’s like suspenseful music playing in a horror movie, where you know something is about to jump out at you.

The distinction between just being worried and actually having an anxiety disorder is one that our society doesn’t recognize, but is important to understand. People who don’t have a disorder, can find it hard to understand why an anxious person is so worried. They might want to fix the situation when there’s no concrete problem to fix. But it just doesn’t work that way..

If this resonates with you, consider contacting your doctor or make an appointment at SHAC to receive a diagnosis and discuss next steps and treatment. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve learned a lot in the course of understanding my own anxiety. In my next post, I’ll be sharing some coping techniques that have helped me immensely. I was diagnosed with GAD when I was six years old, so I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. I used to be too scared to tell people about it for fear of the stigma, but it’s become my mission to break down some of the walls around mental illness. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and whatever your brain may tell you, you’re not alone.

Trading a White Christmas for a Rainy One

By: Ragan Love

My favorite holiday is Christmas; I love baking, the snow, and the wonderful memories with my family. But this year my family and I decided that me staying here in Portland would be the safest choice for all of us. My family is very close and it’s been hard not being together during normal days, especially with the year we have had. 

In Colorado, I always had a white Christmas, it is something that I think is essential for Christmas to feel real. But, since I was staying in Portland, I had to prepare myself to wake up that morning and see wet pavement instead of a blanket of snow. And because I am considered a Christmas baby, I am also used to having snow on my birthday. It was weird for me to spend this entire week of Christmas, my birthday, and New Years without snow falling down. There are many traditions that looked different this year because I wasn’t with my family. 

Usually for Christmas my family goes out to find a new ornament for our tree and when we all find one, we have our decoration night. We drink eggnog, play Christmas music, and enjoy the tree and all of the decorations around the house. This year my family set up the tree without me and I had to send them my 2020 ornament. Luckily I had a mini tree so I still had the Christmas vibes in my home. My roommates also agreed to get matching stockings which helped make it feel like the Christmas season.

My family and I usually bake a bunch of sweets every year including different kinds of cookies, peanut butter balls, pie, and a cake for my birthday. But this year, we did the baking separately. I made pumpkin muffins and peanut butter balls and my dad made Christmas sugar cookies. On Christmas day we have a big Christmas dinner with potatoes, steak, and a bunch of vegetables. I enjoy Christmas dinner more than Thanksgiving because of how small we have usually kept it, usually just the three of us. 

This year, my dad made a nice dinner for him and my brother and I had the opportunity to have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner with my roommate. We had pork one day and street tacos the next. I spent the remainder of the day talking with my family on Facetime. We had breakfast together and opened the gifts we got for each other. My family got me some supplies to make pie at home. My dad and I cooked it together on the phone as if we were next to each other baking. It wasn’t like any other Christmas but we were able to make it special when we are 1,000 miles apart.

Expectations Unraveled

By Claire Golden

Last week I impatiently waited for the delivery truck to arrive. I’ve always been excited about getting things in the mail (it’s one of the things I can still enjoy even with lockdown), but this mail was particularly special…author copies of my debut novel were arriving! 

Unraveled released on Dec. 14 from Gurt Dog Press (in ebook, paperback, and hardcover). I was a nervous and excited wreck all week. Anxiety can’t tell the difference between good and bad events, so I had a stomachache even though I was over-the-moon happy. I’ve poured hundreds of hours into this book over the last five years, and when I finally held the finished copy in my hands, I experienced a feeling I’ve never had before — a mix of happiness, shock and gratitude. So, what did I do?  I took my book child to the park for some pictures.

The book publishing journey hasn’t been quite like I pictured it. I didn’t anticipate all the waiting:  to get edits back, for a cover design, for the book to release. With the pandemic, things also look different. My book doesn’t get a release party and I can’t do a book signing in person. But I’ve learned from this experience that even when things don’t look like you expected, they can still be wonderful. My publisher held an online book tour, my online friends commented on every post with enthusiasm and support, and my extended family ordered copies from across the country. In short, I am a super lucky author, and even though release day was unusual because of the pandemic, it was still awesome.

Unraveled arrived in a world much different than the one in which I started writing. And that’s okay. I’m also a different person than I was when I started writing. The book contains a little piece of my soul, and because of that, it’s rather scary for it to be out in the world where everyone can read it. But it’s a good anxiety, because it helps me grow. If I plan to keep writing books, which I do, then I’d better get used to people reading my work! 

I’ve heard from LGBTQ+ teenagers who found the book encouraging, from people with OCD who were glad to see the mental illness portrayed in fantasy, and from people who just enjoyed reading it. Having people connect with my characters has been one of the best moments of my life, and nothing short of a dream that’s become reality. In the end, my expectations didn’t matter, because everything turned out better than I could ever have imagined.

More Than A Habit

By Claire Golden

Content warning for discussion of mental illness and skin-picking.

Did you bite your fingernails as a kid? Maybe you still bite them now, or maybe you grew out of it. For most people, it’s just a bad habit that they can stop with enough concentration that  doesn’t affect their  life in a significant way. But for a small percentage of the population, skin-picking is a big problem.

I’ve picked my fingernails and lips since I was a kid, only I never outgrew it. “Stop picking” was a constant refrain from my parents, who were just trying to stop me from injuring myself. I didn’t want to hurt myself; it simply felt impossible to stop. Like how you can’t stop yourself from scratching an itch, I couldn’t stop myself from doing the behavior. My grandma once took me for a manicure, which was painful on my tender fingertips, but the pretty nails didn’t last very long.

I picked my skin constantly, for hours a day, regularly wearing three or more Band-Aids at a time to cover up sensitive spots on my fingers. One day, when I was 14 years old, someone looked at my hands dotted with five bandages and asked, “Oh my gosh, what happened?” This was a wake-up moment for me because I honestly hadn’t realized this was out of the ordinary. My friend’s shock at my beat-up fingertips clued me into the fact that this wasn’t right.

When I was 18, I learned that this condition has a name: Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior, or BFRB. There are a multitude of BFRBs, and the TLC Foundation for BFRBs is a great resource to learn more. The most common is trichotillomania, or hair-pulling, which you may have heard of. Or you may not, because BFRBs aren’t very well-known. Too often they’re seen as just a bad habit that someone will grow out of. I was fortunate to attend a therapy group for people with BFRBs, and receive Habit Reversal Training therapy, which essentially focuses on recognizing the urge to pick and redirecting it to something else.

Now my work desk is laden with fidgets for me to play with instead of taking my stress out on my skin. You can’t cure a BFRB, you can only learn to live with it — but mine is much more under control than it was several years ago. Now I only have to use a Band-Aid a few times a month instead of several times a day, and I’ve learned to reach for Chapstick instead of picking at my lip. (Sort of. I’ll admit I’ve been picking while I write this, but perfection is unattainable.) 

If I can get one thing out of my experience with a BFRB, it would be to share the knowledge with others. If you, too, are a BFRB sufferer, please know that you aren’t alone and there’s nothing wrong with you. Your mind just works a little differently, and that’s okay! There are ways to cope and people who understand what you’re going through. I encourage you to learn more about this condition, whether or not you have it, because increasing awareness c helps people. And now, I’m off to apply some lip gloss so I stop picking.

Have You Heard of Queeries?

by Beth Royston

One of my favorite experiences during my time at Portland State has been volunteering with Queeries. Hopefully you’ve heard of this program run out of the Queer Resource Center on campus, but if not, let me make an introduction. 

Queeries is a program that uses volunteer PSU students to speak on panels about their queer experience to other PSU underclassmen, usually in freshman or sophomore inquiry classes. The panel is an opportunity for students to ask questions (anonymously if wished) to a variety of queer students about whatever they want. Common questions I’ve had include when I knew that I was queer, have I ever tried new labels, what would I say if someone came out to me, et cetera. The program facilitators are always wonderful about keeping boundaries, and making it clear that our experiences are our own; as any panel is not representative of the entire queer community.  It’s been a really wonderful opportunity to practice answering a question about myself succinctly. 

To be honest, there have been some tough questions on panels, mainly ones that resemble microaggressions I’ve been dealing with for years and years. However, it’s been meaningful to me to answer these questions and humanise myself, and other queer people. I really believe that the chance for people who haven’t been around many others that are queer and be able to ask questions is helpful, and does something positive in the short and long term. It’s powerful to educate others by simply being yourself. I’ve learned a lot from other panelists, too, listening to them answer questions about something I haven’t experienced, or even something that we’ve both experienced, but in a different way. Last year, I had the opportunity to speak on a Queeries panel for high schoolers in their local GSA (gay-straight alliance) at Portland State, and it made a huge impact on me. I discovered that I really liked working with queer youth, and possibly want to turn that into my specialty when I go into private-practice counseling. I also really like educating and advocating, and I might see myself wanting to teach in the future, or at least continue doing this type of work. Whatever ends up happening, I will absolutely look back on my time at Queeries with fondness.

If you are queer and looking for a wonderful way to volunteer on campus that helps create positive social change, I would absolutely recommend checking out the Queeries program. You need no experience, and the benefit of being more comfortable with public speaking is great for anyone. You can also contact the QRC for more information if you’re interested in having Queeries do a panel in your classroom — or if you just have a question for a queer person.

Email queeries@pdx.edu for more information and any questions.

Dorm Pie

By Erika Nelson

As I’ve written before, I live in student housing. Dorms— a word that connotes many things related to “the college experience”— ridiculously tall beds, hallways decorated to reflect the RA’s floor theme, washing machines that only work half the time … and above all, socialization. From bonding over bowls of instant ramen to flashcard quizzes in the common area, you can’t picture dorm life without thinking of social interaction. 

I came to PSU in the fall of 2019 — ignorant of COVID and the pandemic on the horizon, I had one blissful term to experience the social aspect of college and dorm life. Sure, most of the other residents seem to fall into the 18-21 cohort, and at 27 I’m an old lady by comparison, but mixing colors at Paint Nite and making dorm decor at RHA-sponsored events was a great way to chill out and meet fellow Vikings. While waiting on my laundry one night last year, I ran into a couple girls reading Tarot cards. Naturally, I threw my accounting homework to the side so I could get a reading. The cards uncannily reflected a recent breakup and reminded me of my ex (although, to be fair, pretty much everything reminded me of my ex at the time.) I bawled like a baby and the three of us swapped stories about Men Who Did Us Dirty. I don’t remember those girls’ names, and I never ran into them again, but I’ll always appreciate that experience.  

The halls look very different now … no Tarot cards or half-finished puzzles to be seen. Occasionally I’ll bump into another student on the way to their room, or the elevator will stop on another floor and a resident and I will awkwardly stare at each other until the doors close and the elevator continues its trip up or down (one of the new Housing rules: only one person/household in the elevator at a time, to cut down on germ transmission. The elevators didn’t get the memo, so they continue to stop at floors where the button is pressed.) Once in a blue moon, there are freebies left by kind strangers — individually-wrapped hand sanitizing wipes; packets of tea; paper napkins with a note saying “emergency toilet paper :).” I don’t usually partake in these freebies (sanitizing wipes are an exception) because of, ya know, the virus … but it always warms my heart a little when I see them. 

Around Thanksgiving, I found a Dorm Pie. A solitary pumpkin confection left on a communal table, the pie was exposed to the elements without a cover, and there was no note explaining its presence. It was like an unaccompanied child at the airport, and I simultaneously felt mild amusement, pity for the lonely dessert (lockdown has caused me to anthropomorphize everything), and gratitude that someone thought, “I have an extra pie. Someone will want this.” We’re a building of college students, after all — we love free food even when COVID hasn’t made employment scarce — and it’s the season of giving. And I love pumpkin pie … sure, it may be uncovered and rife with viral particles, I thought, but it’s probably fine! I don’t want it to go to waste, or dry out before someone can find it …

I ended up leaving the pie. Whether someone ate it or threw it away, I’ll never know, but the Dorm Pie will forever live in my memory as a symbol of goodwill during hard times. 

Even though we dorm-dwellers can’t socialize in person, there’s still a sense of community — seeing free stuff someone’s left for their neighbors is a reminder that even in these socially-distant times of Zoom trivia nights and solo elevator rides, residents are still looking out for each other. 

Or maybe they just want to unload excess stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.  But if you’re reading this, kind Pie Donor — you should probably leave the cover on next time. 

Beating Back Senioritis

By: Adair Bingham

As fall term ends, I’m entering my last months at Portland State University. Another term of remote learning was by no means ideal, but I’ve managed to make the best of it, despite senioritis setting in. 

For those unfamiliar with the concept, senioritis is a colloquial term for a student’s supposed decrease in motivation during their last year of school, and I’d argue that it is a very real thing. 

In my case, the virtual classroom environment has not helped. Staying up to date with my readings, homework, or even just remembering to go to class has become a hassle. School itself feels distant now. Everything feels more abstract when they all take place on a computer screen. My entire sense of schedule almost feels non-existent. I often forget what day of the week it is and motivation feels slim when there’s no conceivable way to physically go to class. Who would have known that something as small as a few cups of coffee in the morning before heading to class was such a factor in my work motivation. 

Instead of working, I find myself doing literally anything else and school assignments have become infinitely more grueling. I’m constantly dozing off and I’m usually caught up in my own mind. If not that, then I’m aimlessly binding my time with game emulators. I’m still committed to my coursework, naturally, but school increasingly has found its way to the back of my brain. I often find myself more preoccupied with other thoughts; some important and some not. These days, I find myself more interested in over-analyzing the little nuance of character interactions from my favorite franchises. It’s even got to the point where I’ve had to dump all of these thoughts in word documents of their own, their word counts often far-exceeding those of my required assignments. Strangely, though, these documents help to remind me of why I work so hard in the first place and always see things through to the end. They have been a valuable tool in beating back senioritis and have overall made work not only tolerable, but also enjoyable. 

This isn’t my first time tangling with senioritis — after all, I was a senior once before. I have my own method of madness, so to speak, to navigate this strange phenomenon, but that isn’t to say that it’s any less of a hassle to deal with. What works for me is to keep myself occupied at all times, whether through extracurricular activities or simple leisurely hobbies; anything to keep both mind and hands busy. It’s when I stop that the feeling sets in, and I can’t afford to lose gumption now that graduation is in sight. 

I find what’s effective for me is to set goals that I know are attainable. By this I mean small things that I know I will be able to carry out between now and my up and coming graduation, like finishing my next storyboard or modeling one more character. These rewarding projects are small enough for me to complete in a few months, but also engrossing enough to keep me working at a reasonable pace. I find that the extra work grounds me and gives me more incentive to finish the other things on my plate, such as school. Having more to do, at least for me, helps me to set a working pace for myself. 

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from this affliction, though, is the somewhat surprising lesson that I tend to work harder if there are more things on my plate. I forget a million things a day, but I can’t forget just how hard I’ve worked to get where I am or let senioritis get the best of me, especially this far in the game.

A Novel in a Month

By Claire Golden

November is almost over and I am 30,000 words deep in the first draft of a novel. Perhaps you’re already familiar with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a yearly challenge when writers all over the world set out to write a 50,000-word story in a month. I’ve participated every year since I was 15, succeeding some years and falling short others — but every year has been a valuable experience and has taught me so much about myself as a writer and the stories I’m trying to tell.

As the days get shorter and colder, writing is something I to look forward to doing. It gives me purpose. When my own life is stressful, disappearing into another world is exactly the break I need. Discovering NaNo turned November from a month I dread into my favorite event of the year. It’s an amazing feeling to take a story that only existed in my head and turn it into something on paper…even if the first draft is completely terrible. That’s the point of a first draft! I actually wrote the first draft of my young adult fantasy novel, “Unraveled,” during NaNo. It will be published next month by Gurt Dog Press.

This is the first year that I won’t be in school while doing NaNo, because I graduated (and am now an alumni blogger). But whether in school or working, balancing noveling with everyday responsibilities is difficult. I’ve had less time to watch Netflix and read for fun because I’ve had to devote that time to writing instead. But it’s a good exercise in delayed gratification — if I keep working hard, I will have a novel at the end of the month. 

Writing a novel sounds unachievable, until you break it down into small pieces. If you write 1,667 words a day, which takes me just about an hour, you can have a completed book in just a month. Whether you’re a seasoned novelist or have never written for fun before, I encourage you to join us at nanowrimo.org. The best thing about the experience is the community and support. Feel free to add me as a buddy — I’m cog98. I’d love to see you there!