Starting Line Advice

by Beth Royston

Somehow, almost four years of college have passed. I’m about to graduate in the spring. I was recently thinking back on my entire college experience and how the pandemic changed so many expectations I held about how it would go. I thought about what had gone the way I’d expected, and what hadn’t at all. For anyone that might be about to embark on their own college journey, I’ve compiled my tips on staying afloat into a list, with the hopes that it might help soothe your worries about what those next four (or more!) years will look like.

Figure out your own rules

College is vastly different from high school in a lot of amazing ways. You’re much more on your own, which is really freeing — but can also be really intimidating. To succeed, it really helped me to nail down exactly how I liked to study, how early in the morning I could bear to go to class, and when and where I liked doing my homework. Those provided parameters for scheduling classes and figuring out when I was going to get things done. Abiding by my own rules made it a lot easier to feel productive. Personally, I became a better student because I could actually take classes I was interested in, and also because I was allowed to make more decisions about how I wanted to learn.

Stay flexible.

I’m happy to say that I generally don’t have any regrets in life, except doing some pretty cringey things in middle school. But seriously, staying flexible has helped me ride the highs and lows of college life. I’m type A to the point that I have the next ten years of my life generally figured out. However, life has a funny way of not going the way you plan it to, and this includes college. Hello, pandemic! While it’s okay to mourn changed plans and grieve missed opportunities, the best thing you can do is make the best of what you have. Keep to your goals, but be open to how you get to the end changing, as long as you get there. 

Try new things.

I’m a naturally extroverted person, but it was still nerve-wracking to do some of the things I did that were outside of my comfort zone. Even if I didn’t end up liking that club or left the event early, I still could say I tried it! I made some great connections and hilarious memories by just being open if something seemed even remotely interesting to me.

Talk to your advisor early and often.

I talk to my advisor at least once a term. It helped me feel comforted that I was on track to graduate. I would seriously recommend checking in with your advisor at least once a term, and early — before it’s too late and you can’t get in to ask them your registration questions. They are also usually able to connect you to resources on campus that you may need, and give some career advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advocate for yourself. This also extends to asking for help when you need it. There are so many resources on campus to help you succeed, take advantage of them! 

My college experience was definitely not what I thought it would be. To be transparent, there were a lot of things that I wished I could try that I never got to, and being sick nearly all junior year made me feel like I was missing out on a lot. And then, of course, the pandemic caused my entire senior year to be online, and I felt like I was missing out on even more. I was looking forward to so much, and have been grieving that loss. However, I couldn’t control any of that. I remember the happy memories I made in college — the friends I met, the food I ate, the countless hours spent at the farmer’s market with my partner. I do count myself lucky because I want to attend Portland State for graduate school, and that will be three more years at the campus I love so much. Above all, I’m a very different student now than I was in high school, and I feel like I succeeded by advocating for myself and staying flexible throughout these years. I hope that these tips help if you’re just about to start Portland State, or elsewhere — and welcome to college.

Learning to be Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

by Beth Royston

2020 was taxing for everyone, but I felt like I had a double helping of misfortune. Not only was there the pandemic to contend with, but I had a disastrous trip abroad last year, and have been dealing with the symptoms of PTSD ever since. I already have a lot to worry about — myself staying safe, my friends and family staying safe, trying to keep my motivation up for school during this time. However, recently I’ve had to confront an uncomfortable realization that I simply don’t know how the next few years of my life will look.

I’ve always been a planner, and had certainly made plans for those years. I applied for grad school earlier this year, and have had that intention for a while. However, with the pandemic, I wasn’t able to get some of the extra experience that I wanted in preparation for my graduate program. I applied feeling less secure than I wanted. I’m currently trying to sort out how I feel about the prospect of going to grad school if the program will be online. And what happens if I don’t even get in? I’d find a job and I’m sure I’d adjust, but it’s more about the thought of what I desperately want to happen not happening — the pandemic not ending, and not getting into my dream program. I also got engaged to my partner of five years a month ago, and as sweet as that’s been, the both of us have been worried and uncertain, unable to really begin planning anything solid for our wedding. As it may be evident, I’ve spent a lot of time spiraling. 

Unfortunately, all I can do is wait. I must wait and see if I get into my program, I must wait and see what happens with the pandemic that affects all of us. I even must wait and see how other factors in my life come into play to decide when to get married. It’s a lot of uncomfortable uncertainty, my very weakness. My armor is planning and doing the best I can to make my dreams and plans come true. The best I can do is plan for different scenarios and try to stay flexible.

While 2020 was the hardest year of my life, I’ve also undergone a lot of personal growth. I don’t think I will ever entirely be the type of person that can just sit back and be extremely flexible with change, but I’ve come a long way in realizing that sometimes no matter how much you plan things, they will still go wrong. I had that exact experience with my trip abroad. Everything was planned out to the smallest detail, but fortune was not in my favor regarding a dish I chose to eat at a restaurant that made me very ill and culminated in my hospitalization. I’d planned for some general stomach upset when adjusting to a new cuisine, but nothing to that level. You can either fight that or take a deep breath and adjust. I’ve definitely been grieving for the experiences I feel like I’ve missed out on, and trying to put that energy into what I’m looking forward to later in my life. However, sometimes I fail to be optimistic, and simply feel really sad and worried about how adrift I feel. None of my plans are anchoring me. 

It’s an effort every day to try to coach myself on not adding on additional worries about things that I can’t control. It’s something I struggle with a lot because of my personality, but I’m really proud of how far I’ve come. I’m glad that I’ve been able to adjust in a positive way because of everything that’s happened, and come out a stronger, better, more resilient person, even if I don’t necessarily feel that way all the time. 

The Banish-Anxiety Box

By Claire Golden

Admittedly, this title is an exaggeration, because I know of no way to banish anxiety completely. However, in my last post about anxiety disorders I promised to share one of my favorite techniques for coping with anxiety. So here it is!

Since anxiety tends to focus on either fretting over the past or worrying about the future, one of the best ways to cope is by grounding yourself in the present moment. To do this, it’s useful to engage your five senses. I put together a box with tools for each sense. When I’m anxious, I reach for this box and play with the things inside until I feel a little less on edge. It’s important to put these resources together ahead of time because it’s difficult to function in the moment. In the same way that you don’t wait to pack until five minutes before you leave for the airport, you shouldn’t wait unil the moment of an anxiety attack to put together your kit. It’s a great way to care for your future self and take a little bit of control back from anxiety.

My anxiety box is actually a drawer in my desk. It used to be a physical box that sat next to my computer. When I commuted daily to college, I had a small zippered pouch that I used instead of a large box and contained a miniature version of this kit. Below is a picture of a small box I use as well as some of my crochet, which helps me a lot with anxiety.

Sight

  • Pictures of cute animals and loved ones
  • Memes
  • “Satisfying” videos of slime or kinetic sand
  • Watch videos of relaxing things like ocean waves
  • Read a book
  • Make a wall of your favorite quotes that you find encouraging, so you can look at it when the world feels especially scary

Sound

  • Meditation or relaxation videos (YouTube has lots of relaxing ASMR videos)
  • Listen to music — and maybe dance to it
  • Listen to nature sounds (I love falling rain)
  • Draw or color something, paying attention to the sound of your writing

Smell

  • Lotion
  • Candles
  • Go seek out your favorite smell. For me, it’s cracking open a book — I love the papery smell.
  • Take a bath with some fancy bubbles or soap

Touch

  • Fidget toys (I love Tangles)
  • Craft such as crochet, knitting, embroidery, origami
  • Play-Doh or Silly Putty — my favorite is Dave’s Thinking Putty which is so fun to play with and comes in all sorts of awesome colors
  • Stress ball
  • Use a peel-off face mask or something else for self-care
  • Hug a family member, friend, pet, or stuffed animal (pictured is my dog, Maisie, who is always happy to oblige)
  • Give yourself a hand, foot, or shoulder massage complete with lotion – put a massage tool or small container of lotion in your box

Taste

  • Lollipops
  • Gum
  • Sour candy
  • Include a favorite recipe to bake your favorite treat —- this works for smell, too!
  • A warm cup of tea (peppermint helps calm me down)

I hope this list can be of some use to you like it has been for me. What is your go-to trick for stress relief? What would you add to this list?

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!

Fall Quarter Slump

By: Ragan Love

With two quarters down in quarantine and I was not prepared with how different this fall was going to be. I have always been motivated to do well in school, even my “senioritis” was being late to class everyday because I wanted coffee. I still did my work on time and worked hard. During spring quarter I still felt pretty motivated despite the circumstances. I got all of my work done on time, practiced flute multiple times a week, and I didn’t skip out on class.

But, this fall quarter it went down the drain. I skipped out on classes and started to fall behind on work, even writing this blog has been hard to do because of motivation. I didn’t have the energy to do all of these things I love to do. Luckily, I have come across a few things that have helped me through this quarter. 

  1. Communicate with your professors! They know how hard this time is for everybody and letting them know about your situation will help your professors know how to help you. I had a problem that I either would go to my piano Zoom class and not practice or I would skip the lecture and work on the skills and assignments. When I talked to my professor, he allowed me to turn in supplemental videos to show the skills he was giving in the classes I missed. This was the most helpful thing a professor did for me, he allowed me to learn when I was struggling to go to class.
  2. Plan when assignments are due: I have never been the person to do assignments 10 minutes before they were due but that has been my reality this term. The only thing that has helped me is to go through my assignments and write when they are due instead of the day I would like to finish them. Before, I would keep pushing off my homework to the point it was late but, this forced me to make sure that the assignment gets done
  3. Know your resources! Many people are dealing with this quarantine depression and it’s important to know that you are not alone. There are people to talk to and PSU has resources for students!

https://www.pdx.edu/health-counseling/wellness

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?

Staying Connected

by Beth Royston

Ordinarily, to catch up with a friend, I’d go get lunch or see them at one of our regular joint-activities. However, go-to plans have been obviously suspended with the pandemic, and I’ve had to find new ways to stay connected with friends both near and far. An unexpected silver lining of the pandemic for me was deepening friendships with friends far away, ones I’d met online originally or had moved apart from. I’ve included some activities we’ve done regularly to stay in touch here for your consideration:

Jackbox Games! If you aren’t familiar with Jackbox games, they’re party packs of games meant to be played with your phones. The easiest way to play with friends is one person sharing their screen and everyone logging into the room via phone (this can be accomplished easily through Discord, if you use it. It’s always hilarious and there’s many games to choose from! You can buy the entire pack or singular games. 

Buzzfeed Quiz Party! Buzzfeed recently added a way you can take their infamous quizzes with friends at the same time. It’s simple — one person starts a room and sends the link to their friends, and the quiz will show you yours and your friends’ results at the same time. It was really late at night and we had a desire to know what Teletubby character we were … you know how it goes.

Skribbl.io! I play this all the time with my pals. People take turns doodling something and others try to guess what it is they are drawing!

Presentation Parties! Everyone assembles a Powerpoint presentation on something they weirdly know a lot about, or are really passionate about, and takes turns presenting to the group. It’s an oddly wholesome way to get to know your friends’ specific interests.

Watching stuff together! There are several websites and browser extensions that will let you make a private room and stream something for everyone to watch together. We usually use Kosmi.io or the extension Netflix Party!

However it is you stay in touch, we live in the perfect day and age to find fun things to do online with your friends. What’s your favorite way to get together virtually?

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

By Claire Golden

Three weeks ago, after about 200 days of quarantine, I cut off about ten inches of my hair with scissors from the Dollar Tree.

This wasn’t a spontaneous decision. All year I’d contemplated getting a haircut, but I just never got around to it. Then coronavirus hit, and going to a hair salon was no longer an option. Even though I was getting more and more tired of my long hair every day, I wasn’t going to put somebody at risk for what was ultimately a frivolous wish.

Finally I couldn’t take it any longer, and I combed my hair, sat down in front of the mirror, and cut off first one side, then the other, with my bright pink polka-dotted scissors. Here’s a “before” picture ft. my chicken Harriet, compared to my new blogger profile picture at the beginning of this post.

Screen Shot 2020-01-27 at 12.39.33 PM

Lots of people have been turning to DIY haircuts in the face of the pandemic. If you’re going to give it a try, here’s what I learned:

  • Use sharp scissors: I recommend using a good pair of scissors so you don’t have to saw through your hair. When I went back to fine-tune my results, I used a sharp pair and had much more success.
  • Cut wet hair: Wet hair is easier to contend with than dry hair. Brush it first and part it the way you normally would. 
  • Ensure symmetry: Divide your hair into two sections and pull them over your shoulders. Sit down in front of a mirror, make sure your head isn’t tilted, and then clamp your hair in your fingers before cutting above your fingers. 
  • Less is more: Remember, better too long than too short — you can always cut more later! 
  • Ask for help: Ask a friend to fix the back if you need help. 

It went much better than I expected. My boyfriend’s mom said, “If my hair looked like that after I cut it, I would never go to the salon again!” So I count that as a success.

I didn’t anticipate just how much better I would feel after the Quarantine Hair Chop. Over the last few years, long hair had begun to feel limiting to me. I was a different person leaving college than I was entering, and it didn’t feel right that I still looked the same on the outside. Cutting my hair was a way to signal the end of that time period and the beginning of something new. I don’t look the same because I’m not the same — these past several months in particular have changed me.

A friend’s comment particularly resonated with me: “Some people say that bad feelings linger in hair, so by cutting it off, you’re getting rid of the past.” Cutting my hair was cathartic, and it was exactly the change I needed.

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.