Mentoring a Teenager: Decorating our Mailboxes

This summer, I was asked by the kiddo of a friend of mine to be their mentor, “Just be a positive adult role model that I can do things with.” That seemed easy enough, and for the most part, it has been. We spend nearly every Sunday together, and we do all kinds of fun things. We have volunteered for hiking trail cleanups, seen documentaries examining institutionalized racism, gone to farmers markets, clothing swaps, and backpack giveaways for students. In the course of these activities, we’ve talked about everything from TV to teenage angst, which brings with it many real and serious issues. I’ve learned a lot more about the kid I’m mentoring, and a surprising amount about myself, as well.

It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to start sharing some of our Sunday activities, in case you’ve got a teenager, live in Austin, or both.

This weekend, we chose to upgrade our mailboxes, inspired by a post from Lolly Jane. I copied the modern honeycomb-themed project nearly exactly, and the kiddo (with permission from their parents) did their own thing, choosing ombré polka dots, and a glittery yellow mailbox flag. It actually suits their hippie house (complete with VW bus in the driveway) very well!

The project actually started last Wednesday, when we stopped into our local craft store looking for hexagon stencils, and also picked up several cans of spray paint. We probably spent $45 and a couple of hours shopping.

Today, we got started in the early afternoon, solving problems of masking and stenciling together, and generally having a good time. We talked about potential careers, and we’re each starting to formulate some goals for 2018. It’s fun to see what we have in common, so that some of our outings can support our mutual goals. We stopped and went for lunch, and the kiddo, who will be turning 15 soon, inquired as to whether the location might hire students with work permits. There’s a big school trip abroad to save for, so I understand why earning might be a priority at present.

Then, back to the mailboxes, which both ended up being perfectly imperfect, in my opinion. Working with stencils is hard! The finishing details came together at sunset, just in time for us to snap a few photos and call the family out to see them. They “oohed” and “ahhed” appropriately, and we all enjoyed the sunset together before I got in my little car and came back home. Today’s part of the project took about 5 hours, including lunch and cleanup time. It flew by, and I don’t think that was bad at all, since we did two mailboxes.

We aren’t sure what we’re doing next week, but seeing as how it’s already December, don’t be surprised if it turns out to be something holiday-related!

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7 Mistakes I Didn’t Make in My New City

1. Flying Solo

I’m quite comfortable in my own company: my idea of a restorative weekend involves not having to use my vocal cords for a full 48 hours! Long baths, good books, and going on my own to matinee movies suit me just fine. Back home, I have friends who get that, and who will happily spend an afternoon reading alongside me at a cafe or bookstore, or watching films next to me without commenting on every little thing. But building comfortable, intimate friendships requires meeting people and actually talking to them! So, I’m stepping out of my “comfort zone” by joining things like a local bocce league, which gets me out of the house and interacting with live– and very friendly– humans, on a regular basis.

2. Negatively Comparing Everything to Your Old City

If all I focused on was what I missed, I would be one unhappy transplant. I would also be missing out on all that my new city has to offer. Sure, Austin doesn’t have the Arclight Cinemas, but Los Angeles doesn’t have Alamo Drafthouse, where you can get full meals, snacks, and drinks from the bar delivered to your seat during the movie (well, not yet… but there’s one on the way!). And while I love me a good breakfast burrito, Austin has an entire sub-culture devoted to breakfast tacos, which come with the added benefit of not inducing a food coma before noon. Finally, though I have seen a couple of timid drivers sit through several rush-hour traffic light cycles because of some weird Fear of Left Turns that seems to happen here, not one person honked at them. Isn’t that nice? I’m happy to change my own ingrained L.A. driving habits if it means not hearing car horns blasting literally hundreds of times throughout my day.

(Although, it must be said, I truly believe I will never have another Good Hair Day as long as I live in the State of Texas. Southern California weather wins all contests, every time. Just saying.)

3. Only Going to Places that Remind You of Home

My heart lifted just a little in my first days here when I saw a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and an In-N-Out Burger here in Austin. Heck, there’s even a Frenchy’s Beauty Parlor here (okay, that one is a good thing)! But if I only chose to go to the same places I’ve always been, I’d be missing out on the awesome veggie burgers and fries at P. Terry’s, or the on-tap cold-brew coffee at Radio Coffee and Beer. Part of Keeping Austin Weird is supporting businesses that were created by and for the people that live here, and they’ve got a lot of interesting and wonderful things to offer… things we’ve never tried anywhere else!

4. Forgetting Your Old Friends

It’s been a little challenging being in different time zones, but if I didn’t have regular phone calls and video chats with some of my old friends, life would be a lot harder… especially during these first few months while I’m meeting and getting to know new people. In this new place where no one knows me well yet, it’s easy to feel a bit adrift, so I’ve set calendar reminders to call or text loved ones at regular intervals. They’ve been really lovely about reaching out to me, as well, and it’s making all the difference.

5. Thinking Only of Oneself

Mr. Vega and I spent a pleasantly exhausting Saturday morning a few weeks ago clearing brush at Community First! for Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a social outreach ministry that empowers communities into a lifestyle of service with the homeless. It was great to get out and work hard with other people, for other people, and doing something to help alleviate homelessness puts all our temporary moving discomfort into perspective.

We also attended an event at our local political party headquarters, to register to vote and get to know some of the candidates a little better. In Texas, unlike in California, voter registration must be done in the presence of someone who has been deputized to register them… We’re considering getting deputized, so we can help people get registered before the October deadline. It’s another good way to give back to our new community, and encourage others to do the same.

6. Shopping Only at the Grocery Store

We signed up for a weekly CSA box from Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Because we are not from the South, we’ve had the opportunity to get to know some new-to-us produce, like okra, sweet potato greens, and some kind of melon I’d never seen before… thank goodness for the Internet, and its endless supply of recipes! Every week is a new surprise, and we like knowing that it’s all organic and locally grown. If we only shopped at the grocery store, we’d most likely gravitate toward the things we know, and overlook some delicious opportunities!

7. Driving Aggressively

Our first week here, Mr. Vega noticed that, unlike in Los Angeles where drivers pull their cars out into the intesections in anticipation of their left turns, most folks in Austin tend to wait behind the limit lines for a break in traffic (see #2 for the problems that can cause!). Also,  perhaps because of the congestion in this rapidly-expanding city, people have a tendency to cut each other off a lot– or maybe it’s because so few of us know where we’re going! Taking our time, and allowing other drivers the right-of-way when we can has allowed us to become accustomed to the local style of driving, and hopefully, keep the roads just a little bit safer for everyone, here in our new city!

What are some of the mistakes you have made (or avoided) when relocating to a new city?

(Los) Vegas are Leaving

A little over two years ago, after a ten-month courtship, we stood in front of about twenty-nine people in Twentynine Palms, CA, at 2:29pm on February 29, and got married.

In our wedding vows, we promised to come together and create a new home, one that would be a place of peace and joy. I don’t know how many couples include homemaking in their vows, but I think we had each found ourselves in so many tough spots in our lives before we found each other that it was important to us to have a soft place to land in this marriage, and not just figuratively. We’re gentle, sensitive people, and we need sanctuary from a world that’s getting harsher and more indifferent by the day, it seems. We also long for a space big enough to not only keep us safe, but also to welcome in loved ones…and strangers who may become beloved, as many of our friends already have.

We found a tiny little apartment in a not-so-great neighborhood for much less than the going rate, and we got down to work: there were debts to pay, bodies to mend, losses to grieve. Most importantly, there were dreams to be dreamt.

Over hot stoves, on long car rides, in the relative safety of our bed at night, we began to create the vision for the life we wanted. We spoke of a small house with a big garden, and (hopefully) a child or two. In our minds’ eyes, we sketched out the kitchen, decorated the family room, and chose the type of insulation we wanted. And all the while, we counted our pennies and saved as much as we could.

The pennies added up, but not quickly, and the harder we worked, the farther away our dream house began to feel. We watched real estate prices rising in our city, and calculated how many more years it would take for us to afford a home… The younger of us turns forty this year, and we began to awaken to the reality that, if we don’t want our starter home to be a retirement home, we needed to consider leaving Los Angeles.

Our search for a New City began with the one we visit the most, in the Great Pacific Northwest. We have siblings there, and a niece (and now a new nephew!). Could we forgo our dream of a long growing season to be closer to loved ones? Almost certainly. Would the one of us that’s prone to depression find a way to thrive in a city that sees two hundred and fifty rainy or cloudy days annually? Probably. Could the spouse that identifies as “Hispanic” acclimate to going days at a time without speaking Spanish to passersby on the street, or folks at the grocery store? Um… maybe?

As we considered that city, and the next, and the one after that, we came to recognize, and be able to define, what elements our New City would require in order for us to manifest our full potential as individuals, and as the family we were becoming. We began looking for a place that would offer ample opportunity for growth in each of our careers. A place at least as sunny (if not as arid) as our beloved City of Angels. A city where each one of us, brown and white, could see ourselves reflected in the faces of our neighbors, and hear the music of our native languages in their voices. We wanted big-city happenings, and a small-town feel. A place where our aspirations could rise as our roots deepened. As our list of wishes grew longer, our list of cities grew shorter. Until finally, one city remained: Austin, Texas. And we’re not only asking what our city can do for us: The city has issued a plea for years, on bumper stickers and tee shirts, to “Keep Austin weird!” We figure we could help with that. We’re givers, that way.

We set a timeline for early 2016, and re-dedicated ourselves to saving up for the move, but as luck would have it, we lost a job rather unexpectedly, and for confounding reasons. It seemed unfair, but it also seemed like as good a time as any to go. After all, if we were going to conduct a job search, why not do it in our New City? Moving Day just advanced by a couple of years, and is now set for June 2014. Which is like, almost now.

We don’t feel ready, but perhaps that’s the point of a Big Adventure, isn’t it? At some point, you just have to start, and trust that, if you’re on the right path, what you need will be provided.

At least, that’s the plan…