A Lot of Gratitude & a Little Black Mold

“Interrupt Anxiety with Gratitude” – A Motivational Quote a la Pinterest that My Mom Texted Me

So here’s the thing. This is not a blog post about the law of attraction, or about how the book The Secret changed my life. While I am a believer that the law of attraction is a very real, very powerful thing that is not why I’m writing this. All of these blog posts are inspired by in the moment lessons that I’m learning daily, often literally one day after the next. Rapid fire, as they say. This past year has been a year full of learning but in each lesson I have found supreme gratitude. Weird, I know, but true! And weirder still is that I found, the more grateful I was of every little twist and turn, the greater the outcome. You know those photo shoots that moms do with their babies and those adorable wooden signs proudly displaying their latest mile stone, weight, age, and likes? I feel like if ever I were to do such a photo shoot for myself, it would be this past year. My sign would read:

Name: Olivia Ann

Age: 26 years & 5 months

Weight: Mind Your Own, Thank You

This year I: moved in (and then moved again) with significant other, got married to significant other, got a house, got another corporate job, took on two dogs, found my strength, found my backbone, found time to have job and have time for passion, still working on that whole adulthood thing…

Shit, that’s actually an incredibly funny idea and one I need to follow up on. You get the point. I’ve shape shifted so much this past year I am surprised I don’t have growing pains, and in hind sight – maybe I do. Maybe those days when it feels like I can’t do it all well are those growing pains rearing their ugly little heads – taunting me to collapse on the couch in a fit of Netflix and procrastination of real life responsibilities. Thankfully, this year more than ever, those days are often indulged for a few hours and then promptly soothed with my biggest takeaway of late: GRATITUDE. That’s right. My greatest achievement this year isn’t professionally based, or life status based at all (although YES OF COURSE getting married to the love of life was the greatest blessing) it’s a total state of mind. This year has brought me so many beautiful blessings and challenges, each change bringing forth a consequence that fills a piece of my heart that I didn’t know needed to be filled. This year has also challenged me in ways that have scared me shit-less. I am grateful for both statements. See that? GRATITUDE, BITCHES! In all seriousness, I have come from a place of gratitude more often this year than not. That isn’t always something I could say to be true. This was a conscious decision.This year, I have allowed myself to get frustrated, get scared, get worked up and then get real: when we have our health, our loved ones and a roof over our head – we have everything. Even the things that present themselves as straight up challenges have a siiiiiiiiilver (said in a super small voice to articulate that sometimes it’s a small amount) lining that will bring around some gratitude.

Speaking of roof! Living with someone who makes every single day (even the crummy days) feel like Friday night is the biggest kick in the pants. It’s like a never ending sleep over with my best friend who I happen to be madly in love with. And sure, two only children living together can have it’s moments of wtf. For instance: my use of towels. I use a towel once then promptly – frantically almost – toss that bad boy into the hamper. I do so throughout the week, wash them on weekends, fold them, put them away, repeat. I feel this is normal behavior. To Keevin, this is borderline sociopath behavior. Keevin will use a towel more than once, but this is firmly rooted in his belief that if you throw a wet towel into a hamper, you will get mold and you will die. Now this may surprise some of you because as you may (or may not) know, I am usually the worrier of such a thing. But for whatever reason, this concerns me very little and him, very much. You should see the way this man folds a towel – it’s a thing of art, and if I’m being honest, far more precise then the haphazard way I crumble it together. Keevin also loves to make his bulletproof coffee in my beloved copper Vitamix. I think that’s nice. I think it’s less nice at 4:45 am. But, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the entire world. Honest to God. Getting to wake up next to him, as cheesy as it sounds, is the best part of my day. And trust me, I have a lot of good parts to most of my days so that’s saying something. I feel so grateful to have found the person that lights up my world, and any minor (or not so minor, let’s be honest) growing pains felt in the adjustment pale in comparison to that gratitude.

Having our two dogs (my family dogs that wouldn’t have fared well in NYC)  with us has been wild. I’ve spent more time the in vet this past year than ever in my life, and even on those days when I’m paying a vet 330 dollars (to tell me it’s okay that Stella somehow found and shredded -but thankfully didn’t ingest but can you be too careful? – multiple unopened tampons) it’s a blessing. Those two dang dogs have filled our hearts with more joy than they have fur our house, and trust me when I tell you that we’ve broken two vacuums trying to keep up. Every night when the four of us retreat back to our little bedroom (Stella nestled firmly on Keevin’s chest the entire night, and Toby on his orthopedic senior bed on the floor) is a great night in my book. I fall asleep to the rhythm of three different snoring patterns, and I’m sure, with a smile on my face. Every night when I come home, my dogs have a welcome home party for me. Seriously. Stella promptly falls victim to an asthma attack because she gets so excited her smush face cannot get enough oxygen. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is. Toby will frantically search – slip sliding on the hard wood floors – for a toy to hit my knees with as I walk in the door. Their excitement could melt ice caps, which given our current climate I will keep them far, far away from any endangered ice caps.

Having a home we love is the coolest feeling. Being a complete and total nester, it’s a dream come true to have a space that I can unleash my wild side in: and by wild I mean cooking up a storm, gardening like crazy person, and decorating until my heart is content and every nearby home decor store knows me by name. We live in the cutest, oldest house known to man kind. That may be a slight exaggeration but hi have we met? The story of how we found our little house is the perfect story for this blog post in particular because it is all about gratitude and a little bit (okay a lot bit) about that whole “be grateful for your blessings and more blessings come” mind set. It’s also about mold.

Keevin and I moved in together last summer, signing a year’s lease on one of those brand new, stainless steel appliance type of apartments. It was tiny but brand spanking new and all ours so we loved it. Or, we tried to love it. We decorated it with great care, tried to get to know our neighbors, and dragged a lemon tree all the way from San Diego to Newport Beach to plant in front of our doorstep. I am not going to say that I am 99.9 percent sure this entire property was built on an Indian burial ground or some other spooky shit, but I’m not going to rule it out, either. The entire time we lived there, we saw our neighbors once. One night Keevin came home and asked me why we’d never seen a single bird flying overhead, not even a crow – the worst birds of all. It was always overcast in our complex, like somehow once you drove through those ornate olive-tree lined gates, you could not bring a single ounce of sunshine with you. We had made it barely five months when we started openly discussing moving. We weren’t sure what it was, it was just never a place that felt like home. But still, we agreed, how grateful we were to be together in our little space. We explored breaking our lease and realized that would be multiple thousands of dollars poorly spent. Fine, topic dropped. Then, my parents accepted the NYC job offer, and I could tell they were really worried about our two older dogs. They wouldn’t adjust to the flying or the apartment living. To say that my parents are dog lovers is a understatement. They literally once kept a house for a year longer than planned simply because they decided “it was best for the dog.” So, if anyone knows the importance of these beloved dogs, it’s me. I knew that of course we would take them! Keevin agreed, but we couldn’t help but wonder how they’d like living in an apartment. Once again, we discussed moving. Then the universe stepped in.

It’s a weirdly rainy afternoon just after Christmas, and we’re back in our potentially haunted apartment. Keevin’s at work but I’m still off for a few more days so I obviously use this time to systemically work my way through one of Ina Garten’s cookbooks. I’m admiring my five clove garlic chicken when I hear a knock on my door. I’ve already covered the fact that we’re 90% sure no one else lives in the complex but us, so I’m not super certain this knock is one I want to answer. I do. A blonde woman is standing there with an iPad and a legal portfolio. Inside said portfolio she has pictures – gnarly pictures – of mold, of construction, of a pale looking kid – and at this point I’m thinking that this is most likely how I die. I even specifically remember glancing back behind me for my phone then back at her to memorize her physical traits – I have watched Taken enough times to know that I will obviously need to dial the police, shout a quick description of her physical being, and square her straight in the face if I have a chance of survival. I’m trying to remember the statistics of survival once they get you out of the house, you know like, once they’ve got you in their murder van or whatever, how long those detectives usually give themselves to find you before you’re old news.

“So anyways, he lived here in this unit and has been dealing with mold toxicity for like, eleven years and like, that’s super wrong, you know? Like, someone has to pay for this…?” A question? Is she asking a question? Suddenly I realize I’ve gone so far Law and Order on this situation that I am not even listening. I make a face. Then realize. She’s telling me that our entire unit used to be covered in black mold – a particularly nasty mold, thus leaving her child and many others with apparent mold related health conditions. WHAT. THE. FUCK. I squint at her pictures harder now, taking into consideration everything this Erin Brockovich is saying, and excuse myself before having what I can only assume is a panic attack. I had unknowingly – supposedly – moved myself and my future husband into a once mold infested potentially still mold infested death dungeon. Now I should be honest in that I’m not always the most clear headed in cases of emergencies – and specifically when I feel that someone or some thing is threatening the well being of myself or my people. So to recount the conversation that I had with the poor leasing agent that I frantically called following my Erin Brockovich moment would not put me in the best light. To be fair, the moment she heard black mold she clammed up like her two hour legal training during HR orientation taught her to. She was bobbing and weaving. But that’s fine. Cause did ya girl mention she works for an attorney? I will bob and weave the shit out of you, Rebecca. And I did. The minute I asked for an explanation regarding such moldy accusations, I knew I would be moving us out of there. It didn’t matter what this Rebecca or the entire company had to say. I was leaving. And Lordy, once I make my mind up..it’s on and poppin’ as the kids say. I called Keevin home frantically, and being the emotional designated driver in the relationship (meaning he’s far more emotionally stable than I am) he settled me with reassurances that there is no way an entire complex is covered in mold. He tried persuading me that the woman was most likely a law suit chaser or a crazy or both. By the end of our second phone call he knew it would be wise to call it a day at work and come on home. By the time he was home, I had a meeting with the manager of the complex set up. Like I said, I mean business. As we walked in, I made the “I am the Captain” signal to Keevin, which he immediately responded with a confused look on his face to, which left me having to lean in and say something along the lines of “I’m going to get answers or we’re getting on outta here. I’ve prepped for this mentally and also work with enough attorneys to know how to be verbally assertive in this situation.” I believe I saw Keevin physically brace himself. I explained that we didn’t want any sort of trouble with the community we just wanted a reasonable explanation for why a woman would come to our door with this kind of information. They were sorry, very sorry, so sorry oh and here, take this, this is our attorney on the phone. Keevin and I were baffled. We had been hoping they would say we could move to a bigger unit with outdoor space and in the mean time have mold testing done to settle our fears. We had not been expecting them to say what they did which was: we will let you break your lease and pay for you to move out. The fuck?

That night, a very worked up me and a very pensive Keevin took a drive to settle our minds (and yes, I had to get out of the apartment because of course by now I’ve looked up all of the symptoms of mold toxicity and feel dirty even being in our living room) and wind up in this adorable little neighborhood that I had loved as a child. I’d spent time there with friends and family, and had always said that someday I’d come back to Orange County and live right there. Big bold statements that little kids make without knowing the amount of hard work and even harder earned money it takes to live in places like that. We turned up a street and I pointed out my girlfriend’s house – a childhood friend that I’d loved but lost touch with after one too many moves. We’d recently reconnected when we had moved back to Orange County. I’d met her at her house just last week.

We parked for a second to talk and burst into a delirious fit of exhausted laughter. We had barely been there five months, and already were moving? To where? When? How quickly? How? In general, how? In the middle of wedding planning and a new job and my parent’s moving to NYC, did another move make sense? No. But that night we both had some bizarre sense of total peace about it. We sat there in Keevin’s truck and laughed, shook our heads, and maybe I cried. Ok I definitely cried. We joked about how we really were turning into my parents – we couldn’t stop moving, and we kind of loved it. We agreed we needed to move, and we reflected on the fact that it was actually perfect. The timing, the whole thing. This was a way for us to break our lease, move to a space better suited for the dogs, and make a home in a place where we actually saw other people. We decided this was actually the luckiest, most divine intervention type moment. I distinctly remember us agreeing to simply be grateful for this, rather than anxious. And that’s when it happened. We paused – just for a single moment, I’m telling you – and suddenly there it was. This little house. Even in the dark it was adorable. It had this little picket fence and trees that were begging to be trimmed but so, so much character. The shingles, the coloring…it looked like a mini (key word mini) version of my parents house, Keevin noted. Then he noted something even cooler. A FOR LEASE sign, swaying in the wind of the night’s rain. We both got out, getting absolutely soaked in the process, and grabbed the sign in our hands. I looked at him and asked if we could really go from a one bedroom apartment to a full on house. Keevin smiled and said “Why not?”. Exactly two weeks later, my parents flew home from NYC to help us move into that little, mini, heart warming home. We trimmed those trees, we painted the walls, we mended the fence, we planted a garden, we met the neighbors, we brought the dogs. I now live directly across the street of that childhood friend, we had a sushi date last night. It’s been seven months in that house and those have been seven of the best months of my life. There isn’t a day that goes by that one of us doesn’t look at the other and say, “Man, we’re lucky to be home here.” I mean it. We’re grateful. And I can’t help but think that choosing gratitude on that night, in that truck, in that moment was how we got right here.

PS. We see a lot of birds – hummingbirds to be exact. They make nests in our giant ficus tree that grows out of control by our front door.

PPS. Hey Keevin, turn’s out towels aren’t the only way to get mold…