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    2012/10/09 03:18

52 Weeks, 52 Couch-surfers!

I know this blog is called 52 Weeks, 52 Couches – but now it’s time for 52 Weeks, 52 Couch-surfers!

As a lot of you know, I now have a place to call my own – with my boyfriend, that is. We picked and chose an adorable duplex together, centrally located near Hollywood. And… we have two couches and a great air mattress! :)

We’re trying to host couch-surfers and friends as much as possible. And ever since the NPR article came out, we’ve been getting a ton of requests and we’re constantly updating our Couch Calendar! Are you next? :)

couch

A very good friend who loaned me his couch several times in the last decade starts staying with us tonight!

After four years of being a guest on couches all over L.A., here’s a few tips if you’re going to host a guest:

1)    Make sure they’re comfortable – have enough (clean) blankets, (clean/stain-free) towels, toiletries, a sleep/eye mask (if you don’t yet have curtains), ear plugs, etc. Pretend you’re a concierge (or housekeeper) at a high-end hotel and think of every possible thing you’d love as a guest (within reason!). Then prepare those things for your couch-surfer… Is the food stocked? Do they know where to find extra blankets? The thermostat? Light switches? Toilet paper? (A couple couches of mine had run out, and one couch host offered me crumpled Starbucks napkins from his pocket! Don’t let that happen to your guest!)

Here’s some starter toiletries we give (in addition to showing them our linen closet with more!):

toiletries

2)    Make sure you give them a key – and an Internet password – over half the couches I surfed had forgotten their WiFi passwords (which I grew to love after a while, but it’s still nice to have the option to be online). (If you are paranoid about giving it out, you can always create a guest account, change the password after they leave, or sign in for them!)

3)    Make sure they don’t stay too long – which is obviously your call, but my couch-surfing research showed that 3-5 nights is optimal. Of course, I know this may vary based on your circumstances and theirs. If you want to keep them at your place for more than a week, I suggest breaking the time up a bit and have them stay elsewhere a few nights, too.

4)    Make dinner/meals together – at least one. No, I don’t mean go out to dinner. I mean make dinner. Figure out an easy menu and create a meal together, talk and leave cell phones in another room. (A friend of mine once created a Cell Phone Valet at a birthday party – coolest thing ever! I personally try not to look at my phone once I get home from work, and I suggest this to all of you, too!) Talk to each other, not your phones! :)

5)    Have fun – you never know when/if this friend will ever sleep over again, so be present and enjoy the moment(s). But take a hint if your guest needs some alone time or wants to get to bed! :)

Have any couch hosting or surfing stories to share? Feel free to do so in the comments!

Need a couch??

As many of you know, after over four years of couch-surfing, I now have a place to call my own (well, renting, but still)!! But to keep with the couch-surfing spirit, I am now playing couch host! My boyfriend and I have an amazing duplex in Hollywood — so let us know if you need a place to crash! The rest of this month is already booked, and most of May…!

Here’s one of the couches, and you may even get your own room (depending on availability)! :)

 

couch

 

Have you ever couch-surfed or hosted somebody? What was it like? :)

One of the cutest dogs I’ve ever seen/sat…

…and he even left some room for me! :) Do your dogs/cats/pets leave room for you? :)

 

dog

Sailing away…

As much as I love couch-surfing — the communal aspect, the family aspect and getting to know my hosts/friends better than ever before — I also love having some “me” time via my house-/pet-sitting gigs. After all, over the past few years, I have had plenty of non-me time. :) This past week, as you may know from my Facebook page, I spent time on a boat in Marina del Rey. Talk about “me” time! Nothing but me and the sound of water, seagulls, and people walking on the dock outside the sailboat, their wood-planked footsteps scaring me in the middle of the night, making me think they were climbing onto my boat when, really, they were just walking toward land, probably to the bathroom. (Yes, my boat was minus a bathroom, too, but I soon grew accustomed to either running to dry land to the very-clean-for-a-communal-bathroom bathroom, or holding it till dawn.)

Would I recommend a non-couch-surfer to sleep on a boat? Absolutely. By looking at this picture, how could you not?

boat

More so, I’d recommend that you find even a moment of  “me” time every day, time to sail away. When on a couch, I usually find this late at night, when my couch hosts are sleeping. And, eventually, I began to relish the quiet on the water, even though it was hard for me to get used to at first. Though when my stay on the boat was over, I craved human connection again — conversation and face-to-face interaction with people instead of sea life. Hopefully, you do, too, and have a balance of both. See you back on the shore.

Couch-surfing: Commonly Asked Questions

People often private message me and ask for tips on couch-surfing, as well as ask me other questions about my experiences, so here’s some answers to some of the most common questions:

YOU:  Where do you find your couches? Websites like Couchsurfing.org?

ME:  Actually, I am fortunate to have many friends and friends-of-friends who offer me couches, air mattresses, floors, and the like. Sometimes, even guest rooms! I usually stay with each person for three-to-seven nights, though I house and pet-sit, also, and so my time at someone’s place is usually longer then, anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

Couchsurfing.org is a fantastic organization, though. Sort of like an online dating site – but not for dating; rather, to find couches. People have profiles akin to Facebook, and have testimonials from others on their pages, so you are not choosing couches blindly. I have used Couchsurfing.org when traveling abroad, and had nothing but positive experiences. Feel free to private message me for more specific information.

YOU:  You said you would couch-surf in L.A. for fifty-two weeks, but it has been much more than a year now. Why?

ME: Unfortunately and fortunately, yes, it has been over a year now. Actually, over three years. All because I spent the majority of the first year getting out of default with my numerous (about a dozen) student loans, making very high payments to student loan collection agencies, in order to get back in their good graces and to improve my credit score (which is important, and which many people my age/Gen X-ers don’t always take too seriously, though we should).

Long story short, the more I pay off my student loan debt, the better I feel about whittling down that $98,000 to thousands and thousands less now. Since I still make several student loan payments each month, I often say that I still have a landlord – not some middle-aged man, but the faceless Department of Education. J To pay off all my debt and to pay a three-dimensional landlord would be out of my means, financially. And for now, I choose my student loans.

Plus, I really love living with my friends. I recommend that everyone try it, whether or not you’re in debt. It will make you and your friends much closer… usually. ;)

YOU:  Do some people not understand your couch-surfing lifestyle?

ME: Of course, not everyone gets it. I think it’s a creative way of dealing with a serious problem. In 2009, I could not pay my rent and I did not want to leave L.A., either, for I feared that if I left, I would not return (as I had seen so many others do; working in film and TV is not easy and takes a lot of perseverance). So I turned to the one thing I had: friends. And they have been immeasurably kind and generous in opening up their homes and pull-out sofas for me. And I swear I will return the favor one day, when I get an apartment of my own again.

Also, couch-surfing and living on as little money as possible has taught me a lot. For instance, there are so many free things to do in the world, where money is not even required. Not to mention I have learned to travel with one, airline/carry on-sized suitcase and a sleeping bag. Sure, I have some things in storage, but I have realized that, when it really comes down to it, I can live without all that other stuff. People are really the most important commodity, hands down.

I can go on and on about couch-surfing… (If you have more questions, feel free to post them here or send me a message.) Thank you!

(Couch)surfing in Hermosa!

I know, it has been far too long since I last blogged. But thanks for continuing to follow my Facebook posts!

Been (couch)surfing in Hermosa Beach lately. In all my years in L.A., over a decade, I have never spent so much time here as I have lately. I never wanted to be one of those people to live in the South Bay, for “those people” seldom seemed to leave it. Instead of opting for a birthday party in Santa Monica, oftentimes, my friends would stay in the South Bay. And now I know why. It is gorgeous here:

That pic was from my friend’s deck!

Here it is in the day:

And living so close to the beach (two blocks) motivates you to exercise every day, walking or biking on The Strand here, alongside the Pacific Ocean.

Saw this dad pushing his baby… Aww!

And this is one of my favorite houses. (A girl can dream, right?)

And here’s one thing from The Strand in Hermosa that we should all keep in mind:

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

And all the exercising makes you eat healthier. Here’s a pineapple/coconut yogurt-and-strawberries smoothie I made after my last walk.

Delicious.

I don’t want to leave this couch, but I must.

Later tonight, off to another South Bay town I go – Manhattan Beach.

And here’s one final sign I LOVE:

“Leave only footprints.”

What kind of footprints are you leaving in the world?

How to Boil Chicken

A few weeks ago, I was at the grocery store and only had a few minutes to grab a handful of things. In the paper towel aisle, I came across a frantic woman. Her curly hair was in all directions, and more black mascara was below her eyes than on her lashes. I love talking to people in grocery stores (or anywhere, really) and even have a rule not to bring my cell phone into stores like so many other people do, chatting away or texting. I prefer to be 100% present in my surroundings, to talk to other customers like we did back in the day, comparing apples to oranges – literally. But when the frantic woman approached me, I took a couple of steps back. I was in a hurry…

“Could I ask you something?” she said as she wiped away mascara, like a clown badly applying makeup. She was holding two types of paper towels, Brawny and Viva, so perhaps that was her question? “Sure,” I said. “I need to boil this chicken for my dog, Oscar,” she continued as she showed me the freshly packaged chicken breasts. “He’s really sick and the vet said to give him plain, boiled chicken. Can you tell me how to make it? Do I just put it in water and cook it? I’m a vegetarian. The doctor said not to add any seasonings. Do you eat meat? I really love Oscar…”

As she continued to ask me question after question at rapid-fire speed, I scolded myself for having been hesitant to have her talk to me. I guess I feared her having a question more than the actual question. We continued talking about her dog and how to boil chicken for several minutes. At one point, I even offered to come over and make the chicken for her. By the end of our conversation, even more mascara was on her face, as she was crying. And I was too, at the love she had for Oscar. “I’m so grateful for the advice,” she said. “So many people just talk on their cell phones and can’t be bothered to answer someone standing right in front of them.”

Every time I’ve eaten or made chicken since then, I can’t help but think of that woman and her dog. I hope the chicken worked for him.

Do you talk to people in the grocery store? Or do you just try to get in and get out?

Background noise – how it helps me write…

Have a deadline… but it’s too loud to get any work done? See how I went from writing in silence to needing noise in my latest couch-surfing article, right here in WOW! 

 

Happy anniversary… to me

I just had my couch-surfing anniversary: two-and-a-half years. Who knew a 52-week project would turn into a 130-week one… and counting. The thanks and gratitude I have to every friend and acquaintance who have opened up their homes – and loveseats, sectionals, and yoga mats – to me is immeasurable.

“So why are you still couch-surfing?” people ask.

With the still-unstable job market and my ever-excessive student loan debt (which is where my “rent” money goes each month), taking my sofa out of storage and putting it into a place of my own hasn’t happened yet. Nor do I want to risk it… and then discover I can suddenly not make rent one month. Believe me, that was the most stressful part about having an apartment.

Besides, I still have many friends’ couches to sleep on…  :) Have I slept at your place yet? ;)

Under (Health) Insured

I have tried getting health insurance so many times, I have stopped trying. Rejected for a biopsied mole here, an Upper GI test there, these tests are on my permanent record like something I accidentally wrote in pen instead of pencil and I can’t find the Wite-Out. And even though I’m trying to redeem myself, waiting “x” number of years for “y” issue on my record to disappear so that “z” insurance companies don’t question my “past history” health responses and hold them against me, a game I cannot win, it’s like they only look at the flaws, not the progress I’ve made: less tests the last few years, mainly because they’re too darn expensive without insurance. So the cycle continues… I get the tests taken, paying cash out-of-pocket should I be so lucky to have spare cash, knowing full well my chances of getting approved by a health insurance provider have probably just decreased… again… But at least I got that mole checked.

I know health is supposed to be our #1 priority; that’s what others tell us, “good health is everything” and “if you don’t have your health, you have nothing.” Though the sentiment may be free, why can’t the execution be more affordable? “Nothing” is expensive.

Some people become alarmed when they learn I don’t have health insurance, “What if something happens?” Good question. I want to tell them I’m not avoiding it on purpose. Others think it’s nice that I don’t have to pay a few hundred dollars a month for it, saying they rarely use theirs. But isn’t there comfort in knowing it’s there if you need it? Plus, all the “cash patient” expenses–the doctor’s visits, the tests, the medications–add up. Fast. And there’s always that unpredictable “What if something happens?” looming in the background like a vulture waiting to attack.

Since Sunday, I have had a throbbing ear ache, throat pain, and fever that I hope is a sinus infection, not the start of another two-month flu-turned-cold-turned-bronchitis like I had just a few months ago. I have no time for that. None of us do.

For an uninsured person, the question is always: Do I wait it out – or spend hard-earned money to go to the doctor? A non-clinic doctor ranges in price from $200-400 in L.A. (believe me, I’ve called around), plus they don’t have any available appointments for 4-8 weeks. Never mind. Urgent care is about $100 and the hours are more flexible. The CVS Minute Clinic (which I love) is $80, though the last time I went to one, what they prescribed did not work and I had to end up finding another (more expensive) doctor, anyway, paying two doctors for the price of one. Of course, there are the free clinics, though if time is money, I should be working instead of waiting for an appointment all day.

I have been waiting it out, taking allergy medications, hoping my sinus/cold symptoms would disappear without my needing to pay to see a doctor. Nine times out of ten, said doctors say it’s allergies, anyway, then point me to the appointment desk, where I can pay on my way out, hoping my debit card isn’t declined. (I don’t use credit cards, but that’s another post.)

Yesterday, a friend told me about a Health Truck (think Food Truck with Band-Aids instead of tacos) that goes around L.A., from TV studio lot to TV studio lot. Supposedly, if you don’t have insurance and work on such a lot, a doctor or nurse (I’m not quite sure) on the truck will see you for only $25, which sounded like the answer to my waiting game. The truck happened to be at my lot yesterday. I did a walk-by and I must admit: I was afraid to go in. I imagined the inside looking like a dilapidated motor home, bloody bandages on the floor like an L.A. emergency room I was once in.

I walked into my work and thanked my co-worker for the idea, but said I couldn’t do it. He nearly pushed me back out the door.

The nurse and doctor I saw were probably the nicest, most knowledgeable ones I’ve ever seen. They confirmed my suspicions: a sinus infection. At least I’ll take the right medications now instead of guessing between cold and sinus pills. They asked why I didn’t have health insurance, even though they knew the answer as several other patients had the same response as I did.

I can’t wait for the day I don’t have to worry about being rejected by health insurance providers as though I am waiting for college acceptance letters. That, or the day when no matter what job I take, it comes with insurance, no questions asked, and no wrong answers if they do ask.

In the meantime, I am grateful to Health Trucks like the one I went to yesterday.

Do you have health insurance? Through work or on your own? If not, what kind of clinics or doctors do you go to?

Thanks for reading!

And feel free to “Like” this post if you can relate to it.