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  • Bologna

    Once upon a time, my family took road trips. We lived in Colorado, and our family was in New York. I don't remember most of these road trips very well - I remember one trip feeling like it took foreeeeeever (apparently we drove straight from NY to CO without stopping) - I remember reading one of those Children's classics as we drove through Chicago - and I know that Kansas and Nebraska are the most boring states to drive through. 

    But I also remember the bologna incident. 

    On one road trip, my parents put me in charge of the cooler of food in the backseat. I was super excited about the idea of keeping people fed. It made me important - crucial to the success of our trip and happiness of my parents. 

    So I broke out the bologna and butter and offered my parents sandwiches - at like 8am. Maybe it was as late as 10. But it was definitely quite a bit before noon. My parents laughed and I sadly put the bologna back.

    But not the butter. I forgot about the butter.

    Some time later, we got out of the car, and I had smushed the stick of butter into the backseat, and all over my favorite afghan that my grandma made me. To make matters worse, I'm pretty sure this was the car we leased - as an adult, I can understand the extra horror of that. 

    I give my parents a lot of credit - they didn't get mad. I sobbed and sobbed because I felt so bad, having failed in my duty, made a mess, and buttered up my blanket. 

    To this day, when I see bologna, I can't help but think of that roadtrip. For everyone traveling over the holidays, may your trips be safe, merry, and butterless. 

  • Smelly

    There's something about the smell of books. Not EVERY book, but some books, for sure. To know whether it's a good book, you have to open it up and sniff it. Matt still chuckles when he catches me nose deep in a book. 

    Some plastics smell really good too, though I can't tell you offhand which ones. Probably whichever ones give you cancer.

    I've also always liked the smell of gasoline. Not, like, I would wear it or anything, and I'm pretty sure if I had to smell it all the time it would lose any appeal. But if I'm pumping gas and I get a good whiff, it's not all that bad.

    Now, when it comes to more 'normal' things to smell, I have to say that my tastes have changed. I've never liked super duper strong perfume, (you know, the stuff that when you smell it you go PHHHEW) but too long and it gives me a headache. Since we switched over to using more natural soaps, stuff like Bath and Body Works is really hit or miss. It's too strong, too artificial. 

    Citrus fruits are a good smell - though to rank them, it'd probably be orange, lemon, then grapefruit. Also, I like my orange juice with as much pulp as I can get. If I'm not chewing half of my orange juice, it's a wasted experience. 

    I like a good vanilla. It's a good, safe smell. If it's too artificial, it can be a bit weird, but it rarely makes me cringe.

    Spearmint is a smell that I like in soaps or gum, because it reminds me of my grandma. I don't know why, because it's not like she constantly had it on her. Maybe I was with her the first time I smelled it? I don't know. 

    Fruit smells in general are a winner for me, come to think of it. Maybe less so when it's grape or watermelon. I also never really understood the appeal of cucumber melon. That was a big one when I was in high school. But then again, I'm not really wild about cucumbers.

    One of my favorites though, done right, is lavender. That seems to be a real love it or hate it kind of smell. REAL lavender though, like what I find in the garden, is amazing. 

    Cinnamon, baked goods, also real winners. I will not be upset if I walk into your house and smell either. 

    What are some scents that you really like? Anything weird? 

  • I just can't handle

    9 Things I Just Can't Handle

    (just for fun. don't take this too seriously)

    9. When someone uses the microwave and leaves the display on the remaining time rather than actual time.

    8. Super smelly things in the morning. Like dog kibble. 

    7. Food in the sink. What was once spaghetti, once it touches the sink, is automatically gag worthy.

    6. When something should be working and isn't. Like the internet.

    5. Super adorable animals, SQUEEEEEE.

    4. When a movie or book has no character growth. 

    3. Ham. Ew.

    2. When people or things are late. 

    1. Dreary days. It's a struggle to even get out of bed. 

  • Retreading old hangouts

    Lately I've been thinking about what it would be like to return to a couple places I've lived. Places I haven't been for quite some time. 

    I've missed Colorado since the day we left, and I've never stopped wanting to see it again. I know that things are a lot different since we moved away almost 20 years ago. Google Earth tells me that the smallish town I lived in is much, much more developed. The field behind my house is now a subdivision, though we knew that was going to happen when we left. The population of Colorado has exploded since we left. 

    I know that things wouldn't be the same, but I can't shake the feeling of wanting to go back. To drive around Greeley and Evans, see what I remember. Go up to the mountains, because there's just nothing else like them. It's been long enough that Colorado doesn't feel like home - I don't really have the emotional attachment to it any more. It was a good memory, and I'd like to see it with my adult eyes. The downside is that Colorado is so far away, and it would require a decent bit of planning to pull that off. You know, like an actual vacation, like most people take from time to time. 

    I've also toyed with the idea of going back to visit New Jersey. I know. I know. I wanted to get out of there so bad that I agreed to go live in the arctic tundra of Michigan for eight years. There wasn't much I liked about living there. But I still think it would be fun to go back and visit. 

    The fact that I haven't had pizza that even comes close to as good as what was in Jersey MIGHT have something to do with it. Seriously, I've had dreams about driving up to New Jersey for pizza. 

    When I left New Jersey, I couldn't drive. Well, technically I could, but I was a huge chicken. I refused to drive on highways, and if you haven't been there, NJ has highways everywhere. I'd like to go back as the confident person I am now, and see how it stacks up. It can't be nearly as bad as I remember, right? 

    Will I take either of these trips? No idea. Seems like the only time I leave the state is to head up to Michigan. No offense, Michigan, but that same trip gets a little boring. I get a bit stir crazy. 

    Or hey, we could go to Disney World. I've never been there. That would be fun. ;) 

  • Our First Christmas Tree

    Our First Christmas Tree

    For the last ten years, we haven't had our own Christmas tree. It was hard to figure out where we would put one, and I wasn't too keen on the idea of storing one from year to year when we hadn't put down roots anywhere. (Odds that someone would steal the tree out of our basement storage?)

    But the biggest reason we gave was ten pounds or less. Aeris. We were sure that she would be all in a Christmas tree, knocking it over, eating things, causing havoc, and it just didn't seem worth it. 

    But this year we decided that we didn't care. There was a spot in our living room where we could technically fit a tree. Of course it would be a little bit inconvenient, but we could make it work for a month or so. Aeris probably wouldn't cause too much trouble with a tree, but Cuppie has Aery's curiosity x10, and almost no fear to slow her down. So it's not like we thought we'd fare better with this arrangement of animals. 

    I would rather have the memories of the things I did do, even if they are imperfect or inconvenient, than regret the things I didn't do. Hence, getting a tree. We didn't go for anything too expensive, and we bought minimal, shatterproof ornaments to keep it simple should this go south. 

    Does Buttercup like to chew on the tree branches? Absolutely. 
    Does she try to chew on the lights? Ugh. Yes. 
    Does she bat at the ornaments? Yeah, and it's pretty dog gone cute.

    So far, (knock on wood) the cats have actually been a lot better behaved than I thought. The tree hasn't tipped over yet. They all kinda take turns napping underneath the tree, and it's really cute.

    It feels cozy. It feels ... like Christmas. If the tree falls over, we'll put it back up. As long as no one gets hurt, I don't really care. But I'll tell you what, in a few years, Matt and I will be talking about the first Christmas where we had to say "Cuppie, nooooooo" about a dozen times a night. Each. 

  • A year without my girl

    A lot has changed in the last year. I've been reflecting on that fact as I think about this week a year ago. 

    On Sunday, Mikenna wasn't feeling very well. She'd been started on an antibiotic for a uti, and it's not like she didn't have a fair share of stomach problems anyway. Nothing too much to think about. Matt and I went for a walk at Peaks View Park - we'd never been there before, even though it's pretty close to our house. It was a really sunny, warm day. It was nice to get out of the house and shake off some of the stress that comes from taking care of someone. 

    Monday, she still wasn't feeling very good, but that wasn't too abnormal. Tuesday was election day, and I was starting to get worried about her. I placed a call to the vet about maybe changing her medicine, because I didn't think we could make it through two weeks of her being this sick to her stomach. That night was long as we stayed up to watch the election results. 

    Wednesday, I had agreed to help out at a health fair. I set up the booth for the humane society and chatted with people about volunteering for the animals. Several people mentioned that their animal died at 13. Something about it felt really foreboding, as I hadn't brought up Mikenna. By that night, I was very worried. She was so listless, not even drinking much water by that point, which is always a red flag. So we opted to take her to the emergency vet. You know what I was expecting? That they would give her some anti-nausea medicine and some fluids, and we'd take her to the regular vet in the morning. I figured we'd take her home and get her better. But as we sat there after midnight, exhausted and cold, it began to feel like it was worse. They were taking an awful long time with their tests. They wanted to keep her overnight, and said that her kidneys looked off. I was too tired for things to really sink in. I agreed to it in a haze and we went home to snatch a few hours of sleep before picking her up bright and early.

    Thursday morning, as the sun rose, we were driving back to the emergency vet to pick up our girl. The doctor came out and told us that she had not improved any over night and that we had to take her straight to our regular vet when they opened. When they brought her out to us, she stared, but didn't make any excited ear twitches or stretch out her paws for us. That's the moment it hit me that she was very very sick. She always got excited about seeing us. We could walk out the door and walk in a minute later and she was thrilled. 
    We walked into our regular vet and sat on the bench, holding her in my lap. The song "Chasing Cars" played over the radio.

    If I lay here
    If I just lay here
    Will you lie with me and just forget the world?

    Oh, how I wanted to just take her home and snuggle up with her. The vet came out and told us that they'd looked over her paperwork from the emergency vet. She definitely had pancreatitis and something was up with her kidneys - prepare ourselves, it did not look good. 

    We spent that morning and early afternoon trying to keep ourselves occupied. Matt and I shared stories with each other, talking about all the good and bad of Mikenna, how she had made our lives better, happier, more quirky. 

    When the vet finally called, it was everything I was afraid I'd hear. Pancreatitis, her kidneys were failing, and her heart. There was no way to treat all three of those things at the same time. Two of them, sure, but not all three. There was nothing that could be done. They recommended taking her home for one last night together. 

    That was the longest night of my life. I didn't want to sleep and miss a minute she had left, but going on a third nearly sleepless night, I was exhausted. I had expected that she would settle down and sleep, but she couldn't get comfortable. She was thirsty, but as her heart struggled, the blood wasn't circulating well and her tongue was turning black. She had a brief seizure because, as the vet warned us, blood wasn't making it all the way to her brain as it should. I told her over and over again that she had done well, and if she wanted to let go, she could. I wouldn't be mad. She'd done her best. We all had. 

    The sun eventually rose and Mikenna wanted to go outside. Of course she did. She loved the outside. We took her out there and she just sat. Didn't have the energy to do much else. But she seemed happy. Matt encouraged me to go grab my camera and take pictures of her. I didn't want to, but I'm glad I did. I treasure those pictures, even though they show a dog who was very, very sick. 

    Time went by too fast and too slow. I wanted her to just die at home, peacefully, so we wouldn't have to take her to the vet. I remember when they gave her that injection to knock her out, and I thought, she's never going to wake up again. Everything that we've done together, and this is it. She was so tired. 

    When I walked in the door after we had dropped her off at the humane society for cremation, it all hit me. Everything I had done to take care of her, to make her happy, it was all gone. It was like my calendar had been full and then suddenly wiped out. But it wasn't relief. 

    ---

    A year ago, I walked into the vet with a dying Mikenna, holding her tight, exhausted. 
    This year, on the same day, I'll walk into the vet with Buttercup and Vizzi for a checkup. The vet will tell me that they are adorable and perfectly healthy, and I'll tell her how well they get along with their older sisters, and we'll all smile and chuckle at them as they squeak in gentle protest. 

    This week has been heavy with grief, I admit. I had a dream the other night where she slathered me in kisses, and knowing I'll never have that again, that little paw holding my face still when I tried to move, puts a lump in my throat. 

    I thought about the ebb and flow of our family over the years. Koo & Aery; Koo, Aery & Gwen; Aery & Gwen; Aery, Buttercup, Gwen & Vizzi. Never has our family felt lacking. There's never been better or worse, just different. I've loved every version of our family. We've never lacked love or laughter, no matter what. 
    It hurts not to have Mikenna here. Were she here and healthy, she would enjoy chasing Cuppie and snuggling with Vizzi. But if she were here, they wouldn't be. (I love animals, but come on, I have my limits) Because she died, they have a chance to be in our family. Aeris gets to have kitty siblings who adore her as much as she did Mikenna, and even Gwen is amused with everyone. It's not better or worse, it's just different, and beautiful in it's own way. 

    I miss my little girl, and that's okay. I wish I didn't feel grief as much as I do, but I know that's not a bad thing. Although many holes have been filled with the kittens, no one runs up and pounces on me when I cry, the way Mikenna did. That, I admit, is the thing I miss the most right now. 

    A few weeks ago, I realized that the day the kittens were born (March 13) is also the day that my ashes ring arrived. Something about it feels significant. The day that the last bit of Mikenna's journey was finished, the kittens arrived. I think that's pretty cool, that there's a bigger picture, even when we can't see it and aren't looking for it.

    Here's to Mikenna, and to getting what you need and not necessarily what you're looking for. 

  • Ten years, we've been rusting...

    So Matt and I celebrated our tenth anniversary on Friday, the 7th. 

    It's funny, because it both feels like we've been married forever, and not long at all. Ten years sounds like a long time, but it doesn't feel like a long time in a negative way. I don't know how it goes for other people, but it feels like we've hit a nice stride. Worked out the kinks, and we understand ourselves and each other better. Not that things don't happen, but I feel like we're in a nice place.

    As I write this, Aeris is trying to play with the kittens. I'm not sure she's figured out that she's older than they are, and just bodyslammed the wall with such intensity that I asked her if she broke a rib. I think she's fine. 

    I used to wonder where we'd be if we'd made different decisions. I don't these days, and I haven't in a while. I don't know what the difference is, exactly. But I'm happy. If we'd never gotten married, we wouldn't have any of the four legged weirdos that currently live with us. (I'd have had Mikenna, because she came before Matt) There's great friends I'd have never met, adventures I never would have had, and I know I would be a different person without my anime loving husband. 

    I love our little family. If you'd told me when I got married that we'd end up with four cats, I'd have laughed at you. Don't get me wrong, I loved the cats I had growing up. But I didn't think I'd find cats to be the companions that I do now. Aeris has been a good gateway cat. I love that we live near my parents, and that we live in an area where the weather is nice the majority of the time. 

    While I could tell you a thousand things I love about Matt, I'll spare everyone the schmaltzy post. After ten years of marriage, I still hate to be away from him for very long, and I love when he smiles at me. I think that's pretty good. 

  • A year

    It's the end of a long (but good) day. I'm sitting in bed with my chromebook on my lap after having put in a couple Arbonne orders. The kittens are wandering around, looking just a little bit sleepy, so I think they'll find their place to sleep for the night soon. Matt's reading a comic, Aeris and Gwen are both asleep already. But I had to take a minute to acknowledge this day.

    Today marks a year since we found out Koo was sick. 

    It's a hard day in that, in the scheme of things, it marks the beginning of the end for our time with her. I find it hard to believe that just a year ago, she was walking around, panting with her little pink tongue hanging out, completely oblivious to everything the vet told us. Today, I look down at my ring that contains some of her ashes. It's not an easy thing to wrap your head around - she was this and now she is that

    Despite this being the official day of diagnosis, I knew in my heart something was wrong before then. Look, I'm not a shining example of a clear head when it comes to my animals. I fully admit that I once took Mikenna to the vet because she broke a toenail and I wasn't sure what to do and was afraid she'd broken it back too far and it would get infected. I stayed up many nights with her when her stomach didn't feel good, hoping that she was just uneasy and that we weren't looking at something like bloat. (Her breed wasn't predisposed to it, but I never ruled anything out) I walked around the apartment complex for one summer absolutely convinced she had westie lung disease. (Yes, that's a thing)

    This was different. This made all of those other things I'd worried about feel really insignificant. Part of me knew that whatever was wrong, this was the thing. I put off taking her to the vet for it, hoping that she would get better, that I would turn out to be paranoid again. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore. It was eating at me. My intuition was screaming at me, and when it's screaming at me WITH anxiety medicine, that's something. 

    I clung onto a little bit of hope that maybe it was allergies. Maybe it was a little respiratory bug. But deep down, I knew it wasn't. I have to admit, I wasn't thinking heart failure right off the bat. But I knew it was something bad. 

    Having gotten her so soon after our dog Max died, and her having been such a heal to my heart, it was never ever far from my mind that someday she would die. I spent her whole life afraid that I would do something to break her. When the time came that she was diagnosed with the thing that would be fatal, part of me felt like it was just the other shoe dropping. This is why I did not want to get another pet soon after losing her. I needed time to feel the grief in all it's horrible heaviness, because I had run from it last time. And you know what? The kittens weren't magical fixes. I still feel grief. I have days where her loss feels unbearably heavy. But having the kittens around restored some of that goofiness and life to the air that we'd lost with Mikenna. So I'd waited long enough - at least for kittens. Even if we didn't have the kittens, I can't fathom another dog right now. Honestly, I don't want one for several years. Any sooner feels dangerously close to a replacement for her, and I won't do that. 

    But that's quite the tangent. 

    Today, a year ago, really stunk. It was the beginning of the longest and shortest four (plus) months of our lives. But I'm still, and will forever be, glad that we had that summer. We got to wander around outside, I freed Mikenna of her leash, intentionally stayed home with her as much as possible, and lavished her with as much attention as she could stand. (and that threshold was quite high) The medicine gave her time where she was quite comfortable and happy, and that was good for all of us. It made it less grim, in a way, to have some good time with her, and yet be cognisant that it was precious. I've tried to hold onto that, moving forward. Whether you see it coming or not, our time with pets, loved ones, friends, all of it, is precious. Savor as much of it as you can, and store up a lifetime's worth of memories. 

    I miss her. If it were possible to have her here and have her healthy, I would wish for that in a heartbeat. But since I can't, I'll spread that love that I had for her around, into Gwen, Aery, Vizzi, Cuppie, and whomever else crosses my path. For a dog who never tempered her affection for us, I think that's the best way to carry her memory on. 

    There's a joke, or saying, or something, that there's only so much weight in the world, and it just redistributes between people. Maybe with Koo gone, there's no less love in the world, it's just spread out a little differently. Weird thought, but hey, it's after midnight. 

  • Joy and wild kittens

    I love the joy that the kittens bring to the family.

    The week Mikenna died is without a doubt, the worst week of my life so far. That whole week was just brutal. 

    It's nice to see that after such sorrow, we can have so much fun again. I love taking the kittens up to see my mom (even if they keep beating us at games of hide and go seek). I love watching them bolt around and pounce on each other, as well as curl up in the same perch and snuggle. I love that Vizzi has the loudest purr on a kitten that I can remember, and that he purrs at the slightest bit of affection from us. I love Cuppie's antics, that I REALLY never know what she's going to be up to, but it's going to make me laugh.

    It feels like my tears have finally (mostly, knock on wood) stopped. But that doesn't mean that I don't miss Mikenna. There hasn't been a day when I don't think of her. I can really only stand to wear rings on my left ring finger, which means I have to choose between my wedding ring and Mikenna's ring. I feel a little guilty about that, but Matt doesn't wear his wedding ring ever, so I probably shouldn't. I just like the thought that she gets to come with me when I go places. I'm fairly sure she'd be ticked that it wasn't an option when she was alive.

    But, looking through Facebook memories, I swear I can see Mikenna not feeling well in pictures taken even before her diagnosis, and I see it again towards the end. She just looks weary. And she had filled out quite a bit - partially because she had stopped throwing up so much (yay), but I don't doubt that it had a lot to do with fluid. I mean ... It's just that I knew her. And I can see in many of the pictures from her last six months, that westie spark was really diminished. Her intense spirit was there right until the end, but there was so much that we lost. I don't know how to describe it. 

    Nobody can take Mikenna's place, nor would I want them to. But the kittens have that energy and that spark that I've been missing for so long. It helps to have that again. It's not the same energy. This is brother-sister pounce on each other and run around kitten energy. It's not westie jump on you and maul you until your face is raw energy. But it's joyful. Neither of these kittens have been "tainted" by the grief of losing Mikenna. It's nice.

    I'm not sure any of that made sense, but there you go. Kittens good, miss Mikenna, life goes on. 

  • Onward, Cooper

    It has been a really busy week. I think saying "I haven't had time to breathe" is a bit of an exaggeration, but I've had something going on every day this week, which is pretty rare. 

    So it's only now that I'm getting a chance to sit down and talk about Cooper. He was my parents' dog, but he was certainly family to me. I count myself fortunate that we moved out here and I got to spend more time with him, because he was a funny little dude. 

    He would've been ten this year, same age as Aery, though a few months younger. He was smaller than Mikenna, with just as much personality - just a very different personality. Where Mikenna was solid and sturdy, he was light and delicate looking. She was brave, he wasn't. Mikenna made him nervous for years. Their relationship started where Cooper wouldn't be in the same room with her; by the end, he was comfortable in the same lap. He was more quiet than Mikenna, except where it came to food. They both had very strong opinions in that. 
    They may have been small white dogs, and very good dogs, but other than that, they were pretty much opposites.

    When Mikenna died back in November, Cooper became my surrogate dog. He'd sit on my lap and let me pet him and scratch him - a pretty big deal for a dog who was notoriously picky about being touched. He was comforting to me in a way that only dogs can be. I felt like he understood my sadness, and maybe he even shared in it. I felt like we bonded over the last six months. 

    So I find it incredibly unfair that he died. He was a good boy, and any dog that good deserves to live to the full extent of their projected lifespan - or for heavens sakes, at least hit the low end of the lifespan. 

    We don't know what happened, exactly. It's not my story to tell here. From my perspective, I assume there was something in his little body that we just didn't see. There's so much you can do in hindsight, and drive yourself crazy for it. I saw this, I did that, he shook his head three times - should I have said something? But it's all moot. He's gone. 

    Having never experienced a sudden death before, I can say this: it sucks. I wouldn't say that losing Mikenna was a pleasant experience, but at least I knew what was coming at the end of the road, even if I didn't know how short that road was. I wish I'd been able to smother Cooper and tell him exactly how loved he was, to say goodbye while he was still living. But I have to believe that he understood. 

    I miss him quite a bit. Every time I go upstairs, I hear his bark in my head. The world is an emptier place without him. I can only imagine how it feels for my parents. 

    These days, the kittens are a good reminder for me that life continues on. Grief can feel oppressive and endless, but when you're ready, there will always be others that can use your love. 

    Goodbye, Cooper buddy. Thanks for letting me be one of your inner circle of people. You will never, ever be forgotten.

  • Hello Again

    So where'd I leave off with this thing?

    This Friday, it will be eight weeks since Mikenna died. Eventually, I'll get to a point where I forget to count, where I don't glance at the clock on a Friday morning and remember what we were doing at that point. I'm not there yet.

    I am, however, doing a lot better. I had to go to the doctor for medicine refills anyway, so I was honest about how I'd been feeling. Our doctor had me try out another brain pill on top of what I'm already taking, and that has actually worked out well. I have times where I get sad, and that's okay. But the sadness no longer feels omnipresent. I can focus on things and gett hings done, and that's good. I do enjoy functioning, after all.

    The weird thing about this medicine is that it's also an appetite suppressant to a degree. I'm eating, don't get me wrong, but I'm eating a lot less, without a lot of effort. Usually cutting back on food is met with internal angst - I should forego that fourth piece of pizza, but oh man I don't want to. On this medicine, well, two is enough and I'm fine with that. I feel uncomfortably full faster, and I find I don't like that feeling, so I try not to get there. Basically, it's like dieting, but with all of the emotion removed. There are exceptions, but I'm kind of blase' about food. I'll eat whatever, because food needs to happen, but I don't feel like putting a lot of effort into it. Don't get me wrong though, I'll still shake people down for a good pizza. It just has to be a good pizza.

    My friends also started a C25K group (Couch to 5k), and there's a chart with names, and we get stickers for every day we complete. In an unexpected twist, I'm currently ahead of other people. I mean, it's not a competition, but it is running, so the fact that I'm not in last place shocks me on a daily basis. It reminds me of this clip from How I Met Your Mother.

     I'm not saying that running is easy or that I'm enjoying it. Every run, I'm challenged and muttering the entire time. But as far as motivation is concerned, I decided I was going to do the thing and I just haven't stopped. It just feels like a non-negotiable. (Whether it would feel non-negotiable if there weren't stickers involved, I don't know.)

    So, for the reasons above, I've shed some pounds. How much, I don't know, because I haven't stepped on a scale. It feels a little trite to be like, "OH WHOOPS I'M SO AMAZING I JUST ACCIDENTALLY LOST WEIGHT". I'm not trying to lose weight, it's just the result of what's been going on. I'm not saying it's unwelcome, either.

    A friend of mine, who may now be my favorite friend ever, pointed out all the places in my face that look thinner. Hey, I'll take it. I also need to get my hair done. I've been telling myself that if I held out until January, I could go get my hair cut and dyed. Now I'm kind of stalling on making the appointment because I hear we're supposed to get snow at the end of the week, and we all know how that word breaks my brain. (Clearly I was meant to live in the south)

    I've started reading and playing games again. I'm loving the living daylights out of This is Us. Every time I see somethig westie related in the wild, I choose to believe it's Mikenna's way of letting me know that she's with me. The kitties have been exceptionally good. Aeris has been super snuggly, and Gwen has been very present. She doesn't snuggle really, but as I write this, she's curled up next to me. That's all I want. They both seem happy, which is good. I had worried that Aeris would be devastated by losing her sister, which was part of my motivation for bringing Gwen into the fold. While they have a more antagonistic relationship than Koo and Aery, I do think not being alone has helped. I also feel like Aeris understood more about Mikenna being sick than I gave her credit for. About a month or so after Koo died, I noticed Aeris started bolting around the house like a little goofball. It startled me, because she hadn't done it in a while - I thought that was just something she was done with. But when I thought about it, she stopped within the last six months of Koo's life. She's been far more goofy and playful these last several weeks. Dog gone it, I think that cat knew. Whether she stopped because she didn't want to make Koo chase her, or if she was just slowly grieving Koo, I don't pretend to know. But I think she understood something.

    I pulled out my bullet journal yesterday, and one of the things on the last list I had made was "Koo vet Friday" back in June. That sums it up. Life, well, it didn't stop, but it took a sharp detour while we were caring for Koo. Now I'm slowly getting back on the path, but discovering that things aren't the same - I'm not the same - as when I left. Nothing wrong with that. But I feel present again. I feel like I'm back.

  • I'm trying to be fine

    My body feels incredibly high strung these days. It's weird, because mentally, I feel fine. (Most of the time, anyway) It's not like I'm constantly worried about Mikenna. She seems to be doing really well on her new diuretic combination, and I suspect the pain pills for her arthritis are doing some good, because she's been a lot more spry. But someone should get that message through to my body. My shoulders carry my tension, and I think you could break a board on them. I feel as though my body has been to a few too many haunted houses lately. A little jumpy, a little on edge, even though I really don't need to be. Anxiety is my husband walking in the room and saying "oh man, I forgot about the Jeep expenses we incurred last month." and my brain (very irrationally) wondering if we have enough for groceries this pay period.

    I've also got some wicked indigestion going on, but that might be from about 500 too many peanut butter cups lately.

    I don't want to take this to my doctor as a first line of help. I'm already at the maximum dosage for the medication I'm on, and I'm in no shape to play the "does this work better?" game with meds right now. Nor do I want to have to placate myself with xanax. I want to handle my stress in a healthy, reasonable way.

    It's time for a big dose of intentional self care. Mind you, sometimes self care is best applied as getting the crappy things done now so you feel better later.

    I ordered myself a couple pairs of cheap Zenni glasses because we keep talking about going to the eye doctor, but it keeps not happening. I lost my backup glasses some months ago (SERIOUSLY. How on earth do you lose a pair of glasses? This is embarrassing.) and I'm irrationally stressed out at the thought of losing my good pair. So I spent $30 to get a couple backup pairs, and that seems well worth the price for peace of mind.

    I'm part of a penpal group that I've pretty much failed to take advantage of. So I chucked my anxiety to the side long enough to explain my situation and ask if anyone wanted to be pen pals. I've gotten a few letters so far, and I love it. I love writing letters. I can definitely use positive distractions.

    Also, in the spirit of National Novel Writing Month, I'm going to take this month to challenge myself. I'm committing to exercising every day this month.

    I'm hoping that between these things, it'll be enough of a boost that my body and brain will CHILL OUT for a little bit. If not, well, I'm going to have to go to the doctor for a medicine refill next month anyway, so I'll just talk about it then.

  • Patience makes plants

    Patience makes plants

    If I were to list my virtues, patience wouldn't be at the top of the list. I can be patient. But if something breaks, or I want an answer, or I'm trying to make plans, that gets thrown right out the window and I need the answer NOW.

    So gardening makes that whole NOW thing kind of interesting.

    Over the last few months, I've bought some plants from Michigan Bulb. To my surprise, and it should not have been, they were less plants, more like preserved sticks. I am the Jon Snow of gardening, folks. I wasn't (and am still not!) sure how to plant these things. Do I cover them up all the way? Do I leave a little bit of stuff poking out?

    Never mind that it came with a planting guide. Sarah Snow here had no patience for that and couldn't figure it out immediately, so I decided to just wing it.

    And then I waited. And waited. And it rained. And rained.

    Finally, recently, I've started to see some signs of life, that I haven't utterly killed off everything I've tried to plant. The seedum up above? That looked like some glorified sticks when I planted it. Now look at it! All green and life-like!

    Here is one of my Astilbe plants. Should it keep growing, this little fella will turn into a big, bright, colorful bush.

    And this is some lavender, also looking less dead than expected.

    So, this applies to more than just gardening. Sometimes, well, often, I want things to hurry up and happen. If I've planted a metaphorical seed, I want it to spring up and give me results right away. If I exercise once, I want to be ten pounds lighter the next day. If I sit down to write once, I want to wake up to a fully fleshed out and beautiful novel.

    It doesn't work that way and while I know that, realizing that I am subconsciously expecting that is another thing altogether. Because realizing that I want results and knowing that I have to put in a lot of continuous effort leaves me with two choices:

    I can quit, because it's too much effort.

    Or I can choose to buckle down, have patience, and dig in.

    The path of least resistence is the one we most often take. The choice to make your goals important enough to dig in and work and wait - that takes courage and resilience.

    What will you pick?

  • Thirty

    Every year for my birthday, I write a little post on the subject. This is last year's post. (And that's as far back in the archives as I feel like going!)

    Some people get freaked out about turning thirty. I've had friends declare that thirty is the end. You're officially old at that point. I don't see it that way, but maybe that comes from growing up with my mom telling me that her thirties were better than her twenties. 

    I decided years ago that I wouldn't get freaked out about turning thirty. And I'm really not. If anything, it's just confusing to me, because thirty sounds very grown up, and I don't feel very grown up. 

    Maybe it's because I've always been a little too grown up, so the curve hasn't been as steep for me. I'm sure I've mentioned it somewhere before - my grandma called me an old soul because when I was 3, I would go around straightening the doilies and such. 
    I've never been drunk, never went out partying, and the first boy I dated, I married. 

    One of the most impulsive things I've ever done is to bring home a cat.

    Even that worked out okay.

    So on the one hand, I'm still surprised that the car dealership let us drive off the lot with a car two years ago (that sounds so adult!) and on the other, I love some wheel of fortune and jeopardy, which Matt says makes me old. 

    I thought by thirty, I would feel like a real true grown up. I didn't know that, at thirty, I would still feel as clueless about the world as I did at twenty. Sure, I'm a little more jaded, and I've learned a lot. Is this what adulthood is? Not knowing what you're doing, but paying the bills while you stumble along? 

    I've decided that my big truth of the year is that life keeps on rolling whether you actively participate or not. There's so much we can't control about life, and yet, things that we can. I may not be able to change whatever I'm genetically predisposed to, but I can exercise and eat well to stack the odds in my favor. I may not be able to build a successful business overnight, but if I'm patient, show up, and keep doing the work, something will happen. I find that I would rather take the chances, fall on my face, and try something else than to sit back and wait for the perfect sign. 

    That sign never comes. 

    So, here's to a new year, a new decade, and whatever life brings.

    But if it's all the same, I would be really happy not to revisit this.

    The whole two sprained ankles thing was definitely a low point in the year. 

  • Always a little grief

    Always a little grief

    Most of my dreams seem completely random, based on whatever I've been watching, reading, or happens to be crawling around in my brain somewhere. 

    But there are a few recurring themes that pop up every once in a while. One of those revolves around grief. 

    At some point during my dream, someone I've lost - usually a pet, but sometimes a grandparent - is alive again. My brain doesn't make a big deal about this at first. It's perfectly natural that Maggie is hanging out with Mikenna, Aeris, and Gwen. Duh. Or maybe we're at my grandma's house in upstate New York, and I'm showing Matt around. 

    But at some point, my brain starts to catch up with things. This isn't right. They shouldn't be here. I don't know why, and I actually resent my brain a little bit for it's desire to straighten this problem out. After all, I dream about all sorts of highly impossible things, why not let me have this? 
    Alas, there's always the shift. 

    Where I didn't notice it before, Hannah's hair is now patchy and she is very frail. Maggie is hiding and I know it's because she's dying. My grandma is lying in bed. I know that my time is short with them. 

    Mercifully, my brain always stops short of the actual death, but it's always emotionally jarring to go from being so happy to have someone, to understanding that they're going to die - again.

    Though as morbid and sad as this is, this is actually a bit of an upgrade, because for a very long time, I had dreams where we would realize that our dog, Max, had not actually died, but we had buried him in the backyard. So I would frantically run to the yard to dig him up before he suffocated. 
    OR, for whatever reason, I would dream that we had saved him from suffocating to death, but he was still sick with heart failure, so he was only going to die again soon anyway.

    Thanks brain. Thanks a LOT.

    If I could just have the parts of the dream where those I've loved are alive and well, I would love it. But as it is, I'm always sad when I wake up from those dreams. They're an emotional wringer, for sure. 

    But these dreams tell me that somewhere, I'm still grieving their losses. Max died in 2003, Maggie and my grandma, 2004, Hannah, 2005. It's been a while. Here and there, I've even dreamed about a dog, BJ, who died when I was no more than 5. 

    Does this mean that some part of us will always grieve losses? I don't know. Much as I hate these dreams, I'd rather have them and know that I remember them than to have forgotten them completely. 

  • Hitting the ground

    Hitting the ground

    On our way back from Michigan, we said - we are going to hit the ground running.

    We were tired, but excited to get back to our 'real lives'. Both of us felt antsy after not having gotten anything done on the projects we care most about. So when we got home, we were going to make it count.

    At least we had enthusiasm.

    It didn't go as planned. At all. Yes, we were tired, but left to our own devices, I think we could have pulled off a pretty strong week. What we didn't take into account were the trio of troublemakers we had left behind.

    This was one of the longer trips we've been away from them, and while they have my parents to care for them and keep them company, they clearly missed us.

    Aeris in particular is the vocal and clingy one of the three. Almost as soon as we walked in, she launched into a chorus of meows that lasted a good three days. Any time one of us would leave the house - or even her line of sight - she would launch back into her vocal objection session on our return. I can't translate cattish, though I imagine her tirade was something like this:

    HUMANS. YOU LEFT ME. YOU LEFT ME FOR MANY SLEEPS AND WAKES. YOU LEFT ME WITH SISTER CAT WHO DOES NOT WANT ME TO GET TOO CLOSE TO HER. BY THE WAY I AM SORRY ABOUT THE SCRATCHES ON HER NOSE. YOU LEFT ME WITH THE HUMAN WHO COMES TO FEED ME. BITING HIM DOES NOT BRING YOU HOME FASTER. I WAS VERY LONELY AND NOW YOU ARE HOME AND YOU HAVE A LOT OF PETTING TO MAKE UP FOR.

    On and on.

    She has also been extremely cuddly. As I write this, she is firmly wedged between my arms on the desk. I really think she has kept a mental tally of what she is owed and intends to collect on it.

    Even, and especially, in the middle of the night. She's been going back and forth, walking over us, meowing at us, curling up on us, then switching. A restful night's sleep? No.

    And then there's Mikenna, who has mysteriously (but I suppose not surprisingly) had stomach issues of the rather repugnant, startling, and behind kind. You don't leave her in a room alone because good heavens, that's probably when she will explode.

    Or as I made up earlier today: Every 1 D20 hours, she has bowel issues that do 1 D6 mental damage and 2 D10 carpet damage. You can attempt to make a perception check to get her outside in time and negate the carpet damage, but it's your perception versus her stealth, so you need have at least a 30.

    We're tired, the cat won't let us sleep, and the dog is sick pooping everywhere.

    It's also super rainy, which doesn't help me anyway.

    But we've tried. I mean, except for the night we got home, I've made supper every night, which is some sort of small miracle. It may not be hitting the ground running, but we didn't hit the ground and sprain both ankles.

    Sometimes you do the best you can with the cards you're dealt. It's not the ideal solution, but you do what you can.

  • The little garden that grew

    The little garden that grew

    I love the idea of plants and flowers. However, I am ... not exactly experienced, nor do I have a particularly good track record. But dog gone it, we have the space now, and I decided to try planting things in the ground this year. 

    The main things I had to keep in mind were the area I was planting in, (down the stairs is very sunny. up by the house is permashade.) and the ability to withstand deer. I had some decent luck with succulents last year, though they didn't really withstand winter because I moved them too far from the sun. Also, the stupid deer kept kicking over the containers. Vengeful little buggers. So I thought, maybe I'd have better luck with succulents in the ground.

    What you see above is actually the second batch of hens & chicks I planted. They're teeny tiny little things that I ordered, along with this stuff called dragons blood seedum. The seedum came in the form of these tiny little sticks that looked quite dead. I wasn't sure which end to stick in the ground to be honest. They're not very photogenic at this state, but I noticed this week that they're starting to get the teeny tiniest little bud leaves on them, so I think I haven't killed them! 

    These were the first hens and chicks I picked up. They're going to spread eventually - I hope. My plan is to kind of take over this one area, slowly get rid of the grass and plant hearty things. I'd show you a wider shot, but honestly, right now it looks like a lot of patchy grass, dirt, and dead things. I planted some more seedum, and that hasn't taken off yet, so it looks like a wilted weed. I also planted a couple bleeding hearts, and those just look like dead sticks.

    But eventually it'll look great. If it all doesn't die first.

    This is the same hens and chicks trio about three weeks after being planted. They're totally getting bigger, especially that little guy on the top left. 

    It's a fun little experiment. I won't lie - I'll be disappointed if nothing makes it through the year. But it looks like maybe - just maybe - things are going to take hold. Someday, I'd like to try out vegetables, but that will take a lot more effort than the succulents. I'm not ready to wage war with the deer just yet. 

  • An evening with Elton

    An evening with Elton

    Growing up, I remember my dad putting on cds and turning them up. The two artists I most closely associate with my dad are Elton John and Billy Joel. His love for them, and for music in general, definitely rubbed off on me.

    Back in November, I saw via our local news that Elton John was going to be in Roanoke in March. So I thought, wouldn't it be amazing to take my dad to see Elton John in concert? My dad has been to a lot of concerts, but I had no idea that he'd never seen Elton John! I mean, sometimes I feel like you can't turn on a 70's station without my dad saying, "Oh, I saw them in concert at ...." 

    So I was even more excited when tickets weren't prohibitively expensive. I gave them to him on Christmas (it's a miracle that I waited that long - I am terrible at waiting to give presents) as an early birthday present. 

    Friday was, finally, the day of the concert. Having had the tickets for so long, it felt like it was this nebulous thing that would supposedly happen, but not really. 

    I have to say, it was an amazing show. Elton John is an amazing pianist and musician. Sometimes I'll watch someone who is good at their craft and feel inspired to do it myself. Not so with Elton John. Watching him on the piano, I thought, no, he can rock the piano. I'll go be good at something else. 

    He played a great selection of songs - most of which I was familiar with, all of which my dad knew. He even included some songs that definitely weren't hits, but that my dad knew and loved. I won't lie, it made me feel like it was a concert tailored just for my dad. 

    My dad went to several concerts with me for my favorite bands when I was a teenager. I can't tell you how happy I am to have taken him to a concert for one of his favorite artists. Seriously, words escape me. That night is going to live long in my memory.

    Now, I just need to cross my fingers for Billy Joel to make his way over here.

  • Springing Along

    Springing Along

    Finally, even if it's not officially spring, it's starting to really feel like it. 

    I know, at least some of you are probably thinking, "Come on, you had such a mild winter. It snowed what, twice? How can you possibly be excited about spring?"

    But there's something different about this. Warm days in winter feel like an anomaly. You can't feel fully excited about them, because behind each warm day lurks the possibility of a frozen disaster to make up for it. Even when it's warm in winter, it's still winter.

    But now the birds are singing in the morning. Little flowers are starting to poke through the ground, and stores are selling spring and summer furniture in full force. Even the warmth feels different. It feels like it's here to stay. It feels optimistic. 

    I've started taking Koo outside to sit on the swing with me. She loves being outside with every fiber of her little westie soul. Left to her own devices though, she would wander into mud and tall grass where she really shouldn't go - if for no other reason than I have zero desire to spend the rest of the day picking ticks off of her. 

    The swing is a good compromise. She gets to be outside, she gets to be close to me (trust me, she loves that) and I don't have to spend the whole time saying, "KOO, NO." 

    So I bought a couple outdoor pillows to make it a little more fun out there. It might have been a waste of money. I don't know. But I'm really excited about little things like outdoor pillows and bird feeders and pots of plants - the things I never got to have in our apartment.

    We've been doing something that resembles spring cleaning. We're re-organizing, bit by bit, finding things that we can donate or part with in another way. Dusting, deep cleaning the floors. Breathing new life into our living area. 

    It's nice. Spring has always been my favorite season. It feels like a new beginning each year, a celebration of having survived winter. Even in a relatively mild winter, it still feels like a victory. 

  • The Leggings Rebellion

    The Leggings Rebellion

    I've been super self conscious for almost as long as I can remember. I stopped wearing shorts in my early teens because I thought my legs looked too fat. Last summer was the first time in my adult life that I felt brave enough to wear shorts on a regular basis (in public, no less!) and it was glorious

    But I still hate clothes shopping for the most part, and I use clothes to hide my body whenever possible. It's rare that I find clothes that I like, feel flattering and comfortable, and that I'm willing to spend money on. I kid you not, it's painful for me to pay more than $8.99 for a t-shirt. 

    Then again, if you don't think very highly of your body, you're not going to put much effort into dressing it, are you?

    The first time I heard of LuLaRoe leggings, someone mentioned that they were thinking about having a party. I tuned out almost immediately, because I figured that if they were a clothing brand that catered to my smaller friends, I had no stake in this conversation.

    Some months later, I saw my friend Kate in a pair of these leggings, and she looked great! And for some reason, that gave my brain permission. If she could rock comfortable, pretty leggings, and she isn't a size 6, maybe I could too.

    So I've been rocking the LuLaRoe leggings for a few weeks now. They are absolutely the most comfortable pants I've ever worn. They're nice and thick without being sweltering, and they're so, so soft. There's something about the feeling of the fabric hugging my legs (especially my calves) that I actually really like - and I never would have guessed that. I imagine it's the same kind of comfort some people get from weighted blankets. 

    I won't lie, I feel very self-conscious. I don't wear loud clothes, and the most comfortable act of standing out for me is in dying my hair fun colors. But I ... I find that I'm starting to not care what others may think. I love these comfortable leggings. I love that something is bright and pretty and that I can wear it. These leggings make me feel a little more like me. I didn't know that clothes could do that. 

    The fourteen year old me who dressed almost exclusively in black to shy away from being noticed would be shocked at this turn of events. But I kinda love it.

  • Control Freak

    I think I'm something of a control freak. I wouldn't have used those words to define myself, normally. I consider myself laid back, who can roll with the punches. Control freaks are people who are mean and demanding and definitely not me.

    Except, well, I am definitely not laid back. Maybe I look like I'm laid back, sometimes, but inside, I'm screaming.

    "Let's play it by ear" is a phrase that makes my chest tighten. Because when I hear that phrase, I hear "You can't make plans. You'll have to sit around waiting on someone else to decide what is happening." and I haaaaate that.

    But let me rewind a little bit.

    Maybe I should have caught onto my "less than flexible" personality when I started describing "lateness" as one of my top pet peeves.

    I've been trying to work through why certain things make my anxiety flare up. I'm not going to say that I've been the bane of Matt's existence lately, but I kind of feel like it. We've been having a lot of conversations of the "what is bothering you?" variety, and I feel like we both just walk away more frustrated by the end of it. My answers are always the same, and so are his, and so we end up at an impasse, because I really don't think that a medicine adjustment is what I need, and sometimes I feel like my neuroses are too stupid for a counselor.

    But one of these conversations ended with an epiphany. A lot of the things that really cause me to panic are things that I cannot control, cannot hope to control.

    Plans that change at the last minute (note: my definition of last minute varies greatly) drive me bonkers. I had a plan and that plan has changed and my brain cannot cope with that.

    The weather causes me a lot of grief. I can't control whether it snows, and so it makes it hard to plan around it. Even if I make the plans, the weather can change! I suspect that I don't like winter driving because I don't feel like I have enough control of the car.

    I love plans. Even if I don't follow them to a T, I love the idea of plans. It stresses me out when I have plans and they follow apart. I love traveling, but I also hate it, because it means that I am outside of my routine, that the time period before and after traveling is also going to be chaotic.

    My planners need planners. Really.

    I find comfort in routine, in knowing what to expect. I think I'm happiest when I have a plan for the day before I go to bed. It's not that I can't be flexible. It depends on how married to the plan at hand I am. If someone were to call me up and interrupt my house cleaning plans, I'll be out the door before the dust hits the floor.

    I don't know. Does knowing how much my brain likes plans and knowing what to expect mean that I should lighten up? Does it mean that I can embrace it, and choose to be more mindful? Can I prevent anxiety by recognizing why I'm bothered in the first place?

    Food for thought. Speaking of food, I realize that I forgot to get the bread dough out of the freezer this morning, so my supper plans are now out the window. Huh.

  • Weird Ways I've Woken Up, Part 2

    Weird Ways I've Woken Up, Part 2

    This isn't a case of having my leg just dangling off the bed. No. I've woken up with my leg bent, foot actually planted on the floor, like I was in the process of getting up. However, the rest of me is completely on the bed, in a somewhat sensible way.

    Where is my leg trying to go?!?

  • Weird Ways I've Woken Up, Part 1

    Weird Ways I've Woken Up, Part 1

    I see those "how do you sleep?" quizzes, and I can't help but wonder if those are based on actual people. I mean, okay, sometimes I wake up on my side with my hands curled like in the pictures, but I also apparently do some nighttime yoga. (And it's not always Mikenna's fault)

    Like the other night, I woke up like the drawing above. Knees bent, hips open, on my back, arms above my head, feet together.

    I don't find Matt in these weirdo positions. He's always tucked neatly on his side or his back. What gives?

  • AWOT: The good and the bad

    AWOT: The good and the bad

    I know what I want to say, but I'm having trouble finding the words. Maybe I should stop staying up so late to write.

    (I've started staying up a few hours later than my normal bedtime to be able to take Koo out once or twice. As of the night I wrote this, I still can't hobble out of bed quick enough to take her out when she whines - once I'm in bed, I kinda have to stay there. But if I stay up a bit later, Matt gets at least a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, though I'm hoping now that Koo is feeling better post-surgery, she'll start sleeping better again.)

    I'm grateful for the things that haven't come easy. How's that? Or maybe it's that I'm grateful for things that happened as a result of something not-so-great happening first.

    I spent quite a bit of this year struggling to find the right anti-anxiety medicine. Part of me feels like I "lost" about six months of the year, due to either being too sleepy to function or dealing with other side effects. It was a real struggle, because all of this not only messes with your body, but your mind as well. Sometimes it felt like things were only going to continue to get worse, and that I was too broken to find something that worked. To be frank, if the medicine I'm on now hadn't worked, I may have asked to either go back to the first medicine I was on, or to try going without. It was awful.
    But, this medicine works for me - works really well, as a matter of fact. I think I experience a little more drowsiness than I would without any medicine in my system, but it's nothing I can't shake off if I need to. (Or, hey, sometimes I just indulge in a nap - especially on weekends.)
    The funny thing about anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medicine, they don't make you actively happier. You don't start twirling around the room singing to bluebirds on the window and seeing rainbows everywhere. (In fact, if you do, maybe you should call your doctor) It works more like a defrost setting in your car. You feel something approaching normal - though this can be a strange feeling, because if you've struggled with anxiety or depression for any length of time, you have to figure out what "normal" is.
    This can also make periods where you actually feel sad or upset extra distressing, because you're not sure if the medicine has stopped working. You have to re-learn how to deal with emotions, to an extent. This is where, again, I think the defrost analogy works pretty well. You still have these emotions, but you can see clearly enough to deal with them in a healthier manner, or sort through your needs, and so on.
    I'm at a really GOOD place emotionally, I feel, and it's been a hard fought battle.

    There's this little calico cat sleeping peacefully next to me on the couch tonight. A year ago, I didn't know she existed, and now I don't know how she hasn't been with us all along. I don't like that she had to wait so long for a family, but sometimes I wonder if she was always meant to be ours. Alternatively, if she had to wait so long for a family, I guess it had to be a good one.
    But getting her to this point where she spends almost all her time with us, plays with us, talks to us constantly, and enjoys being touched, has required a lot of patience and love. At times, I really thought we had taken in a cat who would be more of a visitor that we had to remember to feed.
    It was clear from the day we got home that she was friendly and had the potential to be social. But whatever she's been through made her really guarded about accepting us as hers. She always loved to see us and obviously enjoyed affection and food - but she always seemed a little surprised when we had special food for her, or came to the back room just to see her.
    Then we went away to Michigan, and when we came back, boom! GWEN. I'm not sure what clicked for her. Was it that we left and came back, so she figured that we were the real deal? Or that she really missed us and wanted to show us? I dont know. It's probably less complex than that, along the lines of "hey, your half of the house is better climate controlled." ...But I like to think that she had some big epiphany about love.
    I'm glad we didn't give up on her. I'm glad we didn't pass her by in the first place! She is so much fun, and such a treasure.

    To some extent, I'm even grateful for my sprained ankles, though I can say that I haven't seen the bigger picture yet. It sure has made me slow down and appreciate time with my three furry cuddlebugs. It's helped me to see Matt at his best and realize what a compassionate caretaker he is. It's given us a lot of time together, and we've picked up a hobby (gaming together) that we haven't touched in quite a while. I'm also (VERY) grateful that nothing was broken...so it's a relatively minor inconvenience in the scheme of things for a lot of love. I'll take it - and I have a feeling that I'll appreciate exercise all the more when I'm able to get back into it.

    So, all that said, through a lot of reflecting, I have a lot to be grateful for, and many things that I haven't written about here.

    I hope you all have a good Thanksgiving, however you're celebrating it. Happy Thanksgiving a month late to my Canadian friends.

    Take care of yourselves.

  • AWOT: My teachers

    AWOT: My teachers

    My girls are constantly teaching me patience and peace. I managed to raise two of the most stubborn animals ever to walk the earth. (They're also incredibly affectionate.) They want what they want and when they want it and they are not the least bit shy about it. They teach me over and over again that getting upset at them for having needs (and expressing them strongly) is never going to work. It's better to try and understand them, watch their body language and be pre-emptive where I can.
    Mikenna is always going to be prone to distraction outside. Getting upset with her only makes her more distracted, which doesn't help anything. Better to look at the stars or, if nothing else, appreciate that she is here with me, than to get upset over what I can't change.
    Aeris likes to hop on my desk hutch and one by one, smack my bobbleheads from the top. Getting a motion detector aerosol can ended with me getting sprayed more than her, and with her panicking and knocking even more things off. There is no lesson here as far as I can tell, other than my cat is either a jerk or a scientist, and either way ... I still love her.

    Gwen has taught me many things in her time here. She has taught me how one can really blossom when in a home where there is love and security. I had read before getting her that some cats may be more sensitive to yelling because of prior abuse. So I knew that I really had to be more patient with my other two. (That makes me sound like I yell a lot. I really don't. I just didn't want Gwen to be afraid of any abuse from us!) Wanting to model good behavior for Gwen made me think twice before getting annoyed at things. And I think it was a good thing. Gwen has shown a few signs that make me think she was ill treated, and she definitely does not like loud noises. She practically begs Mikenna to stop barking when Koo gets on a shrill streak.
    She has also taught me that love can be simple - a warm home and food made her happier than most. What looks like love to one is not necessarily love to another - Gwen does. not. like. to. be. held. Attempting to love her in this way is NOT love as far as she is concerned. But she lights up when you acknowledge her when she meows at you.
    Love takes time - Only in the past couple months have we seen Gwen really blossom into a confident cat. I have loved her so much from the day we brought her home, but she needed more time to feel okay. We didn't give up on her, and now ... such a difference!

    I've learned many things about food, nutrition, and culture through the books I've read over the last few months. It can be incredibly complicated, but there is one thing that is clear: Food is loaded with emotional and cultural baggage. We make people feel bad for what they eat, when they eat, how they eat, and then act surprised when they turn up with eating disorders or, best case scenario, a lot of mental baggage. Me? I am still paranoid to eat around other people, because I am afraid that they are judging me. Either the fat girl is eating too much, or the fat girl is trying to be skinny and not eating very much. I can't win with those thoughts!
    I've been working very hard to take away my own stigmas around food, and to discover for myself how I like to eat. It's a lot to go into, too much for a portion of a post. But I've found that I like to keep things simple. I want to know in advance what I'm going to eat when I get up in the morning, not leave it to whim. I need foods that are almost brainless in the afternoon, because I want to be thinking about other things. I like more elaborate suppers, but again, I need to know in advance what I'm doing, or it will fall apart. I love the crockpot, and I think cheese is largely a waste of time when used as an ingredient. (Give me a piece of good sharp cheddar on it's own however - yum!) Most importantly, what works for me may not work for you, and there is no right answer. Also, nutritional science is really biased and broken. :drops mic:

    Through Gretchen Rubin's books, I've learned that happiness involves a mixture of actions and intentions, and we have to figure out how to make those things line up. Happiness is both easy and complicated, and habits are not one size fits all. I've learned that happiness can be increased by many small actions, and as a counterpoint, a bunch of little things can really drain us.

    At the gym, I've learned that I actually really like weight machines! I enjoy pushing myself, slowly, and while maybe I'm not regular enough to see great results, I love the time to think about nothing else. Also: I hate ellipticals and if I never have to step on one again, I'd prefer that.

    Our friends' kids show me that everything can be really cool, and really overwhelming, and watching them grow up makes me realize just how fast time moves. Six months ago, our friends' little boy referred to Matt and I by the same name - MattSarah - and now we have separate names.

    I love that there are lessons to be learned everywhere, if you look for them. Life is not static, and learning doesn't stop just because the formal classes do.

  • AWOT: Adulting things

    I think I'm going to dump all of those really mundane "adult things" into one post of gratitude.

    I'm grateful for our health insurance from the company Matt works for. There were several years where we either had crummy insurance through another company or a super wow high deductible when we paid on our own. The end result was that we didn't go to doctors much because of the fear of the deductible. We seem to have lived through it alright, but we've been able to do things like get Matt allergy testing and weekly allergy shots, get physical therapy, and other things that we would NOT have done under our previous insurance. I don't have to be afraid to get things taken care of! What a relief, let me tell you.

    I'm grateful for our Casper mattress. No, really. That bed is worth so many more pennies than we paid for it. It is so very comfortable and quiet - a latex and foam blend. Plus, it was super affordable compared to other mattresses of that type. I have ZERO complaints about that mattress. My only lament is that I don't have anywhere to sneak a twin sized mattress for nights when ... Well, actually, Matt doesn't really snore much since we've taken care of his allergies. I guess I'd like a spare mattress to send Matt to when I feel like sprawling out.

    I'm grateful that Matt drives less. He was putting an insane amount of miles on our cars with his commute to work in Michigan. When we got our fuel efficient Focus, he was filling up 2-3 times a week, depending on how much extra driving we did. (It was every other day in the Jeep, on a much larger tank!) We had to get oil changes every six weeks, and the wear and tear that puts on a car is not fun. Now, we go about two weeks between fillups, and we change the oil at reasonable intervals. WHEW.

    I'm grateful that the gym and kroger are two to three minutes away, depending on how long it takes me to make a left turn. It's not that we lived super far from grocery stores in Michigan - it was ten to fifteen minutes to Meijer, depending on traffic and lights. But when you discover that you accidentally bought parsley instead of cilantro, or that your vegetable broth was already opened (ew!), it's so nice to have a store so close. It takes the drama out of cooking.

    I'm extremely grateful to have my parents so close. When I fell and sprained my ankles, I had Matt run upstairs to get them. Not only were they emotionally supportive, but they helped get me into the car when I couldn't walk. I love seeing them as often as I do, and I love the little things we do, like exchanging leftovers or baked goods. My life feels complete with them around.

    I'm grateful that Matt is allowed to work remotely. I'm so grateful that he was allowed to keep his job in Michigan and work down here. That has saved us (me) so much stress I can't even begin to tell you. Sometimes it's less than fun when Koo decides that she really needs to bark while he's in a meeting, or you know, sometimes it just feels like our apartment is a little too small, but overall - so grateful. Plus, I don't know what I would have done being confined to the couch if he weren't here. (Okay, in all likelihood, I would have had Matt take Mikenna upstairs for my parents to watch and had him leave me a stash of food next to the couch, but still, he made things so much better!)

    I'm also grateful for that walking trail not too far from our house. I haven't been able to use it lately, but I like knowing that it's there when my ankles are back up to par - or spring, whichever comes first.

  • AWOT: Communities and friendships

    As I've grown up, I've realized that we don't just fall into friendships and groups the way we do when we're kids. We don't have parents getting us together for playdates, we don't have recess and lunchtime at school. We don't have girl scouts, choir, gymnastics, or any other number of activities that put us in contact with like minded peers.

    Even if we do get out and manage to carve out time for a hobby between work and sleep, it's not the same. My kids may not be sick, but yours are - cancelled. Boss called me into work - cancelled. Wife's car broke down - cancelled. Adulting can be so tedious, and not really condusive to seeing people you like, let alone meeting new people.

    If we aren't careful, if we don't work at it, we will find ourselves feeling lonely, isolated. A good analogy for this - an almost perfect analogy, actually - is the Sims. If your sim doesn't make the effort to call their friends, invite them over, or at least write letters, the relationships will degrade over time. Best friends become friends who become acquaintances. Over time, our social bars go from green to red because whether we acknowledge it or not, "social" really IS a need. It doesn't look the same for everybody - some people need constant contact with people and others need it once in a blue moon. Most of us fall somewhere inbetween.

    But I digress.

    My point is, realizing that relationships aren't magic things that maintain themselves has made me appreciate the ones I have even more. That's not to say that I'm the best at following through on my intentions, but I'm working on that.

    I remember when I was a kid, I wasn't a big fan of writing letters. It had a lot to do with the fact that my handwriting was terrible - being left handed meant that I smeared words and my sentences tended to slope downward and off the page if there weren't lines. (I don't know if the sloping is a left handed thing, actually, but it was the bane of my writing existence for many years) I also couldn't think of what to write about. I've got a handful of really good penpals now - some friends outside the penpal relationship, others that I only know as penpals - and I really enjoy hearing from them all! Letter writing feels like this crazy, mundane thing. When you write back and forth to people, you realize that not a lot of exciting things happen on a regular basis to write about. So you end up talking about this one trip to the grocery store, or some random thought you had. And yet, when people write to me about these things, I get great enjoyment out of it.

    I find that the people I see somewhat regularly, the ones where we both make an effort to see one another, not only do I really look forward to these gatherings, but I value them like a precious metal. Nothing short of spraining both ankles is going to keep me from dinner twice a month with the M's and the P's. 

    But even for the people I don't see as often, because of distance or chaos, taking some time to say hi, or let them know that I'm thinking of them - something! - makes me appreciate them more. When I don't let days just fly by, I remember that I've got some really incredible, thoughtful, funny, smart, creative people in my life.

    I'm so grateful for what each person in my life adds, because I know that they make my life more rich and exciting. I wouldn't be who I am without the people who've been there along the way.  

  • AWOT: Where I live

    AWOT: Where I live

    I love where I live. I could probably stop there, but we all I know I'm a person of many words, so I won't.

    It's beautiful out here. The weather alone is something I rave about. Coming from Michigan, I make it an extra point to be grateful for the lack of snow. Virginia is not perfectly snowless, but the weather is warmer enough that it makes a huge difference. It's also a lot more sunny. I've said for a few years that I believe dreary weather really slows me down, and oddly enough, I notice the effect more now that dreary days are pretty few and far between. I thought it would be the opposite!

    Since living in Colorado, I've been a devotee of mountains, and it brings me insane amounts of joy to look out onto the horizon and see mountains again. I hope that I never get sick of it. I'll be honest and say that these mountains aren't nearly as amazing as the Rockies, but I don't see myself living out west again any time soon. So.

    People are more friendly out here. Sometimes, a little too friendly. I just want to grab my bag and go, and Matt and the cashier are chatting about something. But on the whole, it's nice. Maybe it's because in Michigan, so many people are jaded by the ups and downs of the auto industry. Maybe in Michigan, their hearts are just frozen by all those -25 wind chills. Maybe it's just a cultural thing. Whatever the reason, not everyone is super friendly, but a lot of people are.

    While we live in a city, it isn't much of a drive to get out into some rural, gorgeous areas. I didn't realize how fast the transition really is until I went wine tasting with my sister in law this past weekend. I don't think we were ten minutes past downtown Lynchburg when suddenly, we were surrounded by trees. There's a lot of farm country just to the (insert appropriate direction here, I'm not even going to try because I am so bad at directions) of us. A lot of vineyards, surprisingly. I want to make it a point, this upcoming year, to get out of Lynchburg more often and see what's around. It seems like there is a lot to be explored!

    I also appreciate that living in Lynchburg doesn't freak me out. Now, part of it - not to beat a dead horse - is that I'm finally on anxiety medicine that really seems to work for me. But this area and my circumstances really are a lot better for me. Matt used to drive around 80 miles a day for work, on highways, with lots of really heinous drivers. I considered it something of a miracle when he walked in the door every day - tenfold when the weather was questionable. Crime rates in Lynchburg are lower. Not exactly non-existant, but Lynchburg is no where near the top ten murder cities in America. It also helps that we are living in a house now. I remember in our apartment in Grand Blanc, sometimes I thought that a drunken neighbor or friend of a neighbor was going to try and kick down our door. Look, I'm not saying it was an entirely rational thought, but when enough things go bump in the night, your mind starts to make up scenarios. These days, it's usually Aeris knocking my Pop figurings off the top of my desk. Brat.

    Last, and certainly not least - I live near my parents. That big gaping hole in my heart finally mended. Not only do I have everyone together, we have more than I expected in the form of Gwen. My cup runneth over.

  • AWOT: My partner in crime

    AWOT: My partner in crime

    AWOT stands for "A week of thanks". These are the clever things one comes up with at 1 in the morning.

    This post is about my Matt.

    For the past couple weeks, he's been my caretaker, and a very wonderful one at that. Not once has he complained about having to do something for me, and he proactively asks me if there's anything that I need or want. He has been far more kind and understanding than I would be in his shoes.

    In fact, I think, when he broke his pinky toe about five years ago, my actual words may have been, "Oh it's not broken, suck it up."

    I may be a fairly decent day to day wife, but I am not a good infirm wife. I can be really good at being a caretaker for a little while, and then I'm like oh my gosh, people, take care of yourselves I am DONE. If Matt has had a similar thought, he hasn't betrayed it. In fact, he smiles, smiles when he goes and grabs me something from the fridge. He's made special trips to the grocery store for me! Sometimes I think this man is a walking saint.

    He's been especially good because all this time, Mikenna has been on medicine for infections and/or getting teeth pulled. So she's been a bit of a pain in the butt, and he's had to deal with her. He's dealing with her a little less now that I'm more mobile, but I still can't spring out of bed if she needs me. (Well, okay, maybe I could spring out of bed, but it would not end well.)

    I sometimes joke that I could ask for a better husband, but there isn't one.

    I love that he loves our girls so very much. He's not only allowed two cats (that he is allergic to) to live with him, but he loves them. Our girls are as important to him as they are to me, and I can't express how much that means to me. I didn't know that it was an important attribute, but I can't imagine being married to someone who didn't love our girls as much as he does. He not only cares about their wellbeing, but he wants them to be happy, and he goes out of his way to make them comfortable and to love them up.

    Matt and I share quite a few interests, and we've exposed each other to things over the years, such that a lot of our hobbies are shared. For years, he could have used DnD as an excuse for a guys night, but no, he wanted to his wife to play too. I wouldn't have minded, but I had a great time because of that! There are things we love - like video games - that we enjoy both individually and as a couple. I love that he and I share so much of the same language. We never run out of things to talk about.

    But even the things we don't both do, or if we're not both interested in them at the same time, I couldn't ask for a more supportive partner. Sometimes I feel like there is nothing that he wouldn't do for me, so I had better be careful what I ask for. I'm not sure if this is true, but the fact that he makes me feel so special is a gift itself.

    He is smart, compassionate, and more courageous than he gives himself credit for. I'm sure that there are many people in the world that I could have married and been happy with, but I can't imagine that anyone would make me as happy as Matt. I can tell when he looks at me that he adores me, and that still amazes me. He always makes me want to be not a better person, but the best possible version of myself.

    I'd say that I love him to the moon and back, but we both find that saying kinda creepy after the tv show Wentworth, so instead, I'll just say that I love him.

  • This is what I have learned while having sprained ankles

    This is what I have learned while having sprained ankles

    Let's start with the most obvious lesson: If you're going to insist on spraining your ankle, try to keep it to one ankle at a time. This should probably go without saying, but if I can help just one person learn from my folly, it's worth it.

    Sub lesson to the above: Getting around with two sprained ankles is harder than one sprained ankle. Look, even if spending a TON of time on the couch and having someone cater to your every whim sounds amazing, you are going to have to get up and use the bathroom. At that point, you have to bear weight on your ankles, and one of them is going to have to bear more weight than the other. When you've sprained both of them, it's like the opposite of playing favorites - it's a game of which of you ankles do I want to cause more pain to?

    Being catered to gets old. Look, I haven't had to fetch my own drink in days. If I want a blanket, I just have to yell for one. I even got my husband to wash my hair for me when I couldn't support myself enough to shower, but was feeling like a greaseball. But it gets old. When you call your husband to grab a book for you, and then remember that you left your glasses in the office, so you have to call him again...you really just want to hop up and grab them yourself.

    Also: You will get tired of being catered to, decide to get things yourself, and then your husband will chase you around the house saying, "USE YOUR CRUTCHES!"

    Your house gets dirty ten times faster when you're couchbound. I don't even understand it. It's not like I'm walking around and doing things that make messes. My husband gave me a can of tuna and crackers for lunch - why is the sink full of dishes?  There is some sort of unnamed law of physics going on here. There has to be.

    Food you didn't cook is the best food. Maybe you're picky. I'm not. To make life easier, I've been living off of things like cereal and tuna so that Matt doesn't have to cook for me while he's working. We've had a couple people bring over meals for us, and let me tell you, they were some of the best meals ever. They were warm, and filling, and they felt extravagant.

    Things that sounded perfectly reasonable pre-accident now sound like terrible ideas. I didn't know I was going to do some epic ankle parkour when I scheduled Mikenna's tooth extraction, or when Matt's sister planned her trip to see us. But suddenly, I've got this crying dog slobbering blood and peeing on the bed because she's too doped up to care, and my house is actively getting messier and I can't clean anything further than arm's reach.
    I can sit here and cry and bemoan my fate, or I can accept that this sucks, but it is what it is. Life happens and life is rarely neat and tidy. And there's not really a good time to injure yourself.

    You do a ton more than you think you do. When people ask me things like, "So what do you do during the day?" or "What did you do this week?" my brain shuts down and I think nothing, I did absolutely nothing!
    WELL. Having immobilized myself, I realize that this is untrue. I do a lot of cooking, and apparently more cleaning than I give myself credit for. I also run all the errands. I buy things like animal food, and I keep track so that we don't run out of paper towels. It's not that Matt couldn't do these things, it's just that he's got his own routine and responsibilities, and suddenly he was saddled with an entire other person's responsibilities. The well-oiled machine gets interrupted, and there are malfunctions all over the place.
    Just go with the flow, nothing's broken, it'll be okay eventually.

    That said, people don't do things the way you do. Matt prefers to swoop in, wash a few dishes, and then wash a few more next time he walks through the kitchen. Me? Barring the need for something to soak, I prefer to get them all done at once. I like to get the laundry sorted as soon as it's done. Matt gets his clothes put away within a day or two. I could hem and haw at him to do things the way I like to see them done, but what good does that do? He's getting them done when I physically can't. Good enough.

    The little things. Okay, so that's not really a lesson. But here's the thing: Matt brings me a drink when I don't ask him to, and that makes me so happy. He pre-emptively brings my tablet over to the couch so I don't need to ask for it. I SO appreciate his thoughtful gestures, and that he does these things with a smile!
    I miss getting out of bed without having to try out my right ankle a few different ways to see what hurts the least. The weather was gorgeous a few days ago, and I couldn't take advantage of it. But I've gotten to spend a lot of time snuggling with my pets, and watching Boston Legal.
    My mom has brought my mail to me, rather than me sending Matt up to get it.

    It's the little things that are easy to overlook, but if we take the time to recognize them, can mean so much.

  • A progression

    Until sometime after I was married (I can't remember when, exactly) I did not leave the house without makeup. I was simply too self-conscious. These days, I'm no longer that worried about it. I wear makeup, but only if I feel like it. To me, makeup is not much different from painting, except that I get to be the canvas.

    I've been experimenting a little bit with before and after pictures, and thought I'd share the ones I took today.

    As an aside, I didn't mean to look progressively happier as the pictures went on. I just think I underestimated how sleepy I was in the first one!

    Hair as I woke up with it, no makeup.

    Hair after a few minutes with the flat iron - still no makeup.

    After hair and makeup.

    I'm not sure what takeaway there is here, if anything. We all look good and bad, depending on context? Makeup is fun? I think we all look pretty haggard in the morning?

    Anyway, most of my makeup (*except eyeliner and mascara, which are arbonne) is from Geek Chic Cosmetics, if you're interested. Not an affiliate link or anything, just sharing the love.

  • Beauty from pain

    Music has to connect with me on one of two levels. Either it has to "sound good", in that inexplicable way that makes me feel like I'm bursting with life while listening to Beethoven's 9th Symphony...Or it has to connect with me lyrically.

    There's this old Superchick song that is the latter and something I still think of when things hurt more than I can comprehend.

    Some days, it's a motto to cling to like a life raft. There will be beauty from pain, because I can't bear the thought that this pain have no purpose, or continue forever.

    Other days, it's a more of a battle cry. There will be beauty from pain if I have to drive around the world and find it myself.

    This song popped up at a really rough time for me. In the space of about 18 months, I lost one of the most important people in my life to ALS, and all three of the animals I had grown up with. I know to some, the animals would be inconsequential. But they're what I had in lieu of siblings. I was also a teenager, so there was also the normal teenage heartache and drama that makes everything feel so very hard.

    I still appreciate this song.

    Here I am at the end of me
    Trying to hold to what I can't see
    I've forgot how to hope
    This night's been so long
    I cling to your promise
    There will be a dawn

    After all this has passed
    I still will remain
    After I've cried my last
    There will beauty from pain
    Though it won't be today
    Someday I'll hope again
    And there will be beauty from pain

     

  • Self Care When You're By Yourself

    I've noticed that self care is really important when you don't have anyone else to pick up the slack for you. Even more so when there are other living things depending on you.

    I'm not always very good at remembering to feed myself, and some days, food just sounds icky. So, it's not entirely uncommon for Matt to come home from work to find out that the total of my food consumption for the day was a piece of toast and two mini peanut butter cups or something ridiculous. In these scenarios, he's pretty quick to pick up the slack for me. Was it just that I was busy? Is there no food in the house? Did nothing sound good? He diagnoses the problem and then remedies it with some sort of food.

    Well, lo and behold, when you live by yourself, the magical food fairy doesn't exist to help you. So I'm forced to deal with food issues myself - or even better, prevent them in the first place.

    I function a lot better when things are clean and (somewhat) organized. While Matt's not around to leave his guitars in the middle of the living room floor, he's also not cleaning the toilet or litter box. If I want something done, I really truly have to do it myself.

    Maybe that all sounds funny, because the truth is, I've always done most of the animal care and housework stuff anyway. I'm not really doing much more than I've ever done, but there's a weird mental shift when you realize that there's no one to tag if you need a little help.

    Last night, I wanted to stay up and write, to hit my word count for the day. But I was tired, and knew that it would take me quite a while to write in that state. I also knew that Aeris has been fond of a 5:30 wake up call lately. There's no Matt right now to go deal with Aeris for me. So I have to make sure I'm awake enough to deal with her, which means going to bed when I'm tired.

    The girls are going to want to be fed, loved, and clean whether I'm any of those things. But it's so much easier to take care of them, when I'm sure that I'm taking care of me, too. When there's no one else around, making that mental shift to take care of yourself first is even more important. Right now, without me, nothing will get done.

  • I'm Dreaming of a Baptist High School

    For the second time this week, I had a dream about being back in high school.

    What qualifies as a 'recurring' dream? Is it just the theme, or does it have to be literally having the same dream over and over again? I have the 'back in high school' dreams fairly often - not usually twice in a week, but often enough. They're always a little bit different, but there are elements that pop up often in them:

    - Worrying that I don't have my gym uniform. There was nothing worse than opening up your locker or backpack and realizing that you'd left your gym clothes at home because you'd needed to wash them. You couldn't participate, and thus, your grade would get docked. So in my dreams, I'm often worrying about the status of my gym clothes.

    - Realizing I don't have the right clothes on. This goes hand in hand with the gym uniform. Often, in these dreams, my brain realizes that I'm going back to school after some extended period of time. So I don't always have the required 3 button polo shirt and denim or kahki skirt. In the dream I had earlier this week, I was wearing a pair of jeans, so I solved the problem by walking with my knees together to simulate wearing a skirt. Dream logic.

    - What class am I in? I never know what my class schedule is supposed to be, so it seems like I spend a lot of dream time wandering halls. Sometimes, I arbitrarily pick a class, like the dream where I decided to go to art. Other times, I find that I've been assigned to something, such as an advanced math class that I had no business being in. At least my brain usually feels pretty confident that I'll remember the material.

    - I'm sure the school will let me graduate a third time. I guess my brain needs to rationalize still being in high school at 28. So for whatever reason, the story seems to be that the school didn't mind me coming back for classes over and over again, and since I've graduated once, that's why it's okay that I woke up this morning and realized I hadn't been to school in a very long time. But hey, since I usually see other classmates in my dreams, it must not be so weird.

    So, this most recent dream I had, I was wandering the halls, trying to figure out what class I was supposed to be in. I came to my old civics classroom, and I realized that was where I needed to be, but I overheard the teacher say that there was a test that day - and I knew that, due to my poor attendance, I would know nothing. But I decided to do the right thing and take the test anyway. In the end, what I remember from the dream is less about the test, and more about breaking down crying in the middle of the test because I knew I was going to miss that teacher.

    I wouldn't say my experience with high school was overly traumatic. I was a girl that was generally well liked, but not popular. People seemed willing to chat with me at school, but never remembered me when it was time to make plans on the weekends. But I loved learning, so that's what I focused on. I loved a lot of my teachers. I used to go up to my Spanish teacher's room occasionally and have lunch with her. There were some teachers that I felt like I got along with better than the students, and other teachers that I just liked or admired.

    It's just, much like today, I realize that just because I think very fondly of someone doesn't mean that I'm very good at expressing it. I feel like it would be weird, after ten years, to contact some of my old teachers and tell them just how much I loved them and their classes, but the thought has crossed my mind. Oddly enough, I don't lament not keeping in contact with many of my classmates - but the teachers! - man, I'd happily go to a reunion just to talk to them.

    Yes, I was totally the kid who reminded the teacher that we'd had homework due. Sorry.

  • On My Own

    I've never really been 'on my own' like this before. You would think, being someone who has stayed home our entire marriage, that this wouldn't be a shock to me. But it is, and I'm surprised.
    Whereas before, I could put things off 'until Matt got home' to help me, I just have to do it myself. If I'm in the middle of doing the dishes and Mikenna decides that she needs her food right then, I can't ask Matt to hop up and placate her for me. I've taken up litterbox duties, which I've never done before (and it sets off my gag reflex a little more each day), and spiders in the shower? My problem.

    But it's not just about delegating the things I don't want to do. There's no one to laugh with me at Aeris when she does something goofy. It's ... a more quiet existence, not living with another person.

    Without someone for my routine to revolve around, I'm forced to find my own. I can't say much about that so far, as I don't think we've really found a routine yet. Mikenna isn't whining at me at night, despite being unmedicated, which is good. I started struggling with some seasonal allergies shortly after getting here, and now I think I've caught a cold, so I've been tired, stuffy, and a little bit unpleasant.

    It's not easy, starting over, figuring everything out all over again. I don't particularly like it. I wish Matt were here, and that we were sorting through these messy boxes together.

    But I'll admit, there are some perks. I can sleep anywhere on the bed I want - assuming the animals let me. I can sit in bed and work on my novel, without being concerned that I'm keeping Matt awake. I can buy any food I want, without worrying about Matt's preferences. I ate beets tonight...that was kinda nice.

  • I'm Alive

    I'm alive and writing from the beautiful state of Virginia.

    The girls and I are settling in - slowly, but surely. Aeris is spending most of her time out in the open, except for when she's feeling like an introvert (and that I understand), and no longer cowering in corners. Mikenna is taking all of this like a fish in water, but she seems happy and content. There's a bed and a couch that she can sleep on at-will, so I'm pretty sure she has everything her heart desires.

    As for me - well, I'm living in various boxes and bags. I'm choosing to unpack slowly and mindfully, so that I don't scare Aeris by making too many changes in one day, and so that I'm not just shoving things in places where they really shouldn't be. In order to truly take care of things, I need a couple of things to be done around here and to pick up a desk. Then, I think things will really start falling into place.

    In the meantime though, I'm content. I've got two happy, snuggly animals, and a surplus of blankets. I understand that Michigan got some snow the other night, so I feel that I got out of there just in time.

    I don't know what the future holds, but I know everything is going to be fine.

    In the meantime, I started plunking away at a new NaNoWriMo project today. It's really nice to knock some of the rust off of my gears and start moving again. Things are falling into place, slowly, but surely.

  • About ALS

    About ALS

    Unless you've been under a rock for the last few weeks, you've heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

    One of the main criticisms I've heard about the challenge is that people are participating in the challenge - perhaps even donating - but not learning anything about the cause. So I'm here to fix that. Here is what you need to know about ALS:

    ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gherig's Disease. It is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor neurons. In human speak, it is a disease that weakens the muscles in the body, and it does not get better.

    There is no cure for ALS. People generally live between two and five years after onset of the disease - though rarely, people may live longer, like Stephen Hawking.

    ALS is not contageous, and it typically does not run in families. (ALS that runs in families makes up 2% of all cases)

    One of the most common symptoms of ALS is a progressive weakness in one or more limbs. About 25% of cases are "bulbar onset" ALS, where symptoms include difficulty speaking (including slurred speech), or swallowing.

    While there is no 'easy' way to die, having watched my grandma go through this, I believe that ALS is one of the absolute worst diseases. In almost all cases, your mind remains in tact while your body slowly stops working. One day you can't swallow your food as well. Then your speech is too slurred to be understood. Since you can no longer chew, you have to receive nutrition other ways. Things start to slip from your hands, and your sluggish feet trip over the edges of carpet.

    Eventually, you'll be bedridden because your muscles can no longer support you to stand. As your hand dexterity goes, you won't be able to communicate by paper or keyboard, either. Then, the muscles in your respiratory system will be weakened, and you'll need to be hooked up to a ventilator.

    You are stuck as a prisoner in your body as it deteriorates, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

    As difficult as it is to watch, I cannot imagine what it's like to live it. I would not wish ALS on the worst person in the world.

    I think everyone has their own 'pet causes' at different points in life. Some of us deeply care about diabetes research, clean water, human trafficking, or animal welfare. The hope of people not having to die from ALS is one the causes closest to my heart.

    If you can, and would like to make a donation to the ALS Association, here is a handy link to do so, here.

    Now, whether you feel compelled to dump a bucket of ice water on your head or not, you know what the cause behind the ice bucket challenge is all about. Please spread the information on to anyone you might think needs it.

  • The Writer in her Natural Habitat

    The Writer in her Natural Habitat

    I got new glasses last week. It only took me three years after losing my last pair (which I'd had for about ten years at that point) to get new ones. Oops. They're primarily for computer and reading. I think they look sassy.

    Also, ear buds are totally a necessity when your spouse is in bed and you want to listen to a music. Unless you're someone who likes to keep them up by blaring 80's music through your computer. I'm actually not against that, but I have a feeling I wouldn't like the payback.

  • Changes

    Changes

    So, I'm packing up and moving to Lynchburg, Virginia early next month.

    Phew. Got that out of the way. So how are things going with you?

    Oh...You want some explanation, don't you?

    Well, anyone who knows me too well shouldn't be too stunned about this decision. It's where my parents live, and I've spent the last eight years missing them incredibly. The area is gorgeous, and as a bonus, one of Matt's close friends lives there as well.

    Oh, and their winters resemble living on Hoth 90% less. Major selling point after last year. I'm still traumatized.

    The current plan is for me to move down there, fix us up a place to live, find a job, start a proper photography business, and work on novels. I'm going to have my work cut out for me, which is why Matt is staying put in Michigan until next spring.

    It's intimidating. It feels crazy. It's terrifying.

    But it also feels like the best decision we've ever made.

  • Weddings are nerve wracking

    Weddings are nerve wracking

    This weekend, I had a wedding to photograph. In the days leading up to the event, the weather forecast was doom and gloom.

    Rain. Thunderstorms.

    Nothing anyone wants on their wedding day - especially when their wedding is outdoors! I don't know how the bride and groom felt, but their photographers were biting their nails.

    We actually lucked out. The rain held off, and it was pretty sunny up until halfway through the family portraits after the ceremony. It turned out to be a beautiful day, which I never would have expected based on the forecast.

    But here's a secret: All weddings, indoor, outdoor, for friends or strangers, large or small, extravagant or simple, are nerve-wracking. I will have at least one nightmare in the weeks before a wedding - whether it's dropping my camera on concrete and watching it shatter into thousands of pieces, or waking up at the time I was supposed to leave.

    It is an incredible honor to photograph such an important occasion for people, and I don't take that job lightly. I strive to do my best - even if that means I carry an excessive amount of batteries for my flashes!

    But in a way, I'm actually grateful for every case of pre-wedding jitters. It means that I will be focused. I will check every piece of equipment, I will pack my bags ahead of time, and I will check everything again before I leave. A wedding isn't just a job to me, it's people trusting me with capturing this once-in-a-lifetime day for them.

    If being nervous beforehand means that I will keep a sharp eye out for every way I can capture that wedding, then bring it on.

  • Seven years ago...

    Seven years ago...

    I married this boy on a really hot July day in a church with no air conditioning.

    And then

    we had

    the best party

    ever.

    Good times.

    Happy anniversary, hon. I love you.

  • Missing you.

    Missing you.

    I'm missing my family today.

    I miss playing board games with them, and seeing how my dad gets goof and competitive while my mom, like me, wants to keep the peace.

    I miss watching my parents affection and laughter with each other. I miss being on the receiving end of their hugs.

    I miss my dad's stories, of which he always has several. I miss my mom's attempts to dote on Matt, because he is totally her little boy.

    I miss how Mikenna scares the living daylights out of my parents' dog, Cooper, just by existing. I miss how serene Mikenna is out there, without strange people coming in and out all the time.

    I also miss Virginia itself, to tell the truth.

    I miss the mountains. Oh, how I love mountains! I love the warmth and the sunshine, and the quietness.

    I miss Rita's Water Ice, and the authentic Philly cheesesteak place down there.

    I miss our friends and their adorable little guy.

    On a particularly gray day here in Michigan, I'm definitely having vacation hangover.

  • Twenty-eight

    Earlier this week, I found myself sitting in this little hole in the wall restaurant in downtown Lynchburg with my dad, waiting on what claimed to be an authentic philadelphia cheesesteak. It crossed my mind that the whole situation was funny. I live in Michigan, am sitting in Virginia, waiting on a cheesesteak because I spent time in New Jersey. I love the mountains of Virginia because I lived in Colorado, but really, I was born in New York. I thought, wow, I've been all over. That's actually pretty neat.

    Since then, I've been chewing over how experiences, and how we deal with them, make us who we are...make us unique.

    Aside from the various locations I've lived in, I'm also an only child. For me, this means that I'm incredibly tight with my parents, and that I'm pretty good at entertaining myself. I've always been incredibly good at 'make believe', which I think is the reason I love writing so much.

    My dad taught me to use his film canon camera when I was a young teenager, and I became enamored with taking pictures. I was the girl lugging around said camera, staring out the windows for good pictures of the Philadelphia skyline on field trips.

    I stopped eating ham when, at a very young age, my uncle told me where ham came from. As a big fan of Charlotte's Web, I was traumatized. I loved ham before that, and to this day, I really don't.

    In lieu of siblings, I've had animals. These pets wound up being more of a constant in my life than friends or locations. I have a huge heart for my pets.

    I love rollercoasters, because my dad, even though he was afraid, made it sound like he was having the time of his life when we went on them. Conversely, I really don't like ferris wheels, because the ones at Elitch Gardens in the 90's were the big bucket type. There was nothing to strap you in, and so the swaying scared the living daylights out of me.

    You see my point. So much of what we do, who we are, is shaped by other things, other people. It's neat. Even if you meet people who come from similar upbringings, have similar interests, they're still not exactly like you. The good things and the bad come together to make us.

    So, here's to twenty-eight years worth of experiences. May whatever I experience this year make me an even more interesting person for the years to come.

  • PenguiPeople

    PenguiPeople

    This weekend, I had the honor (no, really!) of working the Shasta Cafe at Penguicon. That makes it sound fancier than it was. All I really did was stock a lot of pop for four digits worth of very thirsty people.

    There were times, early Saturday afternoon, where we were going through a 12 pack of pop every few minutes. It was not an easy job, trying to keep the pop stocked and cold, but it was rewarding. However, that's not why I'm writing about it.

    I had a lot of time to stand there and watch people. I'm not sure what the actual breakdown is for Penguicon, but there is a huge variety of people there. Tall, short, fat, thin, shy, loud - people who dressed in elaborate costumes and people who shuffled around in ninja turtle pajama pants. Matt and I went to an anime convention a few years ago, and while we had a good time, we honestly felt like we were creeping on high schoolers. Penguicon wasn't like that at all.

    There was something I noticed over time. There were teenagers who would skulk up to a table, slowly grab a water bottle, and fade away as if they'd never existed at all. But there were also teenagers who would march right up to the table, bubbly as can be, and chat with us for a few minutes about what a great time they were having before taking their pop, thanking us, and going on their way. There were folks who were so annoyed when we didn't have the one very specific pop they were looking for, and people who would shrug, laugh, and grab a Diet Dr Pepper instead.

    In all the waves of people I saw over the weekend, I couldn't find a single stereotype that actually held up. If someone was nice, passive aggressive, chatty or silent, it was the individual, not any label of appearance, age, sex, or race I could have put on them.

    I met so many very nice people this weekend, whose names I never found out. There was the ribbon fairy, who stopped to excitedly show off the marshmallow catapult she bought for her son. And the man who would stop by for a diet pop twice a day to take his meds with, because he was "addicted to life!" as he joked. Several people, who stopped just to say what a fantastic idea the cafe was, because it made grabbing a drink so much easier than fighting through consuite. (I can't take credit for that. I just kept the pop coming.) So many great people, all just swinging by for free pop while on their way to the next panel.

    It was a great time.

  • Life.

    For years, I've been scrambling to catch up, to get to this mythical place of where I "should" be. I can't tell you what this place is or what it looks like, because I never clearly defined it.

    Not knowing where you're going, but feeling like you're always in the wrong spot is a terrible feeling.

    Depression and anxiety make it so difficult to get a tangible grasp on things and make positive changes because your mind is screaming at you that it doesn't matter anyway.

    The last few months have been much better in that regard. They're not perfect - I've come to realize and accept that there will be days, weeks, perhaps even months where I need to take very good care of myself and be okay with just that. I'm now looking at the ability to make plans not just for the moment, but for the next few years.

    Oh, I don't expect that things will actually go according to plan. They rarely do.

    But this is where the recent design posts, and launching of my shop have come in. Writing is my long run game. It's the thing that I will be working on quietly in the background. But I need something where I can see the payoff of my work in fewer than five or ten years.

    There's been a lot of conversations, a lot of soul searching - and it's been productive! I've actually put something out there for you to look at, to share, to buy, for the first time in a very long time. That's a brave thing for me, and a big step.

    Go work on something that you 'keep meaning to do' but don't. It doesn't have to be anything life changing - I can vouch for the fact that organizing your washcloths and towels can be really satisfying when I've got the organization bug. Just ... go. Do something. Make this day count.

  • A Random, 1 am musing

    The last couple weeks have been so topsy turvy around here. First there was all the car shopping and getting the mustang taken care of. As a result of having two functioning cars, Matt has re-worked his schedule in something of a drastic way.

    I think it's going to work out really well for him, which is great. I really appreciate the sacrifices of sleep and time that he's made for me.

    But it impacts me in a few different ways. For one, I was basically sleeping until almost halfway through his workday. Now I'm getting up around the time he leaves for work, which as a stay at home person, makes my day feel way longer. I was also staying up until between 1-2 am, because I was getting most of my work done after he went to bed. But he's staying up until 11 or 12:30, which doesn't give me as much time to get things done - so I might as well start trying to get things done during the day.

    None of it's bad, it's just ... different. Who knows if this schedule will stick, or if we'll end up going to something completely different in a few months. We're just both trying to find a new groove, here.

    I was going to say something totally different, but this is what my fingers typed out ... good enough for now!

  • The Sweetest Gesture

    The Sweetest Gesture

    I got the call today that my mustang will be picked up either today or tomorrow. I had it mostly cleaned out, and it's not like I didn't know this was coming. But still, I had to run out to the car, finish clearing out the trunk and strip the license plate off.

    On the way, I let Matt know what was going on, and he offered to come home. I appreciate that, since I'm not a big fan of having to deal with people by myself...and I highly suspect that I will be a blubbering mess when the time comes.

    I finished up what I needed to and plunked myself in the driver's seat, which is where Matt found me blubbering when he got home. He opened the door, and handed me a frosty. "Mind if I join you?" he asked. I slid the license plate off of the seat and he climbed in.

    We sat there with the radio on, chatting and eating, and then he put his arm around my shoulders and we just sat for a minute.

    I didn't know it before, but I think that's the best way to say goodbye to a car. A loved one, conversation, and frostys.

    Thanks, hon. You're the best.

  • Focus.

    Focus.

    We found 'the car' today. I'm relieved, because I've spent the last few weeks car searching and researching, and that's just an emotionally exhausting process for me. I mean, I actually kind of geek out about cars, but it's the process of replacing my beloved Mustang that has made this difficult.

    My mustang was my first car. It was my grandfather's car. I learned to drive in it. I got my first flat tire in it when I ran over a curb in the Target parking lot. I drove around with Mikenna in the car, her little westie head hanging out the window, taking in the breeze. I drove it back and forth to school, and then to my first grownup job. I sat out in the parking lot and ate my lunches alone. This car brought me out to Michigan, and helped me keep my sanity while I bounded up and down the back roads, windows down.

    This car has done well, and I am genuinely glad that I get to retire it with dignity rather than having it break down on the side of the road.

    I wish I could say that the new car was mine ... but it's really not. It's mostly Matt's, because it has fantastic gas mileage. I get the Jeep for now, until we decide to turn that in. I don't have any particular love for the Jeep, but I love what it gives me - freedom.

    I can leave the house at will again. I can have lunch with friends, I can go see movies, I can take Mikenna to the dog park. I can get my hair cut, or go to the bookstore, or run errands by myself. It gives Matt flexibility in his schedule as well, and these things are incredibly valuable.

    I feel like we're taken care of. Everything is going to be okay. And for a person with anxiety and depression, that's a great feeling.

  • Whatever is good...

    Whatever is good...

    Periodically, I re-think what surrounds me, what I take in. Lately, I've been feeling more sensitive to negative things.

    Not that we don't all need to vent once in a while. I do it, and it can be nice to find community and support when you're in the middle of anxiety or just a tough day. Sometimes we go through tough seasons in our lives, and even that is different.

    I'm talking about the people who seem to go out of their way to find something to complain about, or the people who add an undue amount of bitterness and snark to everything they say. The people who, well, don't really add anything positive to the world.

    There is already so much hurt and pain in the world. I don't find myself wanting to be surrounded by even more negativity. I'm trying to seek out things that make me happy, that give me energy, that inspire me.

    At the risk of sounding a little durpy, I think that there are things in the world that drain you, and things that sustain you. Being surrounded by too many draining things is, well, really depleting. I find myself jaded and cynical about life, and that's just not how I want to be. But when I find the things that make me happy, not only am I in a better mood, but I have the energy to help others who aren't feeling so great.

    I'm not in the business of telling you what to do ... but maybe take a look at what kind of streams you're letting in via your social media consumption. Are they adding anything positive or meaningful (and enjoyment itself can be counted as a positive thing!) to your day, or are they draining? Are they really worth your time?

  • #100HappyDays:1

    #100HappyDays:1

    I've seen this hashtag, #100happydays, floating around a bit over the last couple of months.

    There's even a website for it, apparently ... which I probably should have guessed, but didn't.

    Basically, you take a picture of something that makes you happy for 100 days. Simple. The point is, really, just to take more notice of the good things around you. Even though I highly suspect 50% or more of them will be animal pictures, I decided to do it anyway. (Because my friend Shauna is doing it, and so I felt subliminal peer pressure)

    ALL that to say:

    I had tea today. I tried Adagio's "Inara" Firefly inspired blend. It was really good. Had some great spice smell to it, but was also mildly sweet. Tea tastes so much better when you stop oversteeping it.

  • When the 'Suckies' Strike

    At the end of the year, for the past few years, I've filled out Leonie Dawson's Incredible Life workbook. I really like them for a few reasons - I like looking back on what happened over the year, and setting goals for the next year. It makes me feel like I have some purpose and direction, even if my year ends up wildly different than I plan for. (And when doesn't it?)

    One of the pages is a list you fill out, for things to do "In case the suckies strike". Usually, I fill it out, admire it for being a very good list, and then don't look at it again until a year later. But this year, I cut it out and taped it to my desk. Because I have a little bit of everything taped to my desk, it seems.

    Here's my list:

    • Take a nap
    • Go for a walk
    • Go read
    • Take a shower
    • Write it out
    • Eat something
    • Talk to someone

    I think it does a pretty good job of addressing some of the underlying causes of why I might be upset at any given time - being tired, being hungry, or bored. It aims to remove me from the situation and distract me by giving me something else to focus on. It seems to work. It's not foolproof, but if I can focus enough to pick something and not stew, it's pretty successful.

    What would your list look like?

  • When to let go

    When to let go

    We're talking about retiring my car. Again.

    We talked about it back in the summer of 2009, but ultimately decided that the car had some life left in it. But this time ... This time feels different.

    My car is a 1991 Mustang that my maternal grandfather originally bought. It's been in the family ever since. When it became my mom's car, she nicknamed it "Larry Boy", and that's how I referred to it until a couple of years ago. Since then, it's just been "the mustang".

    It's not that I don't like the nickname "Larry Boy", it's that the subject of my car is intensely emotional for me, and in trying to take away the name, I've tried to take away some of the emotional ties.

    You're probably thinking, it's a car. Who gets worked up about a car? And it's not just that it's a car - it's that it was my grandfather's last car, and my first. It's the little, low mileage car that for years got me random slips of paper in the window, asking if I'd consider selling. It's the car I learned to drive in, and the reason I had a nasty farmer's tan on my wedding day - because I absentmindedly drive around with the windows down all spring, music playing, letting the sun warm my skin.

    But it's also an old car, and Michigan winters have not been kind to it. I've been limited by money and knowledge in keeping the car up, and now it's just a little too far out of my grasp. I could tell you everything that's wrong with it, but suffice to say, it's technically drivable, but I don't know for how long, and I can't in good conscience call it safe.

    This car has been a source of anxiety for me for a few years now, since we discovered that the transmission leaks. Despite constantly carrying a bottle of trans fluid with me, the bumps and knocks have seemed more ominous, and the check engine light feels like one of doom.

    I've tried to console myself with the idea that if it were truly a dangerous car, one of the people in my life who knows more about cars than I do would have told me so, and to stop driving it. But my gut screams whenever I drive it. I thought that anxiety medicine would lessen the fear, but it hasn't. What good is it to hang onto a car if driving it puts you close to a panic attack every time? At this point, it's a sentimental object, and not particularly useful.

    Over the last few months, I've had these dreams where I'll be driving the car, or I'll send Matt to go open it up for me, and the car runs beautifully. I don't have any anxiety, and I know the car's safe. When I wake up, and it hits me that this isn't the case, I'm even more disappointed.

    Because of the extremely cold winter we've had here, I haven't been able to get my car doors open since before Christmas. They've been frozen shut this whole time. I'm not even sure the car will start when we do pry it open.

    A car is just a thing. It's metal and cloth and plastic and rust. It is not the person who bought it, it does not contain their essence, their memories, or anything else.

    It's hard to know when to let go sometimes...and even harder to follow through with it.

  • Night Owl Dilemmas

    Lately, my schedule has me firmly planted in 'night owl' territory. I'm staying up until between 1-2 most nights, and it's actually been pretty great, because the hours between when Matt goes to bed (between 10-11) and when I do, I'm getting a lot accomplished.

    I catch up on everything. I brainstorm. If I don't think Matt's having trouble sleeping (such that the light in the kitchen will keep him awake), I might even do some kitchen cleaning. It's fantastic. Being productive late at night is actually helping me during the day, too. Sure, I tend to get up a little later than I'd like, but having done all of my "brain work" at night, I can do the menial housework stuff without feeling like I'm missing out.

    My apartment is getting cleaner and more organized, and so is my life. Again. Fantastic.

    But, I have one problem.

    Exercise.

    I have tried - oh, how I've tried - and morning exercise just doesn't work for me. The last few nights, I've noticed I have the bug and the energy to exercise at midnight, or in this case, 1 am. It seems like, if I have the energy for it, I should just go ahead and exercise at wonky o'clock. But I've read so many things about how it's terrible if you exercise at night that, I admit, I feel like I'm doing something wrong if I do.

    Isn't it better to exercise at a weird time than not at all?

  • More hummus!

    I'm not feeling very precise tonight, so you'll have to bear with me.

    A few years ago, I started to become aware of the concept of boundaries. As a passive people pleaser, setting boundaries is difficult for me, especially when the boundaries are the most needed. It's not a skill I've mastered, by any means.

    But a funny thing happened when I started down that path - I realized that I didn't like being told what to do. I knew that sometimes people would say things that really rubbed me the wrong way, but until that point, I hadn't identified why. If my agency felt like it was threatened in some way, without good reason for it, that basically stomped all over boundaries I didn't know I had.

    If someone were to say, "Hey, we're having a BBQ on the 25th, can you make it?" or even, "It'd be great if you came!" my reaction will be completely different than something worded like, "We're having a BBQ on the 25th and you're expected to be there." The latter makes it mandatory and makes me feel like you assume that your 'request' is more important than anything I might have going on.

    But here's the caveat - if you give me information, it softens things considerably. Let's try this again:
    "We're having a BBQ on the 25th, and it would really mean a lot to me if you came." or, "We're having a BBQ on the 25th, and I could really use your help with the potato salad." Those aren't great examples, but in either case, it doesn't feel mandatory, and I have the additional information of my attendance being meaningful or beneficial.

    All that backstory to set up this:

    I'm in the process of learning about food and nutrition. This is a pretty signficant thing for me, as I definitely have food and diet baggage. See, the problem is, most diet materials I've come across end up something like this:

    "You're broken. Eat this in these portions and for the love of all that is holy, stay away from the cake you fatty mc fat fat!"

    Maybe they're not intentionally shamey, but the overlying message always feels like, "All the food you love is bad and it's why you're fat. So overhaul your diet completely right now, or you're just going to die fat and alone and miserable."

    But I also have diet baggage, so maybe the message seems a little skewed to me.

    I don't like being told what to do. But for the first time, what I'm reading is explaining why, in pretty simple terms, some things are better than others.

    Fruits are good for you, but if you eat them in more than their intended serving, they can spike your blood sugar. So add some protein in there.

    Carbohydrates aren't necessarily bad for you, but if you read a label, and it says "Carbohydrates, 18g" and below it, says, "Sugar, 16g" then a lot of those carbs probably come from the sugar, which isn't good.

    Telling me that fiber gives me THIS tangible benefit, and here are things which have fiber, and better yet, here's some easy ways to snack on things that give you these benefits - that's a much better sales pitch!

    Don't just tell me that things spike blood sugar, tell me what that means. Tell me that it'll give me energy and then make me super hungry soon after when that crashes.

    Instead of hearing, "eat this, and don't eat this ever ever again", knowing why some things are really good for me and why some things are less so, makes me want to make the better choices. It makes me want to think outside the box and try new things. It makes the decision one of empowerment, rather than defeat. 

    I think we need more of that - not just general encouragement to make good choices in our lives, but information and guidance on how to follow through. 

    And for the record, I'm not becoming a food snob. I fully believe that there's no point in complaining about food or not enjoying it. The day you can part me from a good piece of pizza is the day you can bury me.

  • Habits

    Right now, I'm reading "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg. For some reason, I love books about how and why we do certain things, and habits are super interesting to me. I haven't gotten all the way through the books, so I certainly can't tell you how to re-wire your brain, but here's some interesting things I've learned.

    Old habits don't just "die hard", they actually stay in our brains. That's why it's so hard to stick with a new habit in the long run. If the right 'cue' hits your brain, it may very well trigger that old habit loop. But, if you're very dedicated, you can get your brain to respond to the new habit loop instead - but the old one will always be in your brain somewhere.

    Habits work like this: There's a cue, triggered somehow. Environment, time of day, a smell, a reminder on your phone ...
    Then, there's the action. You exercise, you want french fries, you eat breakfast, you put your right shoe on before your left. Whatever.
    Followed by the reward. You feel endorphins, you're no longer hungry, you've been praised, your feet aren't cold. In any case, your brain is happy!

    The way to make a new habit stick is to make your brain crave the reward when the cue hits. That's how, theoretically, you power through exercise, by finding something that is so worth it to your brain that you're willing to stick with it.

    You can also re-wire habits by taking the same cue, the same reward, and replacing the action.

    Granted, all of this is easier said than done, but the book gives some really fascinating stories and facts about all of it.

    I've started thinking about habits that I have, since I'm someone who really thrives on routine, but stinks at purposely implementing it. I figured out that this is why I love the idea of a weekend where we have nothing to do, but I get completely fidgety when Saturday rolls around. I don't really have 'weekend habits', so if I don't have the structure of a deadline (ie: We're leaving at 2, need to make brownies and shower before then), I just feel like I'm wandering.

    It's some interesting food for thought.

  • Embrace Winter

    Embrace Winter

    I decided that, for one day, I'm going to embrace winter.

    It's been a long, dreary, cold, snowy winter, and it's really taken a toll on a lot of people. (Including me) So, without further adeu, are the things I actually like about winter.

    • Icicles. Especially the epic ones we get on the other side of the building some years. They're pretty and they aren't a hassle.
    • The silence outside during a snowstorm. I don't really notice the sound of traffic until a storm hits and the world is suddenly silent.
    • When sunlight hits fresh snowfall, before there are any footprints. Pretty.
    • Staying inside, with warm blankets and tea. Bonus points if there's an animal who wants to cuddle.
    • When I take the time to stare at a snowflake on my sleeve before it melts and note how intricate and pretty it is. Snowflakes are awesome ... But can you imagine how many individual snowflakes it takes to make those epic piles of snow outside?
    • When the snow is a little bit deep and Mikenna bounds through it like a little snowbunny.
    • Clementine season.
    • Waking up in the morning with one or two animals snuggled in tight.
    • That winter gives the ground a time to rest, so that things will grow again in the spring.
    • The first time I hear birds chirp outside my window after not hearing them for a very long time. It reminds me that everything is a cycle and spring will come again.

    There. Winter isn't all bad, and there's certainly beauty to be found it. That being said, I won't be sad when spring comes.

  • Letters

    I mentioned at the end of last month, and a few times since if you follow me on social media, that I'm participating in Letter Month. The goal is to mail out one piece of mail per day that the mail runs in February.

    It was a last minute, crazy, gut decision to go for it two days before it started when I'd just learned that it existed. I made a list of people that I could send letters to, and still found myself coming up short. So I knew that I'd have to go to the forums and look for people who were willing to receive letters from random people and :gulp!: write to them. 

    I can honestly say that this month has been a blast for me, and that's really saying something when you consider how dreary and awful this winter has been. I like thinking that if nothing else, maybe my friends are amused that something in their mailbox wasn't asking for money. 

    Writing letters to people you don't know is daunting, I won't lie. Want to feel like your life is completely boring? Try writing to someone about it! Hi, my name is Sarah, and I have a dog and a cat, and, uh, I like stuff. But when I've gotten random letters from other people in the mail, not only do they feel as awkward as I do, but I love hearing about them. There's an interesting sense of connection in all of this. We're all human, we've all got different backgrounds, different likes and aspirations, but every once in a while we hit upon something in common. We're all working our way through life, at different points perhaps, all taking it one step at a time. I find it all far more fascinating than I thought I would, and I have been so genuinely excited over every letter I've received.

    There's such a variety, as well. In addition to sending letters to friends, I've sent a card to a burn victim, a 30-something male in Washington, and a reply to a letter in Finland. That was the first letter I've sent overseas in my life! I chose one random person to send a letter to, purely because their avatar had a westie.

    I never thought I'd get so excited about sending letters, but this has been a fantastic practice for me. I only have two regrets - that February is so short, and that sheets of pretty stationery are so difficult to find! Seriously! I can make cards, but paper stationery? Needle in a haystack.

    I encourage you to track LetterMo down next February and give it a shot. You might have a lot of fun with it. In the meantime, why not pull out some paper and send someone a quick note? You just might make someone's day.

  • Love

    Love

    This is basically what Mikenna does when Matt comes home from work. She bounces around until she is allowed to give him kisses. If he lays down on the bed, she'll snuggle up with him for a little bit. (Time determined by her mood. Sometimes it's a couple minutes, sometimes it's quite a while.)

    I love my goofy girl, and I love that she loves Matt.

    I've been super busy lately writing letters, cleaning like a fiend, and trying to bounce back from a lingering cough. Hopefully there will be somewhat intelligent content sometime in the near future.

  • A month of letters

    So yesterday, I ran across a tweet from author Mary Robinette Kowal, talking about 'A month of letters' - the challenge be to mail something to someone every day that the mail runs in February, 23 days.

    I love getting mail and sending it, so I signed up. If you sign up on the site, you can gather pen pals if you want, so you don't have to scratch your head, trying to find 23 people to write to.

    I think it sounds like fun. If you think so too, you can check out the site here:

    A Month of Letters


    Want a letter from me this month? Use the contact bar on the right to get in touch. :)

  • Fumbling around

    I don't know if the picture has anything to do with what I want to write about. But when you get some fourteen odd inches of snow in a short period of time, I think it's worth sharing pictures from that sort of mess. That is me, attempting to break into my trunk in the middle of said snowstorm, looking for our shovel. It took me a good 15 minutes, standing in thigh deep snow (because of drifting), to clear off the trunk enough to crack it open. No shovel.

    The last few years, I've been making these lists of 100 things to do each year. They've ranged from silly, to serious, to really obscure. Last year, I tried to make the list very tangible, such that I could (in theory) record every thing I did. But then our move date got pushed back past the end of the year, and that put a hault to several things on my list which were contingent on taking place afterwards. Rather than continuing to work through the list and accomplish the things I could do - after all, it was a largely fun list - or even finding creative ways to work around some of the things I have planned for post-move, I just stopped.

    It wasn't even that I consciously gave up - I kept the list taped to the fridge until the end of October, telling myself that I was going to work on things anyway. But I realized that my brain gets stuck in these ruts, where things must happen in a certain way in order for me to continue. These thought ruts don't always make sense either, when I really think about them. Let me give you an example.

    #37. Read a book on writing
    Now, I henpecked my way through this one book on character development, a few pages at a time, for months. Truthfully, I got bored with the book, but I was close enough to finishing it that I couldn't just abandon it. I really wanted to read this book on the revision process that I'd picked up, and oddly enough, it was far more relevant to what I was doing than the character book. But because I had started the character book first, I didn't want to start the revision book. But I was too bored to finish the first book. So I never actually finished either book because for some odd reason I wouldn't just put down book A and read book B, like I wanted.

    Now, apply this lack of logic to a problem in which you have a novel that you're revising, while you really want to start work on a new project. LOGIC says that you can work on both. My rut logic says that NO, revised novel must happen first, even though said novel has had developments that essentially knock it squarely back into worldbuilding territory.

    I admit, it's really frustrating to realize the amount of things I haven't worked on because of these non-sensical notions of how things must go.

    But, knowledge is power. Realizing I do this, hopefully, means that I can work around it. Maybe it means that I fumble around a bit more, that I do things without insisting I have a perfect plan first. I don't like when things are messy. I want them to go according to plan. But there's really so little in life that we actually control...maybe I need to embrace that flexibility with the things I want to work on, as well.

  • Transparency

    I have been dreading talking about this publically, because oh, the questions. But I might as well just say it and be done with it.

    That oh-so-lovely apartment that we've been waiting on since May? Yeah, we're not moving in there anymore.

    I know. I know. Shock and scandal.

    Yes, it was going to be a beautiful apartment, and I do think we would have been happy there. But Matt and I had a lot of conversations over the several extra months we had to wait, and we decided that while it was probably going to be a wonderful place to live, it wasn't what we really wanted.

    Here's where you're really going to hate this. Do we know what we're doing? Do we have a backup plan?

    Nope, not really.

    But rather than spend a very good chunk of change on another apartment, we decided we'd like to take some time and really dig into where our lives are going, and think about permanency. Part of what made apartment shopping so agonizing to begin with was not knowing where we wanted to live, and the idea that we'd just keep floating around every few years.

    We want to think about the bigger picture, and we don't think that apartment fits into it.

    Trust me, it was. not. easy. I cried after we backed out of it, because oh ... two bathrooms. Walk in closets. A pantry. I know it doesn't make sense on paper, but ... just trust me on this. It's better in the long run. 

    And that's all I'm going to say about it.

  • Depression and Anxiety

    I'm going to be brutally honest today. Because if Bell can be brave, so can I.

    Recently, I was diagnosed with moderate severe depression and anxiety. Both of these have been tagging along with me for a very long time, since the spring before Matt and I got married. It took a lot of effort for me to get help at the time, what with not having any income or insurance, and my bravery was rewarded with a doctor who only wanted to prescribe me Xanax, which made me loopy out of my gourd. When I tried to advocate for myself and ask for something else, she refused. That experience triggered a severe anxiety of doctors, that they wouldn't listen to or respect me. (Edited to add: I'm not 100% sure whether it should be "moderate major depression" or "moderate-severe depression" or what. What I was told is that it's severe depression, in that it intereferes with everyday life, but lacks the suicidal thoughts...In case you were wondering.)

    The depression with me these last several years has been misdirection and shadows. Always feeling a little bit off, but believing that it's your fault, and that if you'd just grow up, you'd be fine. The anxiety has been a convenient foil. Not sure if you want to bother leaving the house today? Let's throw in a good measure of anxiety regarding the state of your car, and voila! Decision made!

    This past year, the depression got to a point where it became oppressive. Whereas before, it may have stopped me from taking chances or making good decisions, this summer, it put the brakes on just about everything. It became full-blown, "showering is really too hard today, maybe tomorrow" "feeding myself isn't worth the effort, so let's not" "If I can't shower and feed myself, there's no point to trying to (write, do the dishes, paint, go anywhere)" depression.

    To be honest, the reason I cut my hair so drastically this fall wasn't because I was finally brave enough to do it, but because I didn't have the energy to take care of my hair at that length, and the resulting tangles were painful. (But I genuinely do like the result, so that worked out.)

    I still wasn't willing to do anything about it though, until after I went to visit my parents. Matt said he saw me happier than he'd seen me in a very long time while we were down there, and then the crash after coming back was so much worse than I expected. If functioning before was really difficult, afterwards, it was difficult with massive amounts of crying. I didn't want to do ANYTHING, and it took every bit of willpower in my body.

    That's when I couldn't do it anymore, and I made the call to my doctor, which was scary enough by itself and I sobbed for a couple hours after, both out of fear for having to go, and relief that there would be help ... finally.

    Things aren't perfect. I strongly suspect that in addition to "regular" depression, I have seasonal issues on top of it, and so Michigan's recent plunge into the bitterest heart of winter has been rough. It also turns out that I'm anemic, and those levels haven't stabilized yet, so I'm still feeling more 'draggy' than I'd otherwise like. But on the whole ... things are starting to look up. I'm starting to do things like cook, shower, and create again, and it doesn't feel so unbelievably hard to do so. I'm less panicky - I drove to an unfamiliar, crowded place last week and handled it brilliantly - and I'm smiling more. I'm also seeing a counselor right now, which even scarier than medicine as far as stigmas go. But I actually recommend it, because I feel like a million bucks after someone else has just listened to me for a while and not dismissed my feelings at all. (Not that Matt does those things ... but I also believe that everyone really does need someone other than their spouse that they can talk to, too.)

    I'm not talking about this to try and garner sympathy, or so you can look at me like I'm a china doll. But if you're out there, and you're struggling ... you're not alone. It's really hard to get help, and it might take you feeling absolutely awful before you can be brave enough to do it. But it's okay. There are lots of people whose brains and hearts need help, too. You're not alone.

  • Wil E Coyote Cliff of Motivation

    My husband's friend mentioned a theory a few weeks ago, and I've been turning it over in my head ever since. Basically, after six weeks of exercise, you hit a mental wall, and slide off the map. It's not that you don't want to keep going, but you just ... don't. I don't know if it's true for you, but I find that it's definitely true for me, right down to the spreadsheet logging my steps per day. After six weeks, I crashed and burned.

    I imagine it like I'm Wil E Coyote, chasing after Roadrunner...then suddenly, there's no road, and I'm plummeting off a cliff. Every. Single. Time.

    I've been thinking about why...is it self-sabotage? Unintentional mental subterfuge? Am I just lazy?

    Right off the bat, I think we do ourselves a disservice, growing up with the myth that it takes roughly 21 days to form a habit. For 'difficult' habits, we cling to that number, hoping that on day 22, we will wake up with a thirst for endorphins and running shoes already on our feet.
    More recent research shows that not only is 21 days a myth, but it can be really far off. The truth is, it can take anywhere from 18 days to six months to form a habit - possibly even longer.
    But at six weeks, I think we're prone to feeling proud of ourselves. We've about doubled the three weeks in which our habit "should" have been formed, so it's easier to justify cutting back.
    Thinking that we may have re-wired our brains into a new habit after only three weeks could give us a false sense of security, or make us feel like we're failing if we're still struggling at six. 

    Six weeks is long enough that the beginner's rush has probably worn off, but it's not yet a habit, so what is there to sustain us? We're not beginners, and we're not pros. Even though in the course of a lifetime six weeks is just a blip, it can feel like such a long time when we're in the process of change. If we haven't seen significant progress - if we're not bench pressing like Thor, or shopping for jeans in our ideal size, I think it's really easy to call it a wash. We often rely too heavily on fickle motivation instead of discipline, and when we gear our brains to see results, we set ourselves up to quit.

    There's also our brain chemistry to consider. We each have reward and fear centers, and these two are unique to each of us, and not tied to each other. That means that some of us are easily motivated by reward, some of us by both fear and reward, and some of us neither. (Fact: Extroverts tend to be more highly reward driven than introverts. Their brains are more dopamine sensitive than introverts, but as each brain is unique, your mileage will still vary.) After reading that research (in the book Quiet, by the way), I realize that I'm really not all that reward driven. It motivates me for a while, but doesn't sustain me very well. Fear is a good motivator for me, but is a pretty bad way to make sustainable changes. Also, possibly traumatic in the long run.

    It seems like six weeks might be the first point at which you have to shift gears - where you're not coasting, and you're probably not where you want to be, so you have to buckle down and grind through for a while. I don't think there's any magical "win at habits" button, though figuring out these things about myself and the nature of habits at least makes me feel like I'm not failing - just stumbling along. (An important distinction in my book) I think that knowledge is power - knowing that I'm prone to slipping after six weeks should help me prepare for it.

    Maybe it's not even six weeks for you, maybe it's four, or ten. Take a look at where your motivation starts to slide, where you fall off the wagon each time. Don't beat yourself up for it - but try and figure out why that is, and what you can do to make things more sturdy for yourself the next time. Do you need accountability? Do you need rewards? How about a plan?

  • Being Active

    The last few weeks have been really eye opening as to how sedentary my life actually is. I don't say that in order to shame myself, because the truth is, it's probably not so different for most people. If you don't have a job that requires you to move around a lot, or if you don't exercise and stay on your feet at home, chances are, you're in the same boat as me.

    It wasn't until this week that the step goals started to really make me think. 5000-6000 steps a day was pretty dog gone easy. Yes, it still required more movement than I would otherwise expend on a daily basis, but if I sat on my rump until 3pm and had 500 steps to show for it, I could still make up for it. 6500 has been an awakening, because it hit me that this is only going to get more difficult. In the three weeks where I merely tracked my steps without a goal, do you know how many times I hit 6500 steps? Zero.

    Last week, Matt and I started incorporating some Dance Dance Revolution into our evening in order to bolster our steps. Unfortunately, it worked out such that the person walking in place next to the person on the DDR mat ended up with more steps. (Though we both conceded that playing was more fun and a better workout.)

    This week, I broke one of my Zumba dvds out for the first time in several months. (Which is awesome, by the way. The fitbit is obviously breaking me out of my exercise slump.) If I'm really pumping, I can about eek out 3,000 steps in a half an hour. That requires a little bit of cheating on my part, marching to some static moves, and so on.

    The good news, obviously, is that steps add up, and there are lots of ways to make it pretty enjoyable. However, it becomes more apparent that there is no way to cheat on being active. 30 minutes of Zumba might bail me out this week, but if I sit on my butt all day when the goal gets to 8000 or 9000 steps, that won't help. In the end, the solution are two dietary words that I loathe with every cliche bone in my body:

    Lifestyle change.

    To make these higher goals will mean finding new ways to be active throughout the day, no shortcuts.

    I am pretty sure there are going to be some weeks that I end up having to repeat for failing to make the goal all week. That's okay. In the four weeks we've been working on this, I've already found that things are easier, and sitting for too long makes me really antsy. I feel like we're making positive changes, and that's exciting.

  • Hey Buddy.

    Hey Buddy.

    Moomie,

    It's been ten years, and I couldn't let the day go unnoticed. After all, you and I grew up together, more of a canine brother than family pet.

    I feel bad because it's been long enough that I don't remember a lot of your mannerisms. I don't remember whether you curled up in a ball or stretched out, or how you begged for food, or the sound of your bark.

    But I remember the good things. I remember how you danced for cookies, your unfailing love for spaghetti and popcorn. You were completely and utterly loyal. I remember when you ran off the dingo next door when it charged at me and how if Papa forgot to let you in, we'd find you sitting on the porch, waiting patiently.

    If there's any type of sainthood for dogs, I know you're among them, because you were the best. I don't know if you had a bad bone in your body...except for when you chewed up my garfield playing cards when you were a puppy. I remember that, too.

    In the end, I find it really stupid that it was your heart, because you had such a good one. You were so good. It made it so hard to say goodbye. It happened too fast. I thought we'd have another year or so to get used to the idea of losing you, and then you were gone. In hindsight, maybe that was an act of kindness on your part, too, not to have to see you linger for a long time ... we didn't have to make any real hard decisions, because you, or your heart, made them instead.

    As you can see, you're still missed. Even though Mikenna joined the family not too long after you left, she never replaced you. You're one of a kind, always.

    Thanks for being my buddy, Moomie. Until we see each other again, give my love to Maggie and Hannah, will you? I miss them, too.

  • Exercise Incentive

    Exercising for the sake of good health is wonderful, but I'm so not above bribery. Any sort of meta game that grants a regular 'achievement unlocked!' feeling is actually pretty useful in trying to build a good habit.

    As a teen, I heard that it took 21 days to form a good habit. Recently, I read that it actually takes about six months to lock in a good behavior. That's a long time for anything, let alone something that can feel like such a chore on a daily basis. (Edit: Apparently the length of time is somewhat different, depending on what you're trying to do. But even upping your water intake takes an average of 59 days to become habit.)

    I recently mentioned how impressed I was with my new fitbit, and I still am. On the whole, I'm definitely logging more steps than if I weren't keeping track. Just seeing that - wow, I've only taken X steps? - makes me want to get up and move around for a bit. I recently told Matt that pacing is my new habit. Well, after three weeks of keeping track, I decided I wanted to try something a bit more structured.

    Because we've got more desk jobs, more sitting activities, and fewer reasons to get up and move around, a lot of us are sedentary people...we take between 1,000 - 3,000 steps per day, on average. I didn't realize just how true that was until I started tracking. Our apartment is small - from my desk, it's no more than 15 steps to the kitchen, 30 or less to the bedroom. Even a trip to the grocery store only gets me 1,500 or so. Getting to 10,000 steps a day naturally is just not happening. So I dance around the kitchen while waiting for lunch, while unloading the dishwasher. I jog in place while waiting for Mikenna to do her thing. (If no one is around, that is.) I even created a list of songs with a good beat so that I can jump out of my chair and move around for a few minutes here and there.

    It's not a great idea to go from sedentary (or even relatively active) to trying for the full recommended 10,000 steps a day on a regular basis. Best case scenario, you'll burn yourself out from ramping it up that quickly. But you're way more likely to injure yourself, because your muscles just aren't used to it. The easiest to remember guideline I found was to take your average step count, and then add 500 steps to your daily goal per week until you hit 10,000.

    On a pretty good day, I hit around 6,000, but that seems a little high to be my starting out point. After all, I want something I can meet every day to build up my confidence. It's okay, it's how I play video games, too - easy mode.

    I set my week 1 goal at 5,000 steps per day. I know from tracking my steps that it's easily do-able, but still requires more effort than my daily routine.

    Week 2 will be 5,500 steps, and so on.

    I decided to build in a simple caveat - if I miss a day's step goal, I can't move up the next week. It's not meant to be punishment, but to keep myself from forging ahead for pride reasons if my body can't handle it.

    As for a rewards system, I decided that every thousand steps should be worth a point. If I meet my daily goal, that is an additional point. If I meet my weekly goal, that's an additional five points. So as my steps increase on a weekly basis, so will my points. But because I'm theoretically earning points at a pretty rapid pace already, I don't think I'll feel the need to walk thousands of extra steps per day to cheat the system.

    I also came up with a loose points chart - because what's the point of currency if you can't spend it somehow? I wanted rewards at various 'price' ranges. It was very important to me that I make things affordable enough that I can 'spend points' regularly, but not so regularly that it's no longer rewarding. I also decided that the rewards themselves should be things that I would view as a treat, but not withholding things I needed. (In the past I've had a bit of a problem with saying things like, "When I X, then I will go clothes shopping!" and then for whatever reason, failing to meet X, and then feeling like I can't get new clothes...and since I tend to wear a lot of my clothes to their threads, that's not necessarily a good policy.)

    Anyway, it seems to work out that every 10 points is worth a real life $1.00 - I didn't set this intentionally, but it was something I noticed about halfway through. It's not a perfect scale - I set the cost of an e-book at 100 points, which would equal $10 IRL...but obviously, ebooks vary in price. But it's a good average.

    The cheapest things on my list, e-books and mp3 albums, are 100 points. That would take me roughly a week and a half to earn if I keep on pace, which seems pretty reasonable. So far, the most expensive thing on my list is a salon trip, at 1400 points. Even when I meet the 10,000 steps a day goal, I should only 'make' roughly 82 points a week - so it's still encouraging a good time of saving up.

    I might tweak some of these numbers later, as I figure out what works for me and what doesn't. But in the meantime, here's the chart I've started with, in case you're interested in trying something like this on your own. I removed my rewards chart, because those are personal to you!

    What kinds of things are your 'currency'? Books? A night out? Going to the movies? A new pair of shoes? Nail polish? New pajamas?

    1 point per thousand steps
    1 point if goal met
    5 points if weekly goal met
    Daily total 6-11 points
    Weekly total 47-82 points 
    Week 1: 5000 steps
    Week 2: 5500 steps
    Week 3: 6000 steps
    Week 4: 6500 steps
    Week 5: 7000 steps
    Week 6: 7500 steps
    Week 7: 8000 steps
    Week 8: 8500 steps
    Week 9: 9000 steps
    Week 10: 9500 steps
    Week 11: 10000 steps
    Each "week" repeats until step goal is met 7 consecutive days.

    For rewards, 10 points equals roughly 1 point. A good reward threshhold seems to be starting at 100 points, going upwards from there. Multiple options at each point 'level' is good, too, for variety.