When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Friday, June 29, 2012

Squirrel of the Month--June 2012

I know it's a day late, but at least it's not a dollar short. At the request of my daughter, the Squirrel of the Month for June 2012 is S.I.M.P. from Phineas and Ferb.

S.I.M.P., or Squirrels in My Pants, is a song from the first season of Phineas and Ferb, which is one of my daughter's favorite shows. I wholeheartedly approve of the show. It's very age-appropriate for my daughter and has a good mix of fantastic fantasy (the implausible) and inspirational fantasy (encouraging creativity and curiosity).

The song itself is from the "Comet Kermillian" episode in which Candace attempts to spend time with Jeremy (her obsession/boyfriend), but is thwarted by his evilly cute little sister Suzy. Of course, Jeremy never really sees the evil side of his cavity-inducing sweet sister. She saves that for Candace (and Buford the bully, as alluded to in another episode). Suzy is very jealous of her time with her brother, so she does everything she can to push away Candace. In this case she slingshots an acorn into the rear of Candace's jeans and a pack of squirrels chases after it. Candace "dances" around with the squirrels, shrieking and cavorting in an attempt to get them out. I can only imagine what her legs would look like with all the scratches if this were a live-action scene. In her writhing, Candace enters an open space in the park where 2 Guyz N the Parque--a pair of street rappers--are performing in front of a small crowd. They use Candace's plight to ad-lib a song/rap called S.I.M.P. It's a catchy tune, and it's a little funny to see just how many unrelated rhymes they can come up with to keep the song going. In the end, however, the squirrels escape, presumably with acorn in hand, and Candace is free to fear anything else Suzy might devise as torment. The rappers are disappointed to find that the squirrels were real, though, and this represents the first instance in which the "public" mistakes a real concern of the main cast of characters as a metaphor of some kind (other examples are "There's a platypus controlling me!" and the notion of "busting my brothers" being misinterpreted with some deeper meaning that never existed). After her ordeal, just when she thinks she can take a breather, Candace is shown a group of squirrels--held by the tail--by Suzy. She screams and runs away, much to the bemusement of Jeremy. Yay for classical conditioning! (I'm a psychologist, remember.) Don't worry, though. Her fear of squirrels does not seem to develop into a phobia, as it's never really brought up in any other episodes.

So, thank you S.I.M.P. (Squirrels in My Pants) for showing us that 1) it is possible to come up with deep philosophical B.S. for things even if there is no deeper meaning and 2) squirrels can be used for good and for evil, but they themselves are not inherently evil.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hives (Not the Kind with Minds)

What positive aspects can one possibly see in the irritating malady known as hives? Well, that's kind of the point of this blog--to challenge myself to find the bright side of things, especially things that seem to lead to the most negative experiences. At the moment, I am on day 6 of my hives. I have no good idea as to their cause and no good idea as to when they will end. I have had hives off and on ever since I was 8 or 9 years old. My last episode was about 2 years ago and I am pretty sure that one was mostly stress-induced (I was teaching 4 classes simultaneously, along with juggling my daughter's regular extra curricular schedules). I don't feel particularly stressed at the moment, though I do confess a slight bit of anxiety over the Human Development class I am teaching for the next 5 1/2 weeks. I haven't taught the class in 8 years, so I'm a little rusty on some of the topics. I don't think it's particularly allergy-induced, as I have absolutely no traceable food allergies (thought I suspect I might be allergic to fresh pineapple and alcohol--there are no allergy tests for these). This session of hives just suddenly appeared on Friday evening and they are hanging around for a while. There's a good chance I will have them for at least 2 weeks. So, what's so positive about them?

Well, they did decide to almost completely disappear when I got to my allergist on Monday, leading me to look slightly crazy. I suppose I can be grateful for that (the disappearance, not the insanity). They were mostly gone yesterday, until they came back with a vengeance last night and have yet to dissipate today. While the itching drives me mad, I have come to appreciate the release of endorphins that results from damaging my skin with the scratching. It is a most pleasurable, albeit temporary, feeling. I also have a good excuse to take more naps throughout the day, as the antihistamine leads to near-comatose conditions for 2-4 hours for each dose. I get to enjoy the pleasures of taking a freezing shower in the morning to sooth my skin. It also takes my mind off of other things I could be thinking about, like the work I have to do for my class. I certainly get more exercise in, as there are many hard-to-reach spots to scratch that lead me to stretch in ways I don't normally attempt. Oh, and I get to double my allergy medication, thus stimulating the economy through my purchase of loratadine and diphenhydramine in order to keep the hives at bay so that I can function for at least half of the day. I mustn't forget the opportunity to sleep with my fan on at high power. My husband gets to cuddle up with double blankets while the rest of the country worries about being too hot because I have to sleep in the cold so I don't scratch off all the layers of my epidermis. I don't generally like the cold, but the hives give me an opportunity to appreciate it a lot more than the summer heat. And, with the itching keeping me up at night, I might just start to take advantage of the ensuing insomnia to get a little more work done, instead of battling for sleep at night.

So, there can be a bright side to this malady that seems to afflict me, on average, once a year for no readily apparent reason. If nothing else, I get to once again test my patience and faith to see me through another episode and my daughter can see that there are worse things that can happen to you besides having to clean your room or do your homework.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Summer Time

I know just about everyone relishes the idea of summer. I do not particularly enjoy the increased temperature, but the time is very gratitude inducing. And for the record, I don't enjoy the cold, either. I'm more of an 80 degree type of person with low humidity and partial cloud cover with no threat of rain. Yeah, I know it's not often I get this ideal weather. Perhaps that's part of the reason I enjoy it so much.

But I'm writing about summer. At the moment (and for the last 4 years) I teach college courses part-time at a local high school. I'm basically on loan (lease?) during the school year. This means that I am pretty much free during the summer. Well, I would be completely free--and completely insane--if I didn't have at least one summer class to teach. This year I happen to have just one class (a blow to the old bank account, but better than being completely unemployed) during the day when my daughter is in summer day camp. We decided to try a different summer camp [Note: these are all day camps that begin at 9am and end at 12pm, 2pm, or 4pm, depending on the particular camp] each week. My class begins after her camp starts and ends before she gets out of camp each day. And, the college is central to just about every camp location. This means that my daughter and I get to spend more time together than we do during the regular school year.

No, I don't spend every free moment with her. As an extreme introvert this would drive me nuts, no matter how much I love my daughter. I need some me time each day or I would completely lose it. But, I've managed to find time to work on filling in some gaps in her education--going into 5th grade, she was never taught phonics in school!--and keep her mind sharp in fun ways without turning it into homeschooling. We work on math a little--compete worksheets found online and play Yahtzee! together. We emphasize reading each day--she reads for close to an hour then writes a blog about what she read. Once a week is "science" day--biology/botany in the form of planting and caring for a garden, chemistry in the kitchen, etc. We will also play games like Operation or Lego building games to emphasize other sciences. I haven't quite figured out the "history" day yet, though I'm sure it will include ancient cultures--reading more Percy Jackson for Greek culture, Egypt stories, etc.--and American history (I love the History Channel's educational shows). Plus, we'll probably play something like Risk or some other historical based game that my husband tends to collect. As an avid crafter, we are throwing in an arts & crafts day each week as well. This will be an opportunity for both of us to stretch our creativity (and work on our Dragon*Con costumes!) at least once a week. I am not forgetting physical education. That will be covered with swimming or shopping. Yes, shopping is exercise, especially the way I do it--wandering around the store for an hour or two before finally settling on a purchase.

All-in-all my daughter is and will be learning quite a bit this summer, and I will be "teaching" her much. We have the first opportunity this year to actually spend some real quality time together without worrying about sending her away to visit the grandparents or anything like that. Believe it or not, this will be the first summer that I get to spend with my daughter, minus the week she's going to Disney World without me--I don't have the luxury of taking vacation until after my class is over because the time frame is so condensed. I feel confident in my plan and so far it seems to be working out well enough.

Overview of her camps:
Week 1: VBS camp at our church
Week 2: world cultures at the college
Week 3: dance camp
Week 4: Disney World with her dad
Week 5: camp at zoo
Week 6: science/engineering camp
Week 7: performing arts camp at the college

It's very likely that the next series of posts to this blog will be an overview of each of the camps as they conclude. No, I will not forget the squirrel of the month on the 28th, either.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sea Monkeys

In reality, sea monkeys are a sub species of brine shrimp. In my world, they are the perfect pets.

I grew up with a menagerie of pets--cats, dogs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, little brother (I'm kidding!), lizards, turtles, fish, rabbits, frogs, and maybe some I'm forgetting. The one thing I learned was that I don't want to be responsible for the well-being of an animal. Taking care of myself and my child and husband is hard enough. It helps that they can do things for themselves. But a pet means constant responsibilities that I know I don't have the discipline to tackle. I don't want to torture any animal through unintentional neglect. Plus, even though I do like cats (okay, I can tolerate dogs, too), I happen to be allergic to them. Petting either a cat or a dog causes minor swelling in the hand that touches them and breathing is a little harder for me when I am around them. I won't go into a full-blown asthmatic attack, but I won't be comfortable either.

The conundrum is: I like the idea of having a pet and my daughter likes the idea of having a pet. So, I managed to find the perfect pet for me. Sea monkeys are easy to obtain--and cheap!--and even easier to take care of. They usually hatch within 36 hours, assuming you follow the directions, and begin growing and reproducing quickly thereafter. You only have to feed them once a week at first. Once the algae begins growing, however, you can reduce the feeding time even more. I'll be honest, it's been at least 2 months since I last fed my sea monkeys and they are still thriving. Of course, I have them in a large (for sea monkeys) tank--it's actually a small travel terrarium, but to a sea monkey it's huge--with a couple of fish tank bobbles. This gives more surface area for the algae to take hold. It is important to keep the tank by a natural light source for the algae to grow. I do also add more bottled or filtered water when the tank level drops due to evaporation. That's the extent of the maintenance I do for my sea monkeys. These ones have been alive for almost a year now.

The other upshot of sea monkeys is that they are self-replacing. When your cat or dog dies you have to go out and get a new one, go through all the training all over again, etc. When the entire sea monkey tank dies off (this is my third tank since we began "caring" for sea monkeys 5 years ago) you can either go out an purchase a new packet of eggs or simply let the tank completely evaporate. Then you purchase the "conditioning agent" (it creates the proper chemical balance for the little guys) and simply refill your tank as is. If all goes well, there should be some preserved eggs from your previous tank attached to one of the surfaces and they should simply hatch and begin a new society all over again.

Yep, for me sea monkeys are the perfect pet and I am thankful that I discovered them when my daughter began asking for pets in the house. Plus, they can be fun to watch.

Friday, June 1, 2012

My Faithful Car, Sam

Yes, I am one of "those" people who name inanimate objects. Usually it happens when I am frustrated with said object or extremely grateful for the object. In the case of Sam, however, I was on my way to work (very different job from what I'm doing now) before 7am and it just struck me that my car felt like its name was Sam. Sometimes Sam is female in nature, sometimes it's male. It doesn't really matter, truth be told. Sam seems to fit it very well.

The main reason I am posting this second entry for the week [don't expect it, as I'm surprised I can keep up with one post a week at the moment] is that it is time to say "Good bye" to Sam. We are trading him/her in for a new car for my husband. I get his current car, which my daughter and I have finally dubbed Joe (another unisex name, of course). It's a little hard on my daughter right now. She has known Sam literally all her life. We got him [please forgive me if I switch gender terms; I get tired of "it" and Sam is androgynous] less than 2 months before our daughter was born. While Sam did not get nearly as much wear and tear as the average car my mom drove--Mom does not like flying and she has kids on both coasts now, so she tends to drive A LOT--he has certainly been there for us in many situations. The farthest we've driven her is to New York (Long Island area) from Melbourne (Orlando area) and back. She's also taken a few trips from one end of Florida (the panhandle) to the other (down by West Palm). She's never broken down and I've only had 2 (maybe 3) flats with her, as far as I can remember. There was one instance in which I drove Sam on worn brakes to the point that they literally fell off, but he was back with us within 24 hours. When my husband was in his car accident in 2007 (that was a hand-me-down mini van we did not have long enough to name), Sam faithfully chauffeured everyone to work and school and everywhere in between until we procured Joe. I have pushed Sam many times, sometimes out of ignorance or a busy schedule, sometimes because I needed to wait another week (or another month) before my paycheck was enough to get his oil changed and/or rotate his tires. Any time gas prices rose more than 7 cents I would wonder how long I could run Sam with the windows down and no A/C in order to stretch my gas budget for the month. And Sam kept chugging along. As I said, she never broke down on me. She always seemed to have at least enough fuel to make it to a preferred gas station. I was only in 1.5 fender benders with her. The first one was reported, but the other guy's vehicle suffered damage while Sam was untouched because he bumped into the spare tire on the back. The 1/2 was a quick incident in which a mom behind me wasn't paying attention as we were driving out of the drop-off lane at my daughter's school and didn't hit her brakes in time after I stopped at the stop sign. That was a no-harm-no-foul incident that didn't get reported because I didn't see the need to do so.

Just some of the many things that rode in Sam
When we lived in Melbourne, Florida, Sam was the only car we had. I was working two jobs (at 3 sites), eventually three (at 4 sites), while my husband finished up his master's degree. Since our apartment was across the street from the college and my jobs were 45 to 90 minutes away, depending on the campus at which I was teaching on any given day, Sam became "my" car. He was originally purchased with my husband in mind. My husband is a full foot taller than me, so the car had to have plenty of leg and head room. However, I found that I didn't need to adjust too much for me to fit in Sam. The more I drove her, the more we tended to synch together. She suffered through my temper tantrums--my road rage never got to the homicidal level, but it did lead to a lot of "colorful" language--and my lead foot. She handled my impulsive turns and my quick braking. There were times when minor things malfunctioned. I went a week or two without air conditioning and power windows & door locks because of some weird electrical issue. The inside light in the middle of the roof has been out for at least 6 years. The CD player didn't always work, but that's what my tape (yes, Sam has a cassette deck!) adapter for the iPod is for. Yet, nothing major ever let us down--no engine or transmission failure and IF we ever had a dead battery, it was only once, though there were some close calls.

Sam, our 2002 silver Honda CR-V EX, has seen numerous soccer and softball games and practices. She's brought gifts to many birthday parties and visited friends. She's brought home many gifts and hauled home many purchases. She's carried countless donations and even a few unexpected passengers, inside and out (a lot of frogs and lizards have taken short rides over the years). She's held our daughter in safety and sleeping comfort after a long day of school, work and activities or a long trip to visit friends a couple hours away. Sam has heard hours of singing--good and bad--and absorbed years of memories. He has witnessed many temper tantrums, suffered slammed doors and over-stuffed spaces. He's provided a quiet place for mother-daughter after school talks. He's given me a great place to catch a nap (while parked, of course) during dance classes or practices. Sam has seen my daughter grow from a baby into a young girl who can no longer stand up in his trunk space, even though she still enjoys climbing in back there.

On one level, I know that Sam is "just a machine" and it was inevitable that we should trade her in. I am glad that we can trade her in before she does fall apart. However, on the other hand, Sam has been with us for a very long time. He is one of only a few things that we have had since our daughter was a baby. Sam was (and still is) a very reliable part of our quirky family. We will miss him and I pray that whoever owns her next will come to appreciate Sam as much as we have.
Goodbye, faithful & reliable Sam! You were much appreciated and you will be missed.