When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Friday, December 12, 2014

Independence: Curing My Laziness & Procrastination

A couple years ago I created a post on this blog concerning my gratitude for my now-ex-husband. Yes, at the time, I looked at the bright side of my relationship with him. But, perhaps I was tinging too much toward the positive. After all, look at where all that gratitude left me. This is still a gratitude blog, so I'm not going to spread any ill-will toward that person. Instead, I'm going to look on the remains from my charred and tattered life. I'm going to see what's left after I remove all the hurt, baggage, emotional upheaval. I'm human, so I'm not going to deny that I have not had the smoothest transition into single motherhood. It was possibly a little easier for me, psychologically speaking, because I've always been an independent spirit and I provided 90+ percent of the parenting for my daughter even when I was married. Even financially, I'm only slightly worse off than when I was married because we were living two different lives. My husband enjoyed the full benefits of his paycheck, while I did my best to provide for my daughter on my part-time contract income, only asking for his help when I was desperate, and only when it was a necessity (groceries, something she needed for school or extracurricular activities if I couldn't cover it that month). I never asked for jewels (I can't wear any metal other than gold because my skin breaks out after prolonged exposure) or furs (not my style). I never asked for clothes (I know it's hard to find anything flattering or even presentable for my size) or cars (I got the hand-me-downs when he wanted a new one) or anything that the stereotypical wife demands. I know I got a roof over my head (it was bought outright by his mother, so he never actually had much to do with it, though I'll credit him for eventually paying the property tax and HMO fees) and the utilities were paid. I will give him that much credit. However, I see that our "life" together was more of a "friends with benefits" arrangement than anything else. I guess most "normal" people wouldn't fault him for dropping me like a hot potato once he found a willing other because I don't live, breathe, or revolve around sex (or alcohol, for that matter).

One of the hardest things, and yet, at the same time the easiest, was becoming the responsible adult for my daughter 100% of the time. It was easy because I'd already been doing it 90% of the time, only asking him to step in when I felt I needed a mental break so I could fulfill some other responsibility (church, work, etc.). I have days when I want to moan and/or wail because there's no one else to do the dishes or fold the laundry. However, I catch myself quickly because I realize that even if I do complain, there is no one else to do it. Since it has to get done, I buckle down and do it (sometimes eventually, but it does get done). I no longer feel pressured to keep up my household to someone else's standards. I no longer have to worry about what someone else will say if my dishes go an extra day before I take them out of the dishwasher. My chores are now regulated completely by my daughter's needs and my personal annoyance/motivation/desire levels. I find myself being less lazy than I would have been with the false hope of someone else possibly picking up the slack. It's now all my slack and I am in control of the rate at which it is picked up and its growth. Increased responsibility removes a lot of the motivating factors I once had for being lazy about everyday chores. Don't misunderstand me; my apartment is far from pristine. However, I'm no longer anxious about its state. If it becomes too cluttered, then I roll up my sleeves and clean it to the point where it is acceptable to my daughter and myself.

Another thing about independence (i.e. forced self-sufficiency) is that I have had to learn new skills and take on new tasks for which I previously would have turned to others to help me. My ex used to provide "magic" tech support any time my computer decided to throw a hissy fit and not work for me. I rely on my PC as much as a stereotypical modern teenager is addicted to their cell phone. It's my life-line, my entertainment, my sanity box. I use it to communicate, to organize life, apply for jobs, keep up with my daughter's activities, create and innovate, research, and a whole lot more. Any time my PC breaks down or doesn't function smoothly I panic. This morning I was briefly ready to have a panic attack because my PC wasn't playing nice. I had yet another logon error to Windows. I have no money (nothing, absolutely nothing; my bank account is as bare as Mrs. Hubbard's cupboard) so I knew that I couldn't afford to take my system to a local repair shop to give it a good looking over. I'm sure it could use it, but I can't even afford to get the oil in my car changed right now. I knew enough to get it into safe mode. Then it was onto the Internet to research my problem. During my marriage, I would have waited days, maybe even a week or two, for the ex to eventually get around to looking at my system. Instead, because I knew I was on my own, I was motivated to find a solution for myself. I'll be honest, I don't fully understand how or why the fix I implemented worked, but I trusted the information I found and my system is back up and running. I break down and cry tears of joy, thanking God any time these little miracles happen.

I've had to learn how to fix my daughter's clarinet. Thank God it was a simple fix because I cannot afford to take it to a local shop for repair and the free repairs that are part of our payment plan require me to somehow get it to the original shop where we bought it, some 650+ miles away. I've had to come up with a clever fix to make adjustments to her uniform to get the skirt to fit better without tearing it apart or building a new one. I just don't have the cash to buy a new skirt (the simple solution) or the material to make another (possibly cheaper, but harder to match the material and still costly). I had to fix my car on my own, too. It wasn't a major fix. The fiberglass panel beneath the front of the car came loose and was dragging as I drove. However, with some time and tools and help from my daughter we were able to come up with a solution so that I don't pray to God that the breaks aren't dying on me or anything every time I start up the vehicle.

I don't have money for Christmas this year, but I didn't want to deny my daughter our little traditions--a Christmas countdown tree (some would call it an advent calendar) and 12 days of Christmas (December 26-January 6) presents. So, rather than (a) cry poor, thus denying her everything and ruining what's left of her childhood or (b) begging friends and family to make donations, I opened up my craft/sewing supplies and let inspiration hit me. If you follow my Twitter feed (@eowyn35), then you'll see what I've made up to now. I probably would have considered taking the easy way out if I were still married--asking for help from the spouse. Because that's not an option, I was able to unleash my creativity. A side effect was that I didn't have to worry about anyone complaining to me about cleaning up my work while I was in the middle of the creative process. Anyone who has ever engaged in any creative endeavor knows that inspiration and creative motivation don't always strike at convenient times and sometimes reality (like sleep or getting food) interrupts the process, but you don't want to have to restart everything, so you prefer to leave it in a safe place, like pausing it.

Yes, shouldering 100% of the responsibility for a household, even a small one with just myself and my daughter, may seem like a lot of work. However, without any safety nets (my parents do provide support where they can, but I'm more or less physically alone here as they are several states away), I find my focus is greater, my commitment more sure, and my laziness and procrastinating tendencies are fewer. This is adult responsibility. I'm perfectly content to shoulder it now that I have nothing holding me back or tempting me to give it to anyone else.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Clipping Coupons

If you've been following my blog in sequence, then you know that I am a single mother. I'm still (at the time of this posting) looking for work. I have miraculously qualified for government assistance for food, which takes a tiny load off my mind--there are still real bills like utilities and rent and fuel to pay. However, even government money has its limits. Before I applied for help I started pinching pennies where I could. One of the age-old time-tested ways to save money is with coupons. My grandmother used to go grocery shopping with an exact amount of money and a list. If she used a coupon, then the money that saved her would go into a savings jar. While I'm not capable of doing that for two reasons: 1) SNAP is an electronic system and 2) even if I use my own money I never have cash so I use my debit card; what I can do with coupons is get more food for the same amount of money.

Okay, I don't see myself as ever becoming a super coupon clipper. I'm not going to waltz into a store to buy a case of sodas and walk away with extra cash because I came on BOGO day with double coupon points or anything like that. I'm also not going to spend hours gathering sales papers and creating weekly notebooks of where to shop for which specific item. As much of a data junkie as I am, that would be data overload for me and I would squirrel off something fierce, never finishing what I started. I applaud anyone who has the savoir faire and patience to put in that much effort. Kudos to you and you deserve to reap the rewards of all that work. I know that's not the route for me. I try to use coupons for items that my daughter and I will actually consume. She's a chicketarian--eats only white meats (chicken, pork, occasionally turkey)--and I feel guilty if too many items in the shopping cart are for myself alone. So, I don't just clip coupons for the sake of clipping. In fact, I don't actually clip coupons in the old way. I don't get a newspaper or coupons in the mail. I don't read the weekly grocery store ads. I get my coupons from the Internet.

Two of the sites I use are My Points, which gives me "points" that I can then exchange for other things like gift cards or certain catalog items, and Inbox Dollars, which actually deposits cash (okay, pennies, but it's still real money) in an account with them until I earn enough to request a check. Both of these sites are your typical reward site--they want you to spend real money with their partners so that they will continue to gain revenue from advertisements, etc., and they send you copious amounts of emails to get you to partake of this deal or another. However, I'm broker than broke, so the points/cents are just a fringe benefit for me when it comes to the coupons. (I also earn minuscule points and pennies at a snail's pace by clicking on the emails they send.) The cool thing about it--forget the rewards--is that the coupons actually work! Yep, I give them to the cashier and my grocery tab drops a bit.

I've been using my particular system since August. I go through each of my respective sites and scroll through the 300+ coupons that each has to offer. There is a lot of overlap. Sometimes I end up with two or three copies of the same coupon by accident. General rule of thumb is that the coupons will expire within a month from the printing date. Occasionally one will be good for a couple of months. It takes 2-3 months for the rewards to register with either site, but the savings are immediate at the cash register. I suppose that's the extent of my super couponer patience. I'm willing to put in the time to browse the sites, select the products I know we might use, and then cut them out (they usually print three to a page) after they print. I even started to organize them into my own hand-made coupon organizer because I usually do one big shopping trip a month. So far, I've saved between $30 and $45 each month with just coupons. If I shop at Publix and catch a lot of their in-store deals, I can bump that up to as much as $65 for the month. With coupons, I am able to fill our fridge and pantry for somewhere around $300 each month. That works out to less than $2.00 a meal for each of us (my daughter and myself) each month.

I still think I spend an awful lot on groceries each month. I'm sure there are some people on the Internet, legitimately or otherwise, who can claim to spend the same amount to feed many more people, or much less for two. Yet, I'm pretty proud of myself that I am making efforts to squeeze out as much as I can when I go grocery shopping (the only kind of shopping I get to do, actually).

Oh, another neat aspect of using coupons for me and my daughter: I use my pile of coupons as our shopping list, with a few essentials that rarely have coupons (bread, eggs, milk) thrown in. We treat our shopping trips like a scavenger hunt to see how many items in the pile we can find. Yeah, I do end up tossing out some of my coupons unused. That's just another price of the system. One note I learned by accident: there is a limit to the number of coupons you can use at Walmart in a single transaction. I'm not sure what that limit is, though, exactly, because a CSM overrode it for me just to get me out of the line.

How do you stretch your dollars? Please share your ideas with me in the comments below.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Alternatives to a Clothes Dryer

Not all of us are blessed with laundry appliances in our homes. For me, not having a washing machine and a dryer readily available 24/7 without spending gas to get there, means that one of my biggest "mom" challenges is the dreaded "out of clothes" scenario. I know, a lot of parents don't have to worry about this because public school kids have a ton of freedom in what they get to wear each day. Even in schools that claim to have a uniform, they really have just a dress code. My definition of uniform means you get 2 choices. Public school "uniforms" come down to a required color of top and pants that must be worn. Even then, there are loads of exceptions for "school-approved" shirts like clubs and athletics. But I'm getting away from my point.

My daughter is, through the grace of God, on a scholarship at a Catholic school (finally! It only took 6 years to get her back into one!) and she has to wear a very specific uniform. The skorts aren't cheap. I managed to scrape together enough to get her 3 of them and 2 P.E. uniforms. We couldn't get old uniforms because apparently no one at the school has even been as big as my daughter. All the donated uniforms were much too small. Thankfully, she gets to wear the P.E. uniforms twice a week and has to wear the skorts the other 3 days. That means that we should have enough to make it through a typical week, unless there's a Mass on one of her P.E. days. Then she has to go to school in her regular uniform and change into the P.E. uniform after the Mass. That means 4 days of the skorts instead of three. Doing the math, laundry day doesn't always add up conveniently for me. It's not economical to run to the laundromat just to wash one uniform, or even the 3 of them--those machines are high-capacity and the quarters add up over time. So, I sometimes have to hand-wash a uniform to get through the week.

Hand-washing at home is no problem. That's what sinks and tubs are for and any soap, even hand soap, works when getting off average non-red-food stains and everyday odors. The issue becomes hand-drying. Now, if you live in the southwest, like west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or parts of California, the easy option, assuming you started early enough in the day, is to let the sunshine do your drying for you. In the summer, my mom can put up a whole load of laundry on the line and the first pieces would be almost completely dry by the time she got the last piece on the line. This option does not work as well in colder and more damp climates and it certainly is a challenge in a place like Houston or anywhere in Florida. It's hot here, but so humid that clothes take hours if not a day and a half to dry on the line. That's also assuming it's not raining when you put out your laundry. So, I've found a couple more creative ways to dry my emergency laundered clothing.

[For any of these methods to work well, you'll need to use every ounce of hand strength to strangle out as much water as possible beforehand. Also, synthetic fabrics like polyester will take much longer to dry than natural fibers like cotton, so plan accordingly.]

Tried and True: Iron
The most effective method, and one I'm sure will come as little surprise to anyone who's done any household chores, is the iron. Make sure you lay down a thick dry towel on your ironing board or other flat surface. Plastic tables are NOT recommended. Turn off the steam function on your iron--if you can't because this is not an option, then I first recommend you get a more modern iron, also try another method to dry your clothes. Put the iron up as high as it will go, ignoring the indication that you have to have steam on at certain temperatures; trust me, you don't. Iron the clothing. It works best if you use even strokes and as few layers of clothing as possible. My daughter's skorts have 4 layers in the middle: 2 for the legs, 1 for the front wrap around, 1 for the back wrap around. It's not as easy to iron these as it is a t-shirt, which I can just open up and rotate around the ironing board as I move. If the clothes layers cannot be separated for some reason, then your ironing time should be doubled in order for the heat to completely penetrate all layers. On any piece of clothing, pay extra attention to the hems and on bottoms give extra work on the waistband. These are areas that automatically have extra layers, so they will retain more water.

Cooking Your Laundry: Oven
Here's a little more creative method, one that most people might not consider: use your oven. There are two set-up options here. You can either place the clothing directly in the oven (best for larger items) or you can put it on a pan. If your oven is like mine, you probably don't want to place any clean clothes directly on the rack for fear of spilled food baking into it. A simple solution is to take out one of the oven racks and wrap it in aluminum foil before you get started, then proceed as normal. I also recommend using foil to wrap any pan you might use for the same reason. Sometimes foods get caked into the pan over time and, while it may not affect your baking, wet material can sometimes absorb and synthesize the stuff, defeating the purpose of washing it in the first place. Once your oven or pan is prepped, put the oven on no more than 300 degrees. If you have super delicate material or a ton of metal or plastic on the clothes, then you might want to lower it to 150-200 degrees. Yeah, I'm talking Fahrenheit. Sorry, you'll have to convert if you use a metric oven. It usually takes about half an hour on 300 to dry a single piece of clothing, 45 minutes for jeans or really thick material. The other benefit of the oven is you get the same warm result as a regular dryer, but you probably used a ton less energy to do it.

Think Inside the Box: Microwave
Okay, I'll admit that I got this idea off of a TV show I saw as a kid. I think it was an episode of Married: With Children in which one of the kids mentions their mom microwaving their clothes. Deep down, I know the comment was meant to imply that this was a stupid idea. After all, Peggy Bundy was not known for her domestic prowess. But the idea stuck with me. If you think about it, a microwave does a pretty good job of drying out stuff. How many times have you put something in there only to have it shrink on you because you left it in too long. In a pinch, you can place your hand-washed clothes in a microwave, on high, for no more than 5 minutes and it will be almost completely dry, depending on the thickness of the material. If you need to, you can flip the clothes over and pop them in again for another 3-5 minutes. However, DO NOT use the microwave on clothes with a metal (as opposed to vinyl) zipper or metal studs/buttons. I actually burned a hole (no fire, thankfully) in a pair of jeans because I didn't think about the metal button or zipper. The clothes were dry, but also unusable. I recommend the microwave for things like t-shirts or elastic waist-band shorts, anything with very little meltable plastic or metal parts.

So, what other methods have you used to dry your clothes? I'd love to hear your ideas/thoughts in the comments below.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Meditative Thoughts in Search of Motivation

I spent most of this week in a malaise. The only thing I felt I really accomplished was writing the weekly spelling story for my daughter. The main reason I could muster up that motivation was that I didn't want to disappoint her. I said I would use her words every week to write a story in order to help her remember them, so I feel obligated to continue it even when my motivation for everything else goes away. I still haven't posted my psychology blog for this week, either. I'm not kicking myself about that anyway. I'm not really a "blogger," whatever that term is supposed to mean. I don't make any money by posting weekly (or by any other schedule) thoughts. I don't have advertisements on my blog that bring in cash for every click. I'm not even well-known beyond my private circle of friends and family. Shoot, I'm pretty sure the "counts" that Blogger shows me are inflated by my own clicks when I preview a post before I publish it. ::Shrug:: That's okay, I'm not a blogger.

"Um, what does all this have to do with meditation? It sounds more like lack of motivation."

You know, you're right about that. I am experiencing a bit of writer's block at the moment. The truth is I'm upset with myself because I've been childishly craving attention. I guess I feel lonely having to spend my unemployed days at home in between the times I pick up and drop off my daughter from/to school. She's the only person with whom I interact on a daily basis--social media does not cut it completely for human contact. I'm too ashamed of my unemployed status to reach out and join a social group, even one at my church. I tell myself it's because I don't want to commit to anything because I can find a job at any minute and then I'd have to quit. I know it's a lame excuse, so I stopped telling myself that. I know it's because I'm ashamed of having 2 masters degrees and not even being able to get a job at Wal-Mart or Target (yeah, I got a rejection from both). I, the super introvert, am feeling lonely.

At times like these, I need to revert completely into my shell until I've purged the loneliness. It's not easy for my daughter to understand, especially now that it's just the two of us. And on the surface of things it doesn't make sense: I'm lonely so I need to isolate myself? But think of it like a transformative cycle. In order for me to be more social, I have to sink to the depths of complete aloneness, recharging my introverted battery all the way. Maybe I've been only charging up to 90% each time and the battery is waiting for a complete charge. Sleep doesn't cut it, either.

This is where the meditation comes into play. Over the years I've tried many methods of meditation, some even before I knew what meditation was. The most important thing I learned: THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO MEDITATE. I know some people make a living on teaching people how to meditate. I know the purpose of whole religions is to meditate to achieve enlightenment and find the "right" pathway. Meditation can involve any of the five senses, not just sound. I've actually used all but taste in my meditative practices. Tai chi is a form of gustatory meditation that uses your movements to feel different forms. Yeah, I've tried tai chi and I'll pick it up again when I find my living room (at least, that's the excuse I keep telling myself). I frequently use incense, so I think I've got smell covered. My earliest experiences with mediation were when I was a kid staring at a speck of sunlight, watching the dust motes fly around. The longer I stared, the more the light levels would dim and brighten and my mind would wander freely. That's using sight. I also frequently stare off into space, though it may appear that I am staring at something in particular. Of course, sound is usually my go-to method. I have so many "meditation" albums, but I also use instrumental pieces from various movie soundtracks. Listening to the hum of the air conditioner works just as well.

The primary point of mediation is to provide some kind of focus. Any stimulus will work, so long as it allows you to unclutter you mind, relieve the emotional burdens that you carry. Once the mind is sufficiently clear, leaving the meditative state is very smooth and natural. If done correctly (for you, not in any "official" sense), then you will feel refreshed and at peace, at least for a moment. I think tonight I will meditate by listening to some soothing music and playing simple games on mute. Hopefully this will provide enough of a reset to my currently overactive mental and emotional state and I can experience a reset. I know my daughter needs me. I don't want to snap at her or appear to abandon her. I feel I'm getting to the point where it's hard to hold my tongue because I haven't had a real person to whom I can vent lately. So, meditative me time is good for my daughter as much as it is for me. Blogging helps, too, as it allows me to release some of my thoughts instead of keeping them bottled up, bouncing around my brain until they reach an obsessive point.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Nook HD

*This is not a paid product endorsement or advertisement. These are my thoughts about this particular device.*

I was pretty slow to jump onto the e-reader/e-book bandwagon. Most of my life I spent any spare cash on buying books and I have a decently sizable collection. About 25% of the boxes we packed when my daughter and I moved were filled with just books. I finally got my first e-reader, a Kobo, because my favorite bookseller (Borders) was going out of business and I wanted to support them in some small way. I also got the Kobo as a measure of defiance against my ex-husband, who kept pushing the Kindle, constantly singing its praises. I didn't want to join the cult of Amazon, at least not in that department. I will admit that the Kobo was a mistake. It broke within a month of purchasing it and the company (Kobo based in Canada; Borders was out of business by then) refused to even accept the return of the unit to determine if it was covered under warranty. They simply responded to my inquiries and photos with a "well, sometimes it cracks in a bag" response and dismissed me. Waste. Of. Money.

I was almost completely burned on the whole e-reader idea. Again, I'll be darned if I jump on the Kindle bandwagon. My Taurus stubbornness stands in the way. I was not too pleased, either, because I was actually dumb enough to have purchased a few books on the Kobo. The only positive I can say is that once you purchase from them, even though the e-reader uses the proprietary format, the web site allows you to download purchased books in the Adobe format, which can then be used by any e-reader. At least I was only out the cash for the e-reader, and not the books as well. I know, I could always read them on an app on my phone. However, I do not relish the idea of trying to read even a novella on a palm-sized screen (and I have kid-sized hands, so you can imagine how hard and annoying that would be). I polled Twitter about the efficacy of investing in another e-reader. Of course, the responses were all about the love for their devices--Nook and Kindle. My decision was made for me when Target offered the Nook HD at a little less than half price on Black Friday.

I decided to splurge on myself. My mom wanted to buy it for me, but it was a matter of stubborn pride for me to be able to buy it for myself. She ended up getting one for my daughter. That wasn't such a bad thing, but it didn't play out as well as I'd hoped, either. I didn't even realize that the HD was a tablet. I just wanted an e-reader so that I could have more books at my disposal when traveling. When I found out I could put games and other apps on it, I found the icing on the cake.

This is what my home screen currently looks like.
I didn't use the Nook too often when I first bought it. It took me a while to finagle my way around things so that I could upload my Kobo-purchased books. My daughter and I used to visit our local library every week, so I always had plenty of physical reading material around me. Plus, my teaching schedule didn't leave much time for a whole lot of reading. Then 2014 started and things fell apart in my personal life. When I did use my Nook, I found myself spending most of the time playing games instead of reading. That's all the motivation I could muster. My daughter occasionally snagged my Nook instead of reading hers because it was easier than trying to link my Barnes & Noble account on two devices or "lending" her the books. I ended up putting stickers on my Nook so that we could tell them apart.

Aside from reading, which took me a while to get into on the device, I found myself using my Nook a lot for other things. Because it is sort of like a tablet, I am able to use it to visit web sites as long as I have an open Wi-Fi connection. I've used it to update statuses and post on Facebook and Twitter. I used it to find the Mass readings on mornings before I was supposed to read in church. I even used it to read a .pdf of a pattern I was working on so that I wouldn't have to print it. It came in handy, too, when my sewing machine was acting up. I was able to find the manual for the machine online and download it to my Nook so that I could quickly find the solution and the portability allowed me to keep the manual handy. I added a notes app with which I took notes during panels at Dragon Con. I also typed up drafts for a few of my blog posts on my Nook. I've used it as a calculator, a calendar/organizer, and a timer and clock. I've even checked the weather on it. There are some limitations to the apps I can put on it; the Android operating system is not exactly like my phone. Yet, I've been able to find most of the functions I need so that I can spare my phone battery and my eyes.

I found myself reading on my Nook more and more as spring and summer progressed, especially after moving this summer. It's not that I no longer read regular books. Each summer I try to read around a theme. I've read classic sci-fi (Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom series) and classic horror monsters (Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Invisible Man, Island of Dr. Moreau) in the last two years. I wasn't going to set a theme for this year because of all the other things I had going on in my life. But my Nook sort of naturally led me to this summer's reading theme: comics. Barnes & Noble ran a couple of sales on trades--collected comic issues in a single volume--for DC and Marvel this summer. The DC sale was for both physical books and e-books, but the Marvel sale was for only the e-book versions. That's when I discovered Deadpool. I spent the time my daughter was away visiting her father reading every Deadpool trade I could find. Luckily, I found them all on the Nook. Then I subscribed to the current books at my local comic shop. While it isn't easy to appreciate the full extent of the artwork on the e-reader, I was enraptured by the stories, so I didn't mind. I found that the e-books of the trades are a great way to catch up on comics that have been out for a while, especially ones like Deadpool that have so many issues already published over the years. Having them on the Nook allows me to catch up on the stories without having to buy yet another bookshelf for our little apartment.
Despite the peeling cover here, the device is still completely functional.

My Nook has certainly gotten a lot of use over the past 9 months that I've had it. It's in far-from-pristine condition, as you can see in the picture to the right. My daughter and I sometimes finagle over my Nook because either (a) she can't find hers, (b) hers isn't charged, or (c) the book she wants to read is already loaded onto my Nook. Despite the rough time it appears to have gone through, though, this particular device still keeps ticking. This is much more than I can say for that piece of waste plastic that was the Kobo I had before.

I have a lot of books to read sitting on my shelves, and my collection on my Nook is growing, too, especially now that I have the Comixology app. That allows me to purchase and read some of the comics that I can't get from the B&N e-book store. If, God forbid, my Nook HD should stop working because of overuse, I'm pretty certain I will save and scrape together enough money to get another one. I'm not a full e-reader convert. I still buy real live books from book stores. But I'm more open to the possibilities now. It especially helps that the Nook fits in my purse more easily than most books and using it means I'm conserving my phone battery.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Thoughts on Body Shaming

Let me preface this particular post with a few tidbits about myself. I am a feminist in the original sense of the word. I believe ALL individuals are equal. I don't think any gender is better or worse than the other. I also don't think that the current generation is beholden for the sins of the previous generation. Each person is responsible for the consequences of their own actions, not the actions of another. Also, I don't believe that someone who was not directly affected by an action has any claim to the repercussions received by the real victims of said action. As a libertarian, using the text book definition of the term, I believe that we are free to live our lives as we see fit, with one caveat. One person's rights ends where another person's begins. That means that I believe you are free to live your life so long as it doesn't adversely interfere with the life of another person. Once you start crossing personal boundaries, then you have to negotiate and compensate and work with others or back away. Oh, one other thing about me: I have this nasty ability (a habit, even) of seeing the world from multiple perspectives. I look at things from at least two sides of the story, sometimes even more. That doesn't mean that I am wishy-washy in my beliefs or that I am indecisive. It means that I try to analyze as much data as possible before I come to any conclusions. I suppose I also have a tendency to grow impatient with individuals who sound like they want an intelligent discussion but only take a side and stick with it without bothering to listen honestly to the rebuttal. I've been infuriated with all kinds of stubbornly held strong beliefs. Don't get me wrong; I think it is very important for formation of a self-identity to determine where your beliefs lie. My problem is with pure stubbornness and the refusal to acknowledge any beliefs that contradict or do not exactly line up with your own.

Now that my form of thinking has been explained (and I would not be surprised if it was just skimmed over instead of read with any heart-felt interest), I can get to the matter at hand. I know this blog in general is supposed to be my attempt at finding the bright side of things. You will have to bear with me to the bitter end of this one to find it, I'm afraid, on this particular post. I have a lot of pent-up emotions that are too extensive for Twitter or Facebook or Google+ to allow me to convey. I'm even worried that I may find some magical limit on Blogger, too, but I just feel the need to get these thoughts out there. Perhaps I can encourage a few of the 7+ billion people on this planet to stop and think, to listen to other sides of a story. Eh, it's okay if I don't, too. At least I have the freedom to express these thoughts, even though it might pose a minor risk to my ego. So, here goes something.

By the way, I was finally prompted to get around to posting this particular topic because of Meghan Trainor's song "All about That Bass." It's played every time I take my daughter to dance class, so I get to hear it A LOT. And I, too, initially jumped on the "Girl power! You go, sister!" bandwagon that circulated Facebook along with the video. Believe it or not, Trainor is not the first artist, writer, person to scream to the world that a person does not have to reach and maintain a particular body size or shape to be considered beautiful. Then I started to listen to the song more carefully. At the same time, I came across numerous posts, tweets, re-posts, shared links, etc. that were fed up with the "fat shaming" of the media. The messages seemed to be clear: society is tired of "skinny minis" and wants its females to have some meat on their bones. Okay, as a life-long obese woman, I guess I'm supposed to be grateful for people finally standing up for the repressed fat woman. There are countless articles in professional and academic journals, as well as other forms of media, indicating that obesity (we're talking mostly any size in the double digits here) is seen as a personal characteristic, much like race and gender and religion, that is being used to show unfair prejudice in employment, compensation, housing, education, even dating and parenting. There are six other classifications that ARE protected from prejudicial discrimination by federal laws in the United States (look for a long-overdue post on my Misused Psychology Terms blog on the difference between prejudice and discrimination next week). These six categories are: Age, Race, National Origin, Gender, Religion, and Disability (mental and physical). Not only do the legal courts punish people for mistreating someone because of one of these characteristics, but the court of public opinion also inflicts even greater punishments for such actions. In fact, we have gone so far as to hold a prejudice against anyone who has a prejudice. Yep, the libertarian feminist in me screams in response to that, as well.

So, we're swinging the pendulum wildly now. It's not that we have dropped the idea of beauty as having a certain size and shape. It's more that we are hearing others say "Stop telling me that I don't fit YOUR ideal. I'm going to make my own!" As a psychologist, I can't help but hypothesize that a lot of the outcry is not about bringing up a part of the population that has suffered scorn and injustice for generations so much as a growing obese population who doesn't want to feel bad about their life choices. We can come up with as many excuses as we want, but the truth of the matter is that most individuals, greater than 90% in fact, who are obese got there through unhealthy life choices concerning diet and exercise. Less than 10% of the obese or overweight population are of that size because of a direct genetic or biological cause. If you're allergic to milk and you drink milk and get a rash, blaming the dairy farmers or the grocery store is not going to change the fact that you drank the milk despite your allergy. People want to blame stress and a fast-paced society for their poor health choices. These are only modifiers, not direct causes. We make choices. We need to accept the consequences (using the behaviorist definition of the word, which has no positive or negative emotional connotation to it) of those choices.

You know, the anti-fat-shaming movement is still making the same mistake that its opponents make: focusing on beauty. So, now we're empowering "padded" girls to have self-confidence in their looks. They are beautiful without having to have just the right "Barbie" dimensions. By the way, have you actually looked at a Barbie? I've had some of those dolls that couldn't wear the clothes of other dolls because the hips were too wide. I think that indicates some loosening of standardized sizing, just saying. So, yeah, fat girl power pushes the idea that all women, short or tall, skinny or plump, are beautiful. Sorry. I'm not going to buy that. For one thing, every human being has their own flaws and imperfections that would fail the test of a "perfect beauty standard" because that's the point of the perfection standard--some people can come very close, but it wouldn't be perfection if anyone could actually reach it. Look up some ancient Greek philosophical discussions on the nature of things to see where I'm going with this. Plato is particularly infuriating.

My point is two-fold. 1) We're still stuck with this notion that beauty is the most (maybe the only) important qualification for women (in some rare Internet rants men are mentioned). If you'd like to see a contrary opinion, one of the growing number of people trying to get away from words like beauty, just check out an article (post?) by James Michael Sama titled "10 Things More Important Than Beauty." I've read a few others, but his was the first one I could easily find again. Maybe that's another indication of the beauty obsession in itself. 2) The fat girl power movement has taken all the rage of being marginalized and turned it against their opposites, the skinny women. Even in Meghan Trainor's song, she does not speak kindly of thin women. So, fat is beautiful, but that's supposed to mean that skeletal is not? Doesn't that just make you hypocritical? Here's an interesting little factoid: not all women who appear skeletal or smaller than a size 5 (sizes are mostly arbitrary anyway) got that way a) to purposefully gain attention and attract a mate or b) via unhealthy means such as anorexia. I personally know of many women whose metabolism is naturally set to hummingbird and they couldn't gain more than a few pounds no matter how hard they tried. Just stop the judgement, please! Some thin women worked hard to maintain their bodies, not necessarily because they drank the society beauty Kool-Aid, but because they wanted it for themselves. And all of this discussion leaves a lot of confusion for what I would term "healthy women" who are neither skeletal nor obese, but rather somewhere in between, any maybe even have a strong muscular structure that many people confuse for fat.

While I'm on the topic of the beauty of fat, I've also noticed that there are still people who are left out of the club. The severely obese, such as those individuals like myself, are still not considered beautiful. I don't have my "junk in all the right places" as the song states. My proportions are not nicely packaged. My abdomen contains too many jiggly stretch marks to ever be considered beautiful. A lot of people like to bring up Renaissance paintings as evidence that fat was once considered beautiful. Have you looked at a Renaissance nude lately? I see no loose skin, no stretchmarks. Everything is well toned, just increased by layers. Fat on men and women does not neatly grow in smooth layers. It lumps and clumps, especially when you spend years trying to tame it or hide it. In addition, being a fat woman does not guaranteed a large bosom. I hate to burst a beauty bubble here, but there are some large women, myself included, who do not have a DD cup size. The body grows in proportion, meaning that if the woman were her "ideal" size (let's pretend there's an actual medical definition of this, which, unfortunately there is not), she might have the same C (or smaller) cup size breasts. For those of you not in the know, a cup size is the difference between the chest size, found above or below the breasts, and the largest point sticking out on the breasts themselves. The greater the difference, the larger the cup and larger, by proportion, a woman's bosom. By Barbie beauty standards, a C cup is too small. If your boobs extend beyond your belly, regardless of your size, then you have a chance of being considered attractive. We're not going to get into pregnant women, as they get a whole different set of standards. If you can squeeze out a Grand Canyon-like cleavage, then it's okay to have hips to go with it. But if you are blessed (or cursed, depending upon your perspective) with a pear shape, then you're not going to get to play with the big girls in the beauty arena. This also seems to apply to skinnier women, but they can get away with smaller bust sizes because they are smaller overall. This is based on my observations of social reactions to images of feminine beauty, which also include reading honest-to-God real scientific research studies showing the same darned thing.

What might seem to be one of my personal problems is that I live in reality. I never had any ambitions about attracting anyone, so I never put in extra effort to glamorize myself. I just didn't see physical beauty as all that important. I often don't even have an image of what I look like, just a vague concept of this being that contains my consciousness and that I have to maintain in order to continue to live in this reality. See, I tried to develop my intelligence and moral code. I tried to better myself and learn about the world around me. By the way, living in reality has some severe set-backs. I don't seem to have as much fun as people who try to perpetuate their fantasy worlds, at least not according to these particular people. It cost me my apparent sham of a marriage. He wanted a fantasy, I felt it was my responsibility to keep grounded so that the popping bubble didn't cause damage. Guess who got damaged? That's right, the one left on the ground. He's still floating high on his fantasy bubble. It may burst, but maybe not for several years. In that time, I will continue to plod along in the real world, preventing fires so that I don't have to work twice as hard to put them out.

Oh, yeah, I am a fully-grown, fully functioning woman in my 30s and I don't obsess about sex. I'm not a prude who condemns it for others, but it's not all there is to life for me. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I feel this whole obsession about beauty is overrated. I didn't spend every waking moment of awareness of the opposite sex (yes, I am heterosexual) on the prowl trying to hunt down someone so I could use my womanly wiles to manipulate some man-meat to get what I wanted or needed. I find it disturbing that even the fat girl power messages have an undertone of forced sexuality. It seems as if the only reason society obsesses about beauty is because beauty is the only way to obtain sex. And, really, sex is the only reason for adulthood (and adolescence), right? NO! There is MUCH more to life than sex. And sex should NOT be used as a tool to manipulate or control others. This is a form of abuse, by the way. Again, I'm not condemning anyone who enjoys a good romp now and then, especially those individuals for whom sex is a part of a healthy adult relationship and neither seen as mere exercise nor the only reason for existence. However, obsessing about sex is just as bad as having a substance abuse problem or a shopping addiction (a real one, not a wannabe special declaration). Not to mention, all this "adult" obsession with sex and sexuality has very obviously trickled down to children. I don't mean older teenagers (age 15-19), I mean little children whose parents dress them in barely there bikinis and hootchie-mamma outfits because they think a five-year old prostitute looks cute. There are more important things in life than sex. There are better things to do with your body than obtain or give physical pleasure. Maybe once we get over the obsession with sex we can move past the obsession with beauty and the body shaming.

As I stated above, I live in reality. I've been accused of being an ice queen, of having no soul, of having no imagination because I do not find some forms of entertainment, such as romance (which, in all its media formats, pushes the notion that beauty is the most important thing because it is the key to an active sex life, which is supposed to be the only life) to be all that entertaining. I do have an imagination, I just know how to separate it from the real world. As such, I have absolutely no illusions concerning my own personal physical beauty. I have none. I will go so far as to say that I am not "Ah! Kill it!" or "That thing belongs in a side show" ugly, but I find nothing particularly attractive about my physical appearance. I've been overweight, probably obese, for almost my entire life. I'm short, ridiculously short but not short enough to be a midget or a dwarf and not short enough to be considered cute. My face and other features besides my body shape are wholly unremarkable. As I said, my obesity is pretty obvious. People have a hard time getting past the layers of fat to see the intelligence and personality within, and I have a lot of non-beauty potential to offer a world that doesn't value it, but needs it to keep things moving forward. There is absolutely nothing about my physical appearance that screams "attractive" or any other modern colloquialism for that concept. My ex was never attracted to my body. I presented him with a realistic foundation that kept him grounded, but then he got tired of it when he found an "attractive" alternative (I have opinions about that judgement, thus the quotation marks). I was never what he wanted, he just settled. I was the McDonald's burger he took until he could find an open table at the steakhouse. Again, I have no illusions about my personal appearance.

I don't keep pictures of myself, I don't like people taking my picture (when I'm in costume it's embarrassing, but I allow it because I'm proud of my workmanship), and I almost never use my real picture online, instead choosing an avatar that represents my personality and/or interests. And, for the record, I would NEVER use my child's image to represent myself. She is her own person. I don't post her image too often online, period, because I want to protect her from the predators out there. She's all I have. She's the most important anything and anyone in my life. I also don't sexualize her or push the idea that she needs to be beautiful. She is beautiful and I do occasionally compliment her on her appearance, but I also emphasize the wonder of her sweet disposition and loving heart and the excellence of her brilliant intelligence. If I tell her that she needs to lose weight, it's not because she'll never "catch a man" if she doesn't, it's because of a family history of health problems related to being overweight and a blow to self-esteem that occurs any time someone goes to a conventional store for clothing, only to find that nothing fits because the sizes don't go that far. (Really, can clothing manufacturers and retailers not count very high or something? Or do they like the idea of fat people running around naked because they can't find any clothes? It makes me wonder sometimes). She doesn't need to experience the fat-shaming childhood I experienced because I made poor choices in my eating and exercise options and others felt it was their right to insult or mistreat me for the results. Remember, I would rather prevent fires than put them out.

Okay. Okay. Enough! This is pretty whiny, complaining, maybe even dark. I promised a bright side for those who made it to the end. Well, believe it or not, I do see a bright side in being unremarkable from a beauty perspective. I am 10 times less likely to be a victim of the typical crimes perpetuated against women. Although rape is a crime of power and not sex or passion, very few rapists will target a woman of my size. There's no thrill of conquest in forcing yourself on a fat woman or an unattractive woman. The stereotype is that most unattractive or fat women have such low self esteem that they would gladly bed the first person who finds them remotely attractive, they're supposed to be that desperate. In addition, large women tend to carry a mystique about them. You don't know how much of their bulk is actually packing face-pounding muscle. Plus, since I "obviously" didn't spend that much time cultivating my personal beauty, I must have spent my days stuck in a library somewhere, so I would be too smart to fall victim in the first place. (Yes, I do realize that you can take my words and throw them back in my face in a pessimistic light when applied to thin women. See, I look at multiple sides. However, I'm not trying to do that here, so take your smug "between the lines" analysis and save it for your own blog. This is my platform.) Being an unattractive, overweight woman certainly has its disadvantages in a society that primarily values skin-deep unattainable notions of beauty. However, because I'm grounded in reality, and because I've been growing over the years toward a more optimistic view of the world, I CHOOSE to see the positive side. I really don't want to deal with more depression, so I'm not going to take myself down that road.

My true wish is for everyone to get off this whole body image kick, period. Tall, short, fat, skinny, male, female, cross gender, transgender, no gender, rainbow colored skin, why should we care? I believe anyone who adds something positive to society, anyone who helps mankind move forward and/or helps their fellow humans grow and learn has value (using the original dictionary definition of the term). That value is more important than a surface trait, though less profitable from a commercial standpoint. So, yeah, stop trying to shame everyone to make yourself feel better. You can improve your self-esteem without bringing others down.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Squirrel of the Moment: Squirrel Scouts from Emperor's New Groove

I admit that I'm facing a bit of writer's block right now and I have somewhere to be shortly. So, I thought I would still try to maintain my new blogging schedule (Mondays just don't work at all for me any more and I have no good reason for it) by pulling from my long-overdue collection of Squirrel of the Moment candidates. Sitting on deck, ready to step up to the plate is ... Squirrel Scouts from Disney's Emperor's New Groove (2000) and it's sequel, Kronk's New Groove (2005).

So, what is so fantastic about Squirrel Scouts? Well, there is the moderate pun (Squirrel Scouts/Girl Scouts), but I'll admit I didn't really think about it until now. To refresh your memory, Emperor Kuzco and Pacha ran into a cute squirrel on their way back to the palace to try to turn Kuzco back into a human from a llama. Kuzco was not too nice to Bucky the squirrel. Karma comes around and Bucky pays back the emperor in a den of jaguars. That's not the end of Bucky's screen time. In their pursuit of Kuzco, Yzma and Kronk come across poor Bucky after his mistreatment at the hands of the emperor. Yzma is about to make a similar mistake when Kronk steps in, revealing that he speaks squirrel. Guess where he learned that? Yep, in the Squirrel Scouts! So, the Squirrel Scouts can teach you to not only treat animals well, but also how to communicate with them. If animated movies have taught us anything, it's that you never know when you need information or assistance from a non-human speaking animal. At the end of the film, Pacha's children have joined the Squirrel Scouts under the tutelage of Kronk and learn the ways of the jungle from Bucky himself.

Bucky and the Squirrel Scouts reappear in Kronk's New Groove, helping Kronk find the definition of true happiness. What is said definition anyway? It's having friends, doing what you really like, and being true to yourself rather than trying to impress someone who will probably never accept you for yourself anyway because you're not exactly like them.

So, Squirrel Scouts teach us to be kind to others, help out when we can, listen to the little guy, and be true to ourselves. Plus, well, they get to hang out with squirrels.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Joys of Insomnia (with a Sprinkle of Sleep Apnea)

A long time ago the Bear Naked Ladies released a song about the pleasures of insomnia. I actually used to pray for insomnia, especially toward midterms and finals so that I could have the time I needed to finish my grades and return the papers to my students. It's funny how prayers are rarely answered when you expect them to be or when you think you need them.

I originally thought I had a mild case of hypersomnia because I would find myself uncontrollably falling asleep in the middle of the day. This was especially worrisome when I was driving, which happened too often for my own comfort, unfortunately. Sadly, no doctor would believe me or listen to my story. They all just assumed that I obese and therefore suffering from [my words here] a sugar coma due to diabetes. Surprise, surprise, I never had glucose levels that indicated diabetes. True, I may have come close, but no one could ever diagnose me with it. You see, I'm probably one of the healthiest overweight women in the country. Despite my excess size, I have good numbers in all the areas you'd expect an obese person to suffer--cholesterol, blood pressure, excellent heart, decent sugars. No one could ever find anything really wrong--close, but not off the charts--in my blood work. The only true diagnoses I got were asthma (only because I kept telling them, no one actually tested me for it after I was 8 years old) and allergies. Neither of these are known to cause significant fatigue issues.

Finally, after years of not knowing why I sometimes had unexplainable weakness in one or both of my arms or why my mind could be awake but my eyes insisted on spontaneously closing and staying that way for a long while, my doctor ordered a sleep study. I'm sure there are many more invasive medical procedures out there. However, I find it incredibly ironic that they expect to study your sleep patterns with a) only 1 night of observation and b) you being hooked up to dozens of wires that prevent you from sleeping in your natural positions. My doctor sat on the first sleep study for over a year and the clinic that performed it shut down for some unknown reason. It wasn't until an ear-nose-throat physician ordered another one that I would find something close to an answer. And I went to that doctor because of an ear infection that wouldn't go away after 3 weeks despite various treatments. My regular doctor sent me to the ENT because they wanted to take out my tonsils. The ENT ordered the sleep study after putting together a lot of the other pieces, including my frequent spontaneous naps.

So, another uncomfortable night later, I got a diagnosis: sleep apnea. Yes, ladies and gents, the sleep disorder most commonly associated with snoring is apparently part of the puzzle for my lack of energy. With sleep apnea, you may think you get a full night's sleep, but your body actually wakes dozens, sometimes hundreds, of times during the night. You are only semi-conscious and so gosh darn tired that you are not fully aware of the constant waking. And why do you wake so often? Hmm, it could be because your respiratory system has a major malfunction so the only way your brain can think to get you to actually get some oxygen is to wake you fully to kick-start the lungs. By the way, not everyone with sleep apnea snores like a chainsaw all the time. I used to only snore noticeably when I was congested from allergies or a cold, thanks to my asthma. Now that I have a diagnosis, wouldn't you know it, I can hear myself snoring more often.

Wait, this blog has insomnia in the title. What's with all the sleep apnea talk? The sleep apnea was the only clear-cut medical diagnosis I received. At the time of the sleep study I was getting a full-night of sleep, sort of, fully waking to my alarm each morning and rarely before then. If you've read the last few posts of my blog, then you'll know that things in my life started to pile up and stress levels magnified. I started having nights in which I woke too early--1 am, 2 am, 3 am--and found it hard to get my brain to shut down long enough to finish my sleep cycles. This didn't happen too often. Even as a kid I had trouble sleeping the night before a trip, probably because of the anticipation. When I had problems sleeping during grade-reporting times, I chalked it up to stress. Temporary insomnia goes hand-in-hand with excessive stress and anxiety levels, after all. Besides, I didn't get a diagnosis of clinical insomnia with my sleep studies, just sleep apnea. Also, a diagnosis only occurs when you experience the symptoms of insomnia--can't get to sleep, trouble staying asleep, waking too early or too often--consistently (as in daily) for six weeks. I originally had a bout of sleep problems sprinkled here and there. It started to become more consistent during and after our move.

I found myself not able to sleep, or keeping very odd hours for me; I used to be like a clock in my "old life", always waking within an hour of the same time, even on weekends, and always going to bed within an hour of the same time frame. After my daughter went to visit her dad I found that I had consistent problems getting to bed when I wanted to and I was waking after only an hour or two of sleep, regardless of when I fell asleep in the first place. Sure I was taking naps in the middle of the day, but that's not an exclusion for insomnia. Our bodies want sleep even if they're not going to give it to us on a schedule. So, for the last 4 weeks, I have yet to have a single night in which I sleep for 4 or more hours without achieving full consciousness. I admit that I am a little peeved about the whole thing. The saving grace is that I don't currently have employment--I pray every day for a job, and I apply to countless jobs every single day, but still no bits--so I don't have to worry about falling asleep on the job. However, insomnia is not healthy. The body needs its sleep for basic maintenance and dreams are essential for mental health.

Hold on! This blog in general is supposed to be about the bright side. Where is it? Remember at the beginning, where I told you that I used to pray for insomnia? I knew about the bright side from the start. Even this past month, after I toss and turn, trying to force my mind to enter maintenance mode so I can get more rest, I am wise enough to give up and get up and try to do something. Sometimes I play a mindless computer game and that helps. Sometimes I sift through my copious amounts of email. I occasionally take the opportunity to catch up on my reading or, in the desperate hours when it looks like sleep is gone for the night/morning, I try my hand at the limitless chores that abound when you are the sole adult responsible for the welfare of a child. So, yeah, I've found a way to make use of my insomnia. The only time I'm cranky from lack of sleep is when I fight the insomnia. When I give in and use the time for something more productive, then I find I actually have enough energy to make it through my day. At least, that is, until I take a nap.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Little Giraffe Makes a Big Difference

This is Jerry. He is a stuffed giraffe. He doesn't normally wear a hat, but he (okay, I) was feeling whimsical that day. I bought Jerry on a whim in the midst of the emotional storm that started out 2014, things that I've mentioned on previous blog posts this summer. He seemed to be just the right size for hugs, something that I desperately needed when I was kicked out of my marriage bed and made to sleep alone after 12+ years of sharing a bed with that person. Honestly, that was the only motivation behind buying Jerry. It was early February, so he has a heart pattern on his left hind leg--you can almost see it in the picture. Because he's not a teddy bear or a frog (I guess it's the whole "Frog Prince" thing), he's not really a "Valentine's Day" animal. That was the reason I chose him over the other standard V-Day animals available. He just seemed to stand out and he was the only giraffe.

Unfortunately, Jerry came home on a bad night. I was trying to be nice by giving that 'male who used to share my marriage bed' time with his paramour (I was trying to be open-minded and accommodating). It was a Monday, a school night. I kept my daughter out an hour past her bed time. We got home and she was still there. I blew up in a way that I never have before because I was livid that their inconsideration was interfering with my daughter's health, sleep patterns, and education. My daughter saw my face and I quietly told her to go to her room. She shut her door and climbed into her bed, clutching Jerry tightly, afraid of what might happen as I unleashed my Momma Bear wrath--and I was holding back, too, otherwise I might have done some physical damage to certain individuals. I'm not happy that my daughter was afraid of me. She now understands that my anger is incurred when I feel someone or something poses a threat to her and that I don't get angry with her.

Jerry proved to be just the right size for the hugs I needed. It can actually be quite uncomfortable for me to sleep on my side without something to hold on to (i.e. hug) because everything gets all squished together. Hugs have also been proven (you can find the research, I'm not going to do the work for you right now) to have psychological benefits, even if the hug comes from an inanimate object. There are times when my daughter snags Jerry from me because he really is the perfect hug generator. I originally got upset and jealous, but then something magical seemed to happen. As "the fit hit the shan" and stressor after stressor piled up in our lives, as we encountered all of the changes that result from divorce and moving--new job, unemployment and job hunting, new school, new church, new home city, leaving behind our community and friends--Jerry started to become much more than a random stuffed giraffe that was purchased on a whim. My daughter infused him with a childlike personality that just makes both of us smile. It's hard to look at Jerry now without thinking of his simple wonder and joy. Apparently, he thinks shoes are cars, "saying" vroom, vroom as he tries to push them around the floor (with my daughter's help, of course). He also seems to think cell phones are brownies and likes to "nom, nom" on just about anything. My daughter claims that he likes pie. He is a self-proclaimed "huggle monster" and a master hugger. Any time he falls on the floor during the night he is exploring. He likes to go on adventures, but doesn't get out much because he's a little big for a purse, so he has many adventures at home. Sometimes Jerry gets to go out; he's gone to the movies and Chuck E. Cheese's and he got to ride in a washing machine and dryer. His best friend is the stuffed Oswald the Luck Rabbit we found at a Disney outlet store. If you follow me on Twitter [@eowyn35], then you've seen some of Oswald's adventures at Disney World. Jerry isn't jealous of Oswald because they both "share" their adventures with each other.

Jerry doesn't "bring home the bacon" and he is not able to do much in reality without our imagination and assistance. However, I'm much happier with him in our lives. His personality keeps us light-hearted so that we always keep in touch with innocent wonder. I am not deprived of hugs even when my human interaction is lacking. It's also hard to maintain any kind of negative feelings with him around. Just look at that face. Wouldn't you have a hard time smiling, at least on the inside?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Disney World Annual Pass--Best Workout Investment Ever

Even for people living from paycheck to paycheck, even for someone whose budget is so tight it occasionally not even an atom can slip through sometimes, there comes a time to indulge. For some people the indulgence is very modest and simple: a night at the movies, dinner at a real restaurant, a new article of clothing you've had your eye on for a while. For me, the biggest indulgence I made this year, when my life was thrown upside down and twisted inside out and I found myself emptying what little I had in my savings account just to buy groceries (I'm not counting the bed I bought because I don't believe anyone deserves to sleep on the floor), were the two Florida Resident annual passes I bought for myself and my daughter. Before you judge me, which you have no right nor not enough data to do so, I used my tax return to make the purchase. I had just enough, coupled with the credit card that I carefully worked hard to pay down, to pay for a short 4-day vacation for my daughter and I during her spring break this year. I upgraded our 3-day passes to the annual pass and I've never been happier.

After signing the divorce papers, essentially gaining my freedom for little-to-nothing in return, but still being chained to a man who never really loved me because he suddenly decided that he might want to get to know his now 12-year-old daughter through forced joint parental sharing (Florida does not use the term "custody" for some reason), I thought I might be on my way because I received a job offer in Orlando. Unfortunately, that turned out to be false advertising with a capital F; I was adamantly told the job was "training" and "marketing" when it turned out to be commission-based sales. Call a spade a spade. Painting it and splashing perfume on it is not going to change the fact that it's used to dig up the soil. So, after moving (and all the cost and personal investment that it entails), the company let me go in my second week. I'm not nearly as upset as people would expect. Let's just say that I tried to drink the Koolaid but found myself immune. But, that still leaves me in a city with no family or friends nearby and no income at the moment.

So, where does the Disney annual pass come into play? It has actually helped me keep my sanity and kept me from slipping too much further into depression. Because it is already paid for, I don't have to worry or feel guilty about driving down (roughly 30 minutes away from my apartment) to one of the parks to spend the day with my daughter. Parking is free, after all, with an annual pass and there is a discount for most non-food purchases.

Okay, I could probably pinch even more pennies by saving gas and staying home, or even driving to the local library since it is closer. That won't help as much, though. Taking my daughter to Disney once a week gives us time to really spend with each other. We don't have as many distractions and we're not as likely to do our own thing. Yes, I take some time out for myself while she rides one or two rides by herself, but this (for me) is more about giving her some independence than about me "getting a break" from my child. Honestly, I always feel insulted when someone implies that I need a break from my daughter. I love her like no one else. She is my reason for living. I don't like extended time away from her. I'm barely holding it together right now while she's visiting her father, which I feel forced into accepting as part of the divorce. So, yes, until I get a job we do spend time "together" doing other things throughout the week like watching TV or finding local events at bookstores. But those always feel like something meant for only one of us.

I now truly understand Walt's vision in creating Disneyland. There's just something about going to a Disney theme park that makes me want to actually spend time doing things together with the people who joined me that day. This is also the only time that I don't think about complaining about being outdoors, even though I pay for it the next day. See, if someone were to suggest going to a park for a walk or playing a sport outdoors, I might agree to go, but deep down I would moan about my allergies kicking in, making me miserable. I completely forget about that when I'm walking around a Disney park. I easily walk more than 4 miles on any given Disney trip, but I don't even think about it unless I keep track of it. Well, I feel it the next day when it's harder to get out of bed because I'm a little stiff and/or sunburned. That's where the workout part of the title comes in, by the way.

When my daughter and I go to a park, we go for a full day. Sometimes that means right at park opening, sometimes a couple hours into it. We usually don't leave until after dinner time. If it's not a Saturday, then we might even stay until park close (Sunday is Mass and I don't like either of us falling asleep during the service). We walk around so much as we meander from attraction to show to ride to shop. We take our time to enjoy the sites. The cell phones, iPods, or Nooks don't come out unless we're sitting down and we're finished eating or the line for the ride is longer than 30 minutes. I almost never Tweet or post to Facebook from the parks any more, at least not when I'm with my daughter, because I want to form memories, not memorials. I carry a backpack full of extra shirts and lots of drinks, so that's weight-lifting and I put on and take off the back to access the items within. There may be stair climbing or hill walking along the way. I don't notice all the exercise my body is getting because I'm enjoying myself so much. With this particular body, the less it knows it's getting a workout, the more it actually works to keep the weight manageable.

And the best part is probably the pricing plan. I know, I'm crazy. Disney must cost way more than a gym membership! Actually, I priced it out. My Florida Resident annual pass is under $520 a year, or under $45 a month. A local gym membership averages $50 per month at the minimum, plus the down payment of about 2 months-worth that's due when you join. Some gyms cost much more than that. And, if I were to go to a gym even weekly, then I would have to deal with my social anxiety. I know "fat" people are the ones who are supposed to go to the gym, but I can't get away from the stereotype that it's only well-toned people who actually use them. You can try to rationalize with me all you want. I'm still not going to feel comfortable in my current skin size to go to a gym even if it would help. At Disney, however, I'm working out without anyone having a reason to gawk at the walking land whale as she waddles along because they're all enjoying their own memories. I'm much less self-conscious in the anonymity of a theme park crowd than I am in a workout situation. I pack the extra shirt and supplies to freshen up halfway through my day, too, to reduce possible embarrassment and to feel better--I really don't want to be the one who's body odor ruins the wait for the next attraction. Plus, I'm sure my daughter would quickly get bored with a gym, assuming I could find one that would sign up a minor. I don't think she will tire of walking around Disney all day.

For me, the indulgence in the Walt Disney World annual pass is well worth the money. I not only get a weekly workout--five miles is a lot for an asthmatic with a bad hip--but I also get real mother-daughter time with the person who matters the most to me. Even though times are tough being an unemployed single mother, even though I continue to send out dozens (if not scores) of job applications each week hoping that I finally get a bite, even though my savings account is quickly drying up, I will do my darnedest to scrape up the money to renew our annual passes in the spring if I can. Who knows, I might end up losing weight in the process, too. Now that would be an added bonus.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Indispensible Folding Red Wagon

If you have been to a kid's softball or soccer game in the last 5 years you may have seen one of those red cloth wagons. I knew I wanted one the moment I saw someone carting all their equipment in it. I also saw them at outdoor concerts in my community. People filled them with chairs, picnic supplies, small children, and pets. Sadly, when I finally hunted one down at a local store, it was very much out of my price range at the time. I got lucky, though, and found one at a decent discount at a K-Mart that was closing. It was still a little pricey--I've always been living pay-check to pay-check--but I decided that I could come up with enough uses to justify the purchase.

At first, I didn't really use the wagon that often. I employed it a couple times to bring teacher gifts to my daughter's school at Christmas and during Teacher Appreciation week one year. I didn't even get to use it to bring her softball or soccer gear to practice or the games because I already had designated equipment bags pre-packaged and ready to go. So, my little red wagon spent quite some time in the garage, waiting for justification for the funds used to procure it. Then, my world finished shattering when I was tossed out like a bit of rubbish because the man who promised to love, honor, etc. until death do us part (TWICE, I might add, since we had a civil ceremony and then our marriage was sanctified in the Catholic Church) decided he wanted and needed nothing more from me because he found a better substitute, one who wouldn't provide a conscience or stand up for him when he was attacked by others.

[Sorry. It still hurts. But that's not what this post is about, now is it?]

Well, I found a new home far from my old one. I moved to an apartment, luckily on the first floor. But, I lost the convenience that a home gives you, namely the less-than-ten-foot walk it takes to bring in purchases from the driveway to the kitchen (or other designated room, if not groceries). When we first moved in to the apartment six weeks ago, I had family here to help me bring in my purchases and pack/unload all of our belongings. [That's another post that needs writing!] Even with their help, I found that my little red wagon was perfect for bringing in smaller items from the moving truck--pillows and blankets, luggage, small boxes. After we unloaded everything, I still needed to make many purchases to turn this place into a home. All we had, though it seemed like a lot, was our clothes and books and a few personal items. We had very little in terms of furniture, food, cleaning supplies, even bathroom accessories. So, I went shopping. That little red wagon came in handy with unloading my car, bringing everything into the apartment and helping my daughter and I set up this place into more of a home. It even proved to be a great convenience with carrying in all the shelving I had to buy (20% of the boxes we packed were books).

I actually use the little folding wagon on a regular basis. It fits 4-6 laundry baskets. Another convenience I lost when kicked out of the house was the presence of a washer and dryer, so I have to go to a laundromat each week. The little wagon folds flat in my trunk or back seat, then I pop it out and put in my baskets and soap, making the trip to the laundromat that much more convenient and less of a hassle. I also still use it on shopping trips, especially grocery shopping trips. It folds flat, sitting in my car until it is needed. I've been able to get everything from my car to my apartment in one trip each time I go out, even if I go out alone.

So, even though it sat idle for so many months, my little folding red wagon has more than paid for itself. I've even gotten a couple people asking me where they can find one for their own. I just have to keep my daughter from trying to ride in it (she stands at 5'5", so even if she had a stick-thin figure, which she doesn't, I don't want to risk her safety).

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Thank goodness for the auto-fill functions of web browsers! Sites that work with my browser to automatically fill in forms with the same information that is requested over and over--name, email, address, etc.--save me so much time. I've encountered their convenience when signing in to my regular sites (email, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and when filling out forms for contest entries or creating new accounts.

I have especially come to greatly appreciate the function of auto-fill lately, though, when I am actively hunting for a job (I need more permanence, stability, and at least twice my current pay to comfortably provide for my daughter on my own). Career sites that upload information from my résumé, pre-filling in much of the required data, save me at least an hour each time. I've had somewhere around 14 jobs and 3 college degrees in the last 16 years, so I have a LOT of information to input each time I apply for a job. [Before you judge me on my work history, note that many of my early jobs were short-term because of school requirements and I had temporary employment positions when we moved to our present location. I was also working 3 jobs concurrently at one point. I have had my current job for 6 years.] I've filled out more than 30 job applications in the last week or two, so you can imagine just how much my gratitude is growing. Granted, these sites are only about 90% accurate, probably because they don't use the exact formatting as I use on my résumé, but any time saved means the opportunity to apply for more positions, increasing my chances of landing that job that will fulfill my financial and career needs.

I recently encountered a situation in which auto-fill saved me from having to redo about 20 minutes of typing for one of my classes as well. I was building a crossword puzzle on Angel (course management software used by my college) when I inadvertently clicked on the wrong link to edit a feature of the puzzle (adjusting the possible score after adding more words). I was about to freak out and curse fate when I saw that only 5 of the 22 words seemed to have made it into the final puzzle. I really did not want to retype all those definition clues again. Luckily, Angel's auto-fill saved the clues from each line in the form, so I could easily retrieve it with a mere push of the down-arrow key in each position after re-adding the empty spaces for them to the form.

Thank you to the wonderful geniuses who developed auto-fill and to those who continue to fine-tune it. I know I am able to accomplish more with just that one small convenience and it gives me greater piece of mind.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Being a Member of a Community

As I am an extreme Introvert, I am often accused of many things--being antisocial [People, get this straight!! See my psychology blog post on this!], having social anxiety, being a homebody. Basically, because I recharge my batteries in quiet solitude people like to jump to conclusions about the kind of person I am rather than bothering to take the time to get to know me better. As an I--J on Jung's typology (the first and last personality dimensions as assessed by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), I take a long time to warm up to people. I observe and reserve judgment until I gather enough data to draw my conclusions. This also means that I am more particular about the people with whom I form friendships AND once a friendship is fractured it takes a long time for me to heal. I am capable of forgiving and moving on, but due to my nature I take a while to come around to the new conclusion. I don't ask anyone to like it, but it is always nice when someone tries to understand without leaping to assumptions.

Well, the other day I was thinking about the social activities of my husband and myself. He spends very little time at home. Pretty much all of his non-work time (and sometimes he takes off work early or uses his lunch time) is spent with FRIENDS doing friend stuff--watching movies or TV, talking, "hanging out", playing board games, etc. It's all about having a good time, entertaining themselves. I certainly don't begrudge him this. I understand the necessity to socialize, especially for the extrovert that he is.

Still, because I don't seem to have many friends, he thinks I don't know how to socialize with others. I happen to have friends. However, except for a small number of friendships I've formed locally--remember, it takes me a while to extend that title to someone--most of my friends live far away from me. Why do I have so many friends so far away? Well, that's the positive of the I-J; when we make friends we value them so much that we make the effort to keep them going strong even when physical distances separate us. I may not contact my friends on a daily basis. I may not physically see them in person--hard to do that when they are states, countries, or continents away--but I call or write or email or contact them via Facebook/Twitter. Because these people are important to me I make the effort to keep in touch. I do count that as socialization. I don't need to be in the same room with someone to enjoy their personality. It's nice to get to talk or do something with my friends in person, but I can love them as my friends without demanding their presence as well. I'm also not going to just write them off and move on to other people just because they can't hop on a plane to come visit me. I understand that they have lives and obligations and I will never begrudge them those choices. The people whom I have chosen as friends also understand this about me (many of them are closer to the introvert side of the scale, too) and accept that sometimes life circumstances may physically separate people but you don't have to emotionally separate because of it.

The ironic part of my life is that, though he accuses me of not having any friends and he insists there must be something wrong with me because I don't "socialize" by his definition of the word, my husband thinks I spend too much time outside the house doing too much for others. I have to scratch my head when he points out or complains that I'm never home because I volunteer at my church or for my daughter's various organizations. New flash: this is a form of socialization! I choose activities with other people that promote something for a greater good beyond my personal entertainment. Yes, I can enjoy the company of others AND still accomplish something like helping clean up a place, serving people, assisting, teaching people, or worshiping with others. My socialization comes primarily from being an active member of a community. I am not trying to inflate my ego in any way, but I know that if/when I ever leave here my daughter and I will leave quite a few holes because of all the contributions we make. I'm sure that, should he ever relocate, my husband will be missed for a while by the dozens of friends who know him. Some may even stay in touch with him for a while. And yet, other than his place of work, I wonder if there is anyone else who would be scrambling to fill the gaps he would leave behind. Sadly (from one point of view), there wouldn't be too many people who would suffer from a vacuum like that.

Here's a little more irony. Though my husband would leave behind many friends if he were to move, it would actually be harder for me to leave a place because I am a member of the community. I have a knack for finding a hole and filling it with my skills, abilities, time, talent, and willingness to assist. I enjoy having a purpose and a place. My choice of socialization tends to have more of a purpose than just entertaining myself. I can find enjoyment in the company of others, I just don't need to be so selfish about my activities. It's not just about making people happy, for me. It's more about having a place and making a difference. When I do finally leave here, I know, sadly, that I will probably leave some gaps that will take my community--church, work, daughter's school & extracurriculars--some time to find a replacement. I realize that I will leave a vacuum, so it can be tough for me to leave a place. The friends I made here, though, will stay my friends for as long as I continue to reach out to them. I know distance is no barrier to friendship, but it is to being a member of a community.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying one way of socialization is better or worse than another. There are two sides to every coin (3 if it's thick enough). On the one hand, it is easier for my husband than for me to make new friends everywhere he goes. On the other hand, it is easier for me than my husband to become a member of my community. It is also harder for me to leave a place than it is for him, but easier for me to keep up my important relationships when I leave because of my personality.