Monday, December 16, 2013

Vaccum No. 3

The Man and I take pride in keeping our home looking nice.  We don't have many decorations to distract the eyes from dust and dirt, so we have to keep up on the cleaning.  Thankfully we're both (usually) keen to clean.  We both take part, and while we can each do all of the chores, there is a mostly understood division of tasks.  The Man's big task has always been vacuuming.  He's superb at vacuuming.  Our carpets look like baseball fields, all criss-crossed and manicured for the big game.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: FAQs

But wait, Jaggy, I’ve talked with you. You have social skills. You have a normal job and are married, went to college, have friends, and spend lots of time with your family!  You don't have Asperger Syndrome, you're just antisocial.  So right and yet so wrong.  I do have a job, but I have my own office where I control my space and stimuli, and I actually enjoy what I do.  In past jobs where I didn't have that level of autonomy, I was miserable.  My last job was making me physically ill as I attempted to navigate hostile coworkers and a horrible workspace.  It took two years for my insides to stop hurting (going gluten free for a few months helped immensely).  I did go to college, but I was probably the least social college student to ever graduate.  I never went out on my own, didn't go to parties or initiate social gatherings, didn't really do much of anything but work and go to school.  While I do have friends, I have a select few that I maintain ties with routinely.  The rest of my social group is either family or my husband's friends.  So you're right, I am lucky enough to have a relatively "normal" life.  But I am not antisocial.  Asocial, perhaps, but not antisocial.  

Have you been officially diagnosed? No.

Well if you haven’t been officially diagnosed, how do you know you might have Asperger’s Syndrome? If I told you I had a cold, you wouldn't second-guess me, would you? If I said I had a pulled muscle or a broken arm or a bleeding nose, you wouldn't tell me otherwise. If I said I had been depressed or manic or addicted or tired, you wouldn't sit there and tell me I was wrong about myself, would you? I've done extensive reading and understand myself better now than at any point in my life. This fits. This works. This explains literally every aspect of my life. Self-diagnosis is not generally advisable, of course, but I’m not taking medication or altering my lifestyle. I’m simply taking in knowledge, churning out understanding, and learning how to be a better version of me in the process. It’s hard to look at the evidence and not reach an Aspie conclusion.

Will you seek a formal diagnosis? There is no easy answer here. Yes, I’d like to have that piece of paper to wave in doubting faces. I’d like to be able to point and say “see! I’m official!” But a piece of paper won’t change me. It won’t change how I interact or deal with people and situations. I’m not aware of any psychiatrists that offer adult diagnosis on the autism spectrum in my area, so receiving a formal diagnosis will be difficult. I don’t need a doctor to tell me that my arm’s been chopped off, and I don’t really need a professional diagnosis for this either. I did recently take an “official” test online: you can view my results here.

But only boys get AS, and you are a girl. When I was young, in the 1980s, the thought at the time was that only boys could get Asperger’s Syndrome. The diagnosis, if a psychiatrist had heard of it at all, wasn’t given to girls. A girl who exhibited similar symptoms--quietness, intelligence, playing alone, and being unemotional--was considered neurotypical, even positive. We’ve moved along in the last thirty years to recognizing that women experience the autism spectrum differently than men. Females can be autistic or have AS or many other new mental disorders.

Having Asperger’s Syndrome is trendy and popular, and you just want to have it. Um, no. I am not a fan of labels. Why would I want to take the extraordinary me and slap a label on it? Having a label doesn’t change who I am or give me an excuse to not continue learning. It does give me understanding and a massive load off my shoulders as I look back and realize that I don’t have to feel guilty over monologuing or embarrassed for needing alone time. Also, if you think I care one iota about appearing trendy or fashionable, you’re in for a very rude awakening.

Hold on Jaggy, Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t exist anymore. Former Aspies have to call themselves “high functioning autistic.” Call my struggles whatever you want, classify them in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (V!) as mere gibberish or a full-blown developmental issue. It doesn’t change who I am or my experiences. Just because a name for something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that the condition doesn't exist.

Why did you wait so long to tell people? Whether I tell people or don’t tell people doesn’t change anything. If I do tell people, they might be more understanding and less judgmental about my oddities. If I don’t tell people, I struggle silently. Nothing changes for me either way. Also, putting this out for the whole world to see means potential future employers can read it. My hope is that they are educated about Asperger’s Syndrome and can see how me having it is a massive asset to the company. I can do repetitive tasks for days on end (hello, I quilt). It means I can organize and classify, research and distribute information. I am excellent at fixing things and saving money. It means that I might not show up to work with a smile on my face every day, but I will show up. I take initiative when I see problems, work well independently (so no need for a micromanaging supervisor, thank you), and get my work done on schedule. I follow rules. I also take criticism well, because I know I have issues and work very hard to overcome them.

Can you show me how you are as an Aspie? You’re asking me to undo a lifetime of trying not to be different. You’re asking me to let down the walls and act in a way that I struggle so much to hide. You’re asking me to open myself up once again to the kind of reactions (of disgust, annoyance, or ridicule) that I simply can’t bear for the sake of you “seeing” the real me. If my Aspieness comes out, it comes out, but I am not going to force it just to humor you. Go watch some Big Bang if you need a laugh.

I’ve heard that people with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t have feelings. There is a difference between not knowing how to express emotion and having the original feeling. I feel widely and deeply. I have the whole spectrum of emotions, and I can love with body and soul.  Just don't ask me to explain what I'm feeling or how I'm feeling.  When I figure those things out, I'll let you know.

‘Ass burgers,’ heh. Wow, original. Never heard that one before.

How should I approach you now? How can I help? Don’t change anything. I have been living just as I am in the real world throughout my life. Don’t make excuses for me (I will do that myself if I need to). Don’t think I can’t or won’t do things. Do try to understand that I need “off” time, especially after large gatherings. Know that I have to take a while to answer a question sometimes because I am trying to be proper and give a succinct response. Otherwise, nothing really changes. Treat me like a normal person, please. I’m doing everything I can to just be normal.

Are you comfortable talking about Asperger’s Syndrome? Yes, to a point. I don’t mind if it comes up in conversation, but I don’t want to be the family’s science experiment. Even if I have trouble expressing them correctly, I do have feelings. You wouldn’t like it if we talked all about your bowel movements, would you?

Wow, Jaggy, this is really brave of you to put yourself out here like this. Not really. I’m just telling the truth. I’m telling what I’ve always known, what I’ve learned recently, what I’m up to now. That has been the point of my blog from the beginning, and I owe it to myself and to readers to stick with it. I don’t really understand “brave.” I’m just getting on with it.

How long did it take you to write all of this? One weekend. I started writing about 4:00pm on a Saturday and finished around 10:00pm on a Sunday. For one more example of how much of an “Aspie” I am, I stuck it out, typing away for hours and hours on end, only taking breaks when I was bursting or starving. I’m exhausted, but now this is all written, and I can sleep with an empty head.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Epilogue

The point and purpose of my posts over the last week and a half have been to introduce a new topic here: Asperger Syndrome. You can read all about it on Wikipedia, then come back here for more information. Based on everything I’ve read on the vast Internet and in books, I probably had AS as a child and still struggle with the challenges today. I don’t definitely have it, but it is hard to ignore the evidence. Though I had no cognitive impairments, I have always had a hard time knowing the right way to be social. My friendships--few and far between--have generally failed due to my own inability to help maintain them. I become interested in topics far beyond what a neurotypical person might, and I have a difficult time not sharing every thought about those passions with those around me. I have a grand vocabulary and use words in ways other people don’t--puns only scratch the surface. I am also so physically uncoordinated that my movements are comical even to myself sometimes. The most important part of reaching a diagnosis is that my difficulties were significant. After thirty years, I’m still struggling with the same things I struggled with early in my life. I’m not disabled, but I do have daily challenges.

I first found out that something like AS existed about two years ago. I was desperate to learn more, so I started buying books. When I read Aspergirls: Empowering Girls with Asperger’s Syndrome for the first time, I was giddy with excitement. THIS! This is me! These are my struggles. These are the words that someone else has given me to explain what I’m feeling and how I think. This is all the inside thoughts I’ve ever had put on paper. These people are from the same planet! I was afraid to talk about it at first, but I eventually opened up to The Man. After some initial reluctance, he agreed I was probably right. A few months ago, The Man and I read 22 Things a Woman with Asperger Syndrome Wants her Partner to Know. We both had many ah-ha! moments and found new ways to work with my strengths. The Man understands why I need “off” time, and he’s less pushy to get me out in the overwhelming world. I understand more about myself and how I need to get out in that world, to experience things with him, to support him and work on my social skills. This book completely changed our marriage. I’m no longer as much of a controlling nightmare, and he’s less resentful. We still have lots to work on, naturally, but we’re growing together now instead of bristling apart.

And if you couldn't tell by the last ten posts that I sort of went all Aspie-obsessed over The Big Bang Theory, well, I did.  Sheldon and I have more in common than I ever realized.  We're not crazy: our mothers had us tested.

If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to leave them.  Please remember to follow the blog rules posted at the top of this page.  I moderate all comments, so if you put the word "private" or something like that in your comment, I'll see it and know not to post it for everyone else to read.  Those with my personal e-mail address should also feel free to e-mail me directly.

Friday, November 22, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 10

There are so many ways that I relate to the Sheldon character in The Big Bang Theory that I cannot possibly enumerate them all. Sheldon has his favorite spot on the couch, and I have my favorite spot at the dining table. Woe to the person that sits in my spot. It is both conveniently located such that I am able to easily get up from the table to stir a pot or retrieve seconds. It is on the right of two chairs so that I don’t invade another’s space while eating with my right hand. My spot is both near enough to the kitchen to be convenient and within eyeline of the TV in the living room and my computer screen in the office. It is not too near any heat registers, yet I can feel the very soft breeze of the air circulating through the house. Yeah. I have a spot.

While Sheldon doesn’t drive and I find the chore necessary at times, my husband does drive me to work every day. It’s more about convenience and saving gas money for us, but it is a sneaky connection. Also, I am pretty sure I had some of those same exact thoughts as I took my driver's test (which I aced, by the way--the driving portion was a different matter).

Sheldon has the Roommate Agreement with Leonard that stipulates every action the two can share while living together. I guarantee that if I could do this with my husband and be taken seriously, I would draft an agreement in a heartbeat. The idea that rules are written and can be relied upon satisfies my need for right and wrong, the need for justice.

Despite his obvious flaws, the Sheldon character can be described as loyal, honest, trustworthy, dedicated, intelligent, and many other positive qualities. However, these qualities are always so strong that they themselves are almost flaws as well. Sheldon is loyal to a fault, not knowing that he sometimes needs to let go. He’s so honest that he doesn’t realize how the truth can hurt. He is dedicated to the point of not eating or relieving himself. He’s so brainy that he fails to live in the real world, doesn’t understand common social cues, and can’t figure out why everyone else seems to lack what he considers common sense. Now I don’t have Sheldon’s Ph.D. astrophysicist brain, and I’m not as dense on the whole, but someone could pretty quickly make the leap to, “oh my gosh, you’re a female version of Sheldon!” and they’d be accurate.

I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 9

I get overwhelmed easily. Not in the “this is too much work, I’ll never catch up” kind of way, but in the “get me out of here, I can’t handle this music, the crowd, the smell of the pumpkins, the ringing of the checkstand” sort of overwhelmed. I can’t handle concerts. Crowded shopping malls? No way. Listening to music and trying to write at the same time? Not happening. I can’t deal with it. My brain sizzles and craps out like an old fridge.

This presents some problems in my life. The Man and I have learned that I do not cope well with having the sunroof open. I can’t hold a conversation with him in the car if there is music playing. I couldn’t write last night while he played a new video game because he wanted the volume loud and I wanted him to wear headphones, but he wouldn’t, and I gave in. No writing that night. We have just learned to adapt and listen to each other, to either cooperate and share space or move to another space.

The Man recently competed in a Spartan Challenge, a sort of muddy obstacle course race, and he finished. He didn’t win, but he finished, and that was pretty awesome in itself. I went to support him as he ran, but I had no idea what was in store. The day was plenty warm, and there wasn’t much shade. The event attracted thousands of people, people with very bright clothing and very loud voices. The summer day was punctuated with the thumping of loudspeakers blaring hard rock music and an annoying announcer shouting all around the obstacle course. I was trying to take pictures of The Man, but I was also trying to find shade, stay out of the direct blast of the speakers, avoid other spectators and crowds, and not get in the racers’ way. This went on for four hours. By the end of the day, I’d not eaten anything or used a bathroom. I was numb from the vibrations of soundwaves, shouting encouragement, and standing too long. I just shut down. I didn’t know how to tell anyone that I was completely overwhelmed and exhausted. The Man asked me later if I was okay, and my face was still frozen in a sort of half-smile to be polite and half-pained scowl. It took me two days to mentally recover from that event, about as long as it took for my sunburn to fade.

I have many techniques I use to deal with feeling overwhelmed. When I was little, I’d smush my doll’s silk tag and relish the slippery fabric gliding and sliding between my thumb and finger. As it is apparently inappropriate for a thirty-year-old to carry around a childhood doll (pfft, ha), I adapted and have spent the last twenty-five years rubbing my fingers against my thumb directly. And then I pick, dig, and mangle them to the point of bleeding sometimes. Usually it doesn’t hurt--I’m not in it for pain--but the movement is a very comforting sensation.

I also try to get as much time as I can at home without distractions so that I can pursue my recharging activities, both crafts and watching movies. Having alone time is important to me, and I appreciate every second I get doing what I want to do without distractions or noise, without the have-tos and need-tos. Sometimes I just can’t go out and deal with people and having to be “on,” having to try to read expressions and hold conversations, having to figure out the right responses and body language, having to meter out my own monologue, having to tune out noises, smells, sensations, and feelings. I need time “off” where I can be in control of my surroundings, my level of engagement. I need time on my own planet.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 8

You know those sheets of paper that have faces on them, the ones that ask, “how are you feeling today?” I have never understood those. Part of the problem is that my facial expressions don’t always match what is going on inside, and I can’t see other people’s expressions and relate them to emotions. The other part of the problem is that I have a hard time explaining what my emotions are. I know how other people define emotions--I’m quite capable with a dictionary--but this very clinical way of describing things has never seemed right to me. I sometimes have different emotional responses to events than people want me to have. I never seem to be compassionate to anything, and that isn’t at all the case. If someone tells me that a close friend passed away, I don’t naturally jump to the right response, “Oh, I am so sorry for your loss.” My brain goes to somewhere else, and I might inject a very wrong, “You’ll move on.” Though that may be true in the end, it certainly doesn’t comfort the other person. My brain takes empathy--which I have, but don’t express correctly--and outputs some other response that is often either unfortunate or embarrassing.

As another example, I had a friend once tell me that she’d lost quite a bit of weight very suddenly. Despite the fact that I knew she’d been trying to lose weight, my brain-to-mouth filter misfired and out flew, “you must be sick,” rather than the much more proper, “way to go!” Yeah, not my best moment. My clinical brain was right, she did lose the weight too quickly, but that isn’t the right thing to say. Lesson noted.

On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon has provided many examples of this trait. His use of a very hollow sounding “awww” to indicate sympathy and the suggestion of a warm drink to comfort a person come to mind. He has a very hard time emoting, and he doesn’t pick up on other people’s emotions.

I learned pretty early that explaining my emotions resulted in a long monologue that nobody wanted to listen to. I have more than one emotion at any given time, and none of them necessarily takes over the others, so my explanations could take forever. What someone might describe as a frustrating experience, I feel as “bad” or “not good.” I experience it to be triangles and a sort of strangling sensation. When someone says they are ecstatic, my version might feel that as “good, very good” and experience it as yellow circles, electric fingers, and a little tune in my head. Needless to say, when someone asks me, “How are you?” as a greeting rather than a question, my little head goes full-tilt trying to decypher the colors, shapes, and noises I am experiencing, while my brain-to-mouth filter is trying to figure out if I should answer the question at all or else risk monologuing and causing yet one more person to give me the “sorry I asked” look.

Rest assured that if I ask “how are you,” that I actually want a response. Otherwise I’d just say hi.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 7

Every year, those award shows roll around, and actors and actresses are lauded for their ability to suspend reality if only for a moment. They get fancy statuettes, get to give lengthy speeches, get the recognition for a job well done. I don’t get it. Acting isn’t hard. I do it every day.

Despite my ability to be profoundly awkward at times, I do get along pretty well in the normal world on a daily basis. I hold a regular job, go shopping (reluctantly), and socialize with friends and family. I get on with life. But my dirty little secret? I’m faking it.

I learned at a very young age that being teased and tormented for being different sucks, and that if I acted like the other kids, all giggly and social, I could blend in and deflect the taunts just a little bit. As I grew up, I became better at mirroring the expressions I saw, duplicating body language, and acting interested in pop culture. This doesn't mean I understood what I was mirroring, only that I could replicate what I was seeing. I remember telling my mother once that “I am so many different people.” She might have understood that to mean that I have different roles in life: daughter, student, friend. What I meant was that I have to act like so many different people during the day. I have to act like a daughter when I’m at home, act like a student at school, and act like a friend with others. Each of these acts were parts of me, but none of them were the real me. This is still very true today, and it can be exhausting. Every day I wake up and have to decide which character version of myself I am going to play, except I don’t have the script yet, and I won’t get it until it’s time to say my lines. I don’t get the luxury of dress rehearsals.

The problem for me is when my mirror breaks down. When that happens, I don’t have the recipe for what to do next, and have to come up with the right answer on my own. My responses can vary from freezing and staring blankly at a person to monologuing to making a stab at saying the right thing. If I miss the mark, I usually keep quiet and try not to embarrass myself even more.

I seek to be seen as normal, but the best I can do is act normal.  Think of it like a duck on water: calm and graceful on the surface but paddling frantically underneath.

In The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon makes stabs at mirroring. The character will mirror poorly, and the scene seems funny to normal people. In this clip, he's appearing calm and collected until he realizes he doesn't know what to do next. "Leonard, Leonard, Leonard, Leonard! Help!"

Monday, November 18, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 6

Do you ever have people burst your personal bubble? Someone will lean in too close to tell you a secret, but they accidentally (or purposefully) bump a bit more than you’d like, and then you have to awkwardly step away to restore the balance. There are different levels of closeness as well, for a stranger should certainly keep a greater distance than a loved one, right? Yeah, I apparently have big bubbles.

I am not fond of being touched in general, especially by strangers. I have coworkers that like to pop me in the shoulder jokingly or former teachers that like to [creepily] put their hands on my back to “see if I’m on track with that problem.” These seemingly innocuous touches are like raw electricity into my skin. The lightest caress of my knuckles makes my elbow tingle and my shoulder feel wiggly. A hand on my back will flip my stomach over and about. Clothing can even violate my personal bubble. I wear very specific clothing that fits a certain way, thus not causing undue distress through the day. I often wear a coat or fleece jacket for the extra weight (it feels like a hug). I am not concerned with looking fashionable as long as I look presentable. My clothes are clean and in good repair, but I won’t win any contests.

My personal bubble extends to noises, smells, sights, and other senses. I shut down if I become too warm. My hair feels hot if the lights are too bright, even if the lights are LEDs and emit no heat. I have an exceptionally keen sense of smell, and sour poultry or milk will ruin much of a day for me, even the slightest whiff. I just won’t be able to dig myself out of the funk to which such a rank scent will drive me.

The Man bears the brunt of my personal bubble preferences. He so often tries to hold my hand or put his hand on my leg when we’re driving somewhere. I push him away, uncomfortable with the heat and pressure, however slight, his hand makes through my jeans. It isn’t that I don’t want me to touch me, it’s that I can’t handle the sensation. At the grocery store, he’ll want to hold me. I haven’t figured out his need for affection while shopping for food, but I have had to explain to him many times that when we’re in the store, “I’m shopping, I’m menu planning, I’m cooking and listing ingredients, I’m comparing labels and prices, crunching numbers, and moving food into the cart. I am not anywhere near affection right now.” If he does try to be affectionate, we might as well leave the store. My brain’s little hard drive gets fried, and it is impossible to reboot. He has to wait until we’re out of the store, or he has to ask me directly, “is this an okay time to hold my hand?” He has to be prepared that I’ll say no, not take it personally, and move along. It kills me to say no, but I simply can’t have my personal bubble burst and still keep shopping at the same time.

Though I have boundary and sensory issues, when I’m not actively doing something, I do like hugs. Hugs are wonderful.

Sheldon (remember him?) eschews physical contact entirely. The most intimate we’ve seen him get on the show is holding hands with his girlfriend--only because she insists, and only on date nights. The one time he was affectionate was right after Penny gave him a special Christmas gift. That was a most memorable moment on the show.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 5

While I’m on the topic of JAG and that librarian who patiently listened to me, I have one more thing to add: I monologue. It is so embarrassing, but it’s a part of me that I’ve come to accept. Sometimes, especially when I meet someone new or have a new thought or idea that needs to explode out of me, I’ll “download” on a person and talk far longer than they want, except I can’t tell when to stop because I apparently don’t see the social cues people give when they want a person to stop talking and walk away. I don’t see it. I’ll figure it out after the fact, but I won’t see it as it happens. It isn’t like rambling when a person is nervous, no, not quite. Monologuing is me talking at someone, not with someone. Since The Man and I carpool to work every morning, he has to pick me up at the end of the day. He’ll ask me, “How was your day?” Sometimes I won’t stop talking until we get home a half-hour later. Then I’ll realize we are home and that I haven’t so much as stopped for a breath or asked him how his day was.

One of my most memorable monologuing experiences still haunts me. I had only been dating The Man a few days when he invited me up to meet his parents. He’d never brought a girl home before, so this was quite an event. I was dressed as nicely as I could be on short notice, and I was more than a little nervous. Through the whole drive up, I was thinking hard about how to give a great first impression, how to be polite, what to say, and how to act. His parents kindly took us to dinner at a restaurant not far from their home, and from the moment we walked in until the moment we left, I dominated the conversation with an epic monologue all about myself. All of those ideas I’d thought about in the car, the ones about being polite and giving a good impression? I must have left them right there on the passenger seat. It’s one thing, I suppose, to monologue about an interest, but to jabber endlessly about myself is beyond inappropriate. I remember leaving the restaurant and chastising myself the entire drive home for my lack of consideration, for my too-long answers to their questions. I felt horrible. I still feel rather bad about it. I’ve since talked with them about this, and they remembered it. They have forgiven me, but I can’t forget it. So utterly embarrassing!

Many times on The Big Bang Theory, one character will ask Sheldon a question and the others will all groan as if to say, “why did you open the box!?” Sheldon apparently monologues often. His description of “rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock,” is epic. The dialogue that the actor must regurgitate is utterly astounding, both for its technicality and its length.

This blog, in fact, is one giant monologue for me. The real blessing here is that I get to spurt out my entire thought without being interrupted. It’s my party, and I’ll drone on if I want to. But if this happens in real life, please know that I mean to ask about you. I’m sorry if I just keep jabbering about me. I am trying to learn to not do this as often.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 4

I have been accused of being “obsessed” about different things so many times in my life that one might think I need professional help. I didn’t get the nickname “Jaggy” by chance. For ten years, my Tuesday nights were wholly dedicated to the TV show JAG. I know show trivia, character arcs, and storylines better than some subjects I studied in college. It doesn’t make sense for a teenage girl to be “obsessed” with a military drama, but my devotion was unflagging as each season passed. At one point, around the third and fourth seasons, I’d tape each episode while watching the live broadcast, rewind it as fast as I could, watch the episode again, rewind again, and get up at 5:00am the next morning to watch it a third time before I had to leave for school. If I brought up JAG at school--which, due to my passion, was often--students and teachers teased me. They called me names, bashed on the little they knew about the show, and generally ribbed me raw. The librarian, a sweet older woman, made the unfortunate mistake of mentioning she also liked JAG, and after my binge-watching session early Wednesday morning, I’d burst into the school to find her and hash out all the juicy details about the most recent episode. If she missed it, well, spoilers were the least of her concern. I’d quote whole scenes to her, doing voices for each character, setting up props with library chairs and tables if necessary, and she politely humored me each week. Nevermind that the woman had a job to do… that didn’t occur to me as a 7th grader.

All of those JAG episodes were saved on VHS tapes in a large plastic bin under my bed. I had a coordinating Excel spreadsheet with episode summaries, tape numbers, even that week's rating from the official Neilson rating system. I kept the box hidden for a long time. The Man and I had been married a few months before I told him about it, and he quickly dubbed it my "Box of Shame." I retired the tapes last year as we now lack any device in which to play them.

My obsessions have changed over the years. Since JAG ended in 2005, I’ve had to find other interests. While I am passionate about crafting and creating things, that is merely a hobby in which I invest time and funds. My real “obsessions” are still on the screen. For the last several years, I’ve been working my way through actors. I find an actor I feel is interesting or attractive, someone that I might want to see more of, and I watch their entire body of work. The list of actors I have “consumed” is long. Very, very, very long. The number of entire TV series I’ve watched is absolutely staggering, even when I look at it. Some actors are predictable (George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell). Some actors are not very well known, but I’ve been watching their careers since the beginning (Gabriel Macht, Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Renner). I do occasionally watch an actress’s full work, but it’s not common.

Remember how this all relates to The Big Bang Theory and Sheldon? He is a man of obsessions. He loves his Indiana Jones movies, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. He has a comic book collection that can only be considered vast and valuable. His life more or less revolves around his obsessions and his work.

I know people aren’t used to the idea of being “obsessed” about anything, and I hope to make one thing clear: being passionate and dedicated to something is not the same as being truly “obsessed.” I enjoy watching TV and movies, but I don’t do it when I need to do other things--even though I might wish to. I like certain actors, but I’m not stalking them in real life (online? debatable). I have my own life, and I understand I have responsibilities. I am not addicted. I enjoy, nay, love to watch movies. And I still love JAG.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 3

Elementary school was both a blessing and sheer torture. I have always loved learning, and I had exceptional teachers for the most part. I was either at the top of every class or nearly so, PE being the notable exception. I never understood why I was picked last for games in PE: I was the tallest girl, easily the most flexible, and had great reflexes. But even through high school, if we were told to split into our own teams, I was invariably chosen dead last. Even the nerdy kids didn’t want me on their team, a fact which hurt immensely. Recess was a nightmare. I wasn’t coordinated enough for the monkey bars, and after a few tetherballs to the face, I gave that up. The boys wouldn’t let me play baseball, and the girls wouldn’t let me in on foursquare or hopscotch. I spent most of my recesses sitting at the base of these three huge fir trees that grew right in the middle of the playground surrounded by screaming kids, yet completely alone. The best recess I ever had was in 4th grade when my teacher pulled me aside and told me I didn’t have to go outside for recesses anymore. She let me stay in and play on the computer through every recess for the rest of the year. (I still think she’s the best teacher ever, and my fondness for the game The Oregon Trail is strong.)

Since those years in elementary school, I’ve been told by a few close friends that I am beyond uncoordinated. It isn’t so much that I dislike running--it is that I simply cannot do it well. My arms go one way, my legs and feet kick out behind me awkwardly, and don’t get me started on where my boobs go. I’m a hot mess if I try running. Sure, I can lob a basketball at a hoop when nobody is around, but with the confusion of teammates giving me commands and the coach telling me to pass the ball to someone else, the sound of the ball as it springs from the floor to my hands as I dribble… somewhere in all of that, my ability to throw the ball is lost.

I never grew out of being uncoordinated. I still walk into doorways, clip my hips on the end of the bed, and generally have bruises on my legs and arms from some too-close encounter of the clumsy kind. I don’t know how to spiral a football, how to curve a baseball, or how to head a soccer ball. I can’t stand playing team sports. I don’t like gyms with all of their smells and noises, movement and sweating. The only real exercise I get is from walking, which is just fine for me, but anything more complicated than that is beyond awkward and embarrassing.

Despite my lack of gross motor coordination, I have highly refined fine motor skills. My handwriting is excellent, and I have no trouble making detailed origami folds, threading tiny beads, or making exact cuts in fabric. I am as gifted with my hands as I am ungifted with the rest of my body.

On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon exhibits his own awkward body movements when he and Penny go running one day. Poor guy, the elevator might have been less risky. I can’t count the number of times I’ve done exactly the same thing (well, minus the, ahem, ending).

And yet one more example of Sheldon's athletic skill, I give you this second clip.  Seriously, the actors are way more talented and adept than I am on the court.  I can't tell you how many times I've smacked myself in the face with a basketball.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 2

When I was little, my dad used to call me his “little encyclopedia.” He might be in a conversation with someone, usually a family member, and say something like, “oh, that happened a few weeks ago.” I’d pipe up with all the authority I could muster, “no, Dad, that happened five weekends ago on Saturday, and we ate hamburgers afterward.” He’d ask me how I remembered such a detail, and I’m not sure I could ever explain it. I just remembered it.

Never one to keep quiet when I knew an answer, I quickly--and often painfully--learned that not everyone appreciates a know-it-all. It was a rough road through my early years at school, being first to raise my hand to answer each question, dodging the dirty looks and crumpled paper tossed in my direction. Teachers only called on me when the rest of the class was stumped. They especially hated it when they were trying to teach incorrect history or the wrong grammar--I’d call them on it. Of course, I wasn’t correct every time: I occasionally made mistakes, most often to a chorus of taunts and finger pointing. My ability to remember useless trivia, “too big” words, and piles of other information has always been excellent, but it’s not always a good thing.

The Man now bears the brunt of my know-it-all trait. In less than delicate terms, I’ve informed him that he doesn’t make the bed correctly, because naturally the way I do it is the right and only way. I learned that he never learned how to correctly clean a shower, or at least didn’t learn it the way I like it done. Despite his efforts to please me, I’m afraid he must be told more than once that he’s doing it wrong. Several arguments have ended with him informing me that my way is not the only way and that I can “stuff it,” or some slightly more colorful version of that sentiment. I know he’s right, I’m wrong, and that I need to learn to pick my battles more carefully.

Sheldon’s know-it-all personality has been the subject of many Big Bang episodes. Like an encyclopedia, he fills in trivia (Fun with Flags, anyone?) and points out truths and facts to the annoyance of the other characters. His great brain, like my lesser one, gets him into trouble not because of how smart he is, but because he doesn’t understand how to use it.

For as much as I’ve had to learn it the hard way, I still correct people sometimes. I have learned more when the right times are, though I am not always the most polite. It is hard to be both kind and correcting, and I err on the side of not saying anything rather than trying to be helpful. Knowing the encyclopedic “right” answer doesn’t may not mean I have the proper answer.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 1

This is one of many now-famous lines spoken by Sheldon on the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory. I am a fan of the show, to perhaps more of a level than The Man would like. Sheldon is a flawed character, highly eccentric, and socially awkward. I saw a backstage interview with the actor who plays Sheldon, and he said the most common thing people tell him about his character is that they "know someone just like that!" I had the same thought too, except that someone is me.

I know, I know, everyone thinks they are special. I’m not allowed to be both humble and still have a sense of “other” at the same time. But I am “other,” and I'll explain how if you’ll let me.

Each day for the next ten days, I’ll be posting a new blog post. Each day will have a sort of theme, and they are all related in some way to this Sheldon character. I’ve put more of myself into these posts than any others before now, and this is my story.

I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested.  I’m not sure exactly what the doctors were testing me for, but I do recall being tested. I was four years old and in preschool. I hated preschool with all of the passion a four-year-old can have, and even now, I look back with both anger and sadness. I didn’t want to go there two days a week, and I desperately wished to leave as soon as possible. My mom tells me that when she’d drop me off, I’d cry and cry until Dad would pick me up a few hours later. After a week or two of this, the teacher must have recommended that my parents take me to see a doctor to make sure I was okay. I remember so clearly waiting in the waiting room to see this doctor. There was a labyrinth game sitting on the table. It was made of wood, had two spindles sticking out the side, and contained a small metal ball. I was utterly entranced. My parents showed me how it worked, and I patiently lost that infernally small ball down the gigantic pits of despair over and over again. When the doctors called my name, I begged them to let me take it into the back room. They agreed. While I played with the labyrinth, I remember they were asking me questions, stupid questions like, “Do you like preschool?” “Do you make friends?” and “Do you like playing games?” I knew what they wanted to hear. I remember so vividly having the sense that I was being tested on my ability to give the same answer over and over again. It seemed an endless cycle of starting the labyrinth over again and them ruining my concentration to ask the same question in a slightly different way. I don’t know what the official word was, but I'm definitely not crazy.  My parents switched me to the other preschool class. I still cried every day. I still hated being made to play with my peers. They talked like babies and sang silly songs. They wanted to play with dolls and imaginary friends. I wanted to be left alone in the “woodshop” area and build things I could see in my head. I wanted to paint and create and explore, not role-play or nap or--the worst thing imaginable--sit and talk with other girls. I cried so much through preschool that I’m pretty sure the teachers all celebrated the end of that school year. Thankfully Kindergarten proved to be quite the opposite. To this day, I am still in love with labyrinth games. And, apparently I’m not crazy: my mother had me tested.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Blog Year Retrospective #8

It has been eight years since I started this blog, so I'm here with another annual retrospective.  For as much as this blog mirrors my own life, this past year has been altogether different.  While I've wanted so much to share my whole life on this blog, both propriety and privacy dictate that I not share everything.  I'll do my best to hit the facts without dwelling on details or stepping on toes.

Annie and Eddie, 1 year old
I should start with the two additions to the family this last year.  Our formerly pet-free household was colonized in late November by two beyond precious Korat cats (technically domestic short hairs due to lack of a pedigree, but pssh).  We got them at twelve weeks old, so we were able to see most of their growth into the adolescent cats we have now.  They are, for the most part, friendly and gentle, and though they are often not where we'd like them, they are inquisitive and clever.  They have learned to obey some commands, and they play fetch on typical feline terms.  While neither is a huge fan of manicures, Eddie especially loves to be brushed, and Annie took to her new scratching post immediately.  We built some shelves in our office specifically for them to climb and perch upon, and they've played for hours up there.  Both The Man and I have spent many, many evenings with one--or both--of them curled on our laps, arms, or whatever suits them best.

Our new house has been wonderful!  We're absolutely loving being homeowners.  We are not, however, fond of the work that ownership entails.  Last spring, my mom broke her arm while weeding in our yard.  After a surgery to remove the shattered bone and place an implant on the end, she endured months of physical therapy.  Dad had to pick up the slack around their house, and he also helped us with our yard too.  We put in all new bark dust around our house, trimmed every plant on the property, applied bags and bags of fertilizer, lime, and some seed to make what was a scraggly yard turn out to be the greenest lawn on the block.  Dad also helped me place about a hundred concrete pavers in our backyard so we can walk to the back of our house now without getting muddy when it is wet--which is always.  Mom pulled through the summer doing relatively little physically, but she managed to bond with the kittens while we sweated outside.  Speaking of sweating, we're over that.  We bought a central air conditioner this summer that saved us so much sweat and tears.  We both consider that to be one of our best investments yet.

We get lots of snuggles and purrs.
After two very short months settling in to our new home, my sister and her husband moved in with us at the end of October.  Then, a month later, my sister left for her Air Force basic training.  Her husband continued to live with us until she finished her technical school the following May.  To say that this period of our life was challenging doesn't begin to cover what was both immensely positive and heartbreaking at the same time.  Toward the end of May, with my sister still in Texas, both she and her husband agreed that their marriage had run its course.  The Man and I could only sit and provide support to them, never fully understanding their relationship, never really wanting to get between them.  Watching a marriage end isn't easy, and watching it happen in your own home felt especially frustrating.  When my sister returned in May, her husband had moved out to his own apartment only the day previous.  She stayed with us one more month before deploying to her current base.  After a total occupation lasting eight dramatic months, The Man and I realized we'd grown so much and learned more about each other than we probably would have otherwise.

The Man and I also bonded in another way this year.  We recently read a book together--not unusual, we just do things like that--and both got a lot out of the book.  We learned how to cooperate with our unique personalities and now work together even better than in the past.  Though the book was not remotely a "how to help your marriage" kind of read, it ended up being like that for us.  We are considering reading books together more often as we both very much enjoy the shared experience and time together.

Cat naps are common in our house.
Finally being secure enough to plan for the future, The Man and I have shiny new retirement accounts and more than two boxes of mac and cheese in our pantry.  We have devoted a lot of time and energy to ensure safety and success in the future, and knowing that we don't have to worry as much about "tomorrow" is a wonderful feeling.

We have had some time for fun this year, despite some unhappy events.  I finished my first king-sized quilt last spring, made a few pretty cards this summer, and we went on our very first camping trip together.  The Man went on three separate week-long business trips in the spring, so he visited a few new states and discovered a bit more of the world outside of Oregon.  We just celebrated our fourth anniversary, and we both recently turned 30 this year (Holy adulthood, Batman!).  Though there have been difficulties, we are both thankful to have experienced them, and we're hoping for a slightly less dramatic remainder of 2013.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rewarding Work

The Man and I had a discussion last night about how to honor someone for their work.  We realized there are different views about and approaches to rewarding an employee or helpful person.

My thoughts drifted back to former bosses and how I've been thanked for doing a good job on a difficult project or task outside of my normal duties.  I had one boss that never did anything to thank me.  That was fine, I guess, as at least I knew not to expect anything.  I had one boss offer me a cookie for a job well done (yeah, he literally said to me "oh good girl, do you want a cookie?" and handed me a cookie--and he thought this was appropriate).  That was more demoralizing than being ignored.  I have had bosses that want to take me out to lunch on "Administrative Professionals' Day," or whatever it is they're calling slave labor now.  It always struck me as poor way to show thanks to an employee, feeding them lunch.  One, perhaps lunch on the boss made sense decades or centuries ago, but shouldn't an employer pay wages enough that the employee can feed himself?  Two, if the boss pays for lunch, isn't the employee beholden to thank the boss?  Doesn't that sound weird to you?  "I'll take you out to lunch to show off how much more I make than you, and you also need to be thankful for it."  Really, the boss gets credit for taking the employee out, and the employee still gets no extra credit for doing his job in the first place.

The Man asked if it would be appropriate to publicly thank a person and honor them with a ceremony or plaque or trophy.  He seemed to like the idea, and figured others would too.  I thought about it and disagreed.  Publicly thanking someone doesn't give him any more credit than feeding him lunch.  If the boss calls Sam to the front of the room to thank him and demands a round of applause from all of the other employees, it feels like the boss is saying "look how great I am, rewarding someone with clapping! see how great we are for clapping! clap clap clap! now Sam will feel all better about the five nights of missed sleep, zero family time this month, and his brand new stomach ulcer from all the stress we cause him! more clapping!" (Meanwhile, all of the other employees now secretly despise Sam for attracting attention to himself and making them look bad, determine to get even by making his work life miserable, and Sam starts looking for a new place to work a few months later.)

What if, instead of publicly humiliating a person, the boss or friend or parent actually thanks the employee or helpful person personally.  Rather than demonstrating superiority or benevolence, the beneficiary of hard work says "Thank you."  If my bosses were to come to me privately with "we understand how difficult that project was and how much time and effort you put into making the outcome exceptional, and we thank you," I'd drop my jaw.  Wow.  No dramatic (and awkward) lunches, no cookies, no gifts necessary.  Or if The Man says to me after a homemade meal, "thanks, dear, for making dinner tonight.  I know you didn't want to cook tonight, but it was very good," I'd definitely keel over.  If this sort of praise happened every time I did something above and beyond, I might actually feel compelled to go above and beyond more often.

I realize that having pride in one's work is something that has to come from within, but being recognized by others is something I think we can all get on board with, right?

I'm not sure The Man agrees with me about how to best reward someone for a job well done.  How do you prefer to be rewarded?  How do you prefer to reward those who help you?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

4th Anniversary

The Man and I celebrated our 4th anniversary last week.  We didn't "celebrate," exactly, we simply marked the occasion, and we're going out to dinner tonight instead.  I have a hard time remembering it has been that long, but it has.  Our 4th year of marriage was pretty awesome.  Life is good, friends and family are wonderful, and we're chugging along.

Of course, none of that makes for great blogging, but hey, I'm not complaining.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Back to Papercrafts

So... yeah.  I kind of took a break from blogging for a while.  I've been [insert excuse here].  The truth is, I just haven't felt like writing.  I have been papercrafting lately, though, and I can blog all about that.  Rather, I can share pictures!  Click on any picture below to see the huge (apologize for cell-phone quality) version.

When my sister joined the Air Force, she left a HUGE stock of stamps, inks, and papers behind and is graciously allowing me almost unbridled use of them.  I have a few of my own products as well, and I combined all of our stuff into one craft area.  It is so much fun to walk over, grab a basket of stuff, and set to work.  Long before I was a quilter, I worked with paper.  Getting back into this is like meeting up with an old, old friend.  Well, not too old, haha.

Since my sister is letting me use her stash of stamps, I figured most of my cards ought to be for her, right?  This was the first card I made on my own.  I am so bad with knowing what's what, but the cardstock is generic white stuff from Staples.  The stamped swirls were stamped with Versamark ink and dusted with Perfect Pearls Confections set.  The striped paper and yellow paper are from some 6"x6" pads I found in a drawer.  The "thinking of you" is by Lawn Fawn.  No clue about the shiny dots.  Corners rounded by a Corner Chomper.  Adhesive was by Tombow.

This card was tricky as it is entirely my own design.  I get inspiration from Pinterest, but sometimes I just want to do things all by myself.  White paper is all plain white cardstock (Staples), and the green is by Recollections from Michaels (I think).  I used green ribbon from Jo-Ann Fabrics, green Distress Ink on the vine stamp (no idea), Versamark and green Perfect Pearls on the Lawn Fawn "thanks" stamp, Copic marker in some shade of olive green for the dots around the greeting, and a pokey tool for the pierced paper.  Adhesive was by Tombow or Scotch ATG.

Okay, this was pretty much a stolen idea from Pinterest.  I didn't come up with this all on my own.  However, I did choose a plain pink paper for the background to make the 1" squares and used a Corner Chomper to round opposite corners.  The colored paper is all from one set (no idea) of 6"x6" pattered paper cut to 13/16" squares (just a bit more than 3/4").  The "miss you" and heart on lower right panel is part of an alphabet by Lawn Fawn, stamped in Versamark and dusted with pink Perfect Pearls.  Adhesive was by Tombow.  I sent this one to my sister as well.

Hardest. Card. Ever.  Seriously, this card took hours to finish.  I started with white cardstock for the card, nothing fancy.  The black cardstock, also just generic, got the special treatment.  I put a bit of each color of the Perfect Pearls Metallics on my craft sheet, swirled them around a little, added a few spritzes of plain water, then dropped the black cardstock down in the sparkley mess.  The pearls stuck and created a pretty galaxy of color on the black paper.  I heat set that and cleaned my craft sheet up.  Next came the Saturn stamp and stars, stamped over the Perfect Pearls with Memento Dew Drops in metallic colors.  I stamped the robot (from Recollections at Michaels, long ago) on black cardstock with Versamark, embossed using Zing! black powder, and used the same Perfect Pearls mixed with a tiny bit of water to hand-paint the robot.  I used a Versamark pen to draw a talk bubble around a Versamark stamped Lawn Fawn alphabet "thank you," and dusted Perfect Pearls over those.  I used a white gel pen to add the dashed signal lines over the robot's head and a Sakura glitter pen to fill in Saturn's rings.  Once I cut the robot out (carefully) along with the talk bubble, both got some foam square adhesive stickers to create relief.  Hardest card, but also very cute!

I love! this background stamp.  I stamped it with Versamark and dusted it with different shades of blue and white/silver Perfect Pearls.  A piece of blue cardstock got small scalloped edges (Fiskars scissors that I've had--literally--since grade school).  The "Happy Birthday" was stamped in Memento black, not sure of the stamp brand, on a piece of scrap teal paper I found in a scrap pile.  Adhesive pearls add a bit of dimension and mimic the dots found in the background pattern.  This card is a lot prettier in person, but it still didn't turn out quite as well as I wanted.

The Man has realized I have a bit of talent for making cards, so he commissioned this card for a relative.  I used some very old pink paper for the background (adhered using Scotch ATG) and generic white cardstock for the card base.  The scalloped circle is from another paper in that very old set, cut using a Spellbinders die through a Cuttlebug.  The castle stamp, banner, heart, star, and "make a wish" are from Lawn Fawn and stamped with Memento black ink.  I colored the castle using pink, yellow, and grey Copic markers (yeah, hand-colored, take that craftypeeps).  The heart and star are also yellow Copic marker.  To make the banner pink, I blended Distress Ink over the cardstock.  Once the circle and banner were glued down (Tombow), I used foam squares to pop up the castle, heart, and star.  I ran a dashed line in white gel pen around the border of the card and added some Crystal Stickles around the scalloped circle, the castle towers, the heart, and the star.

Sorry to unload this all at once, but I thought these needed to be shared.  Also, I need to make more.  So many more.  So very addicted to card making...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The White Suburbia Club

The Man and I have reached another milestone: we purchased our first clothing from L.L. Bean.  We have officially joined the White Suburbia Club, or at least that's what we're calling it.  Though we have often shopped at Columbia and Eddie Bauer, stores most would consider "northwest" in fashion, we got a great coupon to L.L. Bean recently and decided to order some clothes.

I'll be the first to say that "fashion" in our house revolves around two things: comfort first, price second.  Overall appeal to anyone but us falls a distant third (except The Man's suits, just so he can, you know, impress people at work).  My job doesn't call for a particular attire, and I can --blissfully-- get away with jeans and fleece pullovers most days.  I don't actually own any skirts or dresses at the moment.

One of the biggest hurdles I've faced lately is expanding my wardrobe.  Not that my size is expanding (thankfully), but that I have finally reached the point where I just. can't. wear. the same old things!  When we were first married, I bought two pairs of jeans and made them last a full year.  I wore my t-shirts until they pilled beyond the shave-ability of my clothes shaver (then turned them into pajama shirts).  The Man needed clothes for work, but his at-home clothes were likewise well-loved.  In the almost four years since we got married, our income has grown enough that I don't have to be quite as frugal, but I hate shopping (so much!), and I never felt like I could swing the funds to really invest in better clothing for myself.

This year?  This year I'm buying clothes.

And the fact that flannel is "in" this winter is just icing on the very comfortable cake.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


The Man and I went camping.

That's the short story, anyway, a very short story of what amounted to a three-week endeavor.  We didn't go camping for three weeks, oh no, and we didn't exactly go off any beaten paths.  What we did do was learn things.  We also bought things.  And there was a hefty pile of cleaning, packing, and using things.

First, we decided we wanted to go camping.  Easy enough, right?  Not for us.  We knew it was going to be expensive to acquire our camping gear, partly because of our time constraint--wanting to go this year--and partly because we wanted to buy everything new.  Oh, I know camping stuff is supposed to be pre-worn, pre-used, purchased at garage sales, and otherwise handed down.  We considered that plan, we really did.  When the time came to buy, however, we decided to buy things new to ensure durability and longevity.  We knew we'd want to go camping more than once, and we knew we wanted options that could carry into our home life (for power outages, for backyard camping with kids, for whatever arises).  The need for "new" didn't mean the need to overspend, however, so three weeks of HEAVY research and cost-benefit analysis ensued.  We consulted family and friends, experienced campers, and used our own intuition.  Here is a very short list of a few items that made our trip memorable:

Tent: Coleman Evanston Screened 6-person (four, comfortably) $119.99
The price on this has already jumped, so we feel like we got a huge score here.  The tent will be plenty big for us as our family (eventually) grows, or if we want to go with other people and only take one tent.  The vestibule is wonderful for sleeping "outside" for a couple people, or it is a great place to get out of the rain, take off shoes, and then go into the tent.  The footprint, at 10' x 14' is rather large and made getting a site a bit more difficult, but we are still very satisfied with this tent.

Sleeping bags: Coleman Green Valley Cool Weather $32.72
Supposedly these will keep us warm if it is freezing, but the sleeping bags kept us quite toasty through the late summer nights.  These are classic sleeping bags, nothing ultra lightweight or fancy.  They were sort of a pain to roll up and secure, but practice might make that easier. 

Cooler: Igloo MaxCold 70 $47.99
We needed a big cooler, you know, for keeping big things cold.  I froze two gallon-sized blocks of ice solid before we left, and they probably would have kept everything cool in the cooler for five days easy.  We did pre-chill the cooler by leaving some sacrificial ice in it overnight before we left (great way to clean out the icky old ice cubes in the freezer, right?).  All of the items we put in it were also pre-chilled or frozen as well.  If the cooler had been in a cooler area in camp, we probably could have gone a whole week with ice left over.

For as easily scratched as I know these plates will be (we use paper plates on top of them), the bowls held up fantastically.  Our favorite part is definitely the insulated mugs and snap-on lids.  The colors are attractive, and the bag for storage was useful.  We had HOT tea in the mornings that stayed HOT for a long time.

Tea Kettle: GSI Outdoors 32oz $20.33
Pretty much the most-used and abused item we took on our trip.  We had to boil water for every meal, even if it was only for cleaning up.  We used the kettle over the fire and on our Weber Baby-Q grill, and it worked wonderfully.  We had to learn where to put it near the flames, and the coated handle might melt off over time (sort of okay since it will still work exactly the same), but we successfully boiled water every day.  I scrubbed it with a brush when we got home to get some of the soot off from the campfire, but the blackening sort of adds to the charm.  And it really can hold 32 ounces of water, perfect for two Mountain House meals, two big cups of tea, or a quick sponge bath.  A good pot holder also came in handy with this kettle, so put that on your list if you buy this.

Chuck box!  I also spent a little extra to make a chuck box.  While that might be lavish to hardcore campers, I am not a hardcore camper.  I am organized, thrifty, and crafty, and my version was a cool $20 that kept everything tidy and clean for our trip.  Money well spent!  You can see other types like mine on YouTube here and here.

I got many, many more items at Target, Bi-Mart, Fred Meyer, Sportsman's Warehouse, and online.  Our initial investment was pretty steep, but we can literally be ready to go camping with two hours of notice next time.  Just need the destination, a tank of gas, and groceries.

Finally, last week, we actually got to go camping.  We went to Trout Creek Campground in Linn County, Oregon.  The campground is in the Willamette National Forest, arguably a temperate rainforest for much of the year.  We had assumed that since we were camping in late August, we wouldn't get any rain, but we thankfully had planned ahead just in case.  The thunderstorm that rolled over dumped just enough rain to get everything wet, but that's about it.  We enjoyed two relatively nice days of hiking, reading, and roasting marshmallows and Starburst candies over the campfire.  A mix of homemade food, campfire-cooked food, and Mountain House meals kept us full.  The campground had potable water, but we only used that for cleaning and drank our own bottled water instead.  We stayed dry and cozy in our tent, and our sleeping bags were more than warm enough.  However, our sleeping pads were completely underwhelming and will be promptly replaced by almost any alternative.  Two nights of terrible sleep later, and we were ready for home.  Oh, and the vault toilets, while actually very clean and not scary at all, sort of got old quickly.  When ya gotta go, they're great, but there's something about a flush that I really missed.  We had originally planned to stay for a third night, but our backs were hurting, and we missed our kitties.  

I have uploaded pictures to my Picasa Web Album here.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

We have Minecraft

The Man and I are both now holders of Minecraft accounts.  We pretty much haven't done a thing since we got them.  No real crafting, no movies, no chores... it's kind of an unhealthy disaster in our house right now (which is basically saying our house has finally degraded to "normal people live like this" status, as opposed to the usual immaculately spotless modus operandi).

Minecraft, for those of you that aren't super geeks, is a game.  It isn't a social networking game, a board game, a series of levels to conquer, or anything like a simulation.  It's just a computer game.  The Man and I can play individually or together on our network.  The whole point of the game is to survive by making things out of the world around you while being attacked--or not in some modes of gameplay--by various villains.  The player mines the earth and crafts things out of the mined objects.  For example, mined iron ore can be turned into iron and attached to a stick to make tools that help the player mine other things.  A lot of the game occurs underground in, well, mines.  In addition to creepycrawlies, there is water that flows and can flood and drown a player.  Lava burns things or players.  Fire.  Hunger.  Sleep.  There are many variables to manage.  For a game that costs less than $30 to play (one time fee!), a person could literally play the game forever and never get bored.

One more block.  One more block.  That's what I say to myself at 1:00am as I mine my way through trying to find one more block of redstone or diamond or gold.  One more block.  Then I'll stop this madness.

Now I understand why Minecraft is one of the bestselling games of. all. time.

But if The Man bricks me in or floods my tunnel or extinguishes my torches one more time, the dude is going into lava.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Quilting Bug is Back

After nearly four months on a break from quilting, I think the bug is back.  I finished a mammoth king-sized quilt in March, and I quickly hid all forms of fabric and thread from myself.  I just couldn't bear to look at my sewing machine for one more second.  While the quilt turned out beautifully, I needed a break.  I needed to step back and assess what I want my next project to be.  The hiatus may be ending soon, and I'm on the hunt for a new project.  Not sure what it will be yet, but I have an itch that needs to be scratched.

Possible ideas for my next project include:
- Wall hangings/table runners like two I've already made
- Double-bed-sized quilt for my guest bed
- Queen-sized quilt for my own bed (ugh, again)
- Lap/couch quilt for the living room
- Baby quilts for... well... babies (mine? someday?)
- Quilts to gift to others (?)

I think I'm leaning toward one for the guest bed, but I have no idea what pattern I want to try.  I'm still on questionable terms with triangles, but I was so bored with squares from the last quilt, and I am not sure I'm ready for lots of curves, so I am sort of stalling to find the right quilt for that room.  I know I want it colorful and cheery, but I also want it gender neutral and calming.  Ugh! Choices!

The Bug is Back.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Winning Hearts one Purr at a Time

Our 11-month-old cats have gotten so big!  Annie was enjoying some cuddle time with The Man this weekend.  She must have missed him when he was gone on his business trip last week because she snuggled with him as much as she could.  The Man was holding her and insisted I take their picture.  I wish I knew what was going through her mind right then, but I imagine it was something like a contented sigh.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Down with Flip-Flops, Up with Sunscreen

I read this article recently and couldn't agree more with every point.

While on the topic of appropriate footwear, I found myself wearing sandals (way more strappy, less floppy, and no evil toe-post) to the beach this weekend.  Once we arrived on the sand, I opted for nature's best pedicure and went barefoot.  All I have to show for my one-day-a-year footloose foray is the most painful sunburned lobster-red feet of my life.

Let this be a lesson, kids: flip-flops are evil, and always wear sunscreen at the beach.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Bone Folder

Last weekend, as I was sorting and organizing my ever-growing pile of craft supplies, The Man asked if I had a bone folder.  He had some paper and wanted to fold it "like you do."  My non-crafty husband, the one who takes absolutely no interest in the other (crafty) half of our office, requested a specific tool by name.  I was floored.  How he knows what a bone folder is or how to wield it still doesn't compute in my head.  I dug one out of my desk for him and watched him fold the paper with delicate precision.  He did a great job, and I am slightly concerned he might know more crafty terms than he's letting on.  If he starts whipping out terms like "Cuttlebug," "embossing powder," or "pigment dye," I will be very concerned.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Can't Stand the Heat

The Man and I bought a window-mounted air conditioner when we lived in our first apartment, and it worked beautifully there and in our second apartment.  When we bought a house, however, not only is our unit not large enough for more than the master bedroom, but our HOA doesn't allow window units (though we've seen a few here and there, and nobody complained that we know of).  When The Man got a bonus at work, we immediately knew what we were going to get.

Fast-forward three months: it's hot outside, and we're still hot inside.  We called and got bids.  We weighed our options.  We consulted friends and family for advice.  And next week, just at the high point of the first summer heat wave, we'll be living the cool life.  For less money than we estimated (yay!) and with a company we're excited to have do the work (yay!), we're getting central air conditioning.

It's not so much that's it's hot in our house.  It's not even really that I dislike sweaty feet all summer (eew).  The biggest reason I'm excited to get air conditioning?  Now I can sleep under blankets all year.

I can't stand the heat, but I do so love blankets and quilts keeping me warm.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Alone, Finally

For the first time in eight months, my husband and I aren't expecting someone else for dinner.  It feels so weird, so incredibly empty in our house now, and yet... we're pretty okay with it.

My sister and her husband moved in with us in October, just two months after we bought our house.  We offered to let them have our two extra bedrooms so that he wouldn't have to live alone when she joined the Air Force.  My sister's husband and The Man get along well, and I was fine with the situation, so it worked out.  My sister flew off to the Wild Blue Yonder just after Thanksgiving, and we patiently awaited her return. Seven months later, she finally stopped home en route to her first overseas duty station.  After almost a month at home, she and her hubby moved the last of their belongings out of our house.  She's now overseas.

I love the fact that my chores are now my own, for me, for us, for the house, and not for other people.  I can totally get used to four small loads of laundry each week instead of eight to ten.  And the dishwasher only needs to be run bi-weekly instead of daily.  Certainly those parts of my life are easier when I only live with The Man.

On the other hand, I will miss cooking for someone who appreciates a good kielbasa, a hearty bowl of curly noodles, or spicy food.  I like cooking for The Man, don't get me wrong, but his idea of a flavor adventure involves putting cheese on typically cheese-incompatible foods (cheese and maple syrup, I think not, but apparently I'm wrong).  I will miss having someone around to feed our cats when we are out "late" or to get the mail when we're feeling lazy.  I already miss having a built-in playdate for The Man when he wants to shoot digital zombies or whatever it is the boys play on those video games.

For as challenging as it was having other people live with us, and for as treasured as many of those memories will be, The Man and I are content to be alone, finally.

(And no, we do not have extra space for anyone else to move in now.  Just for the record.)

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Strawberry Thieves

To the asshats who ate my strawberries right off the plants on my front porch, I hope you enjoyed them.  Those are the very first fruit-bearing plants I have ever grown, and those were the first berries from those plants.  I was going to eat them today or tomorrow after they were fully ripe, but you beat me to the fruit.


Monday, June 03, 2013

My Own Private Arachnophobic Hell

I have phobias.  Phobias are not simply fears.  I am afraid of dogs.  I am afraid of mustard.  I realize that both of these items are generally harmless and, when left alone, are unlikely to hurt me.  I avoid dogs when I can, but if in the presence of an otherwise tame dog, I tolerate its existence.  I have even come to enjoy a select handful of dogs, although from a distance.  Mustard... eew.  Just eew.

My biggest phobia is of spiders.  I am not just afraid and willing to tolerate them.  I am panic-attack-rendered phobic.  I don't like little plastic fake spiders at Halloween.  I don't like drawings or paintings of them.  I don't like the sensation of fingers moving gently over my skin because it reminds me of them.  If I see a spider, no matter how innocuous, chilling on the wall across the room from me, there aren't enough tranquilizers in the world to calm me down.  If there is one near me, oh HELL no.  To lighten a common phrase, "bat crap crazy" doesn't come close to my outbursts (generally a form of "killitkillitkillitKillitKILLIT!").

Last weekend, an exterminator was in our neighborhood going door-to-door.  Our neighbors had inquired about extermination due to the number of pests they've had in their house, and the exterminator stopped by our house to tell us all about his "great deal" on spraying our property.  Pish posh, I normally say to traveling salesmen (not really, I usually just close the door), but this guy offered a free home inspection with no obligation.  He went under our house, walked all around outside, and even checked in my pantry.  Though we'd had some ants in there a few weeks ago, some traps had taken care of the problem quickly.  After the inspection, The Man and I learned that no only do our neighbors host a small hobo spider infestation, but we have a comb-footed spider problem under our house (they are relatives of the black widow spider).  We also had wasp nests in our eaves, which we knew about and had sprayed, and ants, which we also knew about, and lots and lots of beetles. *shudder

Not so pish posh now, is he?  We signed right up.  Spray the crap out of our house.  Poison the insect world into oblivion.  I don't care what it takes, kill them all.

But it gets better!  Now that we've had our house sprayed, the creepycrawlies are not happy in their current homes.  They are now migrating inside our house to get away from the geranium oil (or whatever "natural" pesticides were used) and are hoping to cohabitate with furry kitties and terrified humans.  Well, petrified human and mildly annoyed human (although I think he's more annoyed at me than he is with the bugs).  The pest people--who are not pests themselves--tell us the invasion could last a month.

Sleep takes forever to come as I am constantly on guard watching the walls and floors and sheets and OH MY GOSH WHAT IS THAT BY THE BED!? Lint.  Just lint.  Calm down.  Go back to sleep.

I am now living in my very own arachnophobic hell.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Such a Rebel

I've been participating in some rebellious behavior lately, and I have to say, I could get used to this.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I made some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  I've made them countless times, enough to have the recipe memorized.  Everything was going according to plan until I got to the chocolate chips.  I usually only put in a half-bag of semi-sweet chips, but this time I put the whole bag in.  You heard me right, I doubled the chocolate chips in a normal batch of oatmeal cookies.  I violated the recipe in favor of a gluttonous load of sweetness.  And then I had to eat them.  Rebelling all the more, I taste-tested two cookies instead of just one.  After they cooled properly and I'd eaten a meal, I had to resample to confirm that nothing had changed with such a heavy chocolate chip to oatmeal ratio.  And oatmeal is healthy, right?  By the end of the day, with the help of my sister and The Man, four dozen cookies had been reduced to just over two dozen.

(Apparently I need to be a rebel more often.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Sister's Return

Two weeks?! I haven't blogged in two weeks!?  I apologize for the break, but I've been so busy lately with our yard, family and friends, and living life that I haven't had a chance to sit still.

Our cats are healthy and back to normal.  Well, sort of.  I've been working on training them to obey commands, and they do a pretty good job with "come" now.  We have been able to get them to "come" into their bathroom in a hurry once or twice when we really needed them out of the way.  About a quarter of the time, when called, they sit and stare at us.  That isn't my favorite, but they're cats, and I'll take what I can get.

Our yard is looking fantastic.  I mowed the lawn for the first time ever (in my whole life) last night to surprise The Man.  I even edged our many edges of overgrown grass.  We've figured out how to mow and on what length and frequency to mulch so that our yard benefits the most, but all of the lime and fertilizer are definitely paying off as well.  We have the greenest yard on the block--a total change from two months ago.  The only problem with me mowing was the horrendous allergic response I had toward the end of my tasks.  My snot rockets had snot rockets.  I ran inside wheezing and sneezing, tore my clothes off, got in the shower and washed the pollen away, poured a full neti pot of water through both nostrils, and took a Benadryl.  One hour later, I was back to normal.  Well, zonked out of my mind on what can only be described as the best legal hallucinogen on the market.  Benadryl and I have a bad history, but it works, and that's what I needed.

My sister informed me last week that she had her orders as was coming home from Texas on Saturday, and she wanted to surprise Mom and Dad with her return.  I cleared my schedule, worked myself to exhaustion to make sure everything was lined up and ready for her, and went to pick her up on Saturday afternoon.  I had made a pretty sign to welcome her home, but she beat me to the airport, so I didn't get to embarrass her as much as I'd wanted.  I haven't seen her since Thanksgiving six very long months ago, so it was really cool to be able to be the one to pick her up at the airport.  The ride home from the airport was filled with "It's so green here, you just don't know! Texas was ugly, dirty, and gross!  I can't believe how beautiful/picturesque/happy Oregon looks!" Suffice it to say the mountains, trees, grass, and flowers were sorely missed.  Our surprise to Mom and Dad went well, although apparently they were both catching on pretty quickly and weren't as surprised as we hoped.  Glad to have my sister home for a few weeks before she heads to her first overseas base!

The rain has returned, overdue and much needed, and while everyone else is lamenting the cool, wet weather, I am enjoying every second.  We're considering buying an air conditioner for our house this year, and the longer this cool weather lasts, the more we can save up, price shop, and get bids.  Also? less watering in the yard.  I'm a big fan of natural sprinklers.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Can someone else learn to clean this up?

The Man and I took Friday off last weekend to enjoy some quiet time at our house together since my brother-in-law flew down to be with my sister for a few days.  We got a ton of stuff done, visited with family, and took care of sick cats.  On the whole, it was a pretty good weekend.

We had another meeting with our financial adviser, and she really built up our spirits with some kind remarks.  We both get frustrated seeing The Joneses live lavish lives as we stick a few more pennies in our piggy banks.  It is hard to save, hard to plan for the future, and hard to not be able to do, see, buy!  But we're chugging along doing this the hard way.  It was nice to have someone else tell us we're doing well, because sometimes it is hard to step back and see that for ourselves.  Noses to the grindstone.

I was able to do some cooking and have The Man's parents down for dinner one night.  My parents later joined us for dessert.  Lots of good conversation and food.  Also got our first watermelon of the year, and it is delicious.  We'll be eating on it for the rest of the week.

On Sunday morning, The Man went out for a run with one of his friends.  He came home with a huge scrape on his shin.  Between the last mud race he ran and this weekend, we've used more Neosporin than in the last two years combined!  I patched him up once again, reminding him how lucky he is to have a wife that isn't grossed out at the sight of blood.

Saturday morning's surprise was opening the door to the cats' bathroom (they sleep and spend the work days in a half-bath, but they roam the downstairs when we are home with them).  One of the cats, possibly both, got sick overnight.  Green and yellow and brown goo everywhere.  Major grossness.  They were still eating and drinking, so we kept an eye on them.  Just a little bit of icky gross floor goo on Sunday morning.  On Monday, nothing!  Yay, on the mend!  And then... Monday night... oh. my. word.  Somebody is still very, very, very sick.  I cleaned projectile vomit off the walls, the floor, the cabinet containing their litter box, and all around their food bowls.  We took them to the emergency vet near our house, and thankfully the vet was super cool.  He gave them fluids and anti-vomit meds, and they haven't hurled since we got them home.  We have scoured the house looking for reasons why they might be sick, but we have no idea!  Perhaps one of them ate a bug.  Less likely, maybe they nibbled on one of my plants.  No chemicals they could get to, no pesticides, no garden stuff, no oil or car drippings, no craft supplies, nothing.  Here's to hoping our kitties are good from here on out, because I am not fond of cleaning up vomit at this point!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Getting my Motivation On

The Man and I were hard at work in our yard again this weekend.  He finished edging and mowed again, and I planted twelve new plants after removing countless weeds and two huge grass mound thingies.

Seriously, who plants "ornamental" grass?  Unless we're talking regular fescue-type grass called a "lawn," I don't really see the point.  Just plant flowers already.  Lame!

I stuck two bleeding heart plants in the ground on the shady side of our house to help control water runoff.  They should do pretty well there, especially when I find some ferns to go with them.  I can't wait to see them take off like I know they will and produce those beautiful arms of pink flowers.  Hopefully they will be happy in their new home.

Stepables in our weird little no-man's-land
In our front yard, we have the ugly sprinkler boxes and I think an electrical box or something sticking out of the ground.  It is near the property line and looks unsightly  so it's a bad place to plant anything in the first place.  As much as I would like to hide the whole area with a Japanese maple, I don't want to have to tear the maple tree out if someone needs to get to the electrical box or water shutoff.  Instead, after grubbing out the two grass mounds (complete with snails inside--eew), I planted ten Stepables.  These are little plants that, once established, can actually be walked on without damaging them.  A few of the plants I got are creepers, but they can't possibly be more invasive than the junk grass we have spreading everywhere.  I wouldn't mind having less grass and more non-mowing stuff.  Mom has some and says they're really easy to trim back.  The non-creepers are simply little plants that just don't get very big.  I am excited to see those grow out a bit and cover the area to prevent more weeds.

Also, I am SO over weeding this year.

Between last weekend and this weekend, we've spent about $100 on our yard (not including a brand new cordless string trimmer--that we got on sale plus another 10% off!).  With the almost 40 hours of work so far this spring between three people and the hours spent planning and dreaming, at minimum wage, we've elbow-greased another $500 into our yard.  I was comparing the before-and-afters from last summer when we bought the house, and it's an amazing upgrade.  Our four rhododendrons are almost ready to explode, so then we'll get a ton of color and amazingness for a couple months.  Yay!

Look, Mom, I can do yard work!
One of the first things we did when we moved in was put up our flag.  We got an all-weather flag and fly it 24/7 unless it is really stormy and windy (then it goes in our garage to hang dry).  We have a little spotlight on it so it is lit at night (as is proper).  We were the first to put up a flag in our neighborhood, and now there are four beautiful flags on our side of the street between our block and the next.  We started a trend!

I think I can finish up the last little bit of killing/pulling grass and spreading bark dust one night this week.  After that, we just have the backyard to completely overhaul.  No big deal.  *runs screaming in the other direction*