Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gimme some sugar

Actually, don't. I've been trying to stop eating so much of it. That goes for honey and maple syrup, too, all sweeteners really. All my life I've had a major sweet tooth and though I've pretty much always known that it's bad for me I've sort of shrugged my shoulders and said, "Oh well! Gotta have some vices." The fact that I don't generally make sweet treats anymore, and have entirely stopped buying them, made me feel more virtuous than it should.
Just lately, though, I've been realizing how much extra sugar I really eat and almost all of it goes into my tea. I justified it to myself because, on a per-cup basis it really wasn't all that much. About half a teaspoon for a large cup. Not bad, right? Except that I drink anywhere from 3-5 cups of tea each day. That ends up being a lot of unnecessary sugar. It only dawned on me when I realized how often I was needing to refill my little container of sugar for work.
So not only is it bad for me but it's costing me a lot of money. I buy the fancy organic cane sugar from the bulk section and it's quite pricey. Less expensive than if I was buying one of the name-brand bags, but still expensive. So by cutting out sugar I'm helping my health and my wallet. It still took me a few weeks to talk myself into it, because I don't like giving up my sugar addiction. Am I going to turn into one of those annoyingly virtuous and self-righteous people who says things like, "Oh, no. I don't eat that," in a tone which implies, "Your food is garbage." I admit that I can be kind of a food snob, but I try to only judge myself. I'm not the food police, your food choices are your own.
Without sugar, in the past tea has just seemed so bitter and blah, and I can't give up my tea! I could probably do without the caffeine (in fact, today I'm drinking red or rooibos tea, which is naturally caffeine free), but the warmth on cold days is pretty necessary. My boss simply microwaves a mug of water but I hate drinking plain hot water and anything else hot I could think of to drink has lots of sugar anyway. So plain tea it is.
Well, I took the leap last week and stopped putting sugar in all but my last cup of tea each day. It's turned out to be way easier than I expected. Even the first day when I put sugar in that last cup of tea it seemed far too sweet. By the time the weekend rolled around I was ready to stop putting sugar in my tea at all. Even milk as a sweetener seemed extraneous. So I've started drinking my tea black and enjoying it as much as ever.
I have some rather large cavities in my back teeth, which have been filled, but were a direct result of my sugar addiction. (And years of having no insurance during my early 20s.) They were starting to hurt sometimes and without the added sugar in my tea they've stopped aching. If I needed no other motivation that would be it. I'd really rather not end up as a toothless old woman. According to my dentist, sipping sugary drinks all day is the absolute worst thing you can do for your teeth. (I'm assuming that she means, besides being a meth addict. Have you seen their teeth?!) Getting a direct result from cutting back on my sugar intake is lovely.
In my morning oatmeal I've been putting in about 1/2 a teaspoon of maple syrup to sweeten it just a touch, rather than the tablespoon or so of brown sugar that I used to put in it. And I've been trying to limit myself to only one sweet treat per day. It hasn't been easy, and I've totally failed some days. My little brother made cookies this past weekend (oatmeal raisin, one of my favorite kinds!) and at the potluck between the Saturday shows for everyone in "The Wizard of Oz" I might have had four-ish cookies. For the most part, however, I don't find myself missing the sugar all that much. Certainly not as much as I thought I would. It makes me feel good, like this will be a lasting change.
Now I can see just how long it takes me before I need to fill up my sugar container at home. I'm betting not until Christmas. What do you think?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Jitterbug

Last week absolutely wiped me out and yet, I feel a little superhuman for all that I managed to accomplish.
I suppose I should start at the beginning. It was tech week for the show I've been doing ("The Wizard of Oz"), otherwise called Hell Week. Rehearsals every night for at least three hours, sometimes four. Plus the travel time/getting ready time which meant an extra half hour on each end. Most evenings I was gone from 6 or 6:30 until at least 10:30. On top of a normal 40-hour workweek it was crazy. And this is the first time I've done one of these shows without Shane's help taking care of dinner and the pets and such. My brother stepped up for some of it (at least, feeding the pets and doing all of the dishes) but with Shane gone I'm still the main household cook so dinner was still my responsibility. The CrockPot saved my butt. I made a giant pot of rice and beans in it on Thursday, knowing that I'd be home late from work that day.
The end of the rehearsals brought no respite. We had three performances over the weekend: one on Friday and two on Saturday. And yet, despite basically working two jobs for the week, I still managed to exercise a little bit, talk with Shane every night, do a load of laundry, and read two books. (I re-read the final two books in the "Hunger Games" trilogy. Now I'm nursing a serious book hangover. So good!) Yesterday, without a show or rehearsal, was dedicated to cleaning the apartment. I did a more thorough job in the bathroom than I have for months, and the Boy and I tackled the kitchen together. I even washed down the outside of the chest freezer, and I can't remember the last time we did that. I dusted the living room, although I couldn't vacuum because of the cat. But it's noticeably cleaner in our house now and it feels good.
The cat is still in the Recovery Palace for a week or so. We threw on a Pandora station while we cleaned, but the most prominent soundtrack to the day was my cat crying. Poor guy. He got let out for a few minutes while I cleaned out his cage and he does seem to be moving better but we don't want to push it. On the plus side, he doesn't seem to be angry with me for his circumstances. When he gets out he starts rubbing against my legs, and when I stick my fingers in his cage he starts rubbing his cheeks against me. It's almost as heartbreaking as how defeated he looks when no one's actively paying attention to him.
Yesterday evening was lovely, but a little sad. I couldn't figure it out for a few minutes because I was at a happy part in my book. But I realized that it was about the time Shane should have been coming home. We finally went a full two weeks without getting to see each other at all and he doesn't even get to come home until Wednesday. They're getting the camp ready for winter so it's all hands on deck. Additionally, they're doing their big monthly water sampling so they needed Shane there. He said last night that it was going to be more difficult this time because everything's frozen. These big water sampling times have meant extra overtime all summer because it's so much work, so I can only imagine how much harder it will be when they need to drill through the ice first.
Fairbanks finally got our first below-zero temperatures this morning at roughly 5:00. It's a bit earlier than the historical norm. The days are getting so short that soon I'll once again be walking both to and from work in total darkness. It's so beautiful, though, the way the light slants and makes the snow look so blue in the shadows, golden where the light hits it. The sky is an amazing azure and the moon at dusk is breathtaking, so white against the sky and so bright bouncing off the snow. No picture could ever quite capture just how gorgeous it all looks. So while the darkness and cold are creeping up, I'm still focusing on the beauty of it all.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Revisiting life in Alaska

Every once in a while, I ask myself the question of whether or not it's still worth it to live in Alaska. I mean, the cost of living is super high. I hear about rents other places and think, damn. I'm renting a small and rather shabby apartment for the same price that I could rent a whole house in other areas. The cost of food here is astronomical, and the quality can be very poor. There's no curbside recycling so I'm less inclined to recycle everything possible. We don't have fantastic resources like dollar stores, Costco, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, etc. Mosquitoes are awful here. My gardening options are limited, and almost all fruit trees are absolutely out of the question. Heat and electricity are expensive. Utilities don't have much competition so they gouge customers. (I'm looking your way, GCI and ACS.)
A relative once said that the hardest part about living in Alaska isn't the conditions, it's that almost everyone you know will move Outside at some point. We have a solid base of family here, but many of our friends have moved and most of the rest are talking about moving in the future. It was rather sobering to talk with a friend on Saturday and have her mention that her husband will be going with her on a business trip out of state to scout out that area and see if they want to move there in the next year or two. These are some of our closest friends. Our social circle here is rapidly dwindling. In fact in roughly four more years we likely won't have any of our close college friends living in Fairbanks. We'll still have family and friends in state, but the closest are down in Eagle River and Palmer. It's hard to think about putting down permanent roots when the people you love are talking about moving.
Of course, there is the alternative question about where I'd want to go, and furthermore where we would want to go. That's something Shane and I haven't been able to come up with yet. It rained here a couple of weeks ago and reminded me of November in Seattle. I ended up thinking, "Oh yeah! This is why I never want to move back there." I hate that miserable, soaking, gloomy sort of rain. It just puts me in a bad mood which cold and even darkness never seem to. So the Pacific Northwest would seem to be out. But where is in? We still don't know.
So I was thinking all of this stuff to myself the other day and then mentally started putting together a list of all of the positives of living here in Fairbanks. Like, no fleas or ticks. Which means that with two pets, not only do we not have to worry about them but we don't have to spend money on medicine for them every month, either.
Virtually no state taxes. That's hard to beat.
Very small spiders.
I'm acclimated to the cold, so it's heat that bothers me and we don't have more than a few days or weeks out of each year which are uncomfortably hot.
The dry air causes problems, but at least we don't have to deal with moisture problems such as mold.
Opera Fairbanks and FLOT. From what I've seen, other places have community theater and such but not as well supported as Fairbanks's.
Friends and family. Hunting, fishing, foraging. I know some of those things can be had elsewhere, but come on. Having so much wild Alaskan salmon that you're sick of it is a problem that most people would love to have.
On the day when I was thinking about all of these things I went to the Pub to hang out with friends for a short time and as I was walking home I looked up and there were the northern lights, dancing vibrantly all across the sky. It was chilly and breezy, but I stood there for a good ten minutes watching them and smiling. Probably around 99% of the world's population will never get to see such a glorious sight. And yet, I could step out on an ordinary evening from about August-May and see it. It made me realize (yet again) how lucky I am to live in such a place. Is it worth putting up with the high cost of living for the scenery? That depends on a lot of factors, but right now I'm still leaning toward yes. At the very least, I want our future kids to grow up with some of these memories. I want them to experience the deep cold and the northern lights, not just to hear stories and to read about them in books.
We got our first light dusting of snow Saturday night/Sunday morning. It was light enough that I still biked to the grocery store (on my not-too-safe hybrid tires) and made it home in one piece. Today we're getting what I sort of consider our first "real" snow. Just enough so far that the road looks white rather than black but not enough yet to cover the grass. It's making me happy and forcing on me the knowledge of just how sad I'd be to live somewhere without snow. If we ever do figure out somewhere else to live, it will have snow.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

First world problems

I got to thinking today about the online scuffle, just a couple of weeks ago, about Lady Gaga and her bulemia. In case you didn't hear about it, she released pictures of her almost-naked self in an effort to show what she really looks like. Partly this was to counteract accusations that she'd gained 50 pounds (rather than 20) and the accompanying photoshopped pictures. At least, that's my understanding of it. I only heard about it at all because I was perusing Jezebel and I wondered, as a feminist, what was going to be said about it. What was disturbing to me wasn't really the article itself, which mostly took the stance of, "Well, if she's really trying to help then I guess good for her...I guess." What disturbed me were the comments. Over half of the people complained that she's still really thin. It was all put forth with a whiny undertone of, what does she have to complain about? I don't perceive it as a problem so therefore it's not a real problem. She should shut up.
I don't really care about this for Lady Gaga's sake--if nothing else, she seems like she can weather a storm of whiny online bitching--but I was wondering what message comments like those send to other young women who aren't as secure and confident. Body dysmorphia is a serious problem with life-threatening (and life-ending) consequences at its most extreme. And it is pretty much the embodiment of a first world problem. After all, people in countries where the majority of people struggle to find enough food generally do not suffer from thinking that they're too fat. So we can agree that it's just a first world problem, right? But I don't see how that makes it any less of a problem. We do still have girls starving themselves to death because of body dysmorphia. We have ever increasing rates of young women and even young men doing severe harm to themselves because of this, and the message that they're getting from others is, "Stop crying and get some real problems."
I don't like this trend of brushing off other people's problems as if they're not "real". You have enough to eat, why are you complaining about that bitchy coworker who was being a douche today? It's as if you don't have a right to say, "I'm not perfectly happy," if you're privileged. I'm all for keeping things in perspective. In the grand scheme of things, that bitchy coworker really doesn't matter so have your little moment of frustration and then get over it. (I would say look for a new job, but you'd probably just encounter another bitchy coworker at the new job.) But having others act as if your problems don't matter is the most unhelpful thing ever. And it doesn't bring any happiness to the world.
I'm not religious (a while ago someone described me as "a person of faith" and I like that much better) and I'm not a philosopher. I don't really know what the purpose or meaning of life is, except that I think it would be better if we all tried to make the world a happier, better place. Wouldn't that be lovely, if everyone actually worked toward making the world better? Instead of whining because someone else's problems aren't "real" enough, what if we actually tried to help them be happier? And if what we really want to do is increase the world's happiness, then we each need to figure out what will make us happy. I don't think it's that hard, really. The things most of us are quite simple. Food, shelter, warmth, love, a purpose in life, things like that. And just enough of each. You don't want enough food that it makes you unhealthy, nor does more than enough shelter for your needs make you any happier. (Think of the upkeep!) Love that smothers is a bit too much. So I'm not advocating "be selfish, take everything you want", since that's not actually a recipe for long-term happiness. No, what I'm talking about is delving deep inside ourselves to figure out what will make us truly happy. It might not take as much as you think.
You need to stop, take a few minutes, and think about those things which will make you content and happy. I think for most of us, what will make us happy aren't the things we're actually pursuing: Money and Stuff. And for some people, Fame. If those things would make everyone happy, then our country--the richest in the whole history of the world, filled with more consumer goods than we know what to do with, and lots of celebrities--would actually be happy. Instead, we consistently rank very poorly on every measure of happiness. A huge number of people are on antidepressants, and the number grows every year. People are unhealthy, and that never leads to happiness. So if we all just figured out what would make us happy and worked toward it, I think the world would be a much better place.
What does this have to do with third world problems, though? What does making myself happy have to do with people whose lives are actually miserable? Well for one thing, people who are happy tend to be the ones who look for ways to improve the lives of those around them. Being unhappy tends to lead to a lot of selfishness. "I can't give that away, I need that. I can't give away my money, I need it." When you know what you need to be happy, when you are happy, you want to know what you can do to help others so that they can be just as happy. If nothing else, happy people tend to spread smiles and joy just by their presence. I have a friend like that. She's so happy that just to be around her makes other people a bit happier. It's like her superpower. Don't you wish you could be like that?
On a grander scale, wars are not fought because countries are happy. ("Dear other country, we love you so we're invading you.") Crime doesn't happen because the people committing the crimes are incurably happy. ("It's such a lovely day and my life is so good, I think I'll go rob a bank.") Greed doesn't manifest because a person is content with themselves and what they have. ("Man, I have so many good things in my life. You know what I need? More. I need everything, even that other person's stuff.") These tend to be problems of discontent and unhappiness.
Happy people have goals, yes, but they know how to work toward those goals and accomplish them. And you know what else? Happy people are content with what they have. Happy people don't take minor problems and make them seem like the end of the world, nor do they focus solely on themselves since a bit of perspective can really make you rethink what's a problem in your life and what isn't. As an example, the other day I was walking home and saw one of the shuttle buses. I thought to myself, "I have working arms and legs. Why would I ever take the shuttle when I actually have the ability to use my own legs instead? Not everyone is as lucky as I am. I'm not Usain Bolt, but damn my legs are fantastic."
The next time I see someone whining about another person's problem and how it's so much better than their own problems, or it doesn't matter, or it's not a "real" problem, I'm going to remind myself that the person doing the complaining probably isn't very happy. After all, happy people don't complain that they have it so much worse than others because they know exactly how good their life is.
What will make you happy?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A roundup

I've had so many interesting things this week that I've discovered and dived into, and projects for myself that I've been working on, that to do a single post about each of them would be time consuming and very short individually. So here's a short blurb about each of them.

First of all, I discovered the blog Mr. Money Mustache, which is a blog about personal finance and, mostly, financial independence. This guy and his wife saved as much money as possible during their 20s so that they were able to retire around age 30 so that they could then have a kid and both be there for him. Inspiring, right? It's what every (good) parent wishes, to have more time with your kid(s). Even if that's not your motivation, however, most of us don't want to work until we're 65 and then spend our "golden years" in retirement homes, too crippled to have fun because we didn't have enough time when we were younger to take care of ourselves. Most of us would also appreciate the security to not constantly be worrying about employment. So if that sounds like you, check it out. He also has environmental motivations for the things he talks about, which I love, and he's very frank about things. There's no quibbling about, "Well, you could do this..." He'll tell you straight out, "If you do this, I want you to punch yourself in the face for being an idiot."
One final note about the blog: his definition of "retirement" might not match yours. His wife still works part-time because she enjoys it and they get a few bonuses to help keep their living expenses low. He works as a freelance carpenter. So they haven't totally quit working, they're just now able to work on their own terms.
I started reading the blog back to front (from the first post, working my way toward the newest) and I highly recommend doing that.

On appearance: For a short time, I was starting to get sucked into the Pinterest idea that, hmm, maybe I should start wearing some makeup again. I talked with Shane about it and he essentially told me, "Makeup is fine for dates, once in a while, but why would you ever want to start wearing it every day? I like to actually be able to see you, not the makeup you're wearing." Well, that settles that then. My husband doesn't compliment often, but when he does it's both outside the norm (no generic, "You're pretty," from him) and incredibly sweet.
I did dye my hair, however. It's fun to do every once in a while. I always seem to need a change at this time of year and hair is one of the simplest (and cheapest) things to change. I used henna, which doesn't have any (or most) of the nasty chemicals which are in normal hair dye. Yeah, still a little bit of garbage so it's not zero waste, but it will also be part of my Halloween costume so it serves a dual purpose.
I've also been looking up how to cut my own hair on Youtube (wanting something different than just a straight cut) and that's been helpful. I might try it tonight, to give myself some time before the weekend in case I need to re-do it or something.
Being able to cut my own hair is a skill I very much enjoy having at least amateur status at. I once told a hairdresser that the last cut I'd had was one I gave myself and she exclaimed, "Don't ever cut your own hair!" Ridiculous. People have been cutting their own hair for thousands of years. Yep, having good tools helps and it is possible to damage your hair with bad ones. But other than that, I'm saving money and if I give myself a bad haircut the only person who's harmed is me. Haircuts are expensive, and I've had more bad professional haircuts than bad haircuts I've given myself.
I noticed that my wardrobe has been both shrinking (because I've given so much that I didn't really wear or like away) and because many of the shirts I wear all the time have been wearing out. My favorite plain black t-shirt has had a small but noticeable hole over my right boob for over a year now, thanks to my cat. Not such a huge deal since I generally wear a sweater over it but still annoying. Small things like that have been occurring in many of my favorite clothes: small holes from use, some stains, and just general shabbiness. One pair of jeans wore out (always near the crotch!) so I dragged a friend to the Fireweed Consignment Boutique, of which I've heard lots of good things. They didn't have a huge selection in my size at that location, but I still found some great things. One shirt (plain black, but a bit dressy for work, so I can retire the other as a "weekend" shirt), one sweater (dressy enough for work or a night out with friends), and one pair of jeans. And all for waaay less than the cost of buying these things new plus someone else in town made a few bucks from me, as well as supporting a local business. I brought in a few things of my own, but they only take donations on weekdays (except by appointment) so I'll have to do that another time.
I said a while ago that I was trying to come up with a good recipe or formula for my own face lotion. I think I got it last night. I used cocoa butter, aloe vera, vitamin E oil, and some tea tree oil. It smells...interesting (mostly of the cocoa butter and tea tree oil, which makes an odd combination) but it goes on smoothly and it immediately smoothed the two rough, dry patches that had been forming on my cheeks. Just be sure to add enough aloe vera gel and oils that the cocoa butter doesn't go all solid again, and you have to mix it a lot at first (I melted the cocoa butter before I mixed it all up), but it works very well.

On the bookshelf: I've been reading Caitlin Moran's book "How to be a Woman", which is absolutely hysterical. Loving it! She goes through pretty much every stage of her own puberty and uses it as a jumping off point for discussions about modern feminism and what it means to be a woman. So, she uses her first period to lead into her first discovering masturbation, into a surprisingly thoughtful (and yet still funny) discussion of pornography and what's wrong with it. Discovering her first pubic hairs leads into a discussion of the recent pressure on women not to have any pubic hair, ever, and the fact that, "It's actually costing us money just to have a vagina! Ladies, this is ridiculous!" I totally recommend this book.

On decluttering: I've been very much enjoying this blog about decluttering and simplifying. It, along with several discussions with Shane, have caused me to look around at my apartment and assess just how much shit we have that is totally unnecessary to our lives. Even with both of us trying to be careful about what comes into our house in the first place, it's not always easy. We're still getting mail for a roommate who moved out three years ago. It's been stacking up in a corner and when we disassembled its perch to make the cat's Recovery Palace, it ended up on the dining table. Thankfully, we saw him at a friend's house last weekend so I packed all that mail up in a bag and gave it to him. He promised to go through it and call places to give them his new address.
There's lots of stuff that's required to basically be a normal, functioning adult, however. Shane has been required to keep some paperwork for a job he worked three years ago and he finally decided that "a reasonable time" has passed so it's gone. Our marriage certificate has been sitting in an envelope on top of my desk for a year now, so I at least moved it to a drawer so that it's out of the way.
This frustration with all the junk in our house also motivated me to take out our recycling again. I think the last time I did that was around June? Some of it I can walk to work, but other stuff (such as glass) doesn't have a recycling bin anywhere near my office so it requires a special trip. We tend to hoard it all in the garage until we have enough to justify the car trip. But it was crowding my clothes-drying rack, and getting out of hand. Just doing that one thing made the apartment feel so much freer and cleaner!
We have lots of other projects waiting in the sidelines, and other things which I'm sure will build up between now and then. Decluttering is an ongoing process, but it does feel nice to get each of these things done. Even finding a new home for things which we need to keep, or which we can't get around to just yet, helps a lot.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Does "layering" have to mean sweaters?

With the temperature in the 20s this morning, it's definitely time to be thinking about layering to keep warm. Living in Fairbanks, and either walking or biking year-round, has made me very aware of my layering. During the winter I can get an approximation of the temperature from the size of the steam cloud that forms when I open the door to let the dog out in the morning. Often this also means another trip to the bedroom to either grab another layer or put one back. Layering isn't just a good thing to do, it becomes an art form at that point. Knowing exactly how much to wear to keep yourself comfortable, and how to be comfortable in any situation, is very tricky. Who knows what the day might bring?
Let's face it, we don't always have control over what the temperature is. My office is always, always chilly. If I go other places, sometimes they're too hot. But even when we do have control, it can be good (environmentally and budgetarily) to keep the temperature down. Mothers everywhere tell their children to "put on a sweater" when they get cold. I'm sure most people are sick of hearing that advice and I know some would prefer to keep the heat up rather than wear a sweater. Honestly, wearing so many clothes around here can make the best of us a bit weary by the end of winter. When you're pulling on your longjohns yet again or deciding which of your sweaters to wear yet again it's easy to start daydreaming about swimsuit weather and shorts and tank tops. Spring is the time of year when you're ready to say, "Fuck it! I'm turning the heat up to 85!"
Layering doesn't always mean longjohns and sweaters or flannel shirts, however. (Although flannel shirts are amazingly comfortable.) Today I'm wearing two layers: a tank top and a light shirt. The tank isn't visible to anyone, but it's helping to keep me warm nonetheless. My office is perpetually cold and when I was getting dressed this morning I realized that, even with the sweater I planned to bring, I would probably be chilly. I forgot the sweater in my mad dash out of the house, but because I have 2 layers on already it's not such a big deal today. (If I got really cold I could always put my fleece jacket on.)
On Pinterest I keep seeing all these cute outfits which people (or magazines?) have put together and they often involve layers. A tank top and a sweater, or a long-sleeved shirt and a scarf. Layers not only add warmth but they can add something visually interesting to your outfit. One navy blue thermal shirt is much like the next, but add a pretty scarf and it looks instantly dressy and more interesting. Sure a scarf might not be the warmest thing in the world, but it could make the difference between being slightly uncomfortable and being comfortable.
As the temperature drops I'll start layering more and more. It won't be unusual for me to leave the house with 3-4 layers on top, at least 2 on my legs, and 3 on my feet. (Plus gloves and a scarf or cowl and a hat, possibly even putting up my hood for an extra layer on my head and neck. But that sort of goes without saying.) Most of these layers won't be visible to others but they'll be keeping me toasty warm.
When you layer your clothing, it's also much easier to turn the temperature of your house down and save a bit on heating. I say "clothing", but at home it doesn't even have to be that. There's a reason slippers were invented and it sure wasn't for their looks. We both have sheepskin slippers with rubber soles which my in-laws gave us. They're perfect, soft and warm and comfortable and durable. The rubber soles also mean that we're not ruining them if we have to step outside to grab the dog when she's being a pest, or something like that.
One of our favorite things in the winter is to wrap up in a big blanket. Shane will sit at his computer wrapped up in one and I'll frequently read in bed (with a pet or two snuggling in) to keep warm. If I'm up and about, I've got a robe or a blanket with me. The advice your mother gave you to put on a sweater doesn't actually have to be taken literally. Finding a comfortable way to keep warm is key. For me, that often means something loose. Having so many layers on during the winter is not only bulky but it can feel constricting. When I'm home, I wear loose, comfortable clothes and I'd rather throw a blanket around myself than put on a sweater. Again.
Finally, don't forget the power of a hot drink to warm you up. Tea, hot cocoa, warm cider, mulled wine, hot buttered rum, warm milk with honey, whatever. It's now chilly enough that I look forward to starting my pot of tea when I get to work each morning. Holding the hot mug heats my chilled fingers and feels comforting.
After writing all of this, I realized that I'm actually excited for the cold. Not just the snow, but the cold itself. It bothers me when I'm cold, but I guess I sort of like it when the temperature dips. I'm much more appreciative of all the things that help to keep me warm, such as a filling meal of pot roast (I have one in the slow cooker right now) or just waking up with the dog curled at my side. The little things in life become so much more meaningful when faced with such a formidable force of nature like extreme cold. It makes me proud of humanity's resiliency, that we can face it and (sort of) conquer it. And it makes me proud of my own resiliency. If I can do all of the things I do in this place, what can't I do?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Season of sorrow

There is just so much going on lately. So much sad. Within the last week, I've found out about three suicides which have touched people I love. One of my friends blogged about it here, with some crucial advice for anyone contemplating suicide. Alaska has, by far, the highest rate of suicide in the country. The statistics (many of which are listed on my friend's blog post) are staggering. It's sad, but in the spring I've come to expect a series of suicides to appear in the local newspaper. Generally, though, autumn tends to not have as many suicides. When it's a high schooler who's taken their own life, it's especially painful.
For me, suicide is always a hard topic. I still remember, as a child, learning about my cousin's suicide. I didn't know him--they lived too far away for frequent visits so I only met him once and he was much older than me then, 17 to my 9--but I saw what it did to the adults around me, how sad everyone was. It's probably the number one reason why, just a few short years ago, when a mutual friend forwarded to me an email that seemed to be a suicide note, written by my brother, I took it completely seriously. I called my mom and she found him in time to rush him to the hospital. He's since gotten treatment for his depression and is doing just fine. But it's really not an exaggeration to say that that stands out in my mind as the worst day of my life. Hearing about suicides always brings it all back to me. I don't know if I'll ever forget reading those words, and having a part of my brain scream while another part was trying to make it seem like it wasn't actually my brother's suicide note. It's just so much to take in. The words were so unlike him, so bitter and dark. But, at the same time, it finally clicked for me. His behavior over the months before that moment made much more sense.
Yes, we'd known he was depressed and urged him to get help, but he refused. We didn't know that he was suicidal, however. He'd totally withdrawn from us and wouldn't let us in. When anyone asked how he was we'd get a monotone, "Fine." That was all. He'd listen to me talk on the phone for maybe a minute and then pass me along to someone else. When I read his note, I learned all the things he'd been holding back.
Absolutely the worst part of it all was reading about how worthless he felt. That will never leave me. The fact that he felt like a worthless human being, that he'd think for even a moment that we'd all be better off without him, still hurts. I still wonder if there was anything I could have done differently, anything I could have said, which would have helped him to feel better about himself before he got to that point. And I know, I know what depression is and that there's really not much which can be done from the outside, but I will always wonder.
I know what my friends are going through, their shock and devastation and grief. And it brings all of my own memories back. I remember exactly what I felt like in the weeks following his attempted suicide, and I feel it again for a bit.
Suicide isn't the only manner of death, however, or even the most prevalent. Almost two weeks ago I found out about the sudden and shocking death of a young woman, a friend's wife, just a couple of short weeks after they had their first child. I can't even comprehend the devastation in that young man's life, or what it will be like for their child without her mother. I wrote a short note to my friend expressing my sorrow, but it sounded as inane and stupid as I feared writing a note like that would sound. What do you say in that situation? I'm not sure of all the particulars (having heard most of it third- or fourth-hand) but I didn't ask. Really, despite my curiosity (what could have caused that, a blood clot?) that detail isn't important (for me). I hope that what came through was that I am here to support him, I'm here if he needs help with anything.
As small as it seems, the death of my friend's dog was the final emotional straw for me. With great exuberance and joy (characteristic--my friend does nearly everything with exuberance and joy) my friend adopted a dog about a month ago. A sweet and happy, very fat, corgi/basset hound cross. This dog was older, and she was the kind of dog who just smiled in her doggy way at everything and everyone. F said that she was pretty sure the only thing running through this dog's mind was a constant refrain of, "Don't worry. Be happy." Yep. It was the perfect pet-owner personality match. Since my friend lives right next door, we planned lots of winter walks with our dogs.
When we were out grocery shopping on Saturday I got a text from her saying that her dog had died the night before, at her parents' house. (Her dad is a vet.) It turns out that she (the dog) had a large tumor on her liver and, even by the time my friend adopted this dog, there really wasn't anything they could have done. But that doesn't really stop the tears, does it? Shane and I didn't even get the groceries out of the car before we raced over to F's apartment to hug her, console her, talk about the dog with her, and invite her over to dinner. (That's what you do when someone is in emotional distress, right? Feed them.) She tried to say, "It's so stupid of me to cry this much, I've only had her a few weeks!" But a few weeks is all it takes sometimes. Even I was crying over this dog. Such a happy presence should have more time on this planet.
When faced with strong emotions I tend to do one of two things: I clean maniacally, or I simply shut down and tune out the world for a bit. With everything that's been going on in my own life (like the cat's broken leg, like being sick for most of a week, and other things that I'm not ready to talk about yet) this time I shut down for a bit. I hung out with friends over the weekend, although I didn't want to. What I wanted to do was crawl in a cave for a bit, so I sort of did that. Most of the weekend was spent hunched over my computer, playing a game. I almost never play computer games, this was just my mindless thing to do. Reading, in my mood, was too much interaction with other people. A game where I can fight computer creatures and win (or lose, depending) was just about right. Plus, we've stationed the cat near my computer, so I was hanging out with him. (He seemed less bored, having me there.) Doing just about anything else, such as the dishes, seemed like a monumental and unbearable task. I was a bit useless for most of the weekend.
I'm crawling out of my cave now, slowly. Doing things seems, well, doable. I still don't want to talk with other people, but that might also be because I'm just very tired today. (Shane left for work this morning and I didn't really fall back asleep after he left.) By the end of the week I'll be back to my normal self, ready to take on the world or just reload by spending lots of time with friends.
A cookie or two wouldn't hurt the process, so maybe I'll make some tonight. :)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The saddest sight

We've jokingly started calling it the Recovery Palace:
At least in here he's stopped crying all the time. And he can see out better than he could in the kennel, which also reminded him of the vet. He's in a spot in the living room such that he can stare out the big glass doors at the back of the house, and he's right in the middle of us if we decide to watch a movie or TV show on the big television.
For today, though, he's mostly just had to watch me sneeze my brains out and blow my nose frequently while surfing Pinterest.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

It's trauma for the whole family!

We finally took our cat back to the vet's yesterday. About six weeks ago, after a night out on the town (for the cat) I noticed that he was really lethargic, and that he was limping. So we took him to the vet who put him on antibiotics and sent us home with instructions to monitor him. When Zap (the cat) was still pretty young, he got out one night, got into a fight with something, hurt his back a bit, and got a small infection. So this seemed like par for the course. (His back has been fine for a long time, don't worry.) No big deal, right?
Except that this time, instead of getting better, Zap just stayed the same. Still sorta lethargic, still severely limping. When he hurt his back I was able to lift him under his front paws so that he was standing on his hind legs and walk him around like that to get his muscles working again. (His hind leg muscles had atrophied from disuse. He looked like a cat version of Joe Swanson.) Shane was amazed that I didn't get my face clawed off, but it worked.
I tried doing that a couple of weeks ago and nearly did get my face clawed off. My poor cat was obviously still in pain, still not doing well. He was still seeming lethargic, not his usual bouncy, curious, cat self. I told Shane that we needed to take Zap back to the vet but Shane just said, "Let's wait and see a little bit more."
Finally, last week I put my foot down and made an appointment. I had to make it for this week, when Shane would be home and I'd have a vehicle, but I was done waiting and seeing. Zap was making little noises of pain every time he jumped and still wasn't putting any weight on his rear left leg. He was still lethargic and quiet.
So we took him to the vet yesterday when I was done with work. Right from the start it was awful. We'd borrowed a cat carrier from friends. It was the same one L and I used last time we took the cat to the vet and, unfortunately, he recognized it. As soon as I pulled it out he got really low, stared at it for a second, and then tried to slink away quietly. Shane and I together couldn't force him into it (partly out of fear of hurting him more) and he wasn't going to allow himself to be quietly wrapped in a towel for the car ride. Shane finally pulled out the big dog kennel and I feel so bad because the cat saw it and went, "Safety!" and leapt into it. I tossed the towel in after him, we closed it, and took it out to the truck. He looked so betrayed.
Then he peed. And it got all over him on the short trip. Then it got all over me because I was the one who mostly held him, poor guy. I tried to make him feel safe.
The vet examined him and said that there was something moving which shouldn't be moving near his hip. So, X-rays. And a sedative for the X-rays. Poor Zap. Instead of his usual strident "MROOOOW!", when they were manipulating him for the X-rays all he could do to protest was a low "mmmrrrrrrrrr" noise. He couldn't move. I ended up holding him while we waited for the X-rays to develop, and while the vet saw another patient. I took the opportunity to weigh him (he hadn't been weighed since he was a kitten) and found out that even in his weakened state he weighed 16.5 lbs. I knew my cat was big! (The ideal weight for the average domestic cat is 8-10 lbs. 16.5 probably means that Zap has some Maine Coon in him, along with the strain of Russian Blue we already knew about.) No wonder he feels like he can take on the world.
The sedative made it so that he couldn't even lift his head. Any time I shifted his weight (I was holding him for about 20 minutes, after all) his head would fall to the side. It was heartbreaking. My cat also doesn't like being held for too long, generally, so while I enjoyed getting the snuggles it sort of added a whole new level of pathos to the whole situation.
The vet took one look at the X-rays and said, "Oh my gosh. Well, yep, that's the problem. I've never seen anything like it, though." The bit of bone which connects the hip ball to the rest of the femur was pretty much completely shattered.
That's the area there. The vet just kept saying how he'd never seen anything like it before and couldn't quite think of what would cause such an injury. His hip hadn't been dislocated, which in a way added to the mystery. What would cause such a catastrophic injury that wouldn't also get the hip ball? Since Zap was, once again, running a fever the vet speculated that perhaps there was some sort of bone infection, but we didn't run any tests for that. He's on more antibiotics and on kennel rest for one whole month. At the end of the month we'll take him back for more tests and X-rays. Fun, right?
When the vet said a whole month of kennel rest Shane said, "And are you willing to give us a month's worth of sedatives?" He was only half joking. We asked for ideas about how to keep him entertained and all the vet could really suggest was catnip. If anyone out there on the internets has ideas about how to keep a normally very active but caged cat entertained for a month, please let us know.
As if all of that trauma wasn't enough for my poor cat, as soon as we got home I had to give him a sponge bath to get the pee off of him. The poor guy tried to run out of the kennel but was still under the effect of the sedatives and his leg was really hurting so he couldn't really run. I had to corner him and listen to the most pitiful crying while I wiped him down with a damp towel.
The dog freaked out, not knowing what was going on, and wouldn't leave him alone in the kennel. At first it was funny, then it was just annoying. After I fed the cat the dog kept scratching at the door because she wanted his food.
And the kennel isn't going to be big enough. I know, the whole point is to keep him essentially immobilized. But this kennel is about the size of the tote we use just as his litter box. Putting a shoe box in there full of litter wasn't cutting it. He ended up pooping in his food bowl and then peeing all over himself again. Shane cleaned up the poo, I once again cleaned up the cat. The smell of the poop got to Shane, who threw up, and I got scratched by the cat. Everyone had a great time.
So when I'm done with work today, we're going to figure something else out to keep him in relative comfort. Something at least big enough for a litter box he can use. I might try to set it up by the windows, too, so that he can at least see what's going on outside. Maybe that will keep him from crying all day? That's all he did last night--cry and scratch at the door of the kennel. Shane said, "Well, at least we know what the saddest sound in the world is."
Our cat is still pretty young. He's only 4, and the average lifespan of a male domestic cat is 12-14 years. If he was older, I'm not sure what we'd do. But this is (hopefully) going to be worth it to save our young cat. Worst case scenario, a total hip replacement. Slightly better case scenario (and probably the most likely), he's crippled but mobile for the rest of his life. I'm not holding my breath for a full recovery, and I feel like the worst cat owner ever.
Probably the best decision we made last night was to not cook dinner. When we were still at the vet's I asked Shane, "How about we get takeout Thai food instead?" So Shane picked that up after dropping me and the cat at home, while I was trying to get the kennel somewhat comfortable and clean up the cat pee. I tried to be mad at myself over the garbage produced by getting takeout. Our Thai place uses plastic tubs and Styrofoam containers. But I was so drained by everything else that I thought of it and then mentally shrugged.
Every time Shane says, "This month is going to suck," all I can think is, "YOU'RE GOING TO BE GONE FOR THE NEXT TWO WEEKS! I'm going to be the one taking care of everything, it's going to suck for ME!" But I've managed not to say it...more than once. Yes, October is going to be long and it is going to be painful.
Adding to it all, I seem to be coming down with a cold. La vita e bella.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A little indulgence

Not to toot my own horn, but I have been super good lately about exercising. I've found a bunch of stuff on Pinterest to motivate me, and lots of new/old exercises to try. So, ok, I already knew how to do crunches and pushups, but I've pinned a few things to remind me that I actually need to do these things. It helps that I can already see a difference in myself, just from adding a little bit of weight training to my running.
As for the running, well. I don't think the dog quite knows what to do with herself now that she's getting to go for so many regular and tiring runs. I injured my knee well over a month ago--I'm still not sure what happened, except that running and long walks were the only things which bothered it, biking and even squats/lunges were fine--so I've been taking it sorta slow getting back into the routine. Also, it's chilly out and long runs just don't seem the most appealing. Add in the increasing darkness (which means more limited times in which I'm going to think, "Yeah! Running!") and we've been doing more smaller runs. However, I've upped the difficulty for myself to make up for the lack of hills and distance. We've started doing sprint intervals. You know, sprinting between two landmarks, then slowing back to a jog for a very short time, then sprinting again. This has been wearing both of us out extremely well. Pepper has been so tired that she can't even cause mischief when Shane is gone. (Most of the time.)
As if all this wasn't enough, I decided a few weeks ago to scale back my addiction to all things bread. I realized that it was my go-to snack, and my default food when I couldn't think of what else I wanted. I was eating something with bread (or bread with something else) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So I scaled it back a bit, and what bread-y stuff I have been eating has been almost entirely whole grain. (The few exceptions being things like the rolls I ate when friends invited me over to dinner, and a friend's 'going away party' cake.) Shane laughs at me because he has absolutely no problem not eating bread and pasta and all things carb-alicious. I do. It's been a conscious effort not to eat these things. Yesterday was the first time in over 3 weeks that I made bread, and that was so that I could finally make reuben sandwiches. (I made sauerkraut and it's ready to eat!) Just to be clear, I haven't gone Atkins, or Paleo, or even really low-carb. I'm just not overdosing myself on bread all the time.
So, after about a month of being very physically active, and eating well (I really do feel a difference) I just needed some sort of little indulgence the other night. Of course, my first thought was, "Cookies!" but not only did I not have all of the ingredients for pretty much any cookie recipe, I didn't want to eat an entire batch of cookies by myself. I didn't want to totally throw all of my efforts out the window (like I said, I do feel a difference) so I wanted to make it within my new parameters.
Usually, I try to save my preserved foods for after the snow falls. It's a little silly, but to me it doesn't feel like I should be breaking into my supplies when there's still plentiful stuff at the store. However, I didn't have a vehicle and really didn't feel like biking to the store. Also, there was snow in the forecast and the feel of snow in the air. Good enough for me. (We did get a light dusting of snow the next morning, but it was gone by the time I got out of bed.)
With autumn in the air and most of the summer fruits out of the store, I've mostly been eating vegetables and very, very little fruit over the past couple of weeks. (To be honest, I just haven't been feeling like it. Autumn doesn't feel like a season of peaches, so I don't want them anymore. Mostly) Pulling out some cherries and blueberries for a mini cobbler was an especial treat. It turned out so well! I didn't want to make a huge one, just enough for me (the Boy was gone for the evening) and just enough for one evening.
I made it in one of our 4-cup Pyrex storage containers (they're oven safe) and it was super easy.

Mini Cobbler
Approximately 3 cups of frozen cherries
About 1 cup frozen blueberries
1 tbsp corn starch
1/2 tsp cinnamon
A couple dashes of nutmeg

Combine in your baking vessel. This was enough to almost fill the Pyrex container, but it cooks down a lot, don't worry. Then combine (in a separate bowl):
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup brown sugar (or, I suppose, honey or maple syrup would be good too)
Enough butter to make it all crumbly. (A couple of tablespoons.)

Pour that over the fruit, bake for about 20 minutes at 375. Let it cool a bit so that it's not the temperature of the sun when you bite into it, then enjoy.
You could almost certainly get two servings out of this, I was just greedy (and hungry) and I ate it all. :)