Friday, December 5, 2014

Three things that have rocked my world

I'm an exceptionally boring person. If a camera followed me on a day where I did absolutely anything I wanted, I would like choose to stay in bed and watch Netflix documentaries interspersed with bursts of reading. If I got really wild and crazy, I'd eat buttered popcorn while watching documentaries (don't want to get butter on the books/e-reader). I don't even aspire to wild and crazy. I aspire to fulfilling my fantasy of spending the day in bed ... alone ... with movies and books. But my child needs to be ferried around, I have to do chores, or any number of other reasons that prevent me from fulfilling my boring fantasy.

That's just to tell you where my excitement bar is to have some context. Low bar, very low.

I'm no shopper. I just don't have that gene that most women do. I took that Facebook quiz about how girly I am, and I scored 18%. I'm apparently a fraction of an inch away from wearing a fanny pack and Birkenstocks.

While I'm not a good consumer,  I have bought three things within the past few months that have rocked my world.

1. Fleece sheets. I think it's part of the Pacific Northwest culture that you have to love Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft and fleece. Of those, I really only love fleece. But goodness I love it, and I have bought an amazing amount of fleece over the years. And now, fleece sheets. Why are fleece sheets so amazing? They're not cold. They're always warm to the touch and cuddly and a little slice of heaven.

2. A digital food thermometer. We had a really, really old thermometer that was huge and unreliable and hard to read. It wasn't digital. It would fog up and you couldn't read it. Well, I tend to make a lot of candy that has precise temperature requirements. And meat around the holidays. Being able to know the exact moment your candy reaches 250 degrees or the turkey reaches 166 degrees is awesome!

3. A peppermill and the matching salt shaker that spews the chunky salt. What will we do without our McDonalds-like salt and pepper shaker? We'll be ADULTS? Fascinating.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Nano Compeleted

Nanowrimo is over! I think I already said this, but I cheated and started in October. I think the point of Nano is to write an amount equivalent to a book each year, and I know how hard it is to write 50,000 cohesive words in one month on top of working full-time and having a child & husband. So, yeah, I started in October to make sure I had enough time.

I am still most proud of my first Nano in 2011. I'm not sure if it's because it was my first or if it was the best of the four. I think both perhaps. It definitely had the most structure of the four.

I know I'm supposed to go back and rewrite/edit after completing each one, but I never seem to do that. I just go full-force back into reading for enjoyment until the next Nano comes around. More than likely, none of my Nanos will ever see the light of day. And that's okay. I wrote four (piss poor) novels! :)

In other news, there's not much news. Plodding along.

My daughter got her first report card of first grade yesterday. It reads more like a horoscope than a report card. I do see a theme through kindergarten and first grade. She's doing well socially by being respectful and kind to others (YAY!), except her one sad spot: "articulating own needs." Much like her father and me, she's not good at asking for help. She's the type to suffer in silence. There are those kids who will give you a litany of twelve things that they are irritated about (it's cold out, hungry, someone was "mean" to them, etc.), but she's not one of those. I didn't want to raise a kid like that, and I was raised to suck it up. But be careful what you try to cultivate because there's a downside.

The horoscope part of her report card: "She is a gentle spirit with a kind heart and steel core." In the next sentence, she's "serious" and "easy-going." My husband said his interpretation was that she's serious about school but easy-going to work with. Not sure.

Overall, quite please with Little J's progress. I wonder if she will harness some Rage Against the Machine soon. Just a little, not a lot.

In other news, it's been as cold as a witch's tit here (my grandfather used to say that all the time!).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Admire/Hate Dichotomy

A little known fact about me if you primarily know me through social media: I love business. For some reason, I don't think it comes out when I type. In person, I think I definitely talk about financial planning/business enough that you would know it's one of my interests. In social media world? Not so much.

It's not something that translates well to blogging. There are all sorts of blogs about fashion, being a mom, recipes, exercise, politics, celebrities...but business? Maybe I am blind, but I don't see many. I subscribed to several many years ago, and then they all seemed to stop.

I love to read companies' annual reports. It's fun to see how they spin negative stuff and all of their projections for the future. I like reading financial statements. I like doing fundamental analysis.

I would enjoy dissecting an annual report as a blog post, full of captioned photos with snarky commentary. It's my blog; I could. But I'm not to immune to the 97 ways I bore people to death. And then it becomes "work" instead of "fun."

And I'm the boring kind of financial planner that prefers long-term planning over get-rich-quick daytrades. Oh, there's money to be had there, don't get me wrong. But when you work full-time, have a child, have hobbies, there's only so much time you can put to daytrading, and if you want to do it right, you have to put in the time.

There is one company that I am in particular awe of. They are marketing geniuses, and I wish I could have even a small fraction of their marketing wisdom. It's a huge company, and you could look at any of a number of facets to their empire.


What I as a 30-something am particularly impressed with is how they take vast amounts of money from the people of the world for vacations. I know a variety of people in different income levels, and they seem to ALL give thousands of dollars to Disney to be entertained on vacation, whether it be Disneyland, Disney World and/or Disney cruises.

Back in my day being a kid, you went to Disneyland for a day and Disney World for two days. Now, you go to Disneyland/California Adventure for a MINIMUM of 3 days, you do several character meals, if you have a girl you buy her favorite princess dress and get her hair done at the princess hair salon, you buy picture packages, you stay in one of the themed hotels (at $400/night). There is no way to come out without giving Disney at least $2k of your money. I'm sure Disney World is a week-long adventure that sucks even more money out of you.

I don't understand why so many people are so completely and utterly FINE with this (unbalanced) exchange, in my opinion. Maybe being in the "happiest place on earth" for a few days is worth it to all of these people.

My daughter is learning about Disneyland from a lot of her friends. Because they all have gone, and some have gone multiple times. She doesn't bug us that much about it, but when we ask her about where she might want to go on an upcoming vacation, she does list Disneyland at the top of her list.

What? You don't want to go to the park an hour away that charges $16 for admission, and you can ride the 9 rides as much as you want and see a ventriloquist show? And don't forget the pony rides! Come on, that's pretty amazing!!! (And so cheap...without a plane ride...and without excessive souvenirs...and you get to sleep in your own bed!) I'll toss in an ice cream cone if you're really good!

It is with great trepidation and disdain that I look into booking  a Disney vacation. And since I'm cheap and have this weird admire/hate dichotomy going on with Disney, I want to give Disney as little of my money as possible. Of course, I can't get out of paying for park admission tickets ($300 a day for 3 of us!), but I can refuse to stay at a Disney hotel and choose to give Disney as little dining/souvenir money as possible.

They are marketing geniuses that are trying to take over the world, attacking the discretionary spending portion of every family's budget.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Stressed Out Reader

I love to read. A lot. I read about 100-130 books per year. While I have a few favorite genres, my taste can be very eclectic. It's actually been more eclectic recently because I've tried to intentionally force myself out of my comfort zone.

I really enjoy keeping track of what I have read in Goodreads. There you can put in reviews for each book and rate each book. Sometimes a book they advertise on the site piques my interest and looks familiar, and it's nice to look it up to see if I've read it already (my history goes back to 2010, and if I read it before then, I've probably forgotten it anyway). Because I log when I finish each book, it's a nice historical record as well. Goodreads also gives recommendations for other books if you particularly like a book.

Goodreads also has a "want to read" shelf. It's really easy to add books that look good onto this shelf with a click of a button. So much so that my "want to read" shelf was getting really huge. And books have sat languidly on that shelf for years. For some strange reason, seeing a book sit there for YEARS stresses me out as well as the sheer number of books that I have on that shelf. For the past few months I've been intentionally reading the books that have sat there for a number of years. It's nice to reduce the average length of time a book has sat there, but at the same time I realize my reason for reading the book is somewhat odd.

So I've changed strategies. With more and more e-books available via the library, I've decided to add books on my library wishlist. The date added isn't looking at me forlornly, and I have to select my wishlist instead of seeing it every time I log in. It's not as stress-inducing for this task-focused, overly-prone-to-guilt book lover.

I went ahead and deleted all of the books on my Goodreads "want to read" list that are available at the library as an e-book. There are still a few that are only available in hard copy, so I'll keep those on the stress-inducing Goodreads "want to read" list. What's nice about having huge library e-book wishlists is that I can go in and see what e-books are available for immediate checkout that are in the genre I'm hankering to read. It seems much more convenient and less stress-inducing.

I will definitely keep track and review every book I read on Goodreads still.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Random Thoughts

1. I started National Novel Writing Month early. I'm at 20,000 words with the objective being to write 50,000 words by the end of November. The goal of National Novel Writing Month is to write all 50,000 words in November. I know I won't be able to do 50,000 if I only have November. Starting early is okay, right? Can't believe this is the 4th NaNoWriMo I've taken part in!

2. Trying to have a healthy October. My vices are sugar in all its various forms. This will be tough. On the upside, I will eat kale smoothies, chia seeds, unsweetened almond milk and veggies without dips/dressing. I'm either "on" or "off" when it comes to this stuff, usually changes by the hour. As always, I've been working out. I'm really good at that with the exception of running; holy crap, I hate running. It's just the food part of the equation where I suck most of the time.

3. I'm still wearing flip flops in October. It's called holding out. Who knew I had such fortitude?

4. I've read 107 books so far this year. Last year I read 126, so I seem to be on track.

5. I had a test at the hospital that took 10 minutes in August. I've had some intermittent breathing issues over the past few years; it all started when I'm pretty sure I had whooping cough in 2010. I was feeling gasp-y all summer, went in for this dang test. It showed nothing was wrong. But the billing for this 10 minutes is driving me nuts! They sent me a bill for $44.15. I paid it by credit card the next day. And since then I've gotten two separate statements saying I owe $44.15. I've called each time, spending half an hour on the phone, I've faxed my credit card statement, I don't know what else to do. Just credit me the dang $44.15 and be done with it!

6.  I found recent pictures of my dad's/grandparents' house in Pittsburgh on Zillow. It looks so different now! My dad and grandparents never took care of it. Or if they did something to it, it was a very shoddy, temporary fix. It fills my heart knowing that it is loved by its new owners...and that dastardly shag carpet is gone!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


I hate feeling trapped.

Literally - I hate being in crowds and physically feeling trapped in a small space with no way out - subways, airplanes, crowded meeting rooms, concerts, etc.


Metaphorically - When I was 15 and 16, I was dating a guy who had a lot of problems. It turned out that his problems ran deeper than I even knew, but of everyone he knew he shared the most with me. And I became placed in this trapped position. Should I stay loyal to him and not share what I knew with an adult who was in a better position to help him than I was ... OR should I "tell" on him with the aim of getting him help and risk him hating me for violating his trust? I chose to stay loyal to him. The situation ended crappily and, while I stayed loyal to him by not violating his trust, I don't think I was being a very good friend because I ended up not doing anything to help him.

And so I'm sort of in a similar position now in this damned if you do/damned if you don't scenario. I feel trapped. I'm trying to take my time and think things through. The path of least resistance is to do nothing, and it's tempting because it's easy. It's harder to stick your neck out and risk losing a friendship and being hated.

I have to think about what I would want if I was the other person.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Parenting shifts

While I was growing up, I wished I could trade moms with my friends. Mine seemed to act put out that I even existed, was unstable and sometimes just plain mean. Even if I won some award at school, my mom wouldn't show up or she would act all huffy that she had to take time off work since the principal had requested that she show up. So even positive things, like getting Student of the Year, became a bad memory for me because she was resentful that day and then would lash out. Why ever be proud of anything because she was going to tear me down for it? As a result, I became extremely self-sufficient and resourceful.

Looking back now--decades later--I've almost grown an appreciation for her childrearing style. In comparison to how I was raised, children are so freaking coddled now. And I'm expected to coddle my own child. How are we supposed to raise self-sufficient kids with the proper amount of self-esteem (not too low but not too entitled) when you're constantly scheduling them with three different concurrent sports, playdates every weekend, and battling for them with their teachers? Then you're expected to go to the PTA events and meetings, bake cookies for the bake sale, volunteer in the classroom every week. My mother did NONE of that. She had no interest in making playdates for me; we didn't even have "playdates" back then. I was never allowed to be in sports because she had to work, and the YMCA van picked me up right after school. While I didn't have problems with any of my teachers, she never attended any conferences or open houses. She went to 0 PTA meetings and would never volunteer for anything. Although volunteering in the classroom didn't seem as prevalent back then.

In many ways, I think I am lucky because I learned how to rely on myself at such a young age. I could navigate airports by age 8, create a master college class plan, including requirements plus classes in my major and minor with a four-year schedule, before I even stepped foot in the college classroom. I could amortize loans by the time I was 16 since my mom lent me $2,200 for my first car, which I had to pay back at a 6% interest rate compounded monthly. (I paid it back in ten months since I worked.) I got my first job at 15, and it was working at Merrill Lynch. I brought in all my report cards for the past few years as well as examples of my writing and math skills. I was hired because of the materials I brought and how I presented them. I was appointed to a city commission at 15 and became chairperson by 16.

My internal conflict is that I know I need to have a softer touch with my own daughter than my mom had with me, and I think I do, but I don't want to be so coddling that my daughter doesn't harness her inner strength. As crappy as it was to live with my mom, there were valuable parts. Even if your mom tries to tear you apart, you have to hold to your convictions and feel confident that you're building something bigger down the line.

Meeting my husband was awesome. I felt supported in almost anything I did, which was a weird and foreign concept. But I do have to admit that some of the fire has dissipated in me. Back then I think I was so focused on getting away from my mom that I knew I had to have excellent grades, excellent community service, money saved from my jobs, my own car. If I could juggle all of that, then something had to work out. I would be able to get into college, and I could have my own resources and skills to find a job, and maybe I could use my excellent grades and references on scholarship applications. The goal being that even if she completely cut me off, I could still make progress toward my dreams.

I have some inner dialogue since it feels like I'm expected to coddle my child so much more now than the cultural expectation in the 80s and 90s when I was a kid, and even the coddling bar back then when we didn't coddle nearly as much was far higher than what my mom did. I feel really out of my element, but I need to take my daughter in context of today's cultural expectations and not carry any bitterness about my mom's parenting into my own parenting.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Happiness Coach

Are you happy?

I don't know if I am. On the whole, I like to think I'm positive. I am relatively cynical, though, and roll my eyes more than I think is acceptable. I guess the rolling my eyes thing is more that I'm easily annoyed. I hate when people ask me things they can easily find out for themselves (there's this website called Google....).

As for disposition, I do think I try to be positive. I don't ooze it like a cheerleader well past her prime, but I like to frame things in a positive manner. That may be because I think very few of us are victims, and I hate people who wallow in their own self-pity ad nauseum. I mean, I've known some of those people in my years, and a few had tragic ends. I know there was likely depression involved in those instances that probably necessitated meds and/or a psychologist. I've been known to wallow too, but I try to confine my wallowing to discrete amounts of time. If I wallow for more than a week at a time, I make my own eyes roll. I can't stand to be around myself.

 I've mentioned it before that I'm on a Board of Directors for a non-profit. It's really not my thing. I like to DO things; I don't do well talking about OTHER people doing things. It seems like most people there have an agenda of their own. For some, it's resume experience; for others, they seem to be launching a career into public office. For others, they are retired, and it's a cause near and dear to them. I don't mind that agenda. But the others can be tedious. I'm counting down the months of my term remaining--20 months.

Anyway, there's this conference coming up that they are encouraging all of us Board of Directors to go to. It's expensive, as in $1,000 for one day. And it sounds super fluffy. There's some lady who is a Happiness Coach leading it. A freaking Happiness Coach....capitalized like that. What a crock!

Yes, I probably sound like I'm in dire need of said Happiness Coach.

Now I want to make up a Happiness Coach bingo card, find someone to pay my way in, and see how well I can fill up my bingo card. Will the Happiness Coach give you whimsical, happy sayings you can put all over your house and your clothes? Will she give a motivational speech "adapted" from another, more famous motivational speaker? Will we do a cute ice breaker focused on sharing the happiness in our lives? How long will it be until I throttle said Happiness Coach?

Maybe I'm not so happy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Another mother

Have you ever known anyone who always tries to present a falsified/better image? This person is so caught up in maintaining this unrealistic image. Ultimately, you would respect the person more if the person was just more authentic and not so caught up in being "perfect."

For me that person is my mom. I suppose it would be easier if I was the only recipient. Unfortunately, she's like that to everyone. She is perfect, the rest of the world is very flawed. The rest of the world makes stupid decisions.

There's that people in glass houses saying that I want to tell her, but I know I would be subject to death if I even alluded to her not being perfect.

Nothing specific precipitated this post; I've been feeling this way for decades. In the back of my mind, I had hoped things with her would change once I became a mother. She might let her guard down at least once and have a real conversation.

I haven't ever had what I would call a real conversation with my mother. By a real conversation, I mean something like a blog entry (I know it's one-sided, but humor me here) that involves talking about what you're thinking and feeling. I'm not one to voice my thoughts very well, so instead I do tend to blog. But in the right environment I do talk about things with people I know and respect. I'm talking about getting to the blog level of discussion. As in this entry where I say I've never had a real conversation with my mother. I wish I could voice that concern to her….without her going apeshit.

I was an only child. I didn't envy friends with siblings. My dad wasn't around. I didn't envy kids with dads who were around (although I'm appreciative that my daughter's dad IS around). But I did envy those who could really talk with a parent, most of the time their mothers. I envied being able to have a real conversation, with someone who would listen and give you advice if needed or a hug if needed.

I didn’t have that.

It's a peculiar construct, I realize this now. Mothers are supposed to give you hugs and gentle words of advice and support and all those things that are at the very essence of motherhood. I didn't have that.

I'm not coming from a place of anger. My mom is odd, and as I proceed on my own path of motherhood, I'm realizing more and more how odd she actually is. I'd say she has Asperger's plus a few personality disorders (borderline, maybe a light version of bipolar).

So much of what she does and says revolves around maintaining a picture of perfection, particularly in being orderly and scholarly. Nothing bad that happens is ever her fault and nor does she contribute to it in any way. There is zero ownership of the bad and 100% ownership of the good.

A friend I knew gave me this button: "Neurotics build castles in the sky. Psychotics live in them." Sometimes I think my mom lives in this fantasy world that she built, and it's impenetrable from the outside world.

So what do my mom and I talk about? Not much. I don't trust her. And she's only focused on facts from me. There's no support from her, and I'm surrounded by constantly feeling like a failure even though in actuality I should be very proud of myself.

For instance, growing up I was expected to have impeccable grades. I did have great grades, for the most part--an endless string of A's and raves on my report card for citizenship, being a hard worker, thoughtful, etc. But when I got an A- or a B+, she would make a huge deal that would basically say I was headed to a life of homelessness because I'm "lazy." I never bought her arguments, and it's hard to argue with crazy. I was more of the type to walk away and retreat into my room. And she was the type to continue on by opening the door every few minutes, yelling an insult and slamming the door.

I couldn't wait to leave the house. Aside from a few other personal and financial reasons, that was the reason I started college at 15. The more quickly I could amass college credits, the sooner I could get the hell out. I LOVED not living with my mother anymore once I transferred to a four-year university at 17. I didn't miss her mood swings, her insecurity disguised by emotional abuse, her weird sense of self. There have been other indications, like her employment history is somewhat speckled, and my aunt recently told me that she didn't do well on her current performance review.

My college report cards were sent to her house instead of the dorm. One day I had to compile all of the classes I had taken for one reason or another, and I was going through the big filing cabinet of important papers to collect all these report cards.

I have to admit that I was interested in finding more about my mom. She was always so quick to evaluate me, but she was always so secretive when the shoe was on the other foot. I wanted to know more about her. I remember finding her college transcript in that filing cabinet. It was littered with C's, D's, B's and a token A here and there.

My mom's GPA sucked, and she was on me about my 3.92 GPA being awful??!  When I looked at that alphabet soup, I knew there had to be something going on behind the scenes. My mom wasn't that bad of a student, was she? Maybe she didn't adjust well to college. Maybe it was a boy. Was that when her mom was sick? I gave her the benefit of the doubt that something went on for those few years that caused the poor grades.

But it's not like I could ever bring that (or anything else) up with her. She would accuse me of spying despite our records being in file folders right next to each other. She wouldn't be honest with me or herself. She would shut down.  

Another question that makes her shut down: "What attracted you to my dad?" I just want to hear something for goodness sakes!  Was it his smile? Was it how he told her a joke? Maybe I want to see her giggle and tell me a story about the day they met. It's not like I'm asking how to get into Fort Knox. You fell in love with him for some reason. Yeah, it didn't end well. Some of my relationships didn't end well either. But I can still do that little sigh and remember all those tiny details from 20 years ago even with the ones that didn't end well. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to conclude from her refusal to answer, but what I come away with is that she doesn't want to be reminded of something that didn't end well.

There are so many instances and examples of why I have never had a real conversation with my mother. I feel like I have to compensate for the weirdness with my mom by overtalking with my daughter. I probably overshare. I've written journals and letters to her that I want to give her on her 18th birthday to explain myself and how I'm the crazy mother she ended up with. I don't want to pretend to be perfect with her. I want her to feel like she can talk with me. I don't have answers most of the time, but maybe I can give her a perspective that helps in some way.

I do envy those with a mother that they can actually talk with about things. Over the years, that void has somewhat been filled--mostly with my husband and various friends and sometimes just blogging, yet I don't think it's the same as it would be with an emotionally present mother.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Norman Rockwell image

My immediate neighborhood isn't very interesting. For the most part, families bought their houses in the early 1990s (in their 30s) and now in their 50s. Their kids are out of the house or close to it. There's a few newbies, like us, that have younger kids. This neighborhood sprawls a bit more and it's on a hill, so it doesn't have that "kids all hang out in the street" atmosphere.

The adjacent neighborhood has a different vibe. The houses are much close together, and it's arranged like a four-leaf clover with four cul-de-sacs. It seems like each house has at least 3 kids. I enjoy walking in that neighborhood because it's so freaking fascinating.

Tonight is the night before recycling pick-up. Most recycling goes in the big blue containers with the exception of bottles (i.e., empty wine and beer bottles) that go in a bin. My neighborhood really doesn't have that much in the way of bottle recycling. Out of 30 houses I walked by, there were 2 houses that had bins out, and there wasn't much in the way of bottles in there. Maybe 3 beer bottles and 2 wine bottles. For two weeks, that doesn't seem like much. In the other neighborhood, there are so many houses with alcohol bottles. And not a measly few bottles. We're talking 20 wine bottles and 20 beer bottles per bin. I'd say that some houses were having big parties, but it's the same houses putting out all those bottles every two weeks. It could be that they have a lot of people living there. It's not my place to judge; I just notice a lot of alcohol consumption in that neighborhood for some reason.

That whole neighborhood seems so confining. Stepford Wives + Truman Show. It's like all the air is replaced with a haunting spell that compels you to have 3 kids and a dog and reminisce of a time when you didn't need to lock your door.

I want to tell the people who always have their lights on and still haven't bought blinds or curtains to do so. I try to politely avert my eyes from the living dollhouse as I walk by, but it's sometimes difficult.

The undercurrent -- I want to find it. The alcohol bottles in all the bins are a hint that everything might not be as Norman Rockwell as the building developer had hoped it would be. They don't have streetlights in the neighborhood. Instead, they are these stubby lantern things.

One thing I want to ask the builder is why he chose so many of the houses to have detached garages. It's Seattle, after all. It RAINS. Putting your car in the garage and then walking from the garage in the rain to the house seems odd, particularly when it doesn't save space and there are many house floorplans that have attached garages. I don't understand.

That neighborhood always makes me want to write. The subversive under the Norman Rockwell image intrigues me.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Embracing my introverted ways

I've always known what personality was desired in a person. People wanted to be around extroverts--those people that could thrive in any setting with people, who could get anyone to laugh and go along with their ideas. When I took those career tests, I knew the correct answer was "I prefer groups of people" over "I prefer being by myself."

You might say there is no correct answer. Then you haven't seen the results to those tests. An extrovert gets a whole list of possible careers, and the introverts get a short list of logger, mathematician, coal miner.

There is a correct answer. I could talk myself into the correct answers on a good day. After all, I really enjoy talking with people and meeting new people. Just one-on-one versus an overwhelming party with loud music where you can't hear anyone and have a real conversation. After I got my real estate license, I thought about becoming a real estate agent. It's actually an interesting job where you mainly work one-on-one and my psychology degree would come in handy. When they gave me the personality test, I knew I had to up my extrovert quotient. That combined with my excellent contract reading and writing skills & math skills, I was a shoo-in. Alas, I didn't end up pursuing it because my day job is too time-consuming.

During the summers, I have more time off. I could take more time off during the school year, but the nature of my job is that more than a day off during the school year is hard to swing. Usually I take the summer to reconnect with friends that I don't see as much during the school year.

This year...nah. I've basically been a recluse. That might be a tad dramatic. Maybe it's only a semi-recluse. I've spent my time off blueberry picking, grocery shopping, reading, doing yardwork, binge watching shows on Netflix--all activities I do by myself.

Last weekend we were invited to a barbecue on Saturday and going out on a yacht on Sunday. Eh, I passed on both, which I know was stupid because how many times do you get invited to go out on a yacht??? I preferred just staying home.

So, yeah, I'm embracing my introverted ways lately. I'm not even trying to fake it this summer.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A couple rants and Casserole Kitchen

This post was going to be a rant. I haven't ranted in a while here. Let me still do my rant...I'll make it short...pretty please?

1. Pyramid schemes, multi-level marketing, "parties" where people sell you crap you don't need or want and THEY usually end up in the hole because some company convinced them that they could get rich quick and made them buy a whole bunch of inventory that they can't offload.

No, I don't want to buy your crappy stuff. If I buy your crappy stuff even out of pity, then it will just reinforce this idiotic idea that you can sell stupid item X for $40 (of which, $35 goes to the company and the people in the pyramid higher than my friend) when I can go to Target and buy it for $5 if I actually wanted it. But since I don't want stupid item X, it's really a moot point.

2. People who do not have a handicapped sticker and stalk the closest parking spaces at Costco. You could probably insert any number of stores, but for some reason I really only notice the parking lot stalkers at Costco. I park my car as far away from everyone as possible--it's not that I don't want to get it dinged or anything. I am just fundamentally lazy, and stalking parking lots takes way too much work. I'd rather just walk and save the time. (Yes, it's faster to just park at the end and walk vs. trying to navigate those parking aisles.)


Today was my Casserole Kitchen (my nickname for it) volunteer night. Once a month I volunteer at a church (not my church) that offers a meal for anyone who wants to come. The intent is to provide those with little means with a "nourishing" meal in a pleasant environment. I guess it's a soup kitchen that mainly serves casseroles. I still haven't tried the food, but most of it looks kind of yucky. White sauce (that I know isn't alfredo) or canned cheese sauce over pasta/rice with a token canned vegetable. Even when there's meat, it's a meat that I won't touch (stew meat, ham, pulled pork).

My job is a greeter, and I do the statistics. It's not particularly hard work, but it's detail-oriented--capturing data on each person who comes in. Many guests are regulars, and after doing it for six months, I know them--they have nicknames I gave them initially (e.g., Tree Guy, who talks about trees like Bubba Gump talked about shrimp) and that evolved into their real names, but I use the nicknames with people outside of the volunteer group.

Usually, I'm a very curious person, but I tend not to ask the guests many questions. I guess I'm afraid of the responses. Some of them likely have apartments and just come to be social. Others...I don't know. One guy parks his shopping cart full of his worldly possessions outside the door.

I asked one guy how he was doing today. Most of these people have a very tough life, but they are optimistic. He said, "I woke up dry, so that was a blessing." Someone had given him a tent before the rainstorm. Those who wake up dry every morning don't often think of that blessing.

This volunteer gig gives me so much perspective. I go into the evening thinking of the 30 things on my to-do list, work stuff, worrying about my daughter (i.e., how bad am I screwing her up?), and then I am humbled by these people. I need that reality check and probably need it far more often than I get it.

There were a LOT of kids there tonight. 11 kids...usually there's none or one or two. My mom and I were poor for the first six or so years of my life. She took me to one Christmas event for poor kids, and I remember getting an ET doll from the Santa at the event. We had WIC for a year or two. But to my knowledge she never took me to a place like this. I would have remembered.

I sit by the front door as a greeter. I can see the whole room, but I tend to watch those that sit directly in front of me. I can overhear that table's conversations. I watch them eat as I sign in other people. At that table last month there was a guy hitting on a woman, which was interesting to watch (she turned him down) but sad to watch at the same time.

Today there was a woman with her four kids at that table. This was the first time her family had been to Casserole Kitchen. She told me that she just got laid off, and it was great that she and her kids could come eat. She was so nice and polite; her kids were too. You could see that this is what the church intended--families down on their luck could get some food and not worry about their necessities while they figure out their job situation.

She had what looked like a 5 year old boy, a 7 year old girl, a 10 year old girl and a 16 year old boy. The 16 year old boy looked uncomfortable about the whole thing (as I would have been as a teenager); he refused the main dish but had two servings of dessert. The three other kids cleaned their plates of the tuna casserole (with canned nacho cheese sauce...ick), salad, corn and jello. Mom cleared her plate. They were about to leave, and I told him that seconds would be served soon. The family, minus the teenage son, became excited. The kitchen volunteers ended up giving her 7 additional plates of food in tupperware to take home. The mom was so appreciative. Seeing this family light up over having food for the next day or two was a double-edged sword: happy but sad at the same time. You could see that the kitchen volunteers were taken aback by this family's appreciation and manners. They came out with loaves of bread for them (the good bread too). But the mom said she picked up three loaves at the food pantry, and that would tide them over. This family wasn't greedy.

While I hope everyone at Casserole Kitchen gets on their feet, this family has a special place in my heart. I wanted to ask the mom what kind of work she does; maybe I can pull some strings?? Maybe if I see her next time, I will ask.

There are a few people there that are *interesting*. Some with mental illness, some with likely drug/alcohol problems. I spoke with one guy tonight with dark brown front teeth. Seriously, they were one shade away from black. And they weren't just dark brown; there was stuff protruding from them as if they had some contagious disease. I wanted to ask, "Do your teeth have gangrene?" or advise him to see a dentist. But let's be honest, he has NEVER had dental insurance nor has he ever seen a dentist. Who knows if they are that way due to neglect, a drug problem or maybe it's just really bad genetics.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Holland America Westerdam Cruise Review

We took Holland America's Westerdam cruise from Seattle to Alaska, and it was the one that had the boiler room fire on June 28th, the day we departed (which I will try to avoid talking about, but I am bummed we missed out on Sitka due to that incident). This was our first cruise, and we learned that these devastating incidents are very rare. Of course, we have to experience a rare incident such as a boiler room fire instead of a rare incident like winning the lottery! Just our luck.

Much like almost everything I encounter, I want to understand the cruising experience. There's an imposed rhythm to it; perhaps a better word is a script. I wanted to understand the pieces of the script. I wanted to understand the layout of the ship. I'm one of those people who really needs to get my bearings and then let my natural navigation take over. I was curious about the crew. For the most part, the wait staff and cleaners were from the Philippines. My need to understand this new environment over the first day or two overwhelmed me. It was hard to relax when I had so many questions.

And I couldn't find the freaking trash cans. For some reason, I couldn't get over this. Aside from a tiny trash can in our room and bathroom, there were NO trash cans or recycle bins on board*. I'd carry stuff around wanting to DO something with it, but there was absolutely no spot so I'd carry it back to the room and then it wouldn't fit in the tiny trash can. After a while, I did what everyone else did and left stuff wherever it ended up. Your messes were picked up quickly by the Filipino crew, which made me feel like an overprivileged white person who thought other people should clean up my messes.

* I eventually found one trash can and recycle bin outside on the promenade deck, which was probably to deter people from throwing stuff overboard (my theory).

Around Monday afternoon I started feeling able to relax, probably because I was starting to understand the rhythm of things and how to get where I needed to go without relying on a map. Some things constantly annoyed me, such as announcements over the PA system (right over your bed, the bathroom, the hallways, outside, etc.) where you couldn't control the volume. I once made the mistake of trying to take a nap at 2pm. Thank you 100 decibel announcement right in my ear! And it didn't even tell me anything important, just that Bingo was going to start, which was in my program for the day. If I had wanted to go to Bingo, I would have already been at Bingo instead of in bed.
See, I digress. Who else talks of trash cans and the stupid loudspeaker when they discuss their first cruise? As you can tell, I'm weird. Let's try to force myself to have a REAL report.

People - not as geriatric as I expected. Lots of multi-generational families though. A lot of people from the south (their twangs are so freaking adorable). There were also some couples our age. Most people had been on a lot of cruises before. We didn't meet any other newbies like us. We met some people playing trivia and during meals, but we didn't end up exchanging our info with anyone for after the cruise.

Food - There was a lot of it, but I didn't find that it was that great. Maybe I'm a horrible judge of food though. The buffet was open nearly all the time. The formal dining room was open for breakfast, most lunches and dinner. The buffet was usually nuts. People everywhere, tables full, you'd have to go to several different sections to find the food you wanted. Drinks were inconvenient to get to. We had to get our food, find a table, get our daughter's food, juggle plates…all while on the high seas and the boat was rocking (navigating crowds while walking around the room in circles holding 2 or 3 plates while stumbling around due to waves is a sure fire way to even get strong stomach me to feel a little nauseous). By the time we sat down, I had a headache and didn't want to eat. 

We found that the formal dining room was just easier. Yes, my overprivileged white butt just wanted to avoid the crowds and eat in peace. The breakfast menu was similar to what you'd find at an upscale breakfast bistro. I'd have a frittata Italiana, pineapple juice and fruit each morning (not a breakfast person). My husband likes denser breakfasts. Lunch was a five course meal and so was dinner. They'd have a static part of the menu (salmon, steak, Caesar salad) and then have 4-5 new selections in each of the appetizer, soup/salad, main dish and dessert sections. I was fond of the chilled fruit soups, which were really just smoothies. You also had 2-3 other food venues. There was a burger shack near the pool. There was 24 hour room service with a full menu, and most days there was a themed meal on one of the decks (Mexican, salmon bake, etc.). All of the food was included in the cruise price, so it was all-you-can-eat. Good alternatives, but I didn't eat much that I thought, "OMG, this is the best _____ ever!" However, I completely overate, given the elaborate meals and hourly temptations.

 Accommodations - tight. In our room, only one person could be "up" at once. The bathroom was definitely a one-person bathroom. It was claustrophobic even helping our daughter get a bath. We ended up getting an upgrade to a room with a balcony, which was great, but sailing in Alaska--even in July--is cold with the wind. It was hard to spend more than 30 minutes at a time out there. In the Caribbean, I could imagine being out there much longer at a time. The balcony was good to have because it was a quiet place outside to read, take pictures, watch the scenery. With 3,000 people on a ship, it gets crowded. It's nice to have your own personal space while outside. 

Kids Club/Club HAL -  My daughter loved the themed evenings from 7pm-10pm. She didn't so much care for the daytime activities. I think that's because she's near the older end of her age range, and she would have preferred the next age group's activities. Duck Duck Goose when you're in first grade is apparently not cool. The kids club had an awkward break in the middle of the day when they closed, which was a tad annoying. Plus, if there was something on the schedule that started at 1pm, it would create a scheduling bump because the kids club opened at 1pm. So you'd be late to your 1pm event because you had to do the paperwork for your child when you did the drop off and then take the elevator to where the activity was.

Entertainment - This is where I was disappointed. Now this part is likely because of the specific cruise line. It just so happened that a lot of the activities didn't appeal to us. For some people, Holland America's entertainment options would be more appealing than to us. Maybe we're too weird, or too young, or too boring. I don't know what it was, but more often than not we were shrugging our shoulders as we looked at the next day's schedule. My husband had a bit better time because the World Cup was going on, so he would camp out in the sports bar. 

                Nightly shows - Most were musicals. We're not big fans of musicals, but they'd typically sing and dance to a few songs we had heard of. It was okay, but if you're not into musicals, you're just not into them.
                Trivia - We loved these. There were music trivia games (Name That Tune), pub trivia (general trivia) and themed trivia (chocolate trivia). There was also a game show they did that was similar to The Newlywed Game. That was fun to watch.
                Comedy - There were 2 stand-up comedy shows. Loved, loved these!
                Bingo - meh, not our thing
                Art Auctions - Sure, art is pretty, but I didn't bring $5,000 with me to buy art. And it's an awkward place to buy art since most of us can't easily price compare art while on a ship. But wait, that's probably why they do it that way.
                Culinary Shows - Holland America "partnered" with some cooking magazine to have a kitchen and a chef on board to show you how to cook. It's basically a cooking show but in real life, and then you can sample the end product. I didn't see the point in watching a cooking show for 45 minutes to get a little sample when I can go upstairs and get a meal. I guess cooking shows aren't my thing.
                Microsoft Classes - Holland America "partnered" with Microsoft to offer Microsoft classes. I did sit in on the Windows 8 one because I still haven't figured out all the features of my new computer and nothing else on the schedule at that hour appealed to me. It was an okay class.
                Specialized Sport Things - They had a putt-off, a tennis serve thing, and a few other sports things. I'd rather just walk around the promenade deck.
                Casino Tournaments - While I wouldn't mind playing with fake money, the buy-ins were too high since I'm a novice gambler. 

So really the things we were "YES!" about were the two hours of comedy throughout the week and the daily trivia game (sometimes there were two trivia games per day). All in all, not a huge to-do list while on the ship. But we kept occupied with reading, people watching, hanging out in the sports bar, minor gambling…all things we could easily do near our home. They did have two pools and hot tubs, but the pools weren't very big or deep.

So would I do the cruise thing again? Probably. I might relax a little easier the next time around, likely acclimating to the cruise life faster. We'd probably be more conscientious about picking a cruise line with on-board activities that more closely aligned with our interests. 

Overall, there are a lot of advantages to a cruising vacation vs. a more traditional airplane/rental car vacation scenario. Cruising is a lot less complicated, particularly for us since we lived close to the Seattle port. You don't have to be as strict about luggage. You don't smell like an airplane when you cruise. You wake up in a new destination ready to hit the ground running and can easily book (expensive) shore excursions or just walk around the town. If you're the type to eat five course meals while on vacation, stay in nice hotels and take in shows/entertainment, cruising is probably very price competitive. For us, we're Motel 6'ers who are fine with fast food and a subeconomy rental car while on vacation, so there was a cost premium associated with us taking a cruise compared to what we would otherwise do on vacation. But it's one of those things that was worth it, at least this once. I can't foresee us taking 2 or 3, or even 1, cruise per year. However, I can see us taking a cruise every 5 years or so. But heck, we don't take vacations every year, or even every other year, so for all we know cruising could be our standard vacation from now on. 

All in all, interesting experience. If I did it again, I would require a balcony to avoid the claustrophobia. I would really research the on-board activities available on that ship. I would investigate the ship's background a little more. I liked our ship just fine (aside from the boiler room), but some of the other ships we saw seemed a bit sketchy: older, falling apart, tacky fake lit-up palm trees on the deck.  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Alaska Vacation

I got back from my first cruise ever this past Saturday. We went to Alaska. It was great, except for the fire. There was a bit of scariness when the cruise ship caught on fire, but it was put out, then re-ignited, then put out again, and then the Coast Guard required an inspection. After all that drama, the cruise was decidedly less dramatic, which was more my speed.

There is so much to write about. Pictures would help. I suppose I will have to get those off my camera sometime soon. This will probably turn into many blog entries. After all, it's our first vacation in 14 years without my husband's family, which means it's my first vacation in 14 years.

Why Alaska?

1. It's easy to get to the port in Seattle, and there's very few other destinations that leave from Seattle. We didn't want the complexities of air and ship travel and everything that goes with it for the three of us (e.g., logistics, more things to go wrong, time changes, additional packing, more cost, etc.).

2. Neither of us has been to Alaska. One of my friends in college loved to go to Alaska to camp. He marveled at the beauty of Alaska, and I never forgot that.

3. I'm lazy. I liked the idea of an agenda for the next day being left in my room, and I just show up to the things I want to and eat anytime I want to. And read. And sleep. Plus, there's child care on board. So we can put our daughter in child care and have alone time or do something with her. Again, having all these options are nice.

So that's why we chose Alaska.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I skydived and survived

Usually I take a while to compose blog posts. Things percolate in my head for days, weeks or even months. Sometimes I have to go through all the emotions and compose myself before I can write.

This time I'm going to go raw and stream of consciousness.

Today I went skydiving with 3 friends; the four of us lost our skydiving virginity together. We scheduled it 6 weeks ago, and my life has been so busy for the past 6 weeks (and I've been so sick) that I haven't had any time to worry about it. The date kind of sneaked up on me, which was probably for the best.

I knew nothing about skydiving going into it other than you jump out of a plane with a parachute. I didn't know all of the different types of skydiving.

We had signed up for the static line jump at 3,000 feet. I had no idea what that meant. When we got there, the instructor (in my opinion) tried to upsell us the tandem 10,000 feet jump by scaring us about going solo. I'm sure he had a point that complete newbies were going to have a tough time going solo, and we should work up (or down, as it may be) to it by starting out higher with a tandem jump.

Slightly bitter that I had been swindled and slightly relieved that I didn't have to sit through a 6 hour class, we changed to tandem. Tandem only requires

There were a few logistical hiccups (their bigger plane was down and a fuel pump part on their small plane was needed) that prevented us all going up and doing it at the same time.

I went in the second wave with D. L was in the first wave. She bought the photo package, which meant that a photographer went skydiving separately and took pictures of her and her tandem partner.

The airplane was little. Like the pilot and the 4 of us (D, me, and our two tandem partners) were squished together. I was literally sitting on the floor right next to the pilot. If I wasn't worried about the 10,000 foot drop after exiting the plane, I would have quizzed the pilot on what all of the gauges indicated. Alas, it was noisy and I was focused on the whole -- Oh, shit, I have to jump out of this plane and could die -- part.

Let me back up. Today was very...intimate. Getting strapped into the gear involved my tandem partner kneeling in front of me and telling me to open my legs -- twice -- because apparently I don't open my legs well. Then he felt me up quite a bit putting me into the harness. When we were in the plane, he strapped himself to me. Again, it was all very intimate. I could feel him breathing behind me against my back. I am so not used to being that close to anyone who isn't my husband.

Back to the jump. That's the hardest part. They kind of stop the plane (don't remember the technical term--pull back on the throttle maybe?), the door opens, and the whoosh of the strong winds immediately meets your body, and then you're looking down 10,000 feet. Unlike on a commercial flight, there's nothing separating you and the atmosphere.

He said, "Go!" and what's weird is I didn't hesitate. If I died, I died. Live with no regrets, and just do it. So I stepped off into the wild and crazy winds with no helmet, attached to this guy. We free fell for 5,000 feet before I pulled on the parachute.

Another side note. I've had some sinus and ear problems lately, likely allergies that developed into a sinus infection and bronchitis. I've been on antibiotics for 2 weeks and am starting to feel better, but apparently things are still lingering. Well, immediately when I stepped out onto the ledge, I felt ear pain and they became clogged. It put a damper on things, and I still haven't gotten my hearing back.

We did a couple somersaults once we stepped off and then we stabilized (as much as you can when you're plummeting to the ground). The parachute wasn't open yet; we were just falling. I suppose we were supposed to look at the scenery, but keep in mind you're falling from the sky at a high rate of speed (140-200 miles per hour), the winds are strong, you're wondering about the parachute, so perhaps observing nature (oooh, is that Mount Hood over there?) isn't the top item on your list. It was a pretty view, but so is looking out of the window on a commercial flight. As you're plummeting, perhaps you're on the lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. At least I was.

At 5,000 feet I engaged the parachute. Your body gets slowed down as it does its job, which lessens the panic. At this time you can enjoy the view more, but then you have to start worrying about steering. And the steering on the parachute is sensitive. So much so that I was starting to get nauseous as he did his swoops and turns. Then he slowed us some more and we came in for a (mostly smooth) landing.

I'm glad I did it. After you skydive, it takes away some fear. If I can jump out of a plane, I can do pretty much anything. But at the same time, I don't have a desire to do it again. It wasn't like it was horrible. I just was kind of "eh" about it. Maybe once I feel 100% and don't feel in a dizzy fog, I'll be more jazzed.