First the Forest, Now the Trees (an Update)

organizing my lifeI have trouble compartmentalizing my life.  I guess it makes some sense; in some ways, the different threads of my life weave together in a really obvious, organic way.  The state of my home, for instance, affects how stressed I feel, which affects my sleep, which affects my work performance, which affects my feelings of self-worth, etc. etc., but by the same token, struggling slightly or hitting a stumbling block in one area shouldn’t completely waylay my progress in any given other.

But it often does.  This is a continuing issue I need to work on – dusting myself off after a set back, moving forward, and forgiving myself for stumbling.  But it’s also very much an internal struggle that is not the focus of this entry, though I do imagine I will write about it, eventually and possibly extensively.

But right now, I’m still in the early stages of macro-organization: just establishing a routine for the most mundane, bare-bones, most-people-don’t-think-twice-about-these-things aspects of my life.  Checklists to make sure I take a shower, pick out my clothes, brush my teeth, get a good meal in, do my chores, and have a chance to have some creative/restorative time to myself.  As I’ve said before, having to lay out many of those things probably seems ridiculous to some people, but for me, I need to see it written down in black and white and be able to check it off to ensure it gets done.

I used my checklists for the first time today – specifically, my Morning Routine checklist and my Before You Go checklist.  It was not a perfect first outing; my “wake up at 5:30” didn’t get checked off (I woke up at 6:05), but hey – I did morning pages.  Nothing, sadly, got checked off under Get Moving, but I glanced at the list – pinned to the fridge – as I prepped breakfast, and I downed a big glass of water to start the day.  And, I remembered everything I needed to bring to work, including earbuds and a book (which I always forget) that made the two hour-plus-long waits that bookend my work shift infinitely more enjoyable.

So, not perfect.  But without those lists?  So much worse.  I’d have been plagued with morning breath, dehydrated, stressed out, and bored, all before one pm.  I’d say Day One was a success, in that, the system works.  The system made my day objectively better.

And maybe it’s time to move on to more focused aspects of my life – specifically, my relationship with food and exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a whole extensive history there – which, again, I will share eventually – that is not going to be suddenly resolved with schedules and checklists; internal struggles and issues that will take time and support to overcome.

But my usual pitfalls – not being able to “find time” to exercise, not having a plan for any given meal, not having healthy snacks on hand (whether I’m home or out and about), not looking at restaurant menus ahead of time to be informed of options – these are all things that can be, at the very least, helped with some thoughtful planning to create useful resources.

My first steps – I’m back at the gym, and I’m making a pick-and-pair chart for lunch and breakfast foods designed to maximize satiety and mindfulness, and minimize impulse binges on crappy foods.

Wish me luck.  I’ve now got an indication that this system is effective, so I’m hopeful.

Feel Good Friday/Friday Faves: July 14th, 2018

onnie & CaroleYes, yes, I know – it’s Saturday again.  I keep doing this.  This week, my excuse is that my whole schedule has gotten flipped upside down.  I spent a week out of work, and then had to adjust to a weird schedule of working only Tuesday and Thursday; we spent our Wednesday as a family out and about (which made it feel more like a Saturday), and to top it all off, my husband was covering a co-worker’s vacation and was working 2pm to 11pm instead of his usual 8am to 5pm.  So my whole week – and concept of time – has been thrown out of whack.

Here is what’s kept me grounded:

First, Wednesday was spent at Kimball Farm, which was a blast.  I hadn’t been there in several years (we did a community outing there during one of the other ESY programs I worked), and it really has something for everyone.  Bear got his first taste of mini-golf, he got to see some animals (and pet an alligator!), and spent some time earning tickets in the arcade.  He ended the day with a huge scoop of Orange-Pineapple ice cream.  I have a couple of small pics on Insta here.

Second, my sister spent hours online last night messaging me eBay links to long forgotten tech toys we had as kidsThe Teach-Me Reader and The Videosmarts Learning System to name a couple – and ended the evening by announcing that her 1984 Whiz Kid Toy Computer would be arriving on Thursday.  Seriously?  I still can’t believe she actually bought it, but I’d be lying if I pretended I wasn’t going to play with it.  I had one prior to first grade, and I loved it.  We can learn to spell together!

Third, Andy ordered me laminating sheets and I’m going crazy thinking of things I need to laminate.  All my checklists from my previous post have already gotten the treatment, and I’m busy designing both additional checklists and organizers for me, but also piecing together a preschool curriculum for Bear that we can get started, hopefully on Monday.  He’s looking forward to it, and so am I.  I plan on spending a big chunk of time after he turns in tonight getting some of those tasks completed.

Finally, the GISH registration has been extended and my team is starting to take shape (yeah, kind of late this year).  If you don’t know what GISH is, click the link or Google search its previous incarnation, GISHWHES.  It’s a massive multimedia international scavenger hunt interested in subversive art and acts of kindness.  This year it runs July 28th through August 4th.  I’m thrilled to see it brought back – we thought last year was the end!  – and am participating for the seventh year in a row.

That’s it for this week!  What’s kept you going through the week?

Preschool Shows that Don’t Drive Me Crazy

Guys, sometimes, I just want to sit.  That’s it. I want to sit and not have to do anything for an hour.  And I don’t care what your attitude is toward screen time, but come one – those are the moments television was made for.  

With a pre-schooler, though, I have to be careful what I put on.  We do have a small repertoire of “adult” shows that we can watch around Bear (we are very conscious of on-screen content (violence, sex), but are more lenient on curse words – if you want to know my philosophy about kids and cursing, here’s a great article on Scary Mommy that sums it up pretty well), but more often than not, it’s just easier to turn on a show for Bear and just veg out.  But man, some of those shows will drive you up a wall. Like, I literally watched one episode of Word Party and swore – out loud – “Never again!”

I’m always on the lookout for good shows for Bear that won’t drive Andy and I up a wall.  Here are some we’ve found so far, and if you have a favorite or two, please share with me in the comments below!

Peppa_PigPeppa Pig:  I was shocked – shocked, I tell you! – when I learned that Peppa Pig was a divisive show.  Some people think it’s cute and charming, and some people seem to think that the show (or at least Peppa) is obnoxious.*  Personally, I love how simple and linear the stories are, how they’re just small, simplified, slices of life that are easy for even the littlest kids to appreciate and  relate to. The animation and character design is very reminiscent of the drawings of young children (lines are always just a little hastily drawn, done in bright primaries, and heads attach directly to bulbous middles, with stick figure arms and legs), and the stories are very, very small (in both scope and length) and self contained (and minimally narrated), so that even the youngest viewers can follow them.

*Honestly, I find Peppa to be probably one of the more honest portrayals of a pre-schooler I’ve ever seen.  She’s not especially twee, she’s not incredibly precocious, and she’s mostly well-behaved with a bit of a bossy streak (if anything, maybe too well-behaved).  You want an obnoxious children’s show character? Watch Callilou. Lord. I never understood the Callilou hatred until I had reason to watch the show. He is obnoxious, shrill, and unbearable.

39b4ae343e1bd7c525491c1a99efa07b--school-tv-pre-schoolSarah & Duck:  This is a show from the BBC that we stumbled upon on Netflix, and it’s wonderful.  Sarah is a little girl who seemingly lives alone with her duck companion, Duck, in a quirky, pastel-shaded world of magical realism:  ordinarily mundane things like a trip to the park, visiting a neighbor, or buying bread are livened up by charmingly odd characters and idiosyncratic storylines: objects spontaneously gain sentience, neighbors live in houses constructed of knitted wool, noisy pipes take to being conducted like an orchestra, etc.  The animation and characters designs and unique and dreamlike, and when we first discovered it, Andy and I watched this show long after Bear had gone to bed.

pegcatPeg + Cat:  This one is a lot more blatantly “edu-tainment,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; honestly, Sesame Street is technically “edu-tainment,” and it’s a cultural touchstone.  Peg is a young girl who solves logic, math, and various mechanical problems using reasoning and trial and error, along with her pet cat, Cat, and an eclectic cast of characters (including Beethoven, Cleopatra, a pair of giants, and a opera-singing pig who loves triangles).  It’s quirky, has fun musical numbers, and can be surprisingly clever. I also love that Peg eschews feminine stereotypes (she enjoys and is good at math, etc.) and has moments of true gender-nonconformity (wear suits instead of dresses, etc). The show airs on PBS Kids and can be watched through their (free) app.

puffin-rockPuffin Rock:  Surprisingly educational and full of lovely Irish accents (including narration by Chris O’Dowd, who I have loved since The IT Crowd) and sweet stories, I love Puffin Rock for the same reason I like most of the shows on this list – it’s a nice break from the frantic, fast-paced media I feel like kids are confronted with all the time.  I mean, there’s a time and place for that stuff, I’m not “morally opposed” to it or anything, it’s just… nice to have a break from it. The stories are simple narratives with clear problems and solutions, and introduce and teach about a number of animals that are native to the region. The stories are about problem solving and friendship without being preachy or overly sentimental.  

truerainbowTrue and the Rainbow Kingdom:  This, I think, is also going to be divisive, but I think this show is a-freakin’-dorable.  The animation style is somewhere between Japanese “kawaii” design and an Emoji aesthetic, full of vibrant colors and cute creatures.  The show is a faster paced show and a lot more visually busy than many on the list, but it really is super, super cute, with fun songs and enjoyable characters.  True solves problems through the use of wishes, little creatures that serve very specific purposes according to her very specific needs, but really, she solves problems by taking a step back, clearing her mind, and talking through the problem at hand.  That’s nice. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the heros who charge ahead with no forethought and no plan, and I think it’s important that my son sees someone who makes it a point to center herself and reason through things before charging ahead.

What are your favorite shows to watch with your kids?  Old favorites, new finds?  Please let me know!

Feel Good Friday/Friday Faves: July 6th, 2018

onnie & CaroleHey-o, Friday!

So, Fridays mean a little less when you’re not actively working.  Actually, this Friday is a little bittersweet, because it means we’re coming to the end of the week I had off between the regular academic year and the ESY, but either way.  This has been a busy week for us, and I still want to celebrate the little things that made me happy.

First, this week has a new five-episode Steven Universe arc, “The Heart of the Crystal Gems” – the last of which is airing tonight – which included some really adorable moments, some great lines (“Pssst, it’s me.  I’m a horse”), and some fantastic character development.  I’m thrilled for the final episode, which is double length, and, based on what I saw in the teaser trailer and what already has (or rather, hasn’t) transpired, I’m looking forward to some great moments tonight!

Watch Steven Universe here at Cartoon Network, or on Hulu.

On a related note, here’s a great little article on this arc, talking about queer representation in the show.

Second, I took my son to see fireworks for the first time, and he loved them.  Ever since he found out that we’d be going to Disney World in August, he’s asked if literally everywhere we’ve gone in the last week or so was Disney World.  The local fireworks this year took place at a large, outdoor shopping center.  When we got out of the car and he took in the vendors, musicians, and outdoor seating, his first reaction was, once again, “Is this Disney World??”  He had a blast dancing with his friends, hanging out, listening to music, and watching the fireworks – “I never want to leave this Disney World.”  Sigh.

At least we know the real Disney World won’t be a let down, given what his standards apparently are.

Third, Bear and I spent a long, long time yesterday collaboarating in his Toca Boca activity book.  I love all things Toca Boca – they have a great gender-neutral children’s line (honestly, I wish some of the stuff came in adult sizes), great exploratory games, and a quirky sense of both design and humor, and their activity book is no different.  The activity book is a Target exclusive, but it’s a lot of fun and a really good quality, so if you can find it (or order it) I would definitely recommend it.

Fourth, today is the day I buy my FanExpo Boston tickets!  This is far from my first convention, but this will be, by and far, the most commercialized con I’ve ever been to, so I’m not entirely sure what to expect.  A lot of my con-going friends regularly hit up FanExpo and seem to have a good time, so I’m hopeful; a friend of mine, whose judgement I trust implicitly, said they spent their last foray exclusively in the dealer’s room and had an amazing time just chatting with vendors and other fans, so I can only assume that branching out into the other panels and events will be just as enjoyable (and if not, hey, just head back to the dealer’s room).

That’s it for this week.  What’s made your week brighter?  Please feel free to share in the comments!

Not a Toys R Us Kid

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Were you all bombarded with Toys R Us memes on your social media channels last week? It seriously felt like everyone I knew was posting “childhood ruined” or “childhood over” statuses in honor of Toys R Us finally closing its doors.

I feel of two minds about it, because I’m genuinely sad to see brick and mortar stores close down because of the on-line shopping boom – especially because I’m not exactly thrilled about Amazon’s business practices – but at the same time, I’m a parent on a budget, and, well, I recently realized why my parents never took us there.

Ok, so I shouldn’t say never. I’d been to Toys R Us as a kid, but it was a rarity. I was blown away by the bouts of nostalgia some of my friends had about Toys R Us, where trips there were staples of their childhood – every week after church, every time Grandpa visited, every year for their birthday, etc. That was definitely not my experience.

And again, I get it. We were little goblins as kids – tiny hedonists in Osh-Kosh-Begosh, with no concept of money and no concerns except our own wants and needs – you take one of those creatures into a toy store and tell them you’re “just browsing,” I dare you. If you’re a family tight on cash, like mine was growing up, all you’re really doing is basically inviting your goblin kid to have a meltdown. My parents were smarter than that.

But being that is was “the end of an era,” and they were having some pretty decent sales, Andy and I decided to take Bear there a couple of weeks ago to see if we could score some good deals for him.

We weren’t in the store for five minutes when my husband siddled up next to me, pointing conspiratorially at a toy display on the back wall.

“Hey,” he raised his eyebrows. “Guess how much those things are.”

The back wall display was a collection of animatronic tigers (I had to look them up for this post; they were Hasbro’s FurReal Roarin’ Tyler, the Playful Tiger). I’ve played this game with Andy before; he never asks that question because something is an astonishing deal. I tried to think of a number that would be bordering on ridiculous. My first guess was $80. He jabbed his thumb toward the ceiling.

“Higher.”

I raised my eyebrows. $100?

Higher.

After I guessed $120 and that still wasn’t on the mark, I literally asked if he was freakin’ kidding me (I may have used slightly stronger language) and had to go over to the display to look myself. $130. That’s… well, that’s over a week’s worth of groceries for us, for starters. Imagine making that choice: Okay, kids, we can either buy this tiger toy, or we can eat this week, which is it??

Look, I’m all for treating your kids. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my fair share of trendy gadgets and gizmos growing up, further lying if I said I didn’t have a great time with some of those toys, and hell – lying still if I tried to deny that I don’t still go down the toy aisle of every store I’m in, poking and prodding at anything and everything that moves, beeps, or buzzes.

And my parents did it – not often, but more than once – they went out an bought the exorbitantly priced piece of plastic because we begged for it, and they wanted to make us happy. Here’s how that went down:

  1. We are thrilled. This is the only toy we ever want to play with ever for the history of time.
  2. Piece of plastic does it’s spiel for a few days. It’s fun, experimenting with it and seeing what it can do.
  3. We start getting more rambunctious with it – if it’s a vehicle, we engage it in riskier and riskier driving scenarios, likely off of higher and higher pieces of furniture, or over different terrain – like, say, submerged in water. If it’s an animal/doll, it’s probably joy riding or performing parkour because we’ve decided it’s secretly a spy/superhero/super villain/secret agent.
  4. As a secret agent, it needs a new identity. If it has any hair or fur whatsoever, it gets cut/shaved (if it’s a vehicle, it gets a new paint job. Wet ‘n Wild nail polish was a popular favorite).
  5. Eventually some important component (most likely an appendage of some sort – an arm/a tire, etc.) breaks off, or –
  6. The internal speaker breaks, or –
  7. It runs out of batteries, and our parents thank Christ that that’s over, and never, ever replace them, and-
  8. We are left with a hunk of plastic that now no longer does anything special.

And you know what? The kids will still play with it, because kids want to create stories and interact with memorable characters, and they have the capacity to imagine and create such characters and story lines out of literally anything – just watch a couple of pre-schoolers with a cardboard box. And that’s awesome.

But now you’re out the $130 for a toy that no longer does any of the things that supposedly made it “worth” $130 dollars.

Look, we’ll all do it. If you think I won’t spend a stupid amount of money on a toy Bear “has” to have someday, you’re probably wrong. This isn’t a call out post, or a judgement post. It’s just a “think about it” post. How many of those toys does a kid need? How often do you have to break the bank to get your kid a toy that will almost definitely have all it’s “special features” destroyed in short order? How long will the beeps and buzzes keep them entertained?

You know what my son’s most played with toys are? Any kind of figurine. The one’s that retail for $15 a pop get as much play as the ones that came free in his Happy Meals or from The Dollar Tree. He really doesn’t care.

Imagination will find a way.

10 Things About Me

I’ve been doing this blogging thing for a couple of weeks now, and I’m kind of liking it.  This is different from my last foray into blogging – in a good way, I think – and I’m hoping that this is the iteration that sticks.  

So, if we’re going to be in this together for the foreseeable future, I thought maybe it’d be nice to get to know each other a little better.  My About Me gives a pretty good, broad stroke version of who I am, so in lieu of writing another summary or mini-bio (which, despite years of practice, I have never actually gotten good at), I thought maybe just ten random facts about me.

I’d love to learn about you too!  If anything I write resonates with you, or if there are just things you’d like to share, please do so in the comments below.  

  1. My husband and I met on a dating site (OKCupid) ten years ago, but didn’t actually start dating until six months later.
  2. I identify along the LGBTQ+ spectrum.  Probably the best descriptors would be bisexual and genderqueer.
  3. I got the worst hangover of my life at a Harry Potter convention.
  4. I have emotional dysregulation issues, and have for as long as I can remember.  As I’ve gotten older, the outward expressions of this dysregulation have leveled off, but the level of emotional distress I feel has not.
  5. I’m addicted to shopping haul videos, especially Dollar Tree.
  6. I’ve got high blood pressure and tachycardia, so I’m trying to develop a health and fitness routine (which I might blog about…?)
  7. If I could eat only one food for the rest of my life, it would be egg rolls or hash browns.  I’m an adventurous eater, but those are my comfort foods.
  8. I am active in fan and fandom culture, and I attend conventions whenever possible.  The only one I am basically guaranteed to make it to every year is Arisia, but I get to others when I can.
  9. We ultimately decided to only have one kid, but we picked out names for four.  The ones that didn’t make it were Corwin James, Amelia Rose, and Cadence Grace.
  10. Barring the big existential fears like loneliness and death, the things I’m most afraid of are butterflies and moths, heights, and dentists.

 

A Life in Checklists

organizing my lifeI sometimes wonder how well people really understand me when I tell them how easily I get overwhelmed by the day-to-day.

I feel like most of the people I know are sympathetic in a commiserative way; that they feel like they know what I mean, and maybe even feel the same way – the, “hey, we all have busy lives/work hard/have a lot going on!” mentality.

They probably don’t expect that I mean, if I don’t set an alarm to take a shower or brush my teeth, it might not get done that day.  Or that the accumulation of mess/clutter from daily activities will seem to sneak up on me, and then loom suddenly and overwhelmingly, making me feel incredibly anxious, but utterly incapacitated.  Or that performing a multi-step task – even a familiar one, like cooking – sometimes makes my heart race and my skill crawl with impatience and agitation.

Which is why, when considering how to go about bringing order to my life, I had to consider the most basic, most fundamental levels of organization – the checklist.

My friends are over here with cross-referenced planners, digital calendars and mobile apps, elaborate bullet journals with color-coded spreads – and I’m making simple, laminated checklists.  For things like “eat breakfast. Take a shower. Watch a movie.”  Things that apparently integrate seamlessly into other people’s lives.

But not mine.  And I have to accept that – that for whatever reason, this stuff does not come naturally to me.  But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean I can’t do it.  It’s a massive waste of energy, feeling bad about how my brain is wired, instead of coming up with scaffolding I can build on to compensate for it’s limitations.

So, some people might think it’s a childish thing to have checklists for such basic stuff.

I’d say it’s a pretty damn mature thing, to go any length to ensure these tasks get done with any regularity.

So, I made some freakin’ checklists.

These are the easiest, most basic things I could think of to start with: routines to give me enough options to not feel trapped, yet not so many to incite choice paralysis, with a focus on developing habit and balance.

I’m still working on my lists for the deep clean I intend to do this month, and from there a more detailed daily/weekly chore chart to keep things in order.  I may do one for meal options as well, since outside of dinner, I’m not currently planning my meals, and always find myself either out of food option, eating utter junk, or simply not eating, and none of those are acceptable options if I’m trying to be healthier.

This is an incredibly busy week, but I’m hoping to eek out time tomorrow and Thursday to write the remaining lists.  I plan to start using these beginning Saturday – I’ll be printing out multiple copies and leaving one in my bedroom, and one in the kitchen (that’s one on each floor of the house, where I start and end my days).

Fingers crossed that these help.  They certainly can’t hurt, right?