State #37

“Back in 2014 I made a New Year’s resolution to visit as many new states as possible. By the end of that year the number of states I had personally visited rose from 27 to 33, thanks to an East Coast road trip and a Yellowstone National Park vacation. 6 new states in one year wasn’t too bad. Then in 2015 I added another two states to the list (New Jersey and Alaska). But since then my travel has stagnated somewhat. However, I am happy to announce that in 2018 I have finally added state #36 – Oregon! It’s hard to believe I’d never been there before considering how long I’ve been living on the West Coast.”
09/10/18 webpage post

I went more than a year without setting foot in a new state. What a disappointment! In early 2019 I realized that I didn’t have any trips planned to unvisited states, so I checked the University of Florida football schedule to see if there were any away games that would fit the bill. My first idea was to go to the Mizzou game in Columbia, MO on 11/16, but I already had plans that weekend. My second choice was the South Carolina game on 10/19, which fit perfectly in my schedule.

I flew into Columbia, SC a couple of days ahead of time (it’s funny that both games I considered attending took place in cities named Columbia) and my parents drove up from Florida to meet me. The Friday before the football game we took advantage of the beautiful weather and visited Congaree National Park. We also walked along the river a bit and had an incredible BBQ meal, complete with banana pudding for dessert. You can’t visit South Carolina without sampling their BBQ. On Saturday morning we spent some time walking around the lovely state capitol complex (except for the many disconcerting Confederate monuments), which was close to our hotel, but then the weather took an unfortunate turn. Tropical Storm Nestor barreled onto the scene around midday and it started raining cats and dogs. My parents and I had really great seats for the football game, but we would have to brave the cold, wet weather in order to use them. And football games aren’t short either. We weighed our options all morning, and eventually decided that we would be much happier watching from the warmth and comfort of our hotel room rather than getting soaked at the stadium. Luckily Florida still won. Go Gators!

On Sunday morning we visited the Riverbanks Zoo before I had to go to the airport. It’s a fantastic zoo and we all really enjoyed it. Lots of interesting animals. We saw a mama gorilla with a baby on her back, got pretty close to some giraffes as they were feeding, and watched a penguin perform the same trick over and over to amuse his fans. Plus, I took some really silly pictures with a llama for Instagram. We would have liked to stay longer, but I had a flight back to California to catch. I wasn’t at all disappointed that we missed seeing the football game in person on Saturday because that wasn’t the only reason for this trip. Not only did I get to fill in South Carolina on my states visited map (see above), but I also got to see my parents for the first time since Christmas. Plus, SC is really beautiful. I want to go back sometime and see more.

Catching up on my health

“I know that in the grand scheme of things my medical problems are not nearly as devastating as other have to deal with, and for that I am grateful. That doesn’t mean I’m not worried about the future, though. What if this is a symptom of a more serious affliction? This is another bridge to cross later, if needed.”
08/04/18 webpage post

Written in August 2019
Last August I was a lot more optimistic about my medical problems than I am now. Honestly, I’m glad I didn’t know back then that I’d be having just as much, if not more, difficulties a year later. So far I’ve been out of work for almost three weeks and trying to make the most of this time. The upside is that my stress level is significantly lower than when I was working, but I am still just as tired as I was before. That makes getting anything done quite difficult, especially when I’m trying to make progress on my long list of “must do” activities during this leave of absence. I really hate that my body isn’t allowing be to be more productive with this free time. My best friend recommended finding three things that I can accomplish each day to keep my spirits up. Apparently this is something that folks who are suffering from chronic illnesses are counseled to do so that the days don’t bleed into one another with nothing getting done. So I’ve been maintaining my daily to-do lists and trying to cross off at least three items each day, no mater how small. It certainly makes me feel like less of a useless sack of skin.

January 2020 addition
My leave of absence from work turned out to be five months long. During that time I had good days where I was able to function more or less like a normal human being, but those were greatly outnumbered by the bad days where I was lucky to change out of my pajamas. Sometimes being upright for any period of time is just too much for my body. And forget leaving the house! Fortunately I did make some progress on my diagnosis during that timeframe. After exhausting the usefulness of my original neurologist, I found a good rheumatologist back in November. The first round of blood work that he ordered returned a positive result on the Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) Test, which means that something is amiss. This prompted a second round of blood work right after Thanksgiving. (Slight digression, but I had a miserable experience that time around. Two different phlebotomists had to stick me five times, and tap both arms in order to get enough blood or the order. The insides of my elbows looked like they had gotten repeatedly punched.) When I went back to the doctor in mid-December to review the new numbers there was more data, but no clear conclusion. As well as the ANA, I have a positive rheumatoid factor, which is another indication of an autoimmune disease. The kicker is that none of this is enough to assign a specific name to my health problems. It’s pretty obvious that I don’t have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), at least not at this point in my life, and I also don’t have full-blown lupus. A truly positive discovery on both counts, but it leaves me in a sort of limbo. The rheumatologist used the phrase undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD) – in my case, an affliction with markers for both lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but falling somewhere in between the two. It’s frustrating to still have so many unanswered questions, but it’s also a relief to feel like my medical team is making progress. As a first measure, I started taking a lupus medication that may or may not alleviate my symptoms. I won’t know for sure for about six months, though. Still, it’s something.

The bottom line is that I am battling at least two different chronic conditions simultaneously (PLMD and UCTD), and I probably will be for the rest of my life. Nothing is ever going to be the same again. I know that pretty grim, but I don’t see it that way. It just means that I have to adjust my expectations going forward. When my energy is low I have to budget it for important things like work and exercise. Little things are going to fall by the wayside, and I have to be ok with that. I’ll survive, and I might even start having fun again.

Funny high school story

As a palate cleanser I’m reposting a story that I shared nearly fourteen years ago on a very old, very pink iteration of my blog. The formatting got really funky at some point so it’s barely readable over there anymore, but it’s definitely worth revisiting on a regular basis.

What’s the Story Wishbone?
Monday, 10/25/04

My senior year of high school I was enrolled in the Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition class, along with four other AP classes, so near the end of the year I didn’t have time to think about much else. When the annual AP tests were administered I spent the better part of two weeks in the local armory attempting to put a year’s worth of knowledge on paper. This was difficult at the best of times, but much more so when you’re faced with a question you’re not sure you have any idea how to answer.

Throughout the entire school year we had practiced writing essays from old AP Language tests so we thought we were prepared for whatever this year’s test had in store. We were wrong. Out of the three essay questions on the exam the first two were standard and self-explanatory, but the third threw us for a loop. Instead of asking us to use the excerpt in question to prove a point, it asked us to use our “own critical understanding of contemporary society as evidence” to agree or disagree with the author instead. It was bizarre. I remember sitting there staring at the question for at least a minute wondering what in the world I was going to write. Using the excerpt itself as evidence was one thing and drawing on my knowledge of literature was perfectly understandable considering it was an English test, but contemporary society seemed beyond the scope of the exam. It didn’t seem appropriate to use my own observations because they were completely subjective. Looking back on it, I suppose the point of the essay was to simply convince the reader of the point I wanted to make, but at the time I preferred to use something more concrete than my own thoughts to do so.

Here is the essay question:

“In the following passage, the contemporary social critic Neil Postman contrasts George Orwell’s vision of the future, as expressed in the novel 1984 (written in 1948), with that of Aldous Huxley in the novel Brave New World (1932). Read the passage, considering Postman’s assertion that Huxley’s vision is more relevant today than is Orwell’s. Then, using your own critical understanding of contemporary society as evidence, write a carefully argued essay that agrees or disagrees with Postman’s assertion.”

Even before I had read the excerpt I knew I was going to disagree with the author. For some reason I always felt that way about essay questions. No matter what point the author was trying to make I would find a way to disagree with it. It could have been anything. I think it was kind of a challenge to prove the author wrong. So what I needed was another literary reference that described a possible future for humankind and helped me discredit Postman. The problem was that I couldn’t remember ever reading anything like that. I sat there tapping my pen on the table, racking my brain for something I could use in my essay. Then I thought of something that would work perfectly, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, but I hadn’t exactly read it.

There was a show on PBS when I got home from school in the afternoon called “Wishbone” that used a little dog to present great works of literature to kids too young to read them. It was always funny to see how novels like Pride and Prejudice were depicted in thirty minutes using a couple of actors and a dog. In one episode, called “Bark to the Future,” the book in question was The Time Machine. From just watching that episode I gathered that a combination of technology and apathy was responsible for the decline of human intelligence, which was a mix of Huxley’s and Orwell’s writings. This would certainly help me disagree with Postman. So I used what little knowledge of The Time Machine that I gained from a children’s television program involving a dog to write my AP Language essay.

After the exam was over we learned that no one had ever seen a question like that before so there was no way we could have been ready for it. I was pretty proud of myself for finding a literary reference to help prove my point, even though I hadn’t actually read the book. I’ll never say that television doesn’t have its redeeming properties ever since “Wishbone” helped me pass an AP test. As soon as the test was over I swore I would read The Time Machine to make sure I hadn’t grossly misrepresented it, and I even bought a copy at the used book store, but I never actually sat down to read it. Maybe one day I’ll know if I used it correctly to prove that human indifference is not the greatest threat to our society, but at this point I don’t know any more about the book than I did then.

P.S. As of 9/25/18 I still have not read it! And I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t think my copy made the move to California with me sixteen years ago!

September 1st (Retail therapy #2 revisited)

I went to Target today because I was down to my last roll of toilet paper at home. So as a responsible adult I headed out to replenish my stock of bathroom essentials, but I was also hoping to browse the Halloween section of the store. This was a less “responsible adult” inclination, I admit. Unfortunately I was disappointed on that account. The back corner of the store that’s usually dedicated to selling products related to the next holiday on the calendar was sadly still decked out in back-to-school fashion. What a shame. I know some kids don’t start school again until after Labor Day, but it’s finally September, for crying out loud! Time for the holiday festivities to begin! But maybe that’s just my own impatience talking. I’ve been waiting eight whole months for this day! (One of my friends actually started decorating her front yard for Halloween today so I’m clearly not the only one who is excited for this time of year. And if my Halloween door hanging wasn’t tucked away so far in my closet I’d have started decorating today too.) However, I did find one holiday surprise in the bath products section of Target. Remember how last December I was obsessed with getting my hands on a bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s Apple Cider Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap? Here’s an excerpt from my retail therapy #2 blog post to refresh your memory.

“When I saw that Mrs. Meyer’s had a limited edition apple cider hand soap I just had to have some. Unfortunately I was late to the game because it was more of a fall scent, and therefore not readily accessible in stores. So I turned to Amazon, my usual tried-and-true source for everything under the Sun. Of course it was available from one seller, but it wasn’t cheap, as far as standard amounts of hand soap go. As you can imagine, in my holiday-fueled hysteria I wasn’t thinking clearly and purchased a bottle. It was silly, but it made me happy.”
2/24/18 webpage post

Well, as of today this previously coveted hand soap is available at my local Target at a reasonable price. Makes me feel silly for going to such great lengths last year! Not that I’ll be lining up to buy any this time around because I realized that I can experience the same scent profile from the Suave Kids 3-in-1 apple shampoo that I use at the gym! However, I did find Mrs. Meyer’s pumpkin hand soap, a variety I was previously unaware of, sitting on the same display shelf. I was intrigued. I bought so many bottles of holiday hand soap last December that I won’t even get close to finishing them by the end of 2018. So, thinking practically, there was absolutely no reason I needed to purchase pumpkin-scented soap today. In fact, my pledge to be more frugal for the rest of the year (I have two Disney World vacations coming up, and those aren’t cheap) is a prime reason that I shouldn’t have put any of the pumpkin hand soap in my shopping basket. But I did anyway. What can I say? My resolve weakens when I’m faced with special edition holiday stuff! Luckily hand soap is on the low end of the spectrum, price-wise. Let’s hope I have more willpower when it comes to other, more expensive and more compelling items. Like the gorgeous glass pumpkins at Pottery Barn. I must be strong!

Starting again

“I’m calling it a clean-ish diet because I’m eating a wider variety of foods than Whole30 allows (like cheese and beans), while still keeping my focus on meat, fruit, and vegetables. And after two weeks I’m starting to see some real results. I wish I’d made this change sooner!”
4/15/18 webpage post

Remember in April when I said I had established a clean-ish eating routine? Well, I’m sorry to say that it only stuck for about three weeks. I was anticipating seeing the number on the scale drop dramatically while I was not only eating appropriately, but also exercising regularly. However, when I got on the scale after three weeks I had actually gained weight. It was infuriating. Shortly after that I went to Las Vegas with my running buddies for the Mt. Charleston Half Marathon and ate all sorts of unhealthy things while I was away from home. I had lost all motivation to continue my clean-ish eating and I went right back to my old ways, including fast food, sugary soda, and sweets. Comfort eating at its finest. Shockingly, this didn’t make me feel any better about myself. In hindsight it’s easy to see that only short-term satisfaction can be gained from comfort eating, being rational is not my strong suit when I have cravings. After falling off the wagon I wallowed for a couple of months, but then my workout buddy and I came up with a new plan of action. We decided to sign up for a 6-week fat loss challenge at our gym because both of us needed some structure to help us succeed. We had been working out very consistently since February, but the eating portion of our weight loss journey was much harder to figure out. We definitely needed both sides of the coin to make progress.

So I’ll be you’re wondering how it’s going so far, right? Well, the 6-week program started on July 9th. Today is July 22nd. That means I’ve been dieting for 14 days. Just 14 measly days, but it seems like much, much longer. This has already been a journey and a half and we’re only one third of the way through the program! I’ll write more about that later this week, but for now I’ll leave you with a few key points. On the plus side, I have significantly increased my protein and vegetable consumption which I know is good for my body. Also, I have ingested minimal sugar in the last two weeks and I feel pretty great about that. Unfortunately, my resolve fades a little with each passing day. Every evening I crave a dessert of some kind or another, and Larabars (my “healthy” sweet snack of choice) just aren’t cutting it on that front. Hopefully once I start seeing noticeable results of all this deprivation I will be more inclined to faithfully follow the rules. Until then I’ll continue doing my best (with a few stumbles here and there) and hope for the best!

Enterprise

So Captain Archer ran into the Borg. And after the encounter was over he knew perfectly well that some two hundred years in the future these cybernetic beings were going to threaten Earth. And we, as viewers who are certainly tough critics, if not experts on the topic, are supposed to buy that he did nothing to prevent this disaster? That he didn’t even attempt to pass this information into the future where it could be useful? That the apathetic Q was more helpful in arming humans against the Borg? No sale. I’ve been quite disappointed in “Enterprise” this season. This complaint isn’t the first one I’ve written about either. Several weeks ago I noted one in my Palm Pilot. “I would have thought the ‘Enterprise’ writers were more creative. Last night’s episode was pretty much a condensed version of Star Trek VI. I think the sentencing was actually taken directly from the movie.” I admit that I’m too much of a Trekkie to ever abandon the show, no matter how outlandish or annoying it gets, but that doesn’t mean I can’t complain about it.
5/13/03 webpage post

I’ve been binge re-watching the amazing first season of “Star Trek: Discovery” recently because I’m suspending my CBS All Access subscription until season 2 is available. It’s so much better than just about everything else on television these says. Then today I ran across this excerpt from a webpage post from over 15 years ago when season 2 of “Enterprise” was on the air. First of all, I can’t believe there was no Star Trek on TV for over 12 years. (And it’s only streaming now, not actually on broadcast TV.) Second, does anyone remember Palm Pilots? I had one in grad school and it was awesome, but smart phones very quickly made them obsolete. Third, the above rant about “Enterprise” is much different from the rave I wrote about “Discovery” when it premiered last fall. Looking back, I have vaguely positive memories of “Enterprise,” but I can’t find any written proof to back that up. Maybe nostalgia has altered my recollection. I would like to say that upon revisiting, “Discovery” is still fantastic. I can’t wait for season 2.

Shutting down hate

“In the past I don’t think I have expressed my opinions as freely as I should have. Before now I have felt intimidated by opinionated people and rarely did I oppose them for that reason. Everyone should be able to say what they think, but in a way that does not degrade any particular person for their beliefs.”
5/19/99 webpage post

I was reading my very first webpage post from 5/19/99 the other day and I was struck by the above excerpt. It’s remarkably wise for my immature and inexperienced twenty year-old self. I’m pretty sure I talked a big talk, but didn’t live up to it in real life. Even so, my thinking was on the right track at a young age. Unfortunately I met my ex-husband a couple of years later and over the course of our eleven year relationship I was groomed to keep any displeasure to myself. I’ve written about emotional abuse in my marriage before and this was another aspect of it. Anytime I expressed unhappiness I was somehow persuaded into thinking that everything was my fault and that I should fix the problem on my own (whether or not I caused it) and keep quiet about it. It was a real step backwards in my personal development. Eventually I came to the miraculous realization I that I didn’t need to live that way! I rescued myself from that toxic relationship and a lifetime of misery with someone who didn’t respect me.

Now that I’m older and finally free to be whoever I want I am relearning the same lessons that I did back in college. Not long ago there was an incident at work where I was compelled to shut down hate speech. Working closely with a lot of people I am fully aware that we all have differing opinions, and we are entitled to them, but there are lines that I am not willing to tolerate being crossed in my presence. So when I heard a co-worker expressing anti-Muslim sentiments there was no way I could let it go. In no uncertain terms I informed him that his conversation was not appropriate for work. I didn’t try to correct his views (although I consider them repulsive – I respect all religions while not being religious myself), but made sure that he knew that he should not be discussing them at our place of employment. I’m pretty sure he thought I was joking because he ignored me and kept talking. So I raised my voice and forcefully said, “I’m not kidding, that is not an appropriate topic of conversation at work.” (As a side note, internally I feared I was being bitchy. Thanks to society women are conditioned to be pleasant all the time or risk being considered bitches, but that didn’t stop me from standing my ground when he didn’t shut up.) So what was the response after my second admonition? “I thought this was a free country.” Seriously? This made me even angrier than the initial religion bashing. Some people don’t understand that free speech means that in the United States you can’t be arrested or executed for your opinions, but it does not mean you are completely free from the consequences of what you choose to say. Hate speech can absolutely get you fired. My blood was boiling at this point, but I had a job to do so I got back to it. Later that day I described the incident to a manager because I think all employees have an obligation to stop this despicable sort of discrimination. Fortunately management took my report seriously and the situation was quickly dealt with. Still, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. It blows my mind that people walk around with so much hate. Our world would be a much more harmonious place without it.

Many forms of self-care (with a sunscreen addendum)

“So this is the foundation for my internet diary – searching for the truth and seeing what else comes along on the way.”
5/19/99 webpage post

I’ve been thinking about self-care a lot lately and how it comes in many forms. I’ve written so much about beauty products in 2018 due to my retail therapy obsession (or rather my mental health coping technique), and the biggest benefit of those impulsive purchases is that they helped me pamper my skin when I needed comfort the most. My beauty routine has proven to be a very restorative ritual and I still employ it as my daily outward form of self-care. (And with all of the Buzzfeed articles I keep reading about promising new products I don’t expect to run out of retail therapy subjects anytime soon.) The other day I started a called “Blogging is my self-care” (to be shared soon) because of how much writing helps me feel whole. Not that I’m a particularly prolific writer, but I have been maintaining my online presence in one form or another for the last 19 years (my first post was May 19, 1999!) and the feeling of publishing a well-written post (at least by my own reckoning) fills me with a sense of pride. But on the outside I think it’s pretty obvious from a lot of my posts this year that taking care of my skin is also an important part of my self-care. It’s mostly motivated my vanity, specifically trying to keep the acne and wrinkles and sun damage at bay, but also the simple routine of doing something beneficial for my body brings me peace. Maintaining some semblance of youth as I approach my 40th birthday is a nice bonus too.

If you live in Los Angeles you’ll understand how important it is to moisturize regularly in our arid, desert climate. If I skip any of my face or body moisturizers for more than two days my skin gets very uncomfortable. Due to that fact I wanted to write a quick post about my newfound appreciation of a sunscreen that I’ve had in my medicine cabinet for years, but have sadly underutilized. But after spending time in very dry locales I appreciate my Olay Complete All Day Sensitive Skin Moisturizer with Broad Spectrum SPF 30 so much more. I’ll admit that it’s not good under makeup because it’s thicker and stickier than my everyday products, but it’s great for weekend sun protection. Two days in Las Vegas last month and my face was so dry that it hurt. Thankfully I was smart enough to pack this Olay sunscreen in my bag and it made all the difference. So even though I sometimes despair at how many different SPF products I have in my bathroom, I’m so glad that this one is still with me. And my skin is happy too!

P.S. My first ever blog post is also where I wrote about “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.” It premiered in May 1999 just like my blog!

Las Vegas addendum

After finishing yesterday’s post I finally found what I was looking for last night. Turns out I did indeed write a review of Star Wars Episode II after my initial viewing in May 2002, but I’ll spare you that tripe. However, as a comparison, here’s the portion of that post where 23 year-old me described our quest to see Episode II shortly after it happened. I may have gotten some of the details wrong in my retelling yesterday!

“As soon as my dad and I got to Las Vegas I started calling movie theaters to see which one had a digital projector. Since ‘Attack of the Clones’ was filmed entirely in digital format we wanted to see the movie the way George Lucas intended it to be viewed. The Orleans casino turned out to be the place to see digital Star Wars in Las Vegas. It was absolutely amazing. The difference between digital and film is akin to the difference between DVD and video. The clarity (i.e., the lack of lines and spots on the screen) made every detail of an expression or a costume noticeable. If a director really wants to draw a viewer into a movie then digital is the way to go. That, and having a great story to tell (i.e., Star Wars).”
5/23/02 webpage post

Not retail therapy for a change!

“Yesterday was my favorite day of the year – holiday potluck day! It was a great day. I arrived to work early to get the hot chocolate started. I can’t believe anything that simple could be so popular, but I had several people ask me for the recipe again this year. The biggest lesson I learned is that I need to get an extra large Crockpot so that I can make a double batch next year!”
12/17/16 webpage post

I was half kidding when I wrote about buying an extra large Crockpot specifically for hot chocolate back in 2016. But a year later when I was once again preparing for the holiday potluck I did some research on Amazon and discovered that a humongous 8-quart Crockpot would only set me back about $30. It was practically a no-brainer to go ahead and order one. It seemed a bit silly to have a slow cooker for the single purpose of making hot chocolate once a year, especially with my limited kitchen cabinet space, but it ended up being a great decision. I was able to make a double batch of my much-loved holiday beverage (including a full gallon of milk as well as a quart of cream) with no extra effort, and it was still absolutely inhaled by my co-workers in record time. Due to planning difficulties this year the potluck had a much smaller guest list (I was grandfathered in after about a decade of participation), but it seems that an 8-qt Crockpot full of hot chocolate was still not enough. I couldn’t believe how quickly it was drained. I swear everyone just grabbed a straw and sucked it dry. Crazy! It wasn’t easy to find a spot to store this new addition to my kitchen arsenal, but even if I only pull it out once a year it will still be worth the investment. Only nine more months before I start planning holiday food for 2018!