Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Fantastic Book Find

For those of you who are affected by Alzheimer's disease in a loved one, I found this incredible book through a Facebook friend who "liked" Michelle Montgomery's page. 

Also, if you go to Michelle's page on Facebook, you can read excerpts from her journal.  Incredibly moving and so sad.  I can't imagine what it is like to watch a loved one slowly disappear before your eyes and retreat into themselves, but I know people who are going through it and I think this book (or at least checking out the Facebook page) is a really good idea for anyone who has any connection or interest in this devastating disease.  I just downloaded it to my kindle for $4.99 or you can get it in paperback for $15.

For those of you who have been fans of The Notebook, by Nicolas Sparks, you are aware of how this disease takes its toll on families and spouses.  There are not enough resources and the stress is on the families to provide caregiving for people who are suffering from symptoms and progression of the disease.

I know it seems like I've been all about causes this past year and mostly my causes have been cancer research and autism awareness.  But here is another epidemic sweeping our aging population and, as us baby boomers get older, we will probably be seeing a lot more of this.  Check out Michelle's Facebook page and if it grabs your attention the way it did mine, then go buy the book.

I promise to post up a review after reading, but I have a feeling it's going to be a 5 star rating!

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Spending Diet and Bank Fees

Recently some laws were passed and there was a lot of hoopla about trying to help consumers with those big old nasty banks.  I didn't pay much attention because, much like my cat, if it's not right in front of my nose and doesn't directly affect me, it usually slips through the cracks and is out of my consciousness.

I got a big wakeup call today though, when Justin and I both got notices from the bank where we have our individual checking accounts.  I have used mine periodically for holding extra spending money for a specific purpose.  I used it when I was working on building up some savings for Ben for his car when he turned 18.  I really haven't used it for much of anything recently.

Justin is using his account as a way to collect money for the Gettysburg 2011 Honda S2000 Club drive in August.  He is president of the chapter for his car club and he is organizing the event and taking payments for registration.  He is depositing those payments into the account to make one large payment to all of the event coordinators.  It is not something he would otherwise use for anything in particular and usually there is a very small balance simply to keep the account open.

Congress finally stepped up and bit us in the ass this month.  First it was the annual fee that appeared on my credit card of $59 which had never been there before.  I've had this card for at least five years, always paid more than the minimum requested payment, last month actually paid it off, and suddenly I owe them $59 for the privilege of giving them interest if I carry any type of balance.  Are they serious?

Today, we both received notices that we will be charged a $10 monthly "maintenance" fee on our individual checking accounts beginning June 3rd, unless we either direct deposit salary into the accounts or have a more than $6,000 balance.  Again, are they serious?

Since I haven't used my checking account in quite awhile and I think there is only about $100 in there combined between checking and savings, I intend to take the letter over to the bank and close both of my accounts, telling them that if they want to charge me for the privilege of having an account with them now, after five years, then I will take my (admittedly small) business elsewhere.  I don't really need my own account for anything anyway.

Justin also plans to close out the Gettysburg account, which is a shame since registration just opened and payments just started coming in.  It's going to be a pain in the butt for him to go to another bank.  But, neither one of us is a fan of having to pay the bank for them allowing us to store our money there.  We pay so much in interest on the credit cards we already have and carry a balance on.  And the bank gets the honor of using our money every month.  Why would I pay them to allow them to do that?  $10 a month times 12 months is $120 a year on two accounts is $240 a year.  No way.

I know the new banking regulations are at fault here and I'm not going to pull any punches when I say I think they screwed it up.  All of these things the government was supposed to do to make life easier for the middle class and all they did was drive up the cost of everything.  Did they really think the big bad banks were going to take losing all that money?  Of course not!  They are passing it right on to us, just as Justin said they would when this whole thing started.

I don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat.  If you have a credit card, a debit card, or a bank account, you're going to feel this in some way.

Justin says the answer is term limits.  Get all of the politicians out and start over.  I'm starting to think he's completely and totally right on that one.  I can't do this spending diet thing if the prices of things I have to have keep going up. All it means is that I will never, ever have a spare dime to do anything extra, no matter how hard I try.

Various Things In The News

Just thought I would throw in my two cents about a couple of things that have been taking over the news here.

First, the Royal Wedding.  You can't turn on the television today without seeing the coverage and, really, I'm very happy for Wills and Kate.  I caught a rerun of part of the ceremony before flipping to something else and she looked radiant.  He looked happy.  Fantastic - I'm a huge fan of marriage.  But I don't know the couple, wasn't invited to the wedding, and had no desire to get up at 4:00 a.m. to see them get hitched.  I wonder why the British still pay to keep the royals in such style when the monarchy is clearly not running the country anymore.

Plus, there's been an awful lot of buzz about William's decision not to wear a wedding band.  Really?  Why is this on the news?  I could not care less whether William, the future king of England, wears a wedding ring or not.  I actually caught a show in passing where they were debating the pros and cons of this decision.  Here's a news flash.  I don't care.  If it doesn't bother me that my own husband doesn't wear his wedding ring, why on earth would I care if British royalty does?  Do you honestly think that anyone on earth will not see this man and know that he is now married?  Does he need a ring to advertise this?  And why are people talking about it?  Are we that hard up for television programming that we need to debate royalty and their jewelry choices?

Second item.  Whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States.  Again, this is a moot issue and I really don't care.  I care way more that the price of everything from gas to groceries has skyrocketed in the years that he has been in office.  Is he to blame?  Depends on who you ask and I don't particularly care, except to the point that I could possibly vote someone into office who could do something about it.  Everything has gone up except salaries in the last three years.  I don't know where we're heading, but it can't be to a good place if this continues.  I don't care where Obama was born, so shut the hell up about it.

Apple Blossom in Winchester.  This is a nightmare (to me) every year.  I know most of my neighbors love this festival, but it takes us from a small town of about 26,000 people and stuffs another 250,000 into our little patch of heaven for about a week.  There are more than 30 events and everything from businesses to the local schools shut down the Friday of festival week to celebrate.  If I was a celebratory kind of person, I might find this more enjoyable, but I more find myself wondering how they are going to fit another 250,000 people into the 5,000 parking spaces they claim to have available downtown where most of the festivities take place.

Yes, I'm a total grinch.  I don't prohibit my kids from attending the events and Jamie will actually march in the Fireman's parade tonight.  But he is fine with my decision to take Joey to McDonald's instead of fighting my way through the packed crowd to catch a glimpse of him in his uniform and toting a tri-tom for 25 blocks.  As he put it, I'll be attending all of the football games next year to see him march at the local high school and I won't have to fight the crowds for those events.  Plus, the kids just got off of spring break and now they're at home again, with no homework because of the festival.  They went to school for three days this week.  Now they're home, bored, and playing video games.

My dad had offered to come out and take the younger boys on an outing tomorrow and I'm going with it.  I'd much rather go out on my back porch and maybe have a chat with the next door neighbors than fight my way through the crowds to get my face painted.  Last night, they had a disco ball, which I know is a very popular event.  The thought of wearing bell bottoms and sporting an afro makes me cringe though.  Maybe I'm just not the most fun-loving person.  Probably I'm not the most fun loving person.

Tornados - Okay, this is a newsworthy event and deserves a much bigger spot on the front page of our paper than the Apple Blossom Festival.  But all it got was a picture of the huge twister in Alabama and one paragraph.  To get the full story, you had to go further into the paper.  Really?  Over 300 people dead and you put Apple Blossom as the first story?  When there are tornadoes touching down within a mile of my house and I'm sleeping through it because we don't have sirens in Virginia, that worries me.  And is something I consider worth talking about.

Just my random thoughts on various event about what everyone seems to be talking about today.  And the weird thing is that the order I put them in seems to be the order that they are being reported on the news.  Weird.  I wonder about priorities and the incessant need our culture seems to have to be constantly entertained instead of informed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Words for Women to Live By

There are few things in life as wonderful as a good friend.  I recently reconnected with someone with whom I was good friends in high school and we've been chatting back and forth.  Tonight, she forwarded this to me in my email and I just had to share it because it's too good too keep to myself.

Words for Women to Live By

1. Aspire to be Barbie - the bitch has everything.

2. If the shoe fits - buy them in every color.

3. Take life with a pinch of salt... A wedge of lime, and a shot of tequila.

4. In need of a support group? - Cocktail hour with the girls!

5. Go on the 30 day diet. (I'm on it and so far I've lost 15 days).

6. When life gets you down - just put on your big girl panties and deal with it.

7. Let your greatest fear be that there is no PMS and this is just your personality.

8. I know I'm in my own little world, but it's ok. They know me here.

9 Lead me not into temptation, I can find it myself.

10. Don't get your knickers in a knot; it solves nothing and makes you walk funny.

11. When life gives you lemons - buy some Coronas.

12. Forget about the perfect man - he's living in San Fran with his boyfriend.

13. Keep your chin up, only the first 40 years of parenthood are the hardest.

14. If it has tires or testicles it's gonna give you trouble.

15. By the time a women realizes her mother was right, she has a daughter who thinks she's wrong.

'Good friends are like stars... You don't always see them, but you know they are always there'
'Remember yesterday, dream about tomorrow, but live for today'. Now smile and send to any girl wasting time at work, suffering from a hangover, or just suffering from life , they might need a reason to smile!

This is for all of you girls out there in need of a pick me up.  And a huge thank you to Sandi for passing it along!

Bipolar Disorder and the Obsessive Life

I've been ruminating all day on the fact that someone out there really does not like me and how badly I want to argue them around to seeing things my way.  I realize how stupid and neurotic this is.  It's all part of the mental illness, I know, but you'd think by now I'd have come up with some cognitive skills to deal with this type of thing.  Plus, if you're going to write personal stuff and put it on the internet, you've got to expect that there are going to be people who just do not understand and want to hurt you by saying really mean things about you.

One of the things I've always told my children is that no one is ever going to love them the way their mother does.  I know this is true.  So why do I feel such an obsessive need to have everyone I come across like me?  What is it that makes me so damned needy?

Here's a good reason why you should never pick at a bipolar person.  If you continuously whittle away at what little self confidence we have, you stand a really good chance of putting us into a very severe depression.  I'm smart enough about my illness now to realize when this is happening and to force myself to get over it, but there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about the obsessive nature of my thoughts and my need to have closure with whoever it is.

When we first moved to this neighborhood, back in 2005, we ended up in the second house we had looked at.  The first one, we decided, simply had too many stairs that went straight from top floor to middle floor and it was going to be a train wreck for me because of how clumsy I am.  Either that or one of the younger children was going to fall and seriously hurt himself.  So, we settled on a house further up the street with a staircase that is split into two with a landing.  I've still slipped and caught myself on the railing more times than I care to count and have suffered numerous bruises and jammed shoulder muscles and the like.  But it's a good thing that the flight doesn't go all the way to the bottom and it's a good thing we didn't buy that first house.

Here's a good example why it's bad to continuously antagonize a person who is mentally ill and unstable.  The house we looked at first ended up being right next door to a neighborhood feud that turned incredibly ugly.  The one neighbor told a friend of ours down the street on the day she moved in that she liked to make trouble and "stir things up."  She wasn't kidding.  The guy who bought the house next to her was a convicted felon with a mental illness.  He had been convicted several years back because he lost his temper with his mother and pushed her, resulting in a broken wrist and a trip to jail.  He was out on probation and under strict orders to behave himself.  The other neighbor, being the bully she is, simply couldn't resist the opening.

From the day she moved in, the sheriff's department was repeatedly called on this guy.  If he came out of his front door, she had the phone in hand and inevitably a deputy would be swinging down our street to take her complaint.  They went to court numerous times and tried to drag the neighbors into their arguments.  They took pictures of each other throwing trash over the property line and there were allegations that he was throwing potatoes into their yard.  Yes, potatoes.  She just couldn't leave him alone.  She had discovered he had been to jail and she did not want him living anywhere near her.

The whole street just wanted to be left in peace, but she kept up her constant effort to get him to move by filing complaint after complaint.  She made him so miserable that he finally went around the bend and, one day when the guy who bought the house we originally looked at came home, this man was sitting on his porch with a gun, intent on blowing away the entire family just to get some peace.  Am I saying this was a good idea?  Oh my God, no!  Our neighbor was able to convince him to give up the gun and the one who couldn't leave him alone ended up getting a restraining order that meant he was going to have to move.  Which just sent him further over the edge.

After moving to another town with his wife and daughter to live with his parents, the guy was so distraught that he took his daughter and grandmother hostage in a standoff that lasted with police for six hours.  He ended up in jail with his probation revoked because he had a firearm (plus, well, you know, the hostage thing).

Let me be perfectly clear here.  People with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder should not have access to firearms.  Ever.  I wouldn't have a gun in the house.  They scare me and not just because of the kids.  I don't trust myself and my own mental state enough to really believe that I wouldn't be so manic and out of control at some point that I would not impulsively shoot myself.  Hence, no firearms for us.  I'm a firm believer in the right to bear arms, but I am also a firm believer in being practical and knowing when having a gun just is not a good idea.

After our neighbor went to jail, someone ratted him out.  He had offered the "snitch" some stupid amount of money he didn't have (because he was unable to hold a job) to kill off the other neighbor's entire family.  He later claimed in court that the whole thing got out of control and he really just wanted to vandalize her property until she was forced to move so he could have his house back.  Talk about a mental illness getting away from you.  The newspaper article that was printed after he was sentenced to 8 years for attempted murder said he had been diagnosed bipolar.

Okay, it's people like this that give this illness such a bad name.  But here's the thing.  Because of his mental illness, he couldn't stop obsessing about this woman and the woman was playing off of it to torment him.  In some sick way, she was getting off on the guy being miserable.  This is what I don't understand.  If you know the guy is unstable, what on earth would ever possess you to antagonize him?  I'd love to ask her that question, but she won't talk to anyone on the street anymore because they didn't support her in her incessant quest to remove him from the neighborhood simply because he had a past.

How does this relate to me?  Well, in all honesty, I feel bad for the guy.  Yes, he did some really stupid things and I don't condone either threatening your neighbors with a firearm or taking your relatives hostage at gunpoint.  But the thing is that he should have been able to get help.  I don't know why he didn't and I suspect his parents, who wouldn't admit to the fact that he was mentally ill, had a lot to do with that.  Enabling is only a good thing up to a point.  They had bought the house for him and then they had to deal with his actions and the consequences of them because they owned the house.

It's completely possible for people with mental illnesses to go undetected if they really don't want you to know.  I did it for years.  My parents had absolutely no idea how depressed I was until I downed two bottles of sleeping pills and ended up getting my stomach pumped at the age of 19.  Then the light went on and I started getting help.  But it still took until I was 34 to get the diagnosis correct and the proper treatment.  And I still struggle.  Daily.

I put myself our here on this blog because I hope that sharing my struggle with mental illness and my willingness to talk about it will either help someone who might not have asked for help or at least let other mentally ill people know they are not alone.  I want to share the benefit of what I have learned through counseling and help those who are unable to ask for it.  I am not an expert, nor do I claim to be.  The only thing I am an expert at is my own life.  And I admit to being a complete and utter train wreck.

Writing about these issues is hard and it's even harder to put them out there for public consumption.  But the fact is that if someone is willing to open up and let you into their world and that world is a little skewed, it's going to be extremely unhelpful to make nasty remarks repeatedly in an effort to get a rise out of them.

Theoretically, I know that I should just let these things go.  Being able to is a completely different matter.  And that's all part of the illness that I am dealing with.

At the end of the day, I know that I have tried my very best to be honest and open about what I go through every time I get out of that bed.  I write from the heart and yes, it really hurts when someone criticizes what I am doing.  But I know that I will have to be a little bit tougher if I am going to keep putting it out there on the internet, because there are always going to be people who don't like you online.  I'm going to say things that people don't like and I know that no one ever agrees with all of your opinions (which, by the way, is all I'm writing about).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Struck by Lightning!

No, not literally, but it sure felt that way.

I watched Freedom Writers with Hilary Swank yesterday on cable and was struck by an awesome thought.  But first, the movie.

If you haven't seen it, it's the true story of Erin Gruwell, a teacher who goes into student teaching at Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA back in 1994.  She was assigned the most "at risk" kids, the gang members, the kids who are threatening teachers with guns.  The ones who have no interest in learning.  And through her unorthodox methods, she turned her class of kids around to the point of every single one of them graduating high school and many of them going on to college.  She managed to get kids interested in learning after she distributed journals to allow them to express themselves in any way they desired with no threat of anyone in authority ever knowing what was written there.  She took on a second and third job, just to be able to provide her kids with books that the school system refused to let them use because they didn't believe the kids could even read them.  These were kids that the system had given up on.  But Gruwell never gave up.

At the end of the class, she managed to somehow get donated computers and had the kids put together a book from their journal entries.  The book, The Freedom Writers Diary, was published in 1999 and Ms. Gruwell went on to teach at the college level at California State University.  Many of her students went on to become teachers themselves, after being inspired by this one woman.

I have thought a lot about how much my teachers have influenced my life.  There are two that stick out in my mind - my world history teacher, who I had for two years, and my band director, who I had throughout my high school career.  Both of them inspired not only me, but many other students.  I've seen the comments on facebook from old classmates and these are the two teachers that are most remembered from my high school as being the "good" ones.  And they made up for the chemistry teacher who made me sit in his lap and gave me good grades for wearing short skirts and the math teacher with the sour face who accused me of cheating off of another student's paper and called me out in front of the entire class.  Was I cheating?  No.  I was a straight A student and I would never have done that, but that teacher made math a bad experience and I suspect she is the reason I had no desire to further my study in that field.

Anyway, the big idea.  After I watched the movie, I realized that not only did I have journals of my own, I have been writing this blog as a type of cathartic exercise since I got fired from my job last October.  How interesting would it be to go back to 2007 (as far back as I've kept my blatherings) and type up all of my journal entries, add the blog entries (including the ones I've deleted because I thought they were mean spirited) and bill it as a memoir of my own struggle with fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder?  The illnesses are glaringly evident in my handwritten journals especially and it's not a pretty narrative, since I only tended to write when I was feeling particularly bad about something. 


It's not a bad idea to get all of that down in one place and see just what course my health, both physical and mental, have been taking over the past several years.

So, if I'm a little slow on the blog entries, please forgive me.  I don't know if this is a sellable idea, but I'd like to see if I've got something here.  I believe there are many people suffering from disabilities who are unable to work and very isolated socially.  Would it help them to know they are not alone?  It would help me, so I have to think it would help them. 

Would a publisher be interested?  I have no idea, but self-publishing is certainly gaining ground.  So, off I go to see just how bad I was feeling back in 2007 and to put all those words I wrote out onto the word processor.  I wasn't doing that great with trying to write a novel anyway.

I promise to keep checking back with you, though.  This is my daily journal and I doubt seriously I could stay away from it for long. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bipolar Disordered Celebrities

I just picked up the new People magazine yesterday (with a $1 off coupon, for those of you following my spending diet effort) and Catherine Zeta-Jones is front and center on the cover, claiming to have bipolar disorder.  The movie star, who is married to Michael Douglas, apparently has suffered from depression for years.  When Douglas recovered from stage IV throat cancer, she just wasn't bouncing back mentally the way she thought she should be.  She checked herself into some fancy, expensive mental health treatment center and then announced to the world in surprise the diagnosis:  Bipolar Disorder.

Okay, what am I missing here that bipolar is the thing for celebrities to be these days?  Since when does being depressed equal bipolar?  They said she wasn't responding well to the meds.  Well, there's a shock.  If you don't have it, the meds ain't gonna work.

Obviously I'm a little bit skeptical.  She's 41 years old and she's just now getting diagnosed?  Most people who have bipolar disorder show signs of the disease early in their lives.  Symptoms usually appear in the late teens or early 20's.  For me, I was suffering severe, suicidal depressions in my teens.  And, like Zeta-Jones, I was not diagnosed in my teens or even in my early 20's, which leaves room for the idea that it could have taken this long for her to be diagnosed. 

In my situation, it took a total mental breakdown after my last child was born (I was 34) for them to finally figure out why my moods were all over the place, I was cycling between wanting to kill myself and wanting to buy out the local clothing stores and max out my credit cards, and my anxiety level was to the point that I couldn't be in a public place without having a panic attack.  Not to mention the 30-40 page papers I was writing for school after the teacher had asked for 20 pages.  But to not be diagnosed until you are 41 years old?  I'm having some trouble with this.  I clearly had the symptoms from the time I hit puberty.  From the description of her disease in the article, she just didn't. 

It is very clear to me now how I rapid cycle and I recognize exactly what is happening.  And mental illness is not pretty or glamorous or something I think is a cool thing to try on, like the latest spring fashions.  It's ugly, it loses you friends, and it offends people.  It also scares people.  Once you've told someone you have it, you are always and forever the person with that mental illness.  If it meant having mental health, I would gladly give back whatever creativity or other gifts I have been given in the name of sanity.

I read the whole article about Zeta-Jones and the only symptoms I see are a lingering depression and anxiety about being in social situations.  I do not see any mania symptoms.  If you are going to go out on a limb and put it out there that as a famous person you have bipolar disorder and you are wanting to help destigmatize the illness, at least have the decency to have all of the symptoms.

I do give props to People for actually putting the symptoms into a side bar and for the list being accurate.  But I question the motives behind Zeta-Jones' announcement and wonder if it might be more of a publicity stunt designed to get her back in the public eye.  It's been several years since she had a movie out and is getting ready to film a new one.  Could it be that she's using this supposed illness to get her name back in the spotlight?  If not, then good for her for trying to help those with bipolar disorder.  If it's a publicity stunt, then shame on her.  If you have depression, say you have depression.  If you have bipolar, then call it bipolar.  But don't call it bipolar if it's depression.  They are not the same disease and the treatments are very, very different.

I know everyone reading this watched Charlie Sheen self-destruct his way off of his hit sitcom a couple of months ago.  There was a lot of speculation that he might be bipolar.  It seems like every time a celebrity loses his mind, the immediate thought is that they must have bipolar disorder.  Couldn't it be that the guy has a narcissistic personality disorder and delusions of grandeur?  Exactly what symptoms of bipolar was he showing?  There didn't appear to be any depression going along with all of those claims of "tiger blood" and "winning."  Sure, the wild statements would be in alignment with manic symptoms, but if Mr. Sheen does not suffer from depression, then it is possible he is just a drug addicted megalomaniac with a superiority complex.  His statement that he "knew how to mix his drugs" so that he wouldn't overdose screams drug addiction, not bipolar disorder.

I admire famous people who put themselves out there when they have a mental illness.  Kay Redfield Jamison in particular comes to mind.  She is a Ph.D. psychologist who is well known in her field for treating very mentally ill patients.  It was extremely hard for her to come out about her own Bipolar I illness because it could clearly have affected her career and she did not want to give up her work.  Much to her credit, she took the chance anyway, writing the book An Unquiet Mind.  She was incredibly nervous about how it would be received because even in the psychiatric and psychological community, there is still a tendency to make fun of the patients and a lack of compassion.  I've seen it in my own treatment.  The incidence of my suicide attempt comes to mind, when the doctor told my mother I was simply trying to get attention.  How compassionate.  Maybe there was something deeper going on there, but was he going to try to figure out what it was?  No.  I was just a stupid teenager who was having relationship problems and thought swallowing a bunch of pills would get me some attention.

I also saw it repeatedly at the psychological practice I worked for.  Of the four professionals I worked with, two of them were incredibly compassionate and would never have dreamed of judging mentally ill clients.  The other two would make snide remarks and ask that the staff schedule certain patients at certain times so they "weren't put to sleep out of boredom."  I also overheard a comment of "This is why I don't do this clinical crap."  Why go into the field if you have contempt for your patients?  Was I going to admit to these people I had bipolar disorder?  Not on your life.  They obviously knew something wasn't right and clearly I had anxiety issues.  But most of my anxiety in that job came from trying to hide the fact that I was battling a mental illness.  We become so adept at hiding our symptoms that it's scary.

The history of the arts is that mental illness is rampant in the field.  Hemingway and Plath come immediately to mind.  Also Edgar Allan Poe.  And Van Gogh.  Clearly mentally ill there, but such brilliant work.  Sometimes mental instability and brilliance go hand in hand.  But not always.  Whenever I see a big announcement that some celebrity has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I check the information thoroughly to see if the symptoms actually fit the disease.  Britney Spears?  Clearly bipolar.  Zeta-Jones?  Don't see the evidence.

Let's be clear.  I have no delusions that anything I am doing is "brilliant."  I just wish that these celebrities would get their diagnoses straight.  The article in People would have been much better if they had actually shown that Zeta-Jones truly suffers from the disorder.  Without backing up the claim with the appropriate symptoms, they left a lot of room for doubt as to whether she actually is bipolar or just wants people to go see her next movie.  And that's a shame.

Supreme Court and the Autism Vaccine Litigation

Although the doctor who did the study that said there was a link between mercury in vaccines and autism later was found to have "made it all up," there are thousands of parents who are convinced that the vaccine they were forced to get for their children are linked to their subsequent regression into autism.  And the doctor is still saying the statistics were not manipulated and it was a good study.

Although we participated in the autism vaccine litigation for Joey, I am undecided as to how I feel about this decision.  Justin and my mother firmly believe that Joey was showing signs of autism before he got his MMR vaccine.  I remember it differently.  The question, in our case, is does it really matter?  I don't know that Joey is ever going to require the special care that children with more severe cases of autism will require over their lifetimes.

I do find it very interesting that the two dissenting opinions to the final decision made by the Supreme Court were made by the only two women judges on the panel.  I don't know if there is any meaning to that, but I find it interesting.

This decision was based on the case of Hannah Bruesewitz, who developed a severe seizure disorder after receiving her DPT vaccine and will need a lifetime of care.  Lower courts had agreed that the disorder was a direct result of the vaccine, but the government needs to protect the vaccine manufacturers.  Hence, they send the parents back to the kangaroo court which claims to "investigate" the claim before roundly denying that the vaccine was responsible.  I think my problem with this decision is the fact that no "objective" court ever gets to see the evidence.  A person who believes they have been injured by a vaccine must go before the government's own watchdogs to ask for compensation and they are well paid to find against the plaintiff.  The Supreme Court has made sure, with the decision in the link above, that civil courts will never be able to objectively listen to the evidence and make an informed judgment in these matters.

Do I think Joey has autism because of his MMR vaccination?  I don't know what to think.  I remember him regressing after he got the shot.  That could have been a coincidence.  It could have been.  But was it?  There's really no way to ever know, but I am outnumbered by the other members of my family who keep telling me to let it go.

I think my problem with vaccines is that the government is now requiring that we vaccinate the hell out of our children.  They require somewhere in the range of 65 shots between birth and the time they enter kindergarten.  Can anyone honestly tell me that we aren't putting an awful lot of toxins into little tiny bodies with underdeveloped immune systems?  Yes, vaccines save lives.   Obviously.  We wiped out polio and small pox with vaccines and that's a good thing.  But requiring parents to get their children shots for every single disease in the that a good idea?  Doesn't this just make for stronger diseases that are more antibiotic and treatment resistant? 

I've gotten the shots that were required.  But the flu shot every year?  No.  When they offered Joey a booster on his chicken pox vaccine, I again said no.  Same with the meningitis shot.  It's just too much into an already damaged central nervous system.  I weigh the benefits and the risks and decide, especially for Joey, that it probably just isn't necessary for him.  Since they do not know what causes autism, then I am not going to risk further injury to whatever part of his brain is damaged already or was tripped genetically to cause the autism.

Anyway, it's an interesting question and I certainly don't have the answer.  If you are interested in what the Supreme Court had to say, click on the link.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Would You Like Pictures With That Rant?

Isn't it nice when your technology fails, but someone else's is working and they are willing to share?

Here's what my phone refused to capture yesterday.  Thankfully, my parents have enough pics to share!

And now I'm off to waste a little water in a bubble bath, since we found our $120 leak coming from the water softener and had it fixed.  Fibro and lots of activity simply do not mix well.  I'm taking my magazines and going in...

And what the heck did I hit that made this picture appear on the side?  I really like that.  Some day I have simply got to sit down and figure out how blogspot works.  I suspect I'm missing a lot of really cool stuff!

The Spending Diet - Oh How It Hurts!

Ouch, ouch, OUCH!!!  Can I whine just a bit here?

We spent Easter afternoon out in the mountains of West Virginia yesterday with my parents, having a wonderful brunch and listening to the rush of the water flowing over the numerous rock formations in the creek beside their house.  When I walked into my mother's dining room, I thought she had one of those little sound machines playing waterfall sounds until I realized that no, it was just her dining room windows were open.  That lyrical sound was coming from right beside their house.

My parents have a rather substantial plot of land and you can't really see the neighbors too well from their front porch with all of the surrounding vegetation.  It's a little slice of heaven and so incredibly peaceful.  I can only imagine what it's like today, now that the sun is out.  I could easily see myself spending a summer out there, but alas, the responsibility of home and pets and their overwhelmingly busy schedules make that an impossibility.  Not to mention that the cold winters have finally gotten to them and they are working on a move to the warmer environment of South Carolina, where my dad can easily build his golf club making business into a nice inheritance for his grandsons.  This may be the last summer we have the opportunity to go out there and listen to that waterfall.

So imagine my disappointment yesterday when I snapped a few pictures of the lyrical babbling brook beside their house on the way out with my phone camera.  I got into the car and, as we were driving away, flipped open the phone to post a couple up on my Facebook page.  I was incredibly aggravated when I discovered the pictures for some reason were not captured on my phone!  Oh, the humanity!

This has happened a couple of times.  I don't know why and I don't know if it's the phone or if I'm doing something wrong.  History would indicate the second, since I am a walking disaster, but either way.  I. Want. A. New. Camera.

This is  not one of those get it into my head, I won't rest until I have it, bipolar moments.  I have been wanting a new camera for at least a year and a half.  Probably, it's been more like two or three years, because my Kodak point and shoot has low resolution, doesn't always work, and will not take pictures in indoor settings that are not extremely well lit.  It's okay for the here and there picture if you don't have your heart set on taking a photo studio quality picture, but trying to capture Jamie's band concerts?  Forget it.  Black.  I don't have one picture of my kid playing the bells or snare drum.

Six months ago, not having a fully functioning camera was really not that big a deal.  The kids are getting to the age where they do not enjoy having their pictures taken.  But the problem now is that I am taking a lot of pictures to accompany my blog posts and to share on Facebook.  I have been using that phone camera a lot.  In fact, I used it for the St. Baldrick's event and, much to my horror, not one of those pictures blew up into anything you could actually see.  All one big blur.  That was an event I needed to capture and I didn't.  If I had taken the Kodak, I would have had a better shot, but it's not so reliable these days.  Why do these things seem to have a shelf life of about 5 years?  Our dishwasher died right after the five year mark.  The washer and drying are getting ready to give it up, although I say a little prayer every time I do laundry that they will last me one more week.  Our refrigerator has some kind of leakage problem in the freezer and the only thing we are storing in there right now are icicles.  Luckly, we have a freezer in the garage.

Things just keep breaking and, being homeowners, the expenses fall on us.  This is one of those times I really wish we rented and I could call the landlord.  If it came down to a choice between the new dishwasher and a new camera, it's clear which is going to win that fight.  And did, because I just paid off that bill last month.  Same goes for the refrigerator.

Every time I don't get the picture I want, I curse my phone or my 5 year old Kodak and swear I am going to Target the next day to get a decent camera.  And the next day, I don't do it.  Because the camera has kind of become the symbol to me of being able to control my spending in some way.  I was almost at the breaking point yesterday when I didn't get the waterfall pictures because I know my parents won't be in that house much longer and I want photos to remember it by.  That waterfall represents a period of time in my life for me.  It represents a place I can retreat to when life gets overwhelming or I don't feel well or I just need to get away.  It's true that I don't do that as much as I used to, but I always know it's there and I always know I'm welcome.  And I wanted to share a little bit of that feeling here with you.

On the ride home, Justin was trying to explain to me how it's not the phone that's causing me problems.  It's something to do with the compactness of an individual photo and whether or not your carrier will allow you to send that particular configuration across their network so that you don't crash the server.  Or something technical like that.  All I knew was that I didn't get the picture I wanted and I was pissed.

When my parents were having their house built, I did a scrapbook album (back when I was still spending all that money on scrapbook supplies) of it being built and the surrounding vegetation.  I have a beautiful picture of the waterfall somewhere and I need to find it and scan it in.  It captures the peace of their home so beautifully.  Somehow, I'm a little less agitated when I'm there and I can be a little more the "me" I envision myself being when I am out there.  I'd like to hang on to that feeling when they eventually move south, which may be this year or may not.

I woke up this morning again resolved to the fact that I am not going today to buy a camera.  We need groceries.  My car is going to need service.  My son needs to have his teeth fixed.  There are so many expenses involved in raising three children and keeping a house running.  I need to find a way to not "need" things that aren't really necessities and work with what I have.

But...I have days when I think I "want" the iPad.  I "need" the camera.  I like putting visuals with my words.  It's the reason I hired an illustrator for my first two children's books.  Pictures bring words to life, although if you write well enough, you should be able to create a mental image.  But there's nothing like looking at it on the page or screen in front of you.  One picture truly is worth a thousand words.  Unfortunately pictures don't come free and words do.  I have lots of words, which I am willing to share.  Someday, I swear, I will have a great camera to get pictures to go with my words.

St. Baldrick's and Coverage by TV 3

First, I would really like to thank Alex Holmes, reporter for TV 3 in Winchester for airing the interview with Justin last month on the St. Baldrick's event.  He came out to our house and spent at least two hours here, talking with us about what St. Baldrick's does and why Justin wanted to cut off his @22" ponytail for Locks of Love and then get his head shaved in the name of childhood cancer research.

After we returned from the event, I emailed Alex again and asked if he wanted to do a follow up on how big a success March 27th was and how well not only our team, but everyone who participated did in raising donations to keep funding research for a cure.  I spoke with him at some length on the phone this afternoon, quoting the numbers and again telling him what St. Baldrick's does and why we traveled to Syracuse to attend the event.  I know he was taking notes because he was asking me to repeat things and I could hear that he was writing down what I said.

Unfortunately, television is a visual medium and unfortunately again, they could only give us 30 seconds.  So, if you watched the piece on the news at 11:00, I wanted to clear up just a few things and give you all the facts and figures, because this is important and should be reported correctly.

On March 27, 2010 at the Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub and Restaurant in downtown Syracuse, 487 people showed up to have their heads shaved.  They came from 67 different teams representing children who were fighting or continue to fight some form of childhood cancer.  Just a few weeks prior prior to the event, Juliana was made an "honored" child for St. Baldrick's.  Which is as it should be because her face should never ever be forgotten.

Our team, JJ's Angels, ended up raising $24,194 for the event, over $9,000 more than our $15,000 goal.  We were in second place, behind the Craig Reinhardt's Crusaders.   Craig's mother had her own head shaved in memory of her son who had just passed away in January at the age of 17, only six weeks after his own diagnosis.  Craig's team was in first place, raising $26,239.  Craig's mother, Ellen, raised $5,130 just herself and she and Mike spent a few minutes to hug each other and talk about their children and how indescribably hard it is to lose a child to cancer.  I think only parents who have been through this can actually understand what this means.

The March 27th event, if I heard correctly in that extremely loud, overcrowded pub, packed breathing room only with people joined in a common cause was the largest event for St. Baldrick's to date, raising a whopping total of $343,233 to donate to childhood cancer research.  You can read here how the money they brought in last year was allocated, to which organizations, doctors, hospitals, and researchers.  Over $14,000,000 was raised and donated to St. Baldrick's in 2010 and given out in grants to find a cure for the unbelievably large numbers of cancer types that afflict children.  They put all of the information on their website so you can see exactly where every penny of that money goes.  And I will say that I have no doubts that the money is going to help these kids get well.

We do greatly appreciate the air time that Alex was able to get us to promote what we were doing.  And we are most grateful for the fact that he thought the story was newsworthy.  I've posted up JJ's picture on numerous occasions, usually when I had my hand out for fundraising.  You can see her on the St. Baldrick's site here, her beautiful, bright, sunshiny smile beaming out at you from that swing.

A couple of corrections to Alex's story though.  The event was not only in honor of Juliana, but in honor of all children who suffer or have passed away from cancer.  It's purpose was to raise money for research to wipe out this disease so that no parent will ever again have to go through what Mike and Christine LaMonica did between November 2009 and July 2010.  And to me, the total raised by JJ's Angels is nothing compared to the final number raised by the 487 people who put those capes on and got their heads shaved bald for a cure.

Next year, Mike is trying to get the event to come to Rochester for another head shearing, fundraising event.  And if it does, I am sure Justin will be first (well, second right behind Mike) in line.

Oh, I forgot to mention that not only did Mike have his head shaved in honor of Juliana, but her older brother Andrew did as well.  Juliana touched so many lives, but obviously none so much as her family.  The night before the event, Justin and I went back to Mike and Christine's before heading back to our hotel.  Pictures of that little beauty are all over the walls in their house and Mike took one of the best ones down and asked me if I would take a picture of him and Justin holding Juliana.  Since I'm not writing from my own computer at the moment, I can't access it to put up right now, but it's so touching and fitting to see those masculine guys holding a picture of a dark haired little cutie in a pink dress between them.

There were many tears that day and I know that Justin and I shed a lot of them ourselves.  As the barber began to shave his head, our eyes locked and the emotions were overwhelming.  Right behind Justin's head hung a large picture of Juliana, as if she was looking down on us and smiling at what she had done.  I give you the credit, Juliana.  You created a miracle here on earth, baby girl.  But that does not ever make up for the fact that you're not here.  You are missed more than you can imagine by so many and you touched so many lives in your short three years on this earth.  Juliana has left a legacy and a commitment from everyone who knew her or knew of her.  To kill childhood cancer dead.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Chicken Soup on the Spending Diet

So, I've been whining all week about being sick with this stupid cold and I finally decided that no one was going to make me chicken soup.  Since I feel moderately better today, I thought I would make up a batch myself for dinner tonight.  Justin took the younger boys down to visit his parents for Easter today and now there will be dinner waiting when they get back.  As I was getting everything together, I realized how much this recipe, handed down from my grandmother and billed as "chicken and noodles" is a cheap way to whip up dinner and so in line with the spending diet I've been working on.  My grandma knew how to stretch a dollar and she could make amazing meals out of an empty pantry and feed four hungry kids.  This is my all time favorite meal.

So, here's my grandmother's recipe for chicken soup with homemade noodles.  It's easy, it smells fantastic, and it's just what you want if you are looking to use up the chicken in your freezer.

Either the night before or in the morning, make the noodles:

2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tablespoons milk
2 cups flour

Mix together beaten eggs, salt, and milk.  Add flour and mix together until a stiff dough forms.  Roll dough out as thin as possible and let sit for about a half hour.  When the edges look dry, take a knife or a pizza dough cutter and slice into noodle size portions.  Spread out and allow to dry on wax paper until an hour before you are ready to eat (basically all day or overnight in a ziploc freezer bag).

In the afternoon:

1 small boiling chicken or chicken parts (you can actually get away with two chicken breasts)
3 chicken bullion cubes
Garlic salt
Onion salt or small onion, chopped fine
1 bay leaf

Cook chicken pieces in enough water to cover the chicken with the other ingredients above for approximately an hour and a half, or until the chicken is falling off the bone.  Remove chicken from broth and put into refrigerator to cool.  Leave broth in large cooking pot and set aside.

When chicken has cooled down and it's about an hour before dinner time take chicken out and remove from bones and add to broth.  Bring to a boil and add noodles, more salt, and pepper.  Cook for 45 minutes to an hour and eat.  Easy as pie (easier, actually), tasty, and WAY cheap.

You can pick up a small chicken at the store for $3 to $4 if you don't have any in the freezer.  The rest of the ingredients, you probably already have on hand.  This will feed four people dinner and give you another two or three leftover meals for lunches.

And it's great medicine if you have a cold.

Commenting Problems

A while back, several people had mentioned to me that they were having trouble leaving comments on my blog because of the questions that they are asked at the end of their post - like "URL" and other tech crap no one would understand.

I think you have two options for this.  One is to post (nicely) as "anonymous" and just sign your name down at the bottom of your comment.  Two, if you register for a google account (email works), all you will have to do is hit the button on google account and give it your account information and your comment will be forwarded to me.

While I'm on the subject of comments, anyone who has been paying attention has probably realized by now that all comments are moderated by me before showing up on the blog.  Please don't feel offended or put off by this.  I would love to hear your feedback - the more the better.  Even the nasty feedback can be constructive in certain ways.  And if not constructive, than really fun to ridicule in a public forum.   Just like a car accident at the side of the road, people are always going to want to slow down and check it out.  Same here.  If I get negative publicity and respond with ridicule and derision, I get more blog hits. 

Either way, your comment will come to my email before it gets published so check back if you've posted a comment that doesn't show up within an hour or two.  I may not be online or I may not have checked my email since you posted.

Since I am working hard at bolstering my number of readers (and I just hit 2,900 page views today!), I say bring it on!!  Let me know what you think.

For the most part, say 99% of you, if you've posted something it's been either really nice, really supportive, or something that you can relate to in my writing.  For the other 1%, I look forward to dealing with you by hunting down your IP address and finding out who you are to see if you could look me in the eye and say those things to my face.  Because that would be oh so entertaining. 

My feeling is that if internet commenting had to be "owned" by the authors, a lot of this cyberbullying that has been going on would stop altogether.  I know I can get rid of the anonymous option, but that leaves people who are confused about which option to pick for posting unable to put up their comment.  And even if you wanted to leave a nasty gram as a quick little jab to my psyche, you can then just create a whole new identity for yourself.  But it all does go back to that little IP address that allows any good IT engineer with a little time on his hands to trace the post back to the source.  So, I would keep that in mind, those of you who have decided you don't like me so very much.

And for those of you who do, please do leave comments.  The more, the better!

Friday, April 22, 2011

How the Expenses Broke Down Yesterday

I spent more on the cat than the kid.  Seriously.

This 20 pound ball of fur with feet cost me $452 at the vet yesterday.  Okay, so they had to knock him out to yank out five teeth from his infected gums and that really sucks for him.  But the $452 sucked for me.  Apparently, this cat is prone to tooth problems because he had a complete dental checkup (for a similar cost) back in 2008 when we got him. 

Joey's cleaning cost $56.  What is wrong with this picture???

I've had cats since I was six and I would have to check with my mother on this one, but I don't remember her ever taking one of them to the vet for dental work.  We had regular checkups and the resulting fillings every six months, but the cats did not go to the dentist. 

Are vets now recommending dental care more than they did when I was a child or did my mom just turn it down?  I can't ever imagine her not giving one of the animals the care it needed.  She's not exactly an animal person, but she has a soft heart.  When a little stray showed up at her house a couple of years ago, she and my dad ended up feeding him and giving him a warm place to stay.  They even took him to the vet and had him fixed, not an easy task seeing as how he was feral.  I forget how long it took them to catch him, but it was at least a week.  Unfortunately, the cat ended up getting mauled by one of the local dogs that their neighbors can't control and won't keep leashed, but the point is that my mother took the cats to the vet.  I remember it.  So why all the dental fuss now?

Max lost both of his canine teeth yesterday.  They were protruding down into his lower lip and it looked painful.  His gums were red and swollen.  He now has only eleven teeth in his head and this is an animal that obviously loves to eat.

I am dismayed at the expense, which comes at a time that I am working desperately to pay off our unsecured debt.  Having pets is a financial responsibility, no question about it.  Every time I see a new little kitten somewhere, I long to bring it home, but then I remember exactly what goes along with a baby animal.  Those vaccines and surgeries to stop the breeding Are. Not. Cheap.

I keep thinking about what I could have spent $452 on if Max hadn't needed to go to the dentist.  I could have completely clothed the kids and bought their shoes and had money left over for that camera I really want.  I could have probably gotten the service done on my car.  That might have bought me a new washing machine or a dryer.  Or at least made a heavy dent in the down payment on one or both.  THE iPAD!!!!  Oh my God, I could have bought the iPad if I had thrown in another $50.  Life is just not fair!


I do love my pets like I love my kids.  And they are way more accepting and loving most of the time.  They never talk back, their love is unconditional and totally forgiving.  If I'm emotionally rocky, one of them will always come looking for attention.

When I got the call from my dad in January that my mom had bone cancer, I was crying so hard I had to sit down.  Jackson, our flaky golden retriever puppy, heard me making a sound I've never made before and came running to find out what was wrong with his momma.  And let me hang onto him while I sobbed, never moving or trying to get away from the woman who was hysterical and clutching him in a death grip.

Pets make the world a better place.  I cannot imagine a house without something furry.  To me, that would be a very lonely, if cleaner, place.  So I reluctantly pulled out the credit card and paid the vet.  Because I love that fat, furry, purring machine.  In fact, I'm crawling back into bed to nurse this cold right now and he is lying there waiting for me.  Therapy cat.  Seriously.

Yep, that's exactly where I'm headed right now.

Sleepless in Seattle - How Technology Marches Forward

I would guess that probably 90% of the people who are reading my blog are women.  And if you are a woman, then most likely you have seen Sleepless in Seattle, right?  I mean, it is a total chick flick and they put it on cable reruns all the time.  And what is not to love about the story?  That there is one person out there meant for each of us, or, as Jonah says to his dad in the airport, that he and Annie were supposed to be together in another life but weren't, so they have to get together in this one.  How romantic is that?  The idea that there is one person, just for us.  And that somehow, if not in this lifetime than in another one, we will find each other.  Oh!  That is just so chick flick, kick you in the crotch romantic, isn't it?

I happened upon the film last weekend and realized that the movie was in theaters way back in 1993!  Do you have any idea of how much things have changed in 17 years?  I hadn't really thought about it.  17 years is almost as long as my oldest son has been around and wow, how technology has leapt forward in the last 17 years!  Here are some things I jotted down as I was watching the movie.  I got a huge kick out of all of them, but I really watch the movie because I want Meg Ryan's long, thick, lustrous hair and that's the only reason I watch it.  (Not really, but isn't her hair awesome in the movie?)

1993:  Listened to the radio  Now:  iPod, youtube

1993:  Push button phone with a cord attached to the earpiece  Now:  Cordless phones that are on the way out, to be replaced by phones that will also keep your calendar, your contacts, surf the web, connect you to your social network, and cook you dinner.  Okay, they won't cook you dinner, but if you set them to vibrate and ask a friend to call you, never mind.

1993:  Rolodex for phone numbers  Now:  Numbers programmed into our cell phones - just hit a button

1993:  The guy calls you for a date, picks you up, and takes you out to dinner  Now:  Hook up on an online dating service; meet at a Starbucks for latte

1993:  Manual or electric typewriter for correspondence  Now:  Email, text, or instant message

1993:  Computer that is so large it takes up your whole desktop  Now:  Laptop probably to be replaced by tablet computers

1993:  When you flew somewhere, you were met at the gate by your family  Now:  Be dropped off outside the airport and get x-rayed and patted down by a bored member of the TSA

(This one calls for a bit of commentary.  In 1993, terrorists had not yet rocked our world, at least not here in America.  No, I know, Oklahoma City.  But foreign terrorists who think all Americans should die is what I'm getting at. I don't know if the security precautions are working, since a guy got caught on a Christmas day flight a couple years back with a shoe bomb and was taken down by passengers, but at least no more buildings have toppled out of the sky.)

1993:  If you got a call while at dinner, the maitre'd would come over and say, Mr. So and So, you have a call.  Now:  People don't have dinner as a couple anymore.  They are constantly texting with other people or taking calls on their cell phones.  I don't think I call this progress.  There is no more intimacy to the dinner date.

1993:  Pull down atlases and those maps you could never refold  Now:  Google maps and GPS

1993:  Books for Travel  Now:  Kindle

We have become a technology laden society.  We are always plugged in and connected.  It worries me that my kids seem to have all of their social relationships on their video games and I'm sure I'm not the only parent worrying about this.  I also carry a fair amount of guilt that I have allowed this to happen, because I know I could have gone down a different road or even moved my children to a different part of the country where having the latest technology is either not affordable or not acceptable.  But would I have been doing them any favors?

Here are some other things we had in 1993:  Roller blade couriers, long distance telephone charges, bi-weekly library visits, the World Trade Center, a sense that it was okay to send our children outside without having to watch them every single second.  Our parents kicked us out of the house in the morning when we were on school break and called us back in (by voice) at dinnertime.  Now we are more intensely aware of where our children are every minute.  Is it more dangerous now than it was then?  That's a debatable topic, for sure. Children back in 1993 were stolen just as they are now (Adam Walsh, Melissa Sue Brannon).  But I think we had more of a sense of security and safety then as opposed to now.  Now we've seen buildings crumple to the ground after being hit by psychopaths in the name of "jihad."

I have a lot of nostalgia for the things I see in Sleepless in Seattle.  I just remember it as a simpler time.  Sure, our toys weren't as much fun.  But the thing is, we didn't know the toys were less fun.  And spending an entire weekend on the porch reading a book was a relaxing thing to do.  No cell phone in your pocket.  Just you, your book, a glass of iced tea, and the porch swing.  You didn't have to stay constantly connected to the world and we were happy that way.

And by the way, I totally get it that I am writing this on a laptop and publishing it on the internet.  The up side of all of this technology is that we now get to have our voices heard by a larger number of people, even if we don't sell one word of print.  Or maybe that's a down side.  I guess it depends on how you look at it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Back to the Spending Diet - Unavoidable Expenses

So I'm working really hard on this spending diet thing.  I have not purchased a new camera or an iPad, which is remarkable restraint for someone who has a wide open balance on her credit card.  Or at least for me with a wide open balance.  Usually that would mean oh my God, I need to go spend some money and get something cool.  But no.  I haven't bought the new television for the bedroom that I want or the new washer and dryer either.  I've been a really good girl.  I'm even sticking to my budget for amazon.

The problem is that life keeps getting more and more expensive.  Grocery prices keep rising.  Gas prices keep rising.  We had a leak in our water softener (and thank God we found it) that cost us an extra $120 on our water bill this month.  Joey has to go to the dentist for a cleaning today and Ben will start his massive dental work on the first tooth later this month.  I've been informed that the dental insurance will pay 80% of each crown, but only up to $1500 per year.  He needs a crown on every tooth and the estimated cost is $982 per tooth.  I can't find my calculator (my things seem to wander off and not be returned), but I can do a quick mental estimate that keeps coming up at approximately $200 per tooth for the first two teeth and then the full cost of $982 if we choose to do any more teeth this year.  I am going to fight with the insurance company, but I'm tired.  Seriously tired of everything being such a huge battle to get the services we need paid for by the insurance industry that is only too happy to take money from us every month.  I sometimes wonder if one of us was to be hit by a bus or run into a tree, if the life insurance people would want to attend the autopsy just to make sure that the person is actually dead before paying on the policy I keep writing them checks to.

This morning, I got up early and drove the cat to the vet.  He needs his own dental work, among other things they will do to him while he's asleep, and that bill is going to be over $400.  What could I do?  He really needs a couple of teeth pulled and his gums are bright red.  I've heard that dental infections in cats are life threatening.  Was I supposed to let him suffer because I didn't want to spend money?   I'm just not that heartless.  (Just got a call from the vet and they had to pull five of his teeth.  This can't be a good thing!)

It seems like every time I get to a point in my life where I resolve to behave myself with my spending and get it under control, some new, major expense comes my way.  Next month, the car is going to have to go in for its annual inspection and we are almost 10,000 miles past the time when it should have gotten its 60,000 mile service.  Because I am using it more lately, I think we need to take it to the dealer and get the service done.  Plus, there's a really annoying "check engine light" that our regular mechanic just can't seem to figure out how to turn off and I have a feeling it's something the dealership puts on there to make you bring it back to them for all service appointments.  I think when I checked on how much a regular 60,000 mile service costs at the dealership many months ago, it was somewhere around $400.  But what if there's something wrong?  They always come back with an expensive repair I just have to have every single year.  How do I know if they're ripping me off or not?  We're reasonably looking at at least $1,000 in repairs.  It happens every year and it's the price we pay for having an older vehicle that is paid off and has cheap insurance.  Still cheaper than a new car, but there are a lot of days that I wish everything was within walking distance.  And, I got the bill for the pool membership for the summer.  It's going to be $300 if we pay it by May 1st and $325 if we don't.  I don't have the kids signed up for anything this summer, so I kind of feel like they need to have access to the pool.

I'm still waiting on the bill from the accountant who did such a great job on our taxes.  It had just gotten too complicated for me to do, even with the software, and I didn't trust myself not to make a mistake.  His bill is coming and he estimated around $400 to $500.  I cringe every day when I go out to get the mail because I know they're going to get around to billing me sooner or later.

All of these expenses! 

The goal, of course, is to have enough money in savings to cover all of these things so you don't have to use your credit cards.  And Justin has been incredible about paying ourselves first and building up a balance in savings.  I haven't used the I Hate You card since March and that was a very small purchase while we were up in New York.  I am trying not to add to the debt load, but the kids all need new clothes for the summer.  And shoes.  They really have to have shoes.  It's not fair to let them walk around with their toes breaking through the tops because their feet have grown two sizes since the last time we went shopping.

So, to sum up, here is what we are facing just this month:

Extra on the water bill:  $120

Cat at the vet:  $400+

Joey's Dental Cleaning: $100+ because they only cover two cleanings a year and he needs to go every three  months.

Ben's Dental Work (just for this year):  $400 plus the third tooth that really needs attention at $982

Service/Inspection of Car:  $1,000+?

Gas at $4 a gallon in an SUV that takes 20 gallons and guzzles it down like a person drinking tequila looking for the worm

My credit card: $90

Pool Membership:  $325?

Accountant:  $400+

How do you stick to a spending fast or spending diet when these things come up?  I. Am. Frustrated.  Justin keeps talking about all of the things he would like to do in the yard and they are things I would really like for him to do.  But he doesn't want to spend the money when we are facing the listed expenses above.  There are also wheels for his sports car at 50% off that he has been looking at for over five years.  They don't make them anymore and he really wants them.  But it's $1,100 and he's not willing to put out the money.  He also canceled his season tickets to the Redskins.  He says it's because it's too far to drive just to watch them lose all the time.  I think the real reason is because he doesn't want to spend the money.

All right.  So, here's my question.  Why is it that whenever I start to make progress, something(s) come up that I have absolutely no choice in whether or not I pay for them?  How do I stick to my spending diet when these people are insisting that I hand over a bunch of money?  I'm starting to feel like the federal government.  I'm never going to get out of debt.  Never.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Little Flooding

This, on a normal day, would be a little trickle of water, but with the incredible downpours of the last week or so, it has turned into what you see in the picture.  I had a couple of other pictures on my phone that wouldn't upload.  I am in definite need of new camera equipment if I want to keep putting visuals with my words!

I like the sound of the water rushing along as I walk Jackson by this little stream.  It's very calming.  Almost like going to a nature retreat for 15 minutes or so.  And it helps motivate me up the hill if I'm not concentrating on the fact that the gradual rise in the sidewalk looks like Mt. Everest to me from the bottom.  It's the last part of the walk and the distraction of the running water keeps me from focusing on how out of shape I am.

I'm learning that exercise can be helpful with both pain and mood.  Well, I already knew that, but I hated exercising so much that I just couldn't get off my butt every day to do it.  With a dog, he has to be walked.  Jack has been a great way for me to realize I needed to exercise.  So I should go down and give that dog a treat.  And teach him to roll all the way over.  For some reason, he seems to think "rollover" means "lie on my back until she gives me the cheese she's holding."  Silly dog.

Snot! Snot! Snot!

Just had to post this up in response to whoever my little critic is.  This song is dedicated just to you and your snotty, snarky (thanks for the great word, Kathy) comments!  Keep on sending your little nasty notes.  If you want to write a blog about me, please, please do it!  It will be great for me, cause people will click on my blog just to see what you're ranting about.

Here's to you, "Jane!"

You, with your words like knives
And swords and weapons that you use against me,
You, have knocked me off my feet again,
Got me feeling like I’m nothing.
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard
Calling me out when I’m wounded.
You, pickin’ on the weaker man.

Well you can take me down,
With just one single blow.
But you don’t know, what you don’t know,

Someday, I’ll be living in a big old city,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Why you gotta be so mean?

You, with your switching sides,
And your walk by lies and your humiliation
You, have pointed out my flaws again,
As if I don’t already see them.
I walk with my head down,
Trying to block you out cause I’ll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again.

I bet you got pushed around,
Somebody made you cold,
But the cycle ends right now,
You can’t lead me down that road,
You don’t know, what you don’t know

Someday, I’ll be, living in a big old city,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Why you gotta be so mean?

And I can see you years from now in a bar,
Talking over a football game,
With that same big loud opinion but,
Nobody’s listening,
Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things,
Drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing.

But all you are is mean,
All you are is mean.
And a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life,
And mean, and mean, and mean, and mean

But someday, I’ll be, living in a big old city,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean. Yeah,
Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Why you gotta be so ?
Someday, I’ll be, living in a big old city,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean. Yeah,
Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Why you gotta be so mean?

Taylor Swift Mean lyrics found on

Just replace the word "sing" with "write" and that's it in a nutshell.  Bolding is my emphasis and opinion of you.

Bad publicity is still publicity and probably generates more interest, so I will happily publish anything else nasty you would like to say about me.  You're just looking small and petty, my friend.

Wow, Just Wow

This just came in my in box and I have to just say:  wow, what did I ever do to you?  And haha, I'm posting it.

i'm aware this will not be posted. I read your blog and am fascinated how you, in one paragraph admitted to being a certain way with people, etc and then just blamed them, not you, via your husband's opinion.

wow. a therapist will work with you to work on yourself. not whom you meet by happenstance.

I'm at a point where I want to write a blog just about you...

If you want to waste your time reading a blog you obviously don't enjoy and then write one about me, by all means do it. 

I already have a therapist, thank you very much.  She's a wonderful woman who does work with me on my issues.  But having a mental illness is not something that goes away just because you are on medication and working with a therapist.

I don't blame anyone else for my own issues and thank God for my husband, who tells me when I'm being unreasonable.  He's a great person.  You can rag on me all you want, but leave him out of it.

Again, if you don't like me, you don't have to read what I write.  Go find something else to do with your time that you enjoy.  Or maybe you enjoy sending nasty anonymous notes to me just to see if you can get a rise out of me.  Sorry, won't work.  If you're going to criticize, then at least have the decency to put your name on it.   Yeah, you have the ability to be anonymous, but isn't that a cowardly thing to do and would you be able to be so nasty to my face?  I doubt it.

Keep on sending me comments.  I'll be glad to put them up so people can see how petty and mean you are.

On to the next topic. 

Loneliness and Bipolar Disorder

As I write this next entry, I am in bed sick, with no voice, cable television on Frasier, all by my lonesome.  And I'm okay with that!

Being bipolar causes a great deal of distress to the person who has it.  It really is crazy to be happy one minute and suicidally depressed the next and never know which one you're going to be at any given moment.

One things for those of us with bipolar that causes moods swings is the basic difficulty we have with people skills.  Speaking only from my own personal experience, bipolar disorder tends to destroy my relationships.  The impulsivity always causes me to say something I will later regret and makes the person I say it to back away with his or her hands figuratively in the air and a look that says, "Oh my God, what the hell is wrong with this woman?"

As a result of my big mouth, I have burned a lot of bridges over the years.  I have lost count of how many friends I have alienated to the point of the friendship coming to the an end.  Justin says I seem to attract friends with "issues" and that it's never all my fault when the relationships come to a dramatic, screeching halt.  I do seem to have a sign on my forehead that reads, "Are you in therapy and taking medication?  Please be my friend!"  Not that there's anything wrong with being in therapy and on meds for mental illness.  I'm so not saying that.  I just seem to have a knack for seeking out people who also have mental illnesses without even realizing it and then find myself not only dealing with my own issues, but trying to understand theirs as well.

For some reason, all of my life I have focused on the need to have one "best" friend as opposed to having a large group of people with whom to socialize.  The problem with this is that (a) it puts way too much pressure on that one person and (b) when the person actually turns out to have a life, I have nothing to fall back on and the result is massive loneliness on my part.

Loneliness and bipolar disorer seem to go hand in hand for me.  Because of the mental illness, I drive people away and when I drive people away, I become obsessive and depressed.  I replay everything I did and said over and over and over in my head, analyzing and turning it around and losing sleep over it.  I crave social interaction and need friends to confide in (and, well, to just have fun with), but my neediness becomes overbearing.

The really sucky thing about having bipolar disorder (or any mental illness, for that matter) is that it seems to come paired with the ability to self-destruct both yourself and your relationships with no warning.  At least for me.  Every time someone in my life is too busy to spend whatever amount of time I have deemed requisite for the relationship, I plunge into a major depression and become convinced the person no longer likes me.  Because I don't really have a life, my expectation (unrealistic expectation) is that the other person shouldn't have a life either.  When I discover that she (because it's always a girlfriend) has commitments to other relationships, a depression so profound descends upon me that it takes days, sometimes weeks, for me to come back out of it.

I need to stop putting all of my eggs in one basket and branch out.  I need to have friends who are healthy.  I need to stop being so damned needy.  I need to accept that my situation is unique and that I can't expect other people to drop everything all the time to reassure me that they are there for me.

Bipolar has been the bane of my existence for my entire adult life.  It's a catch-22.  I have not built a support system because I am bipolar and being bipolar makes it really hard to develop a support system.

Since I was so unsuccessful at my last foray into the working world, I have become even more leery and distrusting of other people.  Choosing to pursue a writing career allows me the freedom to be as "crazy" as I need to be, but it has an inherent loneliness built in.  By nature, it is a solitary career and I crave human connection.  But every time I venture into the social realm, I feel like a Catholic school girl with my hands held out, waiting to get smacked.

Ever since my diagnosis, I feel as if I have gotten my hands figuratively slapped on a regular basis.  And I also realize that the mental illness is truly shaping not only who I am as a person but how I interact with the people in the world around me every time I venture into any relationship.

The internet has been my savior and, through Facebook and other blogs, I still feel a connection to other people.  I am grateful to have social networking, because it allows me to interact with other people without alienating them.  But there's a limit to what social networking can do and I still find myself overwhelmed with feelings of incredible loneliness (and sadly, envy) when I see others posting about things they are doing with friends in real life.  As my own real life shrinks, I wonder if I am going to end up being that crazy cat lady that all the kids on the block avoid and the neighbors talk about (and not in a good way).  After all, pets accept you unconditionally, no matter what you say to them.

While pursuing a writing career is something I have always wanted to do, there are days that I think it is catering to my illness.  There is nothing to force me out into the real world except my determination not to become a reclusive nutcase.

I've always needed others way more than they need me and I don't think that this is going to change.  But admitting you have a problem is the first step towards solving it.  I don't know where I go from here, but at least I do realize that being mentally ill is interfering in my relationships.  Hopefully, I am learning to curb my impulsive mouth in the process so I don't drive anyone else away.

The best relationship in my life - the one with my husband of 23 years - is something I am so incredibly grateful for.  That's much more than many people have, so I am able to count myself extraordinarily lucky that somehow my marriage seems to work.  Justin is and always will be my best friend, my soft place to land when I get hurt, and my barometer for when my craziness is getting out of control.  I'm convinced that if more people ran things by their significant other before the said them, assuming that person is reasonably intelligent and rational, fewer friendships would implode.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring has Sprung in Virginia!

There's something about spring in Virginia that makes all that cold weather in the winter seem, well, worth it.  We have the prettiest May (I think) in the country and when the bright yellow forsythia pop out in early April, I know that I will be able to stop shivering soon.  Northwest Virginia seems to have the biggest variety and colors of flowers of anywhere I've ever seen.  My favorites are the lilacs, which only stick around for a week or so, but I look forward to that week fanatically every year.  There is an older road leading to the main part of town where people planted lilac bushes many years ago and, if you know lilacs, you know they can get absolutely huge.  Driving down that road during the one week the lilacs bloom is an intense purple sensory experience.  I want to run into people's yards and steal some flowers (they can share, can't they?), but I know Justin's lungs would immediately slam shut with an asthma attack if I brought a bunch into the house, so I restrain myself from the trespassing charge.

Knowing my love of lilacs, Justin planted three bushes out back when we moved to Winchester.  Unfortunately, he planted them down at the bottom of the back yard and we soon discovered it was just too wet down there to support much lilac growth.  So he's moving them around to the front for me this year and I'm hoping to eventually have those huge overgrown bushes in my front yard.

Doesn't everyone deserve at least one week of spring beauty a year?  It's so great for depression.  And the little white butterflies in the field across the way aren't hurting either.

Okay, this one was last summer, but who could resist that puppy or the sunshine?  This is when I like living here and don't wish I had a house on the beach down in the Florida Keys.  Spring can really make you count your blessings.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Choices and the Spending Diet

Oy, life is freaking expensive!!!

Last week, the water meter reader guy came around and knocked on the door.  He asked Justin if we might have a leak somewhere because our usage seemed to have dramatically increased.  Um, yeah, I'd say.  I just got the bill today and it went from under 30,000 gallons for the last quarter to 43,000 gallons this quarter.  Where the hell is that leak?  Or did we suddenly start taking really long showers?  That was an extra $120 I did not want to put to the sanitation department.  It could have gone to the credit card to pay their stupid annual fee.  Another charge i was not expecting and over which I had no control.

We're getting the people who we lease the water softener equipment from to come out tomorrow and check it to make sure it's working properly.  Other than that, I have no idea why the meter is reading so high.  As far as I can tell, nothing's changed.  Where do you look for a leak if it's not the water softener?  Do you call a plumber for that?

Anyway, choices.  Really, saving money seems to be all about making good choices with your spending.  And spending on needs and not wants.

Today, after discovering that every single television channel I want to watch on cable needs the digital box, I finally decided to bite the bullet and pay the $5.99 a month to have one in our bedroom.  I spend the majority of my day at my little desk in here and the television is always my background noise.  If I want to have reruns of Roseanne on the Oxygen channel, then damn it, I'm going to have them.  And we were forced by our monopoly cable company to upgrade the package because our one year deal on the "bundle" ran out.  We were entitled to an HD box and remote with that.  I simply could not bring myself to return that digital box that is already in the family room when I went over to pick up the new HD box.  Just couldn't do it.

And then...I had shorts to return to Old Navy.  Old Navy, you old nemesis you!  It's the only place I can find pants with elastic waists and cute little dresses that don't cost a fortune.  Jamie had told me to order his shorts in his old size and sure enough, they were too small and I had to return them.  I walked into the store and knew I was in trouble, but at least I stuck to the clearance rack for myself.  The new size shorts for the 14 year old still do not fit and we're going to have to go back this weekend.  Again.  And I have another $10 off coupon if you spend $50.  I think I'm in trouble here.  It's choices time.

Oh.  I had to stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up a salad mix for dinner tonight.  Why, oh why, do they put those pretty spring flowers in the front of the store????  Well, obviously to get you to buy them.  I wanted something pretty and springy on my desk, since I'm sitting here most of the day.  I found a beautiful orchid-like plant in a very pretty white and pink ceramic pot.  No price on the display.  Of course no price, because you wouldn't buy it if you knew it was $19.99!  Yay me, I said no way, take it off and put it back for me, please.  Maybe that will make up for the two pairs of shorts with elastic waists I bought myself off the clearance rack with the $10 off coupon.

So, today was all about choices.  Where did I want my money to go?  I made dental appointments for the kid (and unfortunately the cat, who also needs dental work to the tune of about $400).  I put the water bill in the stack to be paid and called the water softener people.  And I had them put the plant back.  Because it was definitely not a need when our water bill has gone up $120 and the kid and the cat have to go to the dentist.

Why is life so expensive?