Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Frantic Memorial Day Weekend - Whew!

Well, I would have to say it was a pretty productive weekend.  After getting inspired not only by selling my keyboard off of Craig's List, but also finding www.365lessthings.com and poking around Colleen's website, I spent a good bit of time cleaning out and throwing out over the last three days.

I ended up with this pile:

I finally got around to admitting I just am not going to scrapbook anymore.  I had been hung up in the fact that I had done 5 pages of a new album two years ago from our 21st anniversary trip pictures and had never finished that trip, let alone the other four or five packages of pictures from 2009 that were sitting in that brown bag you see. 

I realized yesterday morning that since the trip was an anniversary trip, maybe I didn't actually have to finish that new album.  I transferred the five pages into our wedding album at the back (as a nice coda to the wedding), put the rest of the trip pictures into an envelope, making sure to put notes on the back of them in case anyone ever wants to know what exactly we were doing, and put the envelope into the last sleeve in the album.  Problem solved.

I was then free to give away the new album, another small album I had never done anything with, and all of my scrapbooking supplies.  Yes, all.  I realized after finding a blog entry by Colleen at 365 Less Things that I really wasn't going to scrapbook anymore and that this stuff was taking up a lot of space in my bedroom closet and making me feeling guilty.  That brown bag is stuffed full of supplies and the black bag has all of my equipment in it.  It's all going.

I have two possible takers for the scrapbook stuff, but either way, it's so outta here!

Then there is this:

These are actually now stacked in a pile in the first picture above, but they are all cross stitch patterns, fabrics, and kits that I am not going to finish or use.  The first project was a beautiful ballerina and I got quite a ways into it before I realized that it was actually hurting my needle holding hand to the point where I could no longer sew.  The pattern called for different numbers of threads in different stitches and the ones that had 5 and 6 strands were actually causing me physical pain.  I put that one down and got some physical therapy on my sewing hand.  Ouch.

The other project was going to be a gift for a friend who was having a baby.  It's a beautiful picture of a mother and newborn, with the baby's name and birth date.  Well, I also made her a baby quilt and, by the time I got back around to doing this one, she had had another baby, moved out of the area, and kind of out of my life, so back into the pile of "unfinished projects" it went.  Yesterday I knew I was never going to finish it.  So, these two projects will either be given to someone who likes to do cross stitch and would like to finish them or thrown away.  The rest of the supplies will be given away.

The box in the first picture is a box of papers to be shredded.  I have also begun the task of clearing all of the extraneous files and papers out of my desk and file cabinets.  Slowly, item by item and page by page, I am going to get my house organized.

I also spent quite a bit of yesterday on this project:

Sorry it's not a more in focus picture, but this was taken with my phone camera and obviously didn't work quite so well.  I finally got around to pulling out old pictures and making a plan in the last couple of days.  It didn't end until I went to Michael's yesterday and bought the four matching black frames you see around the grouping on the far right and with all of these pictures on the wall.  I also managed to nag Justin into rehanging our Thomas Kinkade paintings - he did not just the one over the sofa in the family room for me, but also hung the other two in the stairwell.  Justin worked his butt off for me yesterday helping me get things hung, so thank you, Justin.  You are truly appreciated.

I am now free to pursue the plastic canvas butterflies I featured in an earlier blog post, which, as it turns out, are boogers to cut out!  After two hours of trying to get one decent butterfly cut out of canvas so I could start to sew, I finally gave up and went looking for free patterns online to help me learn how to do this stuff. Apparently, I had picked out a more advanced pattern (the butterflies) than a beginner would be able to master.  I was able to find the cancer ribbon and it looks like I could actually cut that one out of the canvas without cursing and throwing things across the room.  I really should have taken a picture of the pile of canvas scraps that ended up on the table from my two hours of cursing and crying in frustration. 

Maybe once I get the ribbon done a couple of times and feel I have the hang of it, I will move back to that butterfly pattern.  Or maybe I'll find an easier butterfly, but either way, I will get it and make a bunch to sell.  Again, a portion of the proceeds from those sales will go to pediatric cancer research in honor of Juliana.

It was a hot, sticky, nasty weekend and appears as if it will be even hotter today.  Spring consisted of a bunch of rainy weeks, one really nice week of spring-like weather, and then SUMMER!  Even the dog was miserable yesterday and we put him out of his misery at the end of the day with a nice bath under the cold hose.  It was the first time all weekend he wasn't panting.  I think he's probably going to need to lose some of that hair pretty quick.

So, I'm off to try a cancer ribbon and finish up the laundry from yesterday.  And then I have the joy of taking the middle one to the dentist out in the heat.  I am so very glad cars are automatically equipped with air conditioning now!



Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wow, What Do I Do With THIS thing?

As you probably know, I am on a mission to clean out the clutter in my house.  One of the things I came across today is this:

This is a statue that came to us when Justin's great uncle died last year.  His parents were cleaning out his house and they thought this was something that we might like to have.  We also got a bag full of teacups (I collect them, sort of) and a genuine Russian fur hat.  Oh, and there is this:

Now that is pretty cool and I am going to try to pick up a frame for it from Michael's when I go tomorrow (40% off coupon, of course!).

But what, seriously, are we going to do with this Indian statue?  I don't think Justin really wants it.  Part of it is broken off.  I doubt we could sell it at a yard sale and why would we donate it?

Here is today's question:  What do you do when you are decluttering and you come across something that maybe has sentimental value, but not enough that you want to put it on display?  Do you find a place to store it, toss it, give it away, donate it?  What do we do with "Preparing for the Hunt" there?  Suggestions would be greatly appreciated!



Saturday, May 28, 2011

Garden Post Update and Coming Attractions

Updated garden photos...not the best picture, but can you see how well the plants are doing?  I've only lost one out of the 22 I bought originally and the cucumbers are growing so fast that I actually think I see new growth every day.

Coming soon....

Plastic canvas butterflies for sale as soon as I figure out how to make them...portion of the proceeds to go to pediatric cancer research.

Stay tuned to see if I am able to transfer my cross stitch skills to canvas!



A Woman's Rights

It's amazing what you find when you're cleaning and clearing the crap out of your house.

While I was working for that awful, dysfunctional, mean place for thirteen months between 2009 and 2010, I had this crazy idea that I actually had something to contribute.  (Silly me for trying to help!)

One of the things I accidentally left behind when I walked out that office door, shaking from being "asked to resign," was a flyer that I had made for one of the professionals in the office to use in the group she was trying to put together.  I just found the handwritten copy in a "junk drawer" and almost tossed it out before I realized what I was holding.  This is a list I put together from some workbook or other of things that I, we, every woman needs to remember every day:

I have the right to be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect at all times.

I have the right to make my own decisions about the course of my life.

I have the right to have dreams and to work toward making those dreams happen.

I have the right to feel good about myself as a person and as a woman.

I have the right to choose who will be my friends, whom I will spend time with, and whom I will confide in.

I have the right to make mistakes.

I have the right to change my mind.

I have the right to be happy.

I have the right to ask for what I want.

I have the right to follow my own values and standards.

I have the right to express all of my feelings, both positive and negative.

I have the right to say NO!

I have the right not to be responsible for others' behavior, actions, feelings, or problems.

I have the right to my own needs for personal time and space.

I have the right to be in a non-abusive environment.

I have the right to change and grow.

I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others.

I have the right to be uniquely myself.

(Author Unknown)

I found this list in a workbook somewhere and thought I was making a contribution by turning it into a flyer for a support group.  Well, it might be helping there and if it is, I'm glad that I left it behind.  But I'm also glad that I saved my handwritten copy so I can share it here with you. These are lovely words of wisdom that should be implicitly understood.  But sometimes, for whatever reason, we forget that we women, as people, have these rights.

Never forget what your rights are, especially when you look in the mirror.



Decluttering the House = Decluttering the Mind?

Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you actually cleaned out all of those closets, the basement, the overflowing cabinets of the things that you never use?  I never really think of these extra things that we have as costing money or being a weight, but I have to admit that after we took a couple of car loads of clothing to Goodwill and Ben made the first run to the dump, I felt lighter in some way.

As with most interesting articles/blog entries, I came across the one I've linked you to above through another blog that I read.  The really cool thing about the internet is that there really is no end and if there is a subject you are interested in, somewhere online you can find information about it.  Or just read about other people who are doing what you think you should be doing.  It can be motivating, actually.

I have been working bit by bit to clean out the clutter in the last couple of weeks.  This is not easy, but I am inspired by other people like Colleen, who I found through Jenny's blog at www.exconsumer.com.  It's nice to get away from dwelling on all of the mental and physical health stuff and think about possibly having some control in some area of my life.

Could you get rid of 365 thing in 365 days?  I think we've probably already donated over 100 items of clothing in the last two weeks.  Maybe more, because it was a lot of bags.  We also got rid of a desk that my mom wanted to give us that turned out to unfortunately be falling apart and the video game chair that Joey broke almost immediately after getting it for Christmas.

Hey, it's a start.  I've gone through my side of the closet and taken some things out for donation.  I'm clinging to others that I know I will never wear again, for whatever reason.  Did you know that most people only actually wear 1/3 of what is in their closet?  I do wear the same things over and over again.  So what is making me hang onto the other stuff?  There's something psychological there and I'm not quite sure what it is.

Anyway, go read Colleen's blog entry and see if it doesn't inspire you to do a decluttering of your own over this long weekend.



Friday, May 27, 2011

Update - Light at the End of the Tunnel!

Feeling slightly better about the spending thing today.  I am proud of myself.  I just managed to get the checkbook balanced and all of the bills paid except for the huge credit card bill and the mortgage for June.  Those are always "second paycheck" bills and so they don't get paid in with all the other stuff.

I went to the huge "I Hate You" card website to see if we had been charged for something and realized that the payment we made last month hadn't been entered before I got this month's bill.  So it's actually almost $1500 less than I thought it was.  Great news, because that means we have more money than we owe on this card and will finally be paying it off completely.  How exciting is that????

I don't know if Justin would be comfortable with my sharing amounts or anything, so I will talk to him to see if he minds my posting up how much debt we have actually paid off in the last three months.  And I don't want to post it until we've actually gone ahead and done it.

As you might remember, April and May were tough months for us with several unexpected expenses.  Thanks to my controlling myself, I am proud to say that my credit card remains completely debt free.  I have not gone out and charged that iPad I want so badly, nor have I bought myself a new camera.  No big online shopping sprees.  And I am using coupons too.  Did you know that you can get printable coupons online?  It's not a huge savings, but I love getting a $3 off coupon for that stupid over the counter Prevacid we both have to take every day.

And, off the topic, the garden is looking really good.  The cucumbers are growing like weeds and I will be getting the last five plants transplanted into the backyard garden this weekend.  Once all is planted, I promise to share a picture (taken with my old but apparently still working and perfectly functional camera) of what is turning into growing plants.  Who knew I had a green thumb?  I am tickled now and will be ecstatic if I get some watermelons and cucumbers out of this.  I don't want to jinx myself, but so far the dog and the critters are leaving it alone. 

With that said, the little bunny rabbits' and birdies' ears perked up and they realized there is a new food source in the neighborhood...

Hopefully nobody will need the mechanic, vet, or emergency room before I can say we have paid off our credit card debt and have no car payments.  Oh my God.  It just hit me.  No credit card debt and no car payments.  I'm actually numb with shock because I haven't been able to say this since I was 19 years old and got my very first Visa card and my parents took on my first car payment which later became mine!

I could get addicted to this not spending money thing...


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Let's Get American Idol Shallow

Okay, I'm just going to out and out say it.  I've been watching American Idol for nine years now.  And only nine years because I didn't even know it was on that first year.  I love a good singing competition and in this one, I got to vote!   Who doesn't like the chance to shape the way American pop culture is going?

After tonight's season finale, which in reality James should have won, but since he didn't make the final cut, Lauren should have won, I think I have simply lost my ability to care about this show anymore.  That makes me sad, but even more, I am totally disgusted.

Don't get me wrong.  Scotty is a nice kid and he's going to have a great career.  In Nashville.  Sure, Lauren is country all the way, but she has a really good chance of also having a cross over pop career, maybe, like, say Carrie Underwood?  You know, her very own American Idol?

What disgusted me about tonight's show came in various waves.  There was the fact that James sang better than the lead singer for Judas Priest.  The top of the 13 guys were never in harmony with one another, not even once in the whole season, let alone on finale night.  The girls were mildly better, but who chose the songs, for God's sake?

And I'm sorry, but is Jennifer Lopez a judge or a performer for the show?  How many times will I have to watch her dress up in something skimpy and try to seduce her husband or her dancing boy on stage.  I like Jennifer Lopez.  I do.  I loved her movies.  And I enjoy some of her music.  And I thought she was a much friendlier and more encouraging and more coherent female judge than any that has been on the show before.  But why, exactly, do I need to watch her shake her ass in front of the entire country on live television?  Most of the kids in the top ten weren't even old enough to have a beer legally.  Or even register for the draft.  Or vote.  Does she have to be a creepy sex symbol when she could just do a damned good job as a judge?

Do the Idol producers realize that there are children watching this show?  Impressionable children.  Children who should not be watching JLo shake her groove thing and dry hump her husband on stage.

And speaking of simulated television sex, what on earth was with Lady Gaga (or whatever her freaking normal name is) and that performance up on the rock they dragged in for her?  Absolutely disgusting.  If you ask me, she's trying to be as outrageous as she can because she's got deep self-esteem issues.  Why else would she paint her face as much and as weirdly as possible if not to cover up whatever flaw it is that she's trying so desperately to hide.  I think she scared James off the show.  I really do.  Could you see the terror on his face when she put her hands on his hips and tried to make him dance pelvis to pelvis?  Oh.  My God.  You never touch someone with Asperger's Syndrome if you don't know them unless you have their permission!  Did they leave that information out of her rules packet for mentoring?  It makes the person with AS majorly uncomfortable.  They also thought it would be smart to let her tell Scotty (17, by the way) to think about which girl he wanted to be singing to and make sure he was putting that right into that microphone.  Scotty looked like he just wanted to go to church and pray for her poor doomed soul after that mentoring session.  I think I saw him grabbing the cross he wears around his neck several times in that short little uncomfortable session.

And Tony Bennett and Haley.  Are they serious?  The guy is 85 and singing to this what, 24 year old girl like she's the love of his life and she's eating it up.  Come on, Grandpa!  Is no one else calling you for singing gigs anymore?  What I'm wondering is where all the real talent that is out there right now and why isn't it performing on the show.  Daughtry never showed up this year, as I recall (correct me if I'm wrong - it's late and I'm miffed).  What about the year Bon Jovi mentored?  Where has he been?  Or Martina McBride.  Or Taylor Swift.  Who on earth couldn't get behind Taylor Swift as a mentor for the contestants or a performer on the finale?  I mean, last year Mylie Cyrus, who is only moderately talented, did a pretty good job of mentoring those kids, even though she was younger than some of them.  Why not bring on the real talent again?  Surely AI has the money, wouldn't you think?

Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood were the only two stars who were under the age of 50 and still have any real crowd pleasing skills that showed up tonight.  Well, in my opinion.  Maybe you like seeing men who should probably be in nursing homes getting facelifts until their eyelids meet in the back of their heads and can't physically stop smiling (literally because their mouths are botoxed open) get up there and pretend they remember what they are supposed to be doing.  Okay, I love Steven Tyler, but seriously.  He blew out his esophagus and just can't do what he used to do.  He's very talented, he did great on the piano on Dream On, but he obviously just can't sing it anymore and he's starting to look like something that got dragged to the show from the local wax museum.  Can't we remember him when he was young and popular?  Stick to the judging, Steven.  You're doing great at that.  The best part about the whole season were some of the expressions that came out of his mouth.

Geez, so many questions for such a lousy two hour finale that, contrary to its promises, did go over the 10:00 limit, probably to the dismay of all those people who DVR'ed it.  Just in case you missed it, Scotty won.  They could have done that in two minutes and been done with it.  Now it's just two hours of my life I'll never get back.

Speaking of which...after nine years of watching faithfully, enduring an incoherent and rambling Paula Abdul on drugs, Simon Cowell's stinging criticisms that made contestants cry, Ryan pretend to be a straight dude (come on, Ryan, come out of the closet.  It's fine!  We still love you!), and the lesser talented person win in every single finale for the last several years (probably since Carrie Underwood won), I have to say I'm done with watching this show.  Anyone remember Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox?  You know, last year?  I haven't paid a lot of attention, but I think I might have caught it if Lee DeWyze was hitting the big time.  The year before - Kris Allen and Adam Lambert.  Both one hit wonders?  Yeah, there was way more talent this year.  Too bad they have the voting rigged so that the prevailing demographic (screaming teenage girls) can vote repeatedly for their favorite male contestant and obliterate any actual true competition.

And to answer the question as to why I ever did watch the show in the first place.  Well, I always had this stupid idea that I might have been a famous singer in another life.  I really believed if I had ever just taken voice lessons or practiced or something, I might have been a singer.  Not a chance in hell, but it's always nice to dream.  I'm just tired of watching the most talented people get so far and then get booted off.  To the self-aggrandizing performances by the judges, who now think it is not only their job to judge, but to entertain as well.  A little reminder guys.  You're there to be a judge.  The show isn't about your next album or the book you wrote or whatever.  Get over yourselves!



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Updates - New Year's Resolutions (Number One?)

Today is the day of updates.  I went back to see if I had actually kept any of my New Year's resolutions, since here we are almost in June and I can't find the post!  Wouldn't it be cool if I could actually link you to my resolutions here and then you could tell me how I'm doing?  But somehow, conveniently, I'm having trouble finding that blog post.  So I am having to go from memory here.  If you are bored enough to go looking in my archives for November-December-January of 2010-2011 and happen to find the post, could you let me know what I called it?

Two resolutions seemed to want to mix together in writing this post.  I had resolved to spend some "couples" time with Justin and to work on my spending problem.  Well that has and hasn't happened.  If you've been reading, you know what's going on with the spending diet.  So, here's what's happening with the couples thing.

We did get to go up to New York in March to see our friends when Justin did the St. Baldrick's event.  So that was a weekend away for just the two of us.  And we are planning on going to the S2000 car club drive in August in Gettysburg together, although I've had thoughts of staying home so we don't have to pay to board the dog and for my meals (spending diet).  Justin has to go (and obviously wants to go...okay, I want to go too!) because he is president of his chapter and he has been planning the meet and, well, it's fun.  Plus, he didn't start this whole spending diet thing, so he shouldn't be bound by my spending "rules." 

I am weighing the dollar costs that we would save by my staying home against the benefits to our marriage of having four days away from the responsibility of house, Justin's job, animals, and kids, and the benefits seem to be winning the fight.  I'm just wondering if I'm walking the walk with the spending diet if I go along...but it was supposed to be a diet and not a fast and we need time together to keep the marriage healthy.

If we've paid off all of the major credit card debt and we can pay cash for the trip, then it's a temporary setback in putting money towards that other debt, which isn't disappearing anytime soon.  Justin's job has been absolutely overwhelming and that really limits the time we can spend together.  Plus, after 23 years of marriage, I have finally admitted that we really just have a lot of different interests that don't often allow us to do things together that we both enjoy.  And he is feeling the crunch of having clients from all parts of the globe in all different time zones and sometimes his work day goes from 5:30 in the morning until 9:00 at night.  So that's stressful both for him and for us.  But luckily, 23 years of marriage, being best friends, and the fact that he works from home makes this doable. 

In keeping with the spending diet resolution, I decided recently to sell some of the things that were just sitting around the house being valuable, but not being used.  The day before yesterday, I sold my beautiful keyboard for cash.  Ouch, that hurt.  Because the keyboard was, in a way, a symbol of "couples" time that we no longer have.

A little background so you understand why I cried when the keyboard left.

Back when Justin and I moved to Winchester in 2005, he started learning to the play the guitar and, like with everything he tries, he learned how fairly quickly.  I also had a musical background, playing piano from ages 7-11 and then the flute through middle and high school.  Because of my stage fright, I didn't make it into Mary Washington's symphony when I flubbed the audition.  I took one semester of flute at college and then quit.  But I missed music.

I think it was the first year we lived here when we went into a local music store and I noticed the keyboards.  I thought, in my normal impulsive way without really thinking it through, "Hey, maybe Joey would love a keyboard and want to learn how to play!"  Of course, we walked out of there with one of those small keyboards and I wrapped it up for Christmas, anticipating Joey's pleasure and willingness to put in some practice and learn to play.  Um...wrong.  Joey has absolutely zero interest in music - either playing it or listening to it. 

So the little keyboard sat somewhere in the house until a few months later when I suddenly remembered we had it, got it out, and started fiddling around on it.  Darned if some of my early piano training didn't start coming back and I soon had Fur Elise down pretty good.  Not good like you see on YouTube good, but I was playing it and hitting the right notes.  I decided that hey, playing the keyboard might be fun and it would be something Justin and I could do together.  Guitar and keyboards...and maybe I could sing too!  Um...

Okay, I do not have a great singing voice.  I would have been one of those American Idol contestants that they kicked out and then later played the audition for the entire United States Fox viewing audience and everyone would laugh hysterically.  But I could sort of stay in key within a limited range.  I started taking both piano and voice lessons from Justin's music teacher and was really enjoying myself.  We started to do some musical stuff together and then our teacher formed a band.

Justin's musical history was playing the drums from the time he could drum his fingers on a flat surface.  He and his brother, also a percussionist, used to drive their mother crazy banging on things constantly.  He still does it.  The music teacher was amazed at how good Justin is on the drums and, even though what he really wanted to do was play the guitar, the teacher decided Justin should play drums in the band he was forming.  He used to do fun stuff like that, this teacher.  The band had members ranging from age 12 to the age of the teacher, who I believe is in his 50's.  And after awhile, he also decided I should do some backup keyboards.  The band was an extremely fun thing and it followed all of the rules for "couples" time.  We had a common interest, we spent time both at home and at the studio rehearsing, and we ended up playing for the block party a couple of years ago.  Justin was fantastic, I held my own on the keyboard parts, and sucked when I sang.

But what I forgot to mention in there was that between the time when I started relearning Fur Elise on that little keyboard and that block party performance (our swan song - the band broke up and the teacher moved to South Carolina), Justin had gone out and gotten me a beautiful, extremely expensive, 88 key electronic keyboard, stand, and bench.  I had a piano again!  A cool piano that did neat electrical things that I never did quite figure out because, as with so many things, once I had it, it lost its charm fairly quickly and eventually I stopped playing completely.  Which is sad because I love music and I was fairly talented at the keyboard/piano thing.  I miss our teacher.  If he hadn't moved, I might have kept with it, but I didn't and so out the keyboard went on Monday.

The point of all of this is that I just sold that keyboard on Craig's List for cash.  To pay our bills.  I have to admit to a few tears after it went out the door, but I held out against the first creepy guy that called and wanted to give me $50 less than what I was asking.  And I was asking for a lot less than what Justin had bought it for and it was practically brand new!

Creepy guy with the accent called me 7 or 8 times and texted me a couple of times, trying to get me to give it to him for almost nothing.  I went back onto Craig's List, upped the price, said no calls please.  If I was going to get rid of this lovely gift to help pay the bills, I wanted someone nice to have it.  Not someone looking to get something for nothing.  That keyboard was not only was something precious that Justin gave me, it was also a symbol of "couples" time that we had spent together.

The afternoon after I had increased the price on Craig's List, I got a text from a lady who was looking for a keyboard for her church's new band and could she come get it for the price I had upped it to?  Now that was more like it, but still...my keyboard is now gone and I know the money will be shortly.  So, I'm a little sad.  I won't be playing keyboards anymore.  I guess I could still try to do work on my voice with Justin while he plays the guitar, but he's a busy guy and unfortunately, he doesn't get to play as much as he would like to.  "Couples" music time seems to have come to an end...which makes me sad.  I miss it.

Funny that I started this post about the resolution to spend "couples" time together with Justin and ended up talking about selling my keyboard to keep the resolution to try to help solve my spending and debt problems.  But I think that as a couple, we've reconnected in other ways over the past year and I am almost 100% sure I will go to Gettysburg.  Because I can't stand the thought of missing those four days of alone time with my husband and catching up with people we don't get to see enough.

Sometimes, you just have to spend money in life.  I'd rather have to spend money and have a rock solid marriage than stay home and miss the chance to spend time with  my husband.



Kylie, the Upstairs Kitty

This little beauty is Kylie, our upstairs cat.  I went to walk out the bedroom door and happened to look over and there she was, sitting on top of the entertainment center looking at me.  Just like an Egyptian cat!

Just thought I'd give you a visual break between reading my marathon blog entries today.  This struck me as adorable, since I don't see much of this kitty.  She's still mad at me for getting the dog last August and hasn't come into the family room since I brought Jackson home.

I wonder what the shelf-life is on a grudge for a cat?

Updates - Spending Diet

April and May were absolutely awful months for the spending diet.  We had one emergency after another come up and I think I shared some of my discomfort with the amount of money that went out in the last few weeks for things I never wanted to spend money on, but couldn't avoid.  There was an unexpected vet bill when Max needed to have 5 teeth pulled, the personal property tax and life insurance bills came, Ben's car broke down, and my car needed both inspection and service, as well as new sensors of some kind.  It was not pretty, money-wise.

I have (gasp!) been thinking of getting rid of the cable and the telephone land line to see how much of the Comcast bill I can dispose of.  The timing on this thinking could not be worse, as we are going into summer and I can hear the screaming from the three teenagers already when they discover they no longer have access to the Cartoon Network.  In fact, I don't even know what it would mean to cut cable entirely.  Would we have television access at all, like back when I was growing up where we got only the network stations?  Or would we have a fuzzy screen?  Is there such a thing as totally basic cable that only allows clear picture for a small number of stations?  I mean, really, we all watch way too much television already, right?

When we had to redo our package a couple of months ago because our year was up (without being notified by the cable company, by the way...shouldn't they warn you when they will be increasing the bill by $30 or $40 a month?), I had a weak moment and decided that when they gave me the new HD whoo hoo whatever box box for the family room television, I would keep the digital box that was already in there and put it in my bedroom.  I wanted to get Cartoon Network too!  

Since I spend a good bit of my day during the week in the bedroom and like background noise, I figured it wasn't that much money and it would be entertainment during the day.  I checked the bill that just came and the three digital boxes we have in the bedrooms are costing us $21.23 a month.  If I just went to basic cable for all of the upstairs tvs, I could at least save that much every month.  But it's a matter of being brave and cutting it off.  I haven't had a lot of success with cutting off anything for my kids.  I never got to have a television in my room, or cable television, or video games growing up.  We didn't even have cable or video games or computers back then!  Of course, looking back, I kind of think maybe this was a good thing, as it forced me to do other things, like read library books and ride my bike and, you know, have a job.  I'm not doing my kids any favors by spoiling them with these things, I know it, and I do it anyway because I can't stand the thought of them not liking me...which is another post entirely.

But, after some fancy figuring, Justin and I have figured out that we can actually pay off the major "I Hate You" credit card within the next four to six weeks.  It's going to take a Herculean effort and some sacrifice, but once that debt is gone, it's going to be like a ten ton weight lifted off our shoulders.  And I cannot wait to see a zero balance on that card.  And once that is paid off, then guess what?  We'll actually have the money to pay up front for things like eye exams and car repairs and school tuition bills.  Win-win.  And we save $2400 a year in interest.  There's just no down side to doing this!  Now, if we can just get through a couple of months with nothing expensive breaking and no major unexpected dents in our budget....next we tackle the student loan and second mortgage!  In other words, this is notice to all three of my pets that they'd better not need anything major from the vet.

We bought new family room furniture before I lost my job and ever since, I've been trying to figure out if these stores that do the 24 months interest free financing are bills that I should keep and just pay enough to have it paid off by the end of the 24 months or something else I want to get rid of.  My goal, I think, is to owe nothing but my mortgage (and maybe be making progress on the student loan) by the time Jamie is old enough to learn to drive and needs his own car.  We have been saving my old Explorer for him because it has low mileage, it's a reliable car, and we've been the only owners.  

The idea is that then I finally get a new car.  I'd love to be able to walk into the dealership and pay half down because we've been socking money away in savings.  Am I dreaming?




Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fantastic Psychology Today Article - Tips for Chronic Illness

I thought this article was so good that I just really needed to post it up, in case anyone who reads my blog hasn't seen it yet.

These tips were so profoundly well written that I couldn't help but be comforted by the fact that there are really other people out there who understand exactly what it means to have a chronic or life-changing illness, what it's like to live it day in and day out.  This is what I am hoping to accomplish through the new health site I am getting more involved in.  I want at least one person out there to say to themselves, "Wow, that sounds exactly like how I am feeling."

The tip I found the most interesting is the one about being sick in the internet age and the age of computers.  The hardest thing about having a chronic illness, in my opinion, is the isolation issue.  And If I had been so sick with fibromyalgia twenty years ago, I would have had absolutely no social life.  As it is, Facebook has allowed me to connect with other people I would never have "met" in real life, either because of the limiting nature of my ability to travel any great distance or because they weren't people I would have run into in the normal course of my day.

I hate to drone on about Facebook constantly, knowing how much Justin, my parents, and even my oldest son don't like it, but I have to say this for Facebook.  I can have social interaction with other people during the day now that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to interact with.  I have made friends from all age groups, all occupations, all stages of child rearing, mid-life crises, others with illnesses.  I have reconnected with people I thought I would never find again from high school and found out what happened to them.

Some of my online life is spilling over into my "homebound" life.  And please understand that I do not mean that I am incapable of leaving the house.  By homebound, I mean the fact that I do not have a paying job outside of my home and I have crippling anxiety about going out.  Social functions paralyze me.  Online, you never have to worry about those awkward moments that crop up that most people glide right past but are agony for people like me with anxiety disorders.  I don't have to worry as much that I will say something stupid (although inevitably I will say something stupid, but a lot of the time, I can catch it and delete it before anyone has had a chance to read it) or show people how stupidly clutzy I am or have them see me try to figure out what the heck we were just talking about or remember their name 10 minutes after I have met them.

Cautiously, because you always have to be cautious, I have begun to slowly put telephone voices to some of these computer names, with the idea that it's actually possible for me to maybe have a few girlfriends, so that all of my internal shit doesn't end up with Justin stepping into it constantly.  He may not like Facebook, but he has to be grateful for that, at least.

I hear that Mark Zuckerberg wants to make it legal for 13 year old kids to have FB accounts.  Well, I have mixed feelings about this.  I don't mind my 14 year old having an account, but I have to have access to his page and I have to be on his friends list.  And he's not that involved in it, so it's not a huge issue.  My youngest, who is 12 and has austim - no way would I let him have one.  I would not want to risk another Phoebe Prince episode either from my child doing the teasing or being the one getting tormented.  It's unreal how intense the emotional fallout can be from things that are said in a mean spirited way online.  And teenagers aren't able to reason things out as well as adults, nor are they able to step back, think about how to respond, and then figure out if they should respond.  It's a minefield already being a teenager, so this is a whole other subject.

But...what I really wanted to do was to point you to the Psychology Today article if you have not already read it.  I think I'm going to go read it again.  And then hang it on my refrigerator, where my family can read it when they think I'm not looking.


Monday, May 23, 2011


Do you ever have a moment when you think you might just be losing your mind?

I am 46 years old (for six more weeks, dammit!) and sometimes I think I might just have early onset Alzheimer's.  I'm sure that my family would laugh at this statement and say Chelle, you are a total hypochondriac.  But sometimes my own absentmindedness really scares me.

Justin has been buying this brownie/cookie mix thing and it looks like it would be really good.  If I could follow the directions so that I could actually make it.  I have tried three times and each time netted 0 brownies/cookies.

The first time, I looked inside the box and all I saw was the cookie mix.  I was convinced that I needed a separate brownie mix to go with it and Justin had forgotten to buy me one.  So I ran up to Food Lion, got the brownie mix and mixed it up.  Then I looked into the original box and realized that, duh, the brownie mix came with it!  I mixed up the cookie mix and put it on top and it wasn't bad, but it wasn't the recipe.

The second time, last week, I tried again and had gotten my butter out and softened it up.  When I went to make the brownie mix (that came with it), I accidentally melted the entire stick of butter to mix in with the brownie mix.  I realized after I did that that I was going to need another half stick of softened butter for the cookie mix that went on top.  So I mixed in another half stick of butter and went ahead and baked it, thinking, well, it's butter.  How bad can it be?  Uh...it was bad.  There was butter actually dripping from the inside of the pan and the whole thing was running, even though I baked it for the right amount of time.

Yesterday, I thought I would give it a third try because I seriously really wanted to try these brownie/cookie things.  So I took out my one stick of butter and softened it up, vowing not to make the mistake of using the whole thing on the brownie mix.  Not checking my directions, I put the softened butter into the bowl with the brownie mix and started trying to mix them.  Um...the butter was supposed to be melted.  I realized this, but thought, hey, maybe I can get away with just using the softened butter.  Except that I was also supposed to put an egg in the mix.  If I had just read the directions and been able to focus, I might have gotten it right that time.  Except I didn't.  I gave up, dumped the whole thing in the trash, and decided I have a mental block against this particular dessert.


This morning, Joey came down and said, "There's only one pair of black socks in my sock drawer."  I knew this couldn't be true because I had done laundry over the weekend and I remembered putting four pairs of socks into his sock drawer.  So I sent him back up, thinking maybe I had put them in the second drawer of the dresser.  Nope.  I finally went to the "sock basket" (where I keep the socks that got a divorce in the dryer and are waiting for mates) and managed to find two socks that matched for him to wear to school.  (Maybe I should start a sock online dating site.  I certainly have enough unmatched socks just sitting around.)

After eventually gaining total consciousness this morning and thinking about it, I realized that since Joey's socks and mine look an awful lot alike, I thought I knew where his socks were.  Sure enough, I went to the top drawer of my own dresser and there they were.  Five pairs.

This absentmindedness thing is really starting to get to me.  I can't focus on anything for longer than three seconds.  Justin has long said that I have a problem with just paying attention to what's going on right in front of me because I'm already worried about the next three things I need to do.  I know it, but I can't seem to stop doing it.  And frankly, it's scary and it's driving me crazy.  Okay, craziER.

Maybe it's the bipolar.  Maybe it's a form of ADHD?  (Probably not.  I've tried Ritalin and it just gave me a stomach ache.)  Maybe I'm just scatterbrained and hopelessly ditzy.  Or maybe it's the early signs that something is not right with the memory part of my brain.

It's hopelessly frustrating and nobody gets madder at me than me when I do these things.  When I realize I've done them, I think, "How stupid can one person be?"  But it's really all in just paying attention and, for some reason, that is not something I seem to be able to do.

I currently have four different tabs up on my computer, I need to walk the dog, and I have two loads of laundry in.  I need to wake Ben up at 12:30 to make sure he gets to his dental appointment that I just remembered this morning.  (At least I remembered before the appointment!)  I haven't read any of the blogs I keep up with since Friday, so they are stacking up.  And I'm  hopelessly behind on Facebook since I took my little sabbatical last week from the computer and which might not be as bad a thing as I think it is.  Do I really need to know that people think it sucks that it's Monday or what everyone else did all weekend that I didn't do?  Probably not, but there's still a sense of obligation there for some reason.  Facebook is about all of the social interaction I get these days, so I feel like I need to check in.

I think maybe I need a vacation...from myself?



Friday, May 20, 2011

Being Scared for No Good Reason

What comforts you when you are frightened?  Do you ever get scared for no reason?

The little guy you see in the picture was a gift from my father last year when I had the hysterectomy.  I was only going to be in the hospital for 24 hours and he didn't want to get me flowers that I then had to cart home.  This little bunny was just the right size to hold onto that night after surgery when I was all alone and in pain.  His head is the same size as my smaller cat's head and I spent that night holding onto the bunny and rubbing its head.  The nurses much have thought I'd gone around the bend, but with that little bunny, the constant crying stopped and I was able to get through that long night.

Earlier this week, a paralyzing fear gripped me.  I was overwhelmed with the computer and the internet, which seems to have no end and no boundaries.  Facebook had been extremely unfriendly (which I think is the exact opposite of what it is supposed to be) and I had gotten stung twice by people who then "unfriended" me.  The unhealthy habit of leaving my feed up all day was something I realized needs to change.  I need to be able to just walk away from the computer.

I am in the midst of a total identity crisis.  I do not know who I am supposed to be.  Am I a writer?  I like to think so, but at this point in my life, the blog seems to be the only thing I am consistently any good at.  I have had no further ideas for children's books and, even if I did, I don't have the money to pay an illustrator.  In fact, I have one good story that I would love to get illustrated, but again...I don't want to spend the money.  I am waiting to hear on the Brave Bear story (no word from the two publishers yet) and my four pitiful attempts at writing a book have been complete and utter failures as writer's block sets in (fiction) or the book turns into a rant (non-fiction).  My new "career" feels like it is falling apart in front of me, leaving me with a feeling of "now what?"

If I am not a writer, then what the hell am I?

Over the course of two weeks, two different people on Facebook took offense at some thing or things I had said and "unfriended" and "blocked" me.  One of them was no surprise.  I knew she had issues and I had seen some irrational behavior on her part.  I get irrational behavior, believe me.  I'm an expert at irrational behavior - my own.  The other "unfriending" made me incredibly sad, as I really admire this woman, whose blog was an inspiration for me to start my own.  She had given me some great advice on how to set it up and on my writing back in the beginning.  My bipolar hypomania had unfortunately been manifesting itself in repeatedly commenting on her status updates and had begun to make her and her readers/friends uncomfortable.  One of her friends believed I was stealing both ideas and writing style from her and I got nasty comments to that effect before I discovered this woman, who is both a fantastic writer/blogger and a really neat person, had both unfriended me and blocked me.  I wrote her an email to apologize and she was nice enough to be honest and tell me exactly what it was I had done.  Sometimes my own behavior and lack of control really stuns me.  I know it's the illness, but it's also why I have so much trouble with relationships.  I just can't fake sane for long enough to keep most people around.

I went into total shut down mode on Wednesday, as a very black depression descended.  I've been in this place before and it's scary.  I (probably manically) decided that maybe if I "decrapified" my house, I might also "decrapify" my mind.  If the computer was overwhelming me, maybe the thing to do was to take a step back and turn it off.  But I realized also that without the computer, I do not know who I am anymore.  And that is frightening.  Overwhelmingly scary, actually.

I am a forty-six year old woman who is wondering what the hell she is supposed to be doing with her life.

There have been things happening in my personal life that feed into that feeling of being totally adrift at sea.  My parents have decided to move 10 hours south of me, making visits a very difficult thing.  As I've written before, traveling is hard with fibromyalgia and I try not to go more than an hour or two away because of the increase in pain levels.  I have had immense difficulty coming to terms with the fact that I will not at least have the option of seeing my mother whenever I want to, even though we don't really see each other that often now.  I think it's the fact that I know that I can that has always been a comfort.  Knowing that they will be so far away...even with video chat and email and facebook, well, it's not really making me feel that much better.

It's not that I haven't accepted their decision.  Life is too short to live somewhere that you are unhappy and they have wanted to do this for a long time.  I think when my mom was diagnosed with the bone cancer in January, it became clear to them that they simply could not put off this move any longer.  And I 100% support that decision.  Since I feel trapped by my own living situation, not in a position to move anytime soon because of the lousy housing market and the kids being firmly entrenched in their schools, I certainly cannot fault my parents for being able to make a move that they want to make.  If I had the choice, we would be moving this summer.  But the choice is not there.

And, Justin is applying for a passport.  One of his new clients is in Europe and it is a possibility that he might have to go over there for meetings.  Leaving me here with the kids, the house, and my parents 10 hours away.  Our closest neighbors, who we have sometimes sort of counted on in a pinch, have been put into the awful position of the husband having to take a government contract over in Iraq for a year because of the lousy job market.  Which means that if Justin goes to Europe, I do not have a "man" around to help me if I get stuck with something house related.  Yes, my oldest son, who is 19, will be here, but as a mom, I still don't look at him as a man.  What is it about having a kid in college?   They're not really adults yet, but not ready to be independent and deal with the real world either.  I know I can lean on Ben.  But what college aged kid wants their mom leaning on them?

And I also wonder.  Why do I feel like I have to have a man around to take care of things?  Aren't I a capable adult all on my own?

All of which led to an overwhelming sense of depression and paralyzing fear.  Panic attacks abounded whenever I would sign in and try to write something and Facebook seemed like a jungle, something which I might want to start navigating only with the aid of a guide.

I didn't get far in my attempts to "decrapify" the house.  I got through a bunch of folders that had been sitting in Justin's office and needed to come out and tossed a bunch of paper into a box for a "to be shredded" pile.  And I got our old television on Craigs List finally last night and already have a taker for that.  But there is so much more that needs to be done and I am overwhelmed by that too.

Yesterday, I forced myself out to the library.  A friend had recommended several books to me a long time ago and, on Tuesday, as I was searching for my calculator that has mysteriously gone missing, I came across the list she gave me.  When I did a library search, I was able to put a hold on five of the books on her list.  So yesterday, I forced myself out of my black depression and fear long enough to run to the library and bring home what turned out to be eight books.  Thank God they have a three week renewal online, because I don't think I can get through all eight books in the initial three weeks before they are due.

But that leads right back to the question of what the hell am I?  I feel immense guilt as I sit reading while Justin is overwhelmed with work.  The kids are all old enough that they need minimal intervention when they are home.  I know this will become a larger responsibility when they are home for the summer in three weeks, but right now, I am sort of twiddling my thumbs and that is a recipe for disaster in my internal world.

I know that I take care of things that free Justin up to do the work that he does.  He doesn't have time to run the errands, deal with the kids' school problems, schedule the vet, schedule the doctors' appointments, orthodontist, dentist, follow Joey's IEP meetings and make sure the school is following the IEP, do the banking, pay the bills, do the laundry, take care of getting the house cleaned, make the phone calls for things that need to be taken care of.  All things I do.  But when I get to the end of my life, what will people say I was?  We are so defined by our jobs, by what we did and accomplished in this life.  I finished my degree and got an education.  And I worked hard for ten years.  And then my bipolar went out of control and I couldn't work anymore.  So now what?

I don't want to turn to Justin and lay this on his shoulders because he is absolutely engulfed in work right now.  He hardly has time to go to the bathroom, let alone listen to me complain about my angst over not having a job and having a hard time doing the things I am supposed to be doing to help him.  If I were him, I wouldn't be feeling a whole lot of sympathy for my wife who has pretty much everything she wants and is still incredibly depressed.

So, I took a break.  And now I'm back.  But I'm still struggling with this depression and trying to figure out who I am and what I'm doing.  When people retire, they are supposed to relax.  But I'm not retired.  I'm on disability.  I know that many people with disabilities spend their days in front of the television and are depressed.  I don't want to be one of those people.  But once I get finished with clearing the crap out of the house and the kids go back to school in the fall, I have to wonder, what am I going to do with my life?  Is this blog what is going to define me?

I am still working on promoting the blog and have applied to be a contributor to the Fight Like a Girl website to write about mental illness.  It will be a few weeks before I hear back, but if I am accepted, it would spread in concentric circles and blow my readership through the roof.  And I could then probably say with honesty, "I am a writer" when someone asks me what I do.  Right now, though, my goal is to fight my way out of the darkness one more time and realize that I have value just because I am a person with value.  That's really all I need to know.



Stigma and Self-Stigma - Mental Health Month Blog Party

Stigma and Self-Stigma - Mental Health Month Blog Party

Unfortunately, I was not aware of mental health blog day, possibly because I have not been on the computer much as a way of giving my brain a little respite. Suddenly, the internet and its infinite possibilities has seemed frightening and overwhelming. Facebook had become a crutch and I spent much of my day with the feed open and just waiting for things to respond to. This is not healthy behavior.

So, anyway, I missed mental health blog day due to mental health issues. But here is a wonderful post about the stigma attached to mental illness and why people with mental illness have such a hard time asking for help. Enjoy, while I work on my own blog post!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cleaning House - Literally

I woke up this morning thinking it was high time I get on the organizational kick I talked about as a New Year's resolution.  I have a closet full of clothes I don't wear, a file cabinet full of documents I will never need, and my email and facebook message folders are completely out of control.

So, I am taking today to go through some things, get organized, make a list of things like account user names and passwords, important account numbers, insurance information, etc.  One of the things on my list was to go through my journals and decide whether I wanted to keep them or toss them out.  When I began the blog, it became, in a way, my daily journal.  Although I don't share a lot of what is personally going on in my head, on the other hand, I really do.  So I have not been handwriting my journals anymore. 

I always tended to write when I was feeling bad.  I have just started re-reading some of what I wrote and I can see that I used my journals as an outlet for my depression.  I kind of knew that already, which is part of the reason I was thinking of getting rid of them.  I mean, when my kids eventually have to go through my things, do I really want them to see the darker side of my personality?  So, I was thinking out they go...except...there's an awful lot of me in those journals.

I hadn't gotten very far, when I stumbled across something that I thought might be somewhat inspirational and blog-worthy.  Although I'm not religious in that I don't go to church and I am not the kind of person who thinks there is a man in a white robe with a beard sitting on a throne up there judging my every move, I do find myself comforted by some spiritual ideas.  For a time, I would turn on the Joel Osteen broadcast on Sundays and kind of considered that my weekly "church."  I didn't watch for the God part so much as the inspirational, apply this to your every day life kind of thing.  I actually took notes in my journals when I was going through a rough time a couple of years ago and today, I stumbled across these notes.  (Please note that what is written below is entirely from the Joel Osteen ministries site.)

Friends all around us are hurting people who need our love and encouragement.  Don't be too busy, or insensitive to the needs of those around you.  Be willing to be inconvenienced.  Be sensitive and pay attention to those around you, your friends, your coworkers, and your relatives.  Listen to what they are saying.
But we weren't created to live selfishly.  We were created to make a difference in the lives of others.

Love is seen in our actions.  Learn to give your time, your money, or an encouraging word.  When you show love, you are showing God to the world.
I remember when I sought these quotes out, because I was going through a very rough time with a person who I thought was a really good friend.  It turned out that she had too many issues for her to remain a good friend to me and the breakup of that relationship was extremely painful.  I had turned to the Osteen website for some words of comfort and found what I was looking for.  Validation.  It made me realize that it wasn't a bad thing that I tried so hard to be this person's friend and that if she couldn't reciprocate my need for her friendship, it honestly was not my fault.
I still do miss this woman in my life.  I was close to her and to her children.  We spent a lot of time together before she decided she needed a complete and total change and left me behind.  Her issues, not mine.

I've been told that friendships ebb and flow.  For a person with bipolar disorder, that's a hard concept because it is easier on us if things stay the same.  We thrive on routine and get upset when we think that someone is pulling away from us.  I know that for myself, I have "overtried" so many times.  I give and give and give to relationships when it might simply be too much for the other person to handle.  On the other hand, I see a trend in our society towards a certain "business" that is possibly unhealthy.  When we are too busy to stop what we are doing for a few minutes to have a conversation with a friend or take a walk or even to take a breath, I think we are doing something wrong.

Of course, no one is ever going to be able to be there for someone else 100% of the time.  But I think Joel Osteen's words ring true.  They come from the bible itself, which all of Christendom seems to think is the actual word of God.  I don't see a whole lot of people who are not so wrapped up in their lives that they make time for true relationships and human connections.  And I think that's a shame.

Aren't relationships, good relationships, the best reason for us to be here?  If we get lost in the "business" of our every day lives, then what will we have done for our hearts when we come to the end of our lives?

So, I guess the lesson is to make time for your friends.  It's hard to do, but the rewards are so worth it.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Car Inspection - Cheap!

Every year in Virginia, your vehicle has to pass an inspection.  They check all the standard things like brakes, lights, windshield wipers, tires, etc. and if everything looks "up to snuff," you are passed (whew!) and you get a new sticker good for 12 months.

When we first buy our cars, we take for granted for about the first five years that they will pass inspection with very little problem and no expenses aside from the fee for the inspection and the sticker.  As the cars get older, maintenance needs to be done, so we will tack that onto the inspection, just because, you know, the car's in the shop anyways.  And now that we have a 2000 and a 2002, we are also finding that things are starting to break and usually we will find that out when the car goes in for its annual inspection.  Making the annual inspection no longer a thing that is fairly cheap on that month's budget.

Justin does a fair amount of his own maintenance on his 2005 Honda sports car.  He enjoys working on the car and it's much cheaper for us if he changes his own oil and vehicle fluids than if we took it to the mechanic.  Which I think peeves the mechanic because it's such a cute little car and it would probably be fun for him to work on it.  Instead he is stuck with our 2000 Jeep and 2002 Ford Explorer.  Fun - not so much.

For me, the vehicle I own has always been simply a method of getting from Point A to Point B.  As long as it is reliable and not a stick shift, I am fairly happy.  Emphasis on reliable.

My mom always said that once cars started needing repairs or breaking down on her, she would lose faith in that particular vehicle and go buy a new one.  Of course, with the economy what it is and with our desire to pay down some debt, there is no longer the luxury of just going out and replacing a slightly aging car with something new and shiny and with an automatic parallel parking feature.  (How incredibly cool is it that some cars can actually park themselves without your help now?)  But that also means that I know that every single May, I am going to have a fairly large repair bill because since my vehicle is now over nine years old, when they inspect it, the likelihood is that there is going to be something that has worn out and needs to be replaced.

I knew that I needed to take the Explorer to the dealership this year for the inspection because my "service engine soon" light had been on for a very long time.  Our regular mechanic had tried to figure out how to turn it off and whether or not there was something wrong with the car on several occasions and every time I would hand him my credit card for some amount in the hundreds and get the vehicle back with the "service engine soon" light still on.

Before I could get my own car into the shop, Ben called me from final exams at school and said that his own "check engine" light had gone on.  Uh oh.  His is the 2000 vehicle and that couldn't be good.  Not only was I looking at however much my car was going to cost, the Jeep had to go to the shop now.  So we took that in and sure enough, the 02 sensors needed to be replaced.  Whatever the 02 sensors are, that cost us $542.  I am assured by Justin that they need to be working, so I guess it was money that had to be spent.

Sunday night, I dropped off the Explorer at the dealership with the instructions to do the inspection, do the 60,000 mile service (because it's been 9,000 miles since it needed it), and figure out why the "service engine soon" light was on.  I knew it wasn't going to be pretty.  Sure enough, Ford was able to find it and thank God they did, since I was really tired of looking at that light being on and worrying that something was wrong with it.  Well, something was.  The DPFE sensor had "failed" and needed to be replaced.

Between the inspection, the service, and the DPFE sensor, we had a bill of over $800 for my annual car inspection.  Which is cheaper than last year, when I had to get new tires and the bill was over $1200.  But, if you add my car to Ben's, we spent over $1300 in May on vehicle repairs.  Yes, of course, it's cheaper than buying new vehicles.  I clearly know this.  But why does it still hurt so much to hand over that credit card for these things that are necessary?  I don't want to spend $1300 on vehicle repairs.  If I'm going to spend $1300, I would much rather spend it on a really nice weekend at a warm, tropical beach on the eastern shore.  I think that's what really gets me.

I was informed yesterday that the car passed inspection with no problems.  That's great.  I'd hate to hear what it would have cost if there were "problems!"



Monday, May 16, 2011

Useful vs. Useless

One of the things I find myself fighting against these days is a complete and utter feeling of uselessness.

When I was a young mother with a good job as a legal assistant, my days were incredibly full, I had a boss that counted on me to be there every day and get the work out, and taking care of my young children filled every minute that I wasn't working or commuting to work.  There was also a house to take care of and a husband to spend time with.  Life was not necessarily good, because in my own internal world, life is always seen from the glass half empty sort of place, but it was certainly full.  We worked to pay the bills and life was something of a struggle from a financial point of view, not to mention how much work having young children is.

Now, with my youngest child 12 already, my oldest child in college and almost completely independent, no job, and needing someone to do the majority of the heavy housework for me because of the fibromyalgia, I find myself somewhat at loose ends.  Justin has picked up so much of the slack and it is exhausting him, while I need to go back to bed after the kids go to school just to get the 8-10 hours of sleep my body now demands.  I no longer have a job that depends on me, at least from a career point of view.  Yes, my family still counts on me and of course I take that responsibility seriously.

But once I have picked up whatever it is that needed to be picked up or taken the kid for the dental appointment or walked the dog, my job is over for whatever period of time until the next task comes up that needs to be done in order to allow Justin to earn our mortgage money.  And I often find myself standing in the kitchen or the family room wondering what exactly I am supposed to be doing at that moment.

You don't realize how much of your identity is tied up in what you "are."  When people ask, "What do you do?" they are expecting a description of your job or career.  If you are a stay at home mom and shuttling the kids to soccer games and band concerts, that is also something that is admired, because it is recognized what an important job that is.

Justin has told me numerous times that he could not do what he does without my doing what I do.  It's great to be appreciated and I do try very hard to pick up the slack so that Justin does not have to kill himself by working a more than full time job and then shifting into full time dad/husband/housecare mode.  There is rarely a minute that Justin is not either working or doing something for the family.  If he's not at his desk, he's out cutting the grass, washing the cars, walking the dog, fixing things that are broken.  He's exhausted on a daily basis between lack of sleep and lack of down time, while I wait for those precious moments when he will be able to sit down and talk to me for a few minutes.  What has happened to my own life?  Where did it go?

The problem with having a chronic illness or two is that you isolate yourself more and more.  And as you isolate yourself and become reclusive, either due to your mental issues or physical limitations, your world shrinks and you find longs stretches of time with nothing that demands your attention. 

I didn't start out intending for this to be a negative post.  I seem to have fallen down the rabbit hole of depression once again, after a fairly hypomanic three days.  I can see that the bipolar cycling has become a routine of depressed during the week and hypomanic over the weekends.  I can't exactly explain that, except that during the week, I see other people going about whatever it is they do during the week while I am home, working on this writing thing, and wondering what happened to my life that it has become something that I am doing kind of on my own.  My husband is busy supporting us in every way that he can think of and picking my slack, a fact that does nothing to help with my opinion of myself.  My kids are growing up and do not require nor want my involvement in their lives.  We never went the sports route (the kids didn't like them), so we do not spend all of our weekends going to games, matches, meets.  My kids are independent both because they like it that way and because my illnesses necessitated it.

I spent 13 years being a stay at home mom.  Somehow that time passed and then I wanted to go back to work.  I went back to work and lasted for 13 months before my obsessive and anxious personality became too much for my employers and they found someone they liked better.  Actually, the writing was on the wall for at least three months before they found someone else, but I was too blind to see the signs.  You can't imagine what being fired does to your self esteem until you've been fired.  I had never lost a job that way in my entire life and I was simply unable to imagine that it could ever happen to me.  Although I decided I would use the huge blocks of free time I now had to work on a writing career, I was still feeling the sting of the total and complete rejection that comes from someone saying you worked here and we didn't like it, so now you don't work here anymore.

So, now I am struggling with periodic usefulness surrounded by a whole lot of feeling useless.  How do you figure out what you are when you don't have a job that defines you and tells you what you are supposed to be doing?



Sunday, May 15, 2011

Makin' Some Changes

Please bear with me if the blog design seems to be changing in a kind of frenetic way.  I am trying very hard (with absolutely no technical knowledge or ability) to figure out how to get it the way I want it.  Boy, I never knew web design could be so hard!

Your  patience is appreciated and, as always, your comments are welcome.

How Being Bipolar is Driving Me Crazy

I've had a manic couple of days.  I've hidden it pretty well, because I am obsessing about things that I am not actually talking about with anyone.  But here I am obsessing.

I am self-aware enough to know when I am pushing too hard and trying too much.  Posting too many status updates on Facebook.  Trying to reach someone who is busy with something else and I need to just stop and wait.  Take a deep breath.  Step away for awhile.

Friday, the blogging site went down and, when I went back to look, I had posted a status update of frustration that I couldn't get into the site about every hour.  I was absolutely obsessed with the fact that (a) several of my blog posts had disappeared and (b) I could not get in to post anything new.  This is the way my brain works.  The blog seems to be fixed now and if I had just used the time to do something else, well, it would have been a better use of my time than all of that obsessing and complaining about something I could do nothing about.  It kills me that I can’t stop worrying about things and I am desperate to shut myself up inside my head.

The smart thing to do, obviously, would have been to step away from the computer for awhile.  And I did do that to some degree.  At lunchtime, I finally went and had lunch, made the kids some cookies, shifted laundry around, and found myself right back in front of the computer, posting up my frustration for all to see.  I wonder sometimes how many people have "hidden" me on their Facebook feed because they get sick of seeing my profile picture coming up every few minutes because I have had yet another thought pop into my head.  Does anyone really care that I can’t get into my blog site?

Obsessiveness is a hallmark trait of being hypomanic.  I can usually catch myself now when I am doing it.  I can't always stop it, but I know I am doing it and I annoy myself horribly when I can’t stop.  I can't imagine how much I am annoying other people.

Weekends are particularly bad, because everyone in the whole world has a life.  I also have a life and it's a pretty good one, but I have managed to isolate myself from having any kind of normal outside commitments because of my social anxiety.  Which means I have a lot of free time on my hands over the weekends now that the kids are getting to the age where it’s no fun to hang out with Mom anymore.  I try to understand that weekends are family time for the other people in my life, stay calm, breathe deeply, and focus on things I enjoy doing like reading, or watching cable movies, or the 10 unfinished sewing projects I have lying around because I can't ever finish anything I start.  Or writing three or four blog entries.  Another hallmark trait of hypomania.  And then there's the laundry to do, which seems to multiply like rabbits behind my back when I am not paying attention.  There are errands to be run.  The kids always need something and being mom, it's my job to take care of whatever it is they need.  Which unfortunately falls a lot on Justin because of this pesky agoraphobia that just won’t go away. 

I hate to keep labeling myself as a “sick” person, but I know that this stuff going on in my head is just not normal.  I know everyone has issues, but do those issues make them unable to refocus when something is bothering them or keep them from being able to put a foot out the front door because of some unnamed, some unidentified fear?  Probably not.  Once I get out and get going, I’m usually just fine.  It’s making that effort to get the shoes on and grab the car keys and walk out the door.  It’s like there’s a brick wall instead of a doorway.  But the brick wall is actually inside of my head because the door physically will open and I can walk through it.  When I can make myself do it.

The problem is that I get these obsessive thoughts into my head and I can’t stand it that I can’t share them, which makes me obsess even more.  Justin gets tired of me going around in circles and he’s so busy between work and trying to keep up with the yardwork and the cars and all of the other stuff he does that he just does not have the patience to listen to me obsess.  So I try very hard to spare him as much of my obsessiveness as I can.  But it puts a lot of pressure in that space between my ears and sometimes I feel like my head is going to explode.

I wouldn’t say I exactly chose to have such an isolated life.  But I have not exactly helped myself.  Someone pointed out to me recently that obviously I can type so I should be able to find some kind of employment.  Okay, yes, clearly typing is a marketable skill.  But, I tried going back to work.  I really, really did.  I wanted desperately to make that job work because I needed to be out of the house for a few hours a week.  I lasted exactly 13 months before they asked me to resign.  They couldn’t handle my obsessive, anxious personality any more than I can.  Which means I am now at home 24/7 and there are no jobs anywhere in the area to be found.  And if there were, I doubt I would handle whatever job I found very well.

I have a degree, which obviously means I have above average intelligence, I interview well, and I am willing to do anything anyone asks of me.  The problem is that I am very anxious about making mistakes and it comes out fairly quickly on the job as my stress level builds.  What happened to the person I used to be?  I worked a high stress job as a legal assistant, juggled multiple cases, and worked to the satisfaction of my boss for years.  Where did that competent person go?

I think “I” went away as the bipolar and anxiety became worse.  I have made it even easier on myself to isolate after I had Justin move my desk and computer back up into the master bedroom to give him more privacy and quiet while he is earning the mortgage money.  The cats are upstairs animals and I love spending time with them in that bedroom, writing, messing around on the computer on Facebook, talking on the phone, and watching whatever cable program takes my fancy.  I even put the iPod dock in there and can listen to music while holed up in there.  It’s cozy, comfortable, and way too safe.

After we got the dog, I decided to take over the mid-day walk for Justin to allow him to do something else.  Like eat lunch, take a shower, go to the gym, read a book on his lunch break.  It drags me out of my comfortable little nook in the bedroom every day that the weather permits and I have had several very pleasant conversations with other people in the neighborhood who were struck by Jackson being such a beautiful dog and stopping to pet him and talk to me.  One woman who also has a golden retriever puppy even came back with me to the house with her dog and gave me her name and number so that we could get the dogs together for a doggy “play date.”  I haven’t called her.  I need to.  I should call her.  Why can’t I pick up the phone?  I know Jack would love it and it would be a person outside of my husband and my very few friends to talk to for awhile.

Having bipolar is a lonely thing.  Living in my head is annoying and frustrating and that spills out into everything from the way I talk to the kids to whether I can take the overdue library books back to the library.  It has settled itself into every aspect of my personality.  I do not like this, but I am not sure what to do about it.  I react badly physically to every mood stabilizer they try to put me on.  The SSRI’s make me horribly manic.  The new generation anti-psychotics make me feel like I’m either drunk or a zombie.  I know why schizophrenic patients go off their meds.  The side effects are simply horrible and I can see why it might be easier to live with hallucinations or voices in your head than to feel the way those drugs make you feel.

I am lucky in so many respects.  I do not live alone – I have Justin and the kids.  They are busy with their own lives, of course, but it is comforting to have them here in my life and know that they are here.  I know that any one of them would allow me to sit beside them for a few minutes and just soak up the “normal.”  So many people with mental illnesses do not have this luxury of living with other people.  Mental illness scares people and there is still a horrible stigma about it.  The general conception of a mentally ill person is someone who is completely irrational and out of their mind.  It’s hard to correct that perception and to convince people that most mental illness is both manageable and not really that scary.  Most of us are, for the most part, rational people with "eccentricities." 

Many people who are mentally ill think that no one would want to be with them romantically.  Or possibly the symptoms got away from us and have already driven potential spouses away.  Women who are on medications for mental illness have to worry about the risks vs. the benefits of taking their medications if they want to have children because of the birth defect possibility.  It’s a huge decision whether to have children when you have a mental illness both because you are afraid to go off the drugs to ensure the baby doesn’t get a birth defect, you are afraid of passing along your mental illness to your children, and you don’t know if you are going to be mentally able to handle being a parent. 

For me, it’s the last one that’s the killer.  I know that I have not been a perfect parent to my children because of my mental illness.  I was recently trying to explain to Joey why I receive social security disability.  I didn’t want to get into the whole bipolar thing because I thought it would be a lot to understand for a 12 year old, so I simply left it at, “I used to work but then I got sick.  I have something called depression and it’s when you are sad all the time.”  And then I proceeded to tell him that it was really better if he didn’t go around school telling everyone that Mom was getting social security money because she was sick with depression.  There is that stigma again.  I don’t want the kids to be judged because their mom is mentally ill.  So I try to keep the more extreme aspects of my illness from the kids and ask that they don’t share it with the world.  And then I share it on the blog.  My own little space on the internet, where I am trying to reach out to other people who have these issues and give them a feeling that they are not alone.

And the internet thing is a whole other thing, because I am really opening myself up and letting people into my internal craziness.  It’s a vulnerable place to be sometimes and just a bit frightening.  I am slowly building a readership base and I am working to expand that in many ways when I am mentally able.  But, being bipolar, the internet and writing is like everything else in my life.  Unfinished.  I love the blog for that reason, but there is so much more I could do if I could just concentrate and finish a thought.

Bipolar first.  Fibromyalgia second.  Writer third.  These are the things that somehow have come to define me, almost more than being a wife and mother.  I don’t like the way that priority list looks at all.  It needs some work.