Tuesday, May 31, 2011Tweet
In order to contain my stress level, I'm going to take a break from blogging for a week or so. We were out of town all weekend watching my brother play in the Ultimate national tournament in Colorado (They did awesome! It was so fun!) and we've got friends coming into town on Thursday, so in the next few days I've gotta focus on things like doing my programming homework (This summer's professor is soooooo much better than last semester's, but challenging!), squeezing in some exercise, and getting ready for our guests. Also, I'm speaking at the 20SB conference in August and so I have to stay after work today to get on a phone call about that. I have to-do lists coming out my ears. (Did we order a present already for my friend's upcoming wedding? When is our next CSA pickup? Ah, rent is due!) My M.O. for weeks like these is always to temporarily cut out anything non-essential, and blogging is usually one of the last to go, so that tells you where I'm at right now.
A quick update on my health: I decided to test out my theory first and try to eat every few hours, and it's actually making a huge difference. At the tournament this weekend, at one point I just wanted to run around, I had so much energy. You can bet it's been a long time since that's happened! I read online a few different people's experiences of mono causing hypoglycemia, so it's not impossible.
How was your Memorial Day weekend?
Thursday, May 26, 2011Tweet
Thanks to those who have been thinking of me this past week.
Things went better than expected. I mean, there was more than one time where Mike's brother got pissed off and left the apartment, but Mike followed after him and got things worked out. I was able to keep myself out of it mostly, which forced Mike to take responsibility for seeing things through. And that was good for him. I mean, the whole week was good for him, not only because it forced him to stick to a schedule and stay active himself, but because he had someone with more energy than I have to go bike riding, play sports, and all sorts of other things.
Trying to help his brother quit smoking helped him to finally understand something I've been trying to tell him for years, which is how hard it is to just say "OK" when someone (usually him) tells you they're going to do something and you know it's highly unlikely they actually will. It wouldn't be supportive to say, "No, I don't believe you will," but it's even harder to lie, so instead you end up making yourself believe they really will do it this time, and then you get crushed every time. It doesn't make things any easier, but knowing that he understands now is comforting.
I've heard many times how damaging it is to use the phrase ”You always" in an argument, but recently I've learned that the opposite is also true -- the phrase "I know you're not always like this" can be very affirming. Mike has helped me feel better about my health problems by reminding me that he knew for five years before I got sick, and he knows this isn't my normal self, no matter how long it's lasted. So I don't have to worry that he's seeing me as lazy or dramatic, because he knows my true self.
Similarly, when Mike asked me how this week went for me, I told him that it was a little tough because he was reacting to everything I said as if his brother said it -- as if I were being sarcastic or attacking him -- but that I knew it was only because he was spending all day with his brother, and I trusted things would go back to normal soon enough.
Mostly this week has reminded me how glad I am that Mike has such a close friend in his brother, and how glad I am that Mike is such a caring person that he was willing to rearrange his priorities to take care of his brother. I was also the grateful beneficiary of several fantastic meals thanks to having two chefs in the kitchen. (I asked Mike if he wishes I would help him cook more, and he said no, he'd have to tell me how to do everything anyway. He was kind enough not to add that I also tend to screw things up.)
All said and done, I'd be happy to have his brother back for another week.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011Tweet
Well, that was interesting.
At the train station this morning, this older woman near me on the bench started hissing, "Sir! Sir!"
After about the fourth time, I realized she was talking to me.
As I don't generally respond to "sir," I didn't look up until she said a bit louder, "Yo!"
I turned and looked. She held out her water bottle to me. "I can't get it open."
"You...want me to open it for you?"
I took it from her and, after nearly crunching the entire top down, got the lid off.
"It's hard, isn't it?" she said as she took it back from me.
This was weird on several levels, but it also marks the first time in my memory that I've been mistaken for a man. I mean, I recently got my hair cut so it's about at my chin, but I also have a nice diamond engagement ring and am wearing big rainbow-colored boots, both of which she could see from where she was sitting. I don't think I look particularly manly.
Funny that as much as I support gender fluidity and breaking gender stereotypes, I still don't like that someone thought I was a man.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011Tweet
The comments on Sunday's post got me thinking about authenticity. If the cultural message is to be inauthentic in our romantic relationships -- in other words, to adopt a particular persona rather than doing whatever comes naturally -- is there an expectation we would be authentic in any part of our lives? After all, aren't your romantic relationships supposed to be your most intimate relationships? If you're putting up a front there, aren't you putting up a front everywhere?
This reminded me of something that happened the summer before I started college. (I'm smiling to myself right now because I have at least one reader who might remember this incident.) I was at a weeklong orientation at my college for the members of the scholars program I was in. The week was packed full of activities, tours, and speakers (faculty and staff of the college).
One speaker was a political science professor who came to talk to us about something vague, something like life goals. I remember he ended up contradicting himself and not really making a clear point, but maybe that was because I threw him off so much. See, early in his presentation, he asked a question: "Who here pretends to be someone they're not?"
The question really confused me, and I was curious to see who would raise their hand to such a question. As it turned out, everyone did. Everyone but me. Not being one to cave to peer pressure, though, I kept my hand down. Which, in itself, proved my truthfulness, I guess.
Apparently he was not expecting this, because he felt the need to single me out and pressure me to agree. He elaborated on his question. "You know, if you're telling a story to a friend, you might make things up, so you look better." This had never occurred to me (which might explain why I generally suck at telling stories, and tend to interrupt other people when they get details wrong). He provided several other examples, none of which really struck a chord with me, and then gave up and decided to proceed with his lecture.
As I said, I really messed up the flow of things for him, because he then had to sarcastically qualify most of his statements: "Everyone -- except Jessica, of course..." "You know when you... unless you're Jessica." I sat there, embarrassed but defiant, during the whole thing, seething.
When I got home, I asked my best friend, "Do you think I pretend to be someone I'm not?" She seemed taken aback and asked what I meant, and I explained what had happened. She said no, she thought I was very true to myself, and said when I'd asked that, she'd thought I was about to reveal some big secret, which would have shocked her.
This is not intended to come off as, "Look at me, I'm so authentic, I'm awesome." What I've been thinking about is that, despite the lip service paid to "being yourself," it can have a great social cost to actually follow that advice. Here I was, a shy first-year student who hadn't really made any friends yet, being publicly called out in front of everyone for refusing to just go with the flow.
In middle school, when I chose to be on the gifted "team" for my core classes, our team was ostracized not just by the other kids but by the administrators as well, who refused to acknowledge our team's number when calling off teams but would instead call "7-0," "7-1," and "...the gifted kids" or "anyone else I didn't call." About half of the kids on our team managed to straddle the social lines, working hard enough at school to stay on the team but not hard enough that they couldn't be popular. I, on the other hand, embraced my nerdiness and made friends with those who did the same.
Growing up I damaged more than one friendship by speaking out when I didn't like the way someone was being treated, rather than turning a blind eye or just gossiping about it like everyone else. At the time, I couldn't understand how friends could say to me, "You're right, that's terrible, you should go talk to her," and then turn around and say, "I can't believe Jessica said that to you." But now I get that it was a game of alliances that I never quite mastered, and so I made enemies instead. I've found that whenever I've pissed people off in my life, it generally comes from speaking too bluntly and not sugar-coating my thoughts.
One of my happiness commandments is "Be Jessica," and for me that's not so much about finding out who I am and acting that way as it is being OK with the fact that who I am doesn't always fit with social norms. It's catching myself when I think, "I wish I were ________" and just celebrating who I am, no matter the consequences.
I think that, at the end of the day, living with integrity is even more important than being happy. It leads to its own kind of happiness: the ability to point to your life, to your actions, and say, "This is who I am, just as God made me."
On a related note, this post is particularly interesting because the author chose to not to do something that would make her son happy in order to help him fit in better. It raises an interesting question about whether parents ought to try to insulate their kids from bullying by helping them seem more "average" and not stand out.
What do you think? Is being yourself, no matter the cost, worth it, or is it worth trying to play the game sometimes to fit in? And is it more important to fit in when you're younger and less self-confident?
Sunday, May 22, 2011Tweet
There's something that bothers me about how many movies, TV shows, and books portray romantic relationships, and I've come up with a phrase to describe it: Bubble relationships.
The main character will go to great lengths to craft a particular image for themselves, and then when this image successfully attracts a significant other they go to even greater lengths to avoid letting the other person see any kind of flaw or stumble upon their "real self." It's as if the relationship is a fragile, free-floating soap bubble and all it will take is one tiny slip-up and *pop* -- the relationship will immediately fall apart.
My few, short-lived relationships in middle school and high school were this way. I was constantly terrified I was going to do something wrong that would make my boyfriend immediately break up with me.
One moment stands out in my mind: Freshman year of high school, I was standing around with my friends before school started and holding hands, possibly for the first time, with my new boyfriend. My purse slipped off my shoulder and landed on my wrist, weighting our hands down. My other hand was occupied for some reason, so the logical thing to do would have been to let go of his hand, pull the purse back up or set it on the ground, then resume holding hands.
But I didn't. Neither of us moved, and we stayed like that, uncomfortably, until it was time to go to class. I think we were both afraid to "break" the moment and let go for even a second.
This memory has stayed with me because I remember the feeling of that moment whenever I see these kind of bubble relationships show up in plots. I would even say that this is the model our culture holds up for how a relationship works -- pre-marriage, that is. Marriage is portrayed as the time when reality comes crashing in and you discover all of the ugliness that you were both hiding during the entire courtship.
Think about it: The standard recommended procedure for a woman to find a significant other is some version of "Get dressed up, wear makeup, go to a bar/club, flirt." You're supposed to adopt this particular persona, and then there's no clear timeline for when you get to drop this role and just do whatever comes naturally. Our culture doesn't really have a script for creating authentic relationships, something like "just be yourself, involve yourself in things that interest you, make friends, and you'll find a mate."
The fact that there are so many magazines trying to tell women how to attract men implies, by itself, that you don't have the natural instincts to be attractive. You have to follow specific directions to attract someone, and then once you've got him, you can't do anything that might disrupt this careful setup you've created. If it takes this much effort to attract a guy in the first place, then clearly any wrong move could destroy the whole thing. Pop the bubble.
This is a terrible model.
One, it puts undue stress on both people in the relationship not to screw things up. Let's face it: everyone has flaws, and that's OK. The notion that you have to be perfect, or at least be a certain way, in order to be attractive is incredibly stressful. Plus, it's hard to make a distinction between "these are my flaws I should really be working on changing" and "these are my flaws that are not harmful and are just part of me" when you're trying to keep up some kind of perfect image.
Two, it's going to take everyone a lot longer to find the right partner if no one really gets a clear picture of the person they're dating until much later.
I'm not saying everyone should be laying out everything about themselves to everyone they meet, but I don't think you can really have an honest, trusting relationship with someone if you're actively trying to hide things about yourself or living in fear that they'll break up with you if they discover your "true self."
I'm incredibly grateful for the fact that Mike and I were friends before we dated, and even grateful that I spent a good month trying to dissuade him when he was courting me. By the time we started dating, I wasn't afraid I was going to accidentally do something that would make him fall instantly out of love with me. I knew that he'd already seen me for who I was, 100%, and loved that, so I could continue to be myself and it would be OK.
Of course, we discovered annoying quirks about one another as time went on, but I knew that he loved who I was at the core, so I could direct my energy at true self-improvement (like learning to express my feelings and not bottle up anger) rather than trying to manage my image and which "parts" of me I would let him see.
What do you think? Is this phenomenon of "bubble relationships" confined to the media and high school relationships, or have you seen this happen with other people?
Friday, May 20, 2011Tweet
Since you got a short post yesterday, here's a semi-long one -- an attempt to do justice to the ridiculously long process I have had to go through to get reimbursement from my health flex plan. Why, I wonder, is it so freakin' hard to accomplish anything related to health insurance?
- September 2010: My doctor tells me to take a bunch of vitamins so mono won't totally destroy my body. I ask to get a letter for my insurance company because I can pay for it with my flex health plan if I have a doctor's letter.
- October 2010: I call my doctor's office and finally get the letter I need, which lists the vitamins I should be taking, how much of them I should be taking, and to please give me whatever insurance coverage I need. I then mail the letter to my insurance company and, thankfully, make a copy of it ahead of time.
- November-December 2010: We are out of money in our flex plan for the year so there's no point in sending in any reimbursements.
- January 2011: I go to my company benefits day at work and talk to the people from our health insurance who run the flex plan. I have, ahead of time, checked out all of the documents online and the only mention of a doctor's letter is on a list that says "OTC Reimbursable with Doctor's Letter" and has vitamins on it. So I ask the reps about this and they say I can send in receipts along with a copy of the letter from my doctor telling me to take those vitamins and I will be reimbursed. It's a good thing I kept a copy because they don't and I have to send one in every time.
- March 2011: I go back through all of our grocery receipts, pull out the ones that have vitamins, photocopy them (not an easy task since most of them are longer than the scanner and I have to fold them so the date of purchase and the item price are visible), highlight the vitamins, fill out the form, photocopy my copy of the doctor's letter, and send the whole lot off to my insurance company.
- April 2011: I get mailed a reply from my insurance company saying that my request has been denied. Why? Because the doctor's letter didn't say what "specific medical condition" the vitamins were for. I go back over every document I have from them and everything on their entire website and I can't find this requirement anywhere.
I should remind you at this point that what I'm attempting to do is be reimbursed from money that was taken out of my paycheck for my flex plan. So I'm asking for permission to spend my own money on these stupid vitamins. I get the benefit, of course, of the money having been taken out pre-tax, which is really no benefit given all the hell I have to go through to get this stuff reimbursed.
So after finally getting back in to see the doctor yesterday (which I wasn't supposed to be able to do until June but I played up how sick I was to get squeezed in for a May appointment), I had to tell three different people there that I needed a replacement letter before someone actually promised to do something about it.
Since I was missing key information the first time and really didn't want to go through this whole process again, I decided the safest thing was to call my insurance company and ask for what was supposed to go in the letter.
I explained the situation and how my original letter was rejected for not having enough information, and how there was nothing on the website that explained what should be in the letter, and would she please tell me everything that needed to be in the letter before I went through this whole thing again.
Her response? I kid you not: "Well, your doctor's office should know what goes in a doctor's letter." Like I didn't need to concern myself with the details.
OK, did you not listen to anything I just said? They did write a letter and it was apparently wrong.
So I tried again: "The first letter I sent was apparently missing information. Could you please tell me all the information you need to be in that letter so I can tell my doctor's office?"
"Well, you know, length of treatment..."
"OK, length of treatment," I repeated, making it clear I was writing down what she was saying.
"And the medical condition or diagnosis code," she said.
I thanked her and then attempted to explain again that none of this information was on the website so there was no possible way to know any of this without either calling first or going through the whole process and getting denied.
"Well, as long as you have the length of treatment and medical condition or diagnosis code in the letter, you'll be fine," she said.
I tried again.
"OK, but what I'm saying is, it would be really helpful if you would add this information to your website or to the documents about reimbursement so that no one else has to go through the process of submitting all their paperwork and getting denied for something they didn't know they needed."
"OK," she said, clearly impatient and ready to get me off the phone.
I thanked her, hung up, and called my doctor's office, where I talked to a super-unhelpful woman who finally put me on the phone with the woman in charge of writing doctor's letters, and I repeated back to her what was supposed to be in the letter. She sounded a bit baffled.
"Well... what is your length of treatment?"
At this point I wanted to cry. "I don't know! I was in there yesterday and my doctor doesn't even know what's wrong with me. He just said he wants me to keep taking these vitamins and I want to but I can't keep buying them if I'm not going to be reimbursed."
She said she would ask him. I said maybe she should wait anyway because I was supposed to get this blood test to check my vitamin levels and maybe the doctor would add more vitamins and uggggh this is so freaking complicated.
She also sounded glad to get off the phone with me.
Honestly, I understand the purpose of having paperwork and processes and documenting things, but what makes these processes so painful is the combination of incomplete directions and unhelpful people. That is what makes everything take so much time.
Agree? Disagree? Do I just have really bad luck?
Thursday, May 19, 2011Tweet
This will be a short post because it is way past my bedtime -- but I had a doctor's appointment after work that took forever so all of my normal Thursday stuff got pushed late.
My doctor doesn't know what's wrong with me and wants to rule out everything possible before saying that I have some kind of chronic case of mono. (I did clearly have mono on my last blood test, but that doesn't mean that that is still causing my symptoms.) He said on my last blood test my blood sugar was elevated but not quite in the danger zone (which theoretically could be a sign of pre-diabetes), but that's probably just because I didn't fast because it was a blood test for mono and not for blood sugar and no one told me to fast.
He told me to come in for another blood test. Again, he didn't tell me to fast -- and you don't make an appointment, you just show up to the lab -- but I'm assuming I should this time? He wants to test my vitamin levels anyway to make sure that the stuff I'm taking is putting me at the right levels.
Reasons the blood sugar explanation makes sense:
- On the days I feel really weak when I get home from work, I usually feel better after eating something.
- Sometimes I get weird headaches at bedtime that I have a feeling have to do with blood sugar levels.
- My glucose levels were not quite in the high zone even though I ate right before the blood test.
- If it is diabetes-related, I would be very surprised. From what I know about diabetes, I'm like the least likely person to get it. I'm thin, I exercise regularly, I eat healthy, and I rarely eat sweets or sugary things.
- I eat the same exact thing for breakfast and lunch every day, so any variations from day to day would have to be entirely a result of dinner. I rarely have any kind of dessert or late-night snack.
However, my doctor wants me to do a gluten-free diet for two weeks to rule out celiac disease because the blood test for that is really expensive, so I don't want to introduce any other variables (like eating snacks between meals) that would make it difficult to pinpoint the cause of any improvement.
Ugh. I miss being healthy.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011Tweet
I had a topic for today, but then my life veered sideways, like Willy Wonka's elevator, and I found myself staring at an entirely new sets of concerns.
Mike has been back home (where his family is) the past few days, helping his mom move. Typically I try to maintain privacy on here when it comes to my in-laws, but now that this is being thrust upon me, I will at least provide the background that his parents are divorced and he has a brother a few years younger who has lived, unsuccessfully, on his own, with their mother, and now with their father.
Today I checked my phone at the end of my lunch hour and found a long text from Mike with concerns about how the current situation was not going well for his brother, who has severe depression among other issues (and is trying to quit smoking), because his parents were not understanding what kind of help his brother needed. Following this was another text asking if he could bring his brother home -- to our home, to our 1-bedroom apartment -- with him tomorrow. For a "short time."
I'm sharing this here not only because of the short-term effect this is going to have on my life, but because I like to provide a window into how my marriage works.
I went into the hallway by the elevators and called Mike. I listened to him talk through all the concerns he had about the current situation with his family and why he thought he'd be able to help give his brother structure. He listened to me as I laid out every possible concern I had and everything that I wanted him to think through before bringing his brother home, knowing as I did so that there is no cure for Mike's unfailing optimism about every plan he ever makes.
I found myself dangerously close to using those hyperbolic phrases "you always" and "you never," but I tried to keep the conversation in the realm of honesty. There is a reason you should know your spouse's flaws, and it is not so you can throw them back in his face when you feel criticized. It is so that you can say, "Here are my concerns about this idea, and here's why, based on what has happened before."
In the end, the compromise was that his brother could come for one week, provided that his bus ticket back was bought in advance and with the understanding that Mike was not going to be satisfied when the week was up and was going to believe that he could do more to help if he just had another week, and that he was going to have to deal with that.
(If this all sounds harsh or selfish and you're picturing Mike's brother as some meek, helpless person who just needs love and care, know that he can have a temper and that Mike has been known to break promises to me to avoid provoking that temper. That is not a situation I want to live in without a clear end date.)
It's really, really hard sometimes to know when to say no and when to just trust. I could have said, "Remember this time and this time when you said you were going to stand up to your brother and you didn't? How will this be different?" But your spouse always has a trump card, and that is, "You have to trust me that I have changed and this time will be different."
There are a lot of ways that trust plays into a marriage, and this is one of the more unexpected ones, I think. If you can't trust that your spouse has the ability to change, you will never allow them the opportunity to prove themselves. And so this whole next week is going forward on Mike's trust that his brother can follow through on making positive change if Mike just provides him the structure and the motivaion, and on my trust that Mike is going to be as tough as he says he will be when his brother throws a fit and refuses to cooperate.
If I have to, I'll spend the weekend and the beginning of next week at my parents' house. I'm willing to trust, but I'm not stupid enough not to have my own backup plan.
Sunday, May 15, 2011Tweet
Back in April, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and went through an internal struggle, documented here and here, about my consumption of non-local foods and meat from CAFOs.
I finally decided that I was happy taking a few small steps: subscribing to a local CSA (community-supported agriculture) share and avoiding meat when eating out. I decided that a few steps in the right direction was better than trying to make a vast lifestyle switch and quickly giving up. This is right in line with what Gretchen Rubin calls the "moderator/abstainer" difference. I am a moderator -- the thought of giving up bacon or lunch meat for the rest of my life, right now, is too much for me. I want to support sustainable food practices, and I want to reduce my dependence on CAFO meat, but I don't need to go all out to do so.
Here's the problem, though: Our culture likes to put people in boxes. Either you're a vegetarian or you're not a vegetarian. I went out to eat at Chili's with my family shortly after making this decision, and Mike and I ended up combing the menu trying to find something without meat that I could eat. The next time we were at my parents' for dinner they were serving kebabs, and I felt weird being like, "Oh yeah, I know I took forever to find a non-meat item at Chili's, but it's cool if you want to grill me up a big stick of meat from wherever." So I had an all-vegetable kebab.
My own mental description for my eating habits has been "selective meat eater" -- that is, I will eat meat if I know how it was raised. But I don't know if I really want to go that far, even. I'd still prefer to simply take the step of reducing my meat consumption by cutting out meat when eating out. There's no good way to explain that, though.
I think this xkcd comic captures it well: Our culture doesn't take well to doing things halfway. The assumption is that if you really care about the things you say you do, you'll go all out for those causes. You have to jump from the meat-eater box to the vegetarian box -- you can't straddle them and make up your own definition of how much meat you'll eat.
We've still been eating meat at home, with the assumption that that meat would start coming from our CSA, but I'm starting to get nervous because we haven't received any pickup information from our CSA, and I've sent two e-mails asking if our application was received, with no response. So as my meat-eating options dwindle, my whole reassurance of, "It's OK, I'll still have meat to eat at home," is kind of failing.
Mike has been very supportive of my wanting to eat less meat, but almost too much so. He's going to be gone for most of the week, and so we went shopping to pick up some meals for me, and he immediately went after non-meat options only. I really appreciate that, but it puts me in an awkward position because, again, I have no good reason to say, "Oh, no, actually, this meat is OK." It's still just as likely to come from a CAFO far away as any restaurant meat is -- maybe more so.
Basically, I feel like I tried to take one small, manageable step and ended up falling down the rabbit hole into the "vegetarian" box. And I'm not really ready to be there.
---This whole experience has provided an unexpected twist of understanding for me. One of the books I read recently was The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson, a YA book that includes two female high school friends who start dating each other. One, Mel, has known for a while that she was gay and this becomes her opportunity to come out, while the other, Avery, has never been interested in a girl before and finds herself resisting the label of "lesbian."
This is hard for other people to understand: How can you be dating a girl and not be a lesbian? But Avery doesn't know -- does she like just this one girl, or other girls? How about this guy she's interested in? Does she really like him? Is she bisexual? Does she like being with him more than with Mel? Or vice versa? Will she want to be with other guys or girls in the future?
From the budding, confusing feelings of a teenage crush, she feels forced to pick and stick with one definitive label for her sexuality.
I mean, it was hard enough for me as a straight high schooler to sort out my feelings about various guys: Do I really like him, or do I just think I like him because he held my hand at the school dance? If the answer to that question had had ramifications for my entire self-definition, I don't know what I would have done.
It's no wonder it's so hard for some people to come to terms with their sexual orientation. Besides the potentially vast social ramifications of putting yourself in one box vs. another, you're being asked to extrapolate from a confusing mass of feelings about one person or another to decide how you want to say you feel about an entire gender for the rest of your life.
I have a lot of friends who place themselves at various points on the LGBTQ spectrum, and I don't pretend to understand every one of their coming out experiences, but I'm starting to gain some appreciation for how much pressure our societal labels can put on what is essentially a matter of self-discovery. You're not "allowed" to date another woman and then say that you're not interested in women, as a rule. There's no label for that. Just like there's no label for only sometimes not eating meat, or kind of trying to buy more local foods but not really being a hard-and-fast locavore.
I get that labels serve a purpose. You have to check off a vegetarian box so your host knows whether to serve you meat or not. You find out if your friend is gay or straight or bi so you know whether to offer to set him up with your cousin. But I still think if we expanded our vocabulary, maybe we'd be a lot better at embracing all shades of diversity.
Friday, May 13, 2011Tweet
I started thinking today (and by that I mean yesterday... stupid Blogger outage) about how many things are part of my daily life that probably wouldn't be if I had to pay for them. I have a tendency to assume that I'm the last one to find out about things and that everyone already knows about them, so I'm always surprised when someone doesn't know what I'm talking about and gets excited to learn about something I use.
With that in mind, I thought I'd share with you the many magical things you can use for free in the hopes that at least one will be new to you. I've also included tips that may help you use old services in new ways.
If you've been around my blog for any length of time, you've heard me promote Mint. It's not without its problems, and if you really need to know how much you're going to have at the end of the month down to the last penny, then you may want to go with a paid service. Having said that, if you're looking for a free, easy way to track activity on all of your accounts at once and to make a spending plan based on how much you plan to bring in each month (plus account for any long-term goals you're saving for), you can't get much easier than this.
A tip: Mint handles every-few-months expenses pretty badly. If you have a $200 purchase every four months, it'll take $50 out of your budget every month, then take the full $200 out the fourth month. It's better to calculate the amount per month, add that to your monthly budget, and then split the eventual purchase into four parts and change the dates.
2. Delicious Bookmarks
Add the Delicious tools to your browser and you can bookmark any site, marking it with tags and a description if you'd like, and then have access to your whole list of bookmarks from any computer. Any bookmarks not marked as "private" are viewable and searchable by others, and at times I've found this to be a better solution than Google when I'm searching for a website that does something specific.
A tip: If you have trouble keeping track of all the blogs and articles you've left comments on, next time you leave a comment, bookmark the page as private and tag it with something like "comments," so when the mood strikes you can revisit those pages and see if anyone's replied to your comments.
3. Google Reader
If you read a lot of blogs or other sites that post regular updates, chances are most of them have an RSS feed, and you can put all of those feeds into Google Reader. That way, the only page you ever have to check is your Reader, and you'll automatically see if any of your favorite sites have updated recently. I'm a big fan of Gmail myself, but you can actually set up a Google account with any e-mail address.
A tip: In Google Reader, go to Settings (the gear in the top right), then Goodies, and scroll all the way down. You'll see a Subscribe link you can drag into your toolbar, and then if you find a new website you like you can simply click this link and have the feed added to your Reader.
I used to think podcasts were weird and not for me, until I actually started searching through the iTunes store. Podcasts offer the opportunity to learn about practically anything, and the good ones offer engaging, bite-sized pieces of information you can listen to at your convenience. I have a 20-minute walk as part of my commute every day, and podcasts make the time go by quickly. They're great for driving too, and you can look for ones that are as long as your commute or several shorter ones. My favorite are the Quick and Dirty Tips podcasts, but I also listen to French lessons, The Daily Boost, One Extraordinary Marriage, Freakonomics, and NPR news summaries.
A tip: Create a smart playlist in iTunes that only holds podcasts you haven't listened to yet, sorted by date. This way they'll play back-to-back without having to select each individual one you want to listen to. As you listen, they'll be automatically taken off the playlist.
5. PaperBackSwap.com and other free books
OK, I don't use PaperBack Swap every day, but I do read or listen to free books every day. They've got such a good selection in our local library network that it's been a very long time since I bought a book. However, occasionally there are books that I want my own copies of for long-term reference, re-reading, or lending out to others, and for that I use PaperBack Swap. By listing 10 books I wanted to get rid of, I got 2 free credits to order books from other members. When someone wants a book from me, I just pay the cost of mailing it, and then in exchange I get a credit to select a book and have it mailed for free right to my apartment. I particularly like using it to order audiobooks (usually 2 credits), which our library doesn't have as many of, but which I like to listen to when I'm not listening to podcasts. I'll also try to get audiobooks when there's a book I want Mike to read, since he's more likely to listen than to read.
A tip: Before importing an audiobook CD into iTunes, select all the tracks and choose Advanced->Join Tracks. After importing all the CDs, use Doug's Bookmarkable AppleScript to make your iPod treat it as an audiobook. Keep in mind that if the audiobook is from the library, legally you need to delete it out of your iTunes when you return the audiobook. (I wouldn't want it taking up that much space anyway.)
I've got several Twitter accounts (my main one is here), and HootSuite provides a dashboard where I can switch between feeds without having to log in and out of Twitter. I can post something simultaneously to multiple feeds or to Twitter and Facebook; I can schedule tweets to post later (great if I have a blog post scheduled to post later as well); I can also shrink URLs right on the dashboard and then see how many clicks I get from various tweets.
A tip: In addition to adding your various accounts to the dashboard, you can add streams of Twitter searches. If you're trying to monitor trends in an industry, for example, this is a great way to keep organized, and you can put several different searches on the same at-a-glance page.
Dropbox is an incredibly easy way to keep files synched across multiple computers and have access to files from anywhere. There is a space limit, but you can get more space if you invite friends and family to join the site. Dropbox is simply a folder on your computer, but anything you put in there will show up inside the Dropbox folder on every other computer it's installed on. You can also log on to the Dropbox website and access those same files if you're on a computer without a personal Dropbox installed. I was working from home yesterday and accessing my work computer remotely via LogMeIn, which is another great free site, but it can run kind of slowly, so I prefer to work on files on my home computer when possible. Because I have Dropbox on my work and home computers, I could remotely drag-and-drop work files into the Dropbox, open them up on my home computer, work on them, then remotely drag all the files out of Dropbox back into the folders on my work computer.
A tip: You can also share folders with others. If you're actually collaborating on a document, I much prefer Google Docs, but if you just all need access to the same files, Dropbox is a good option.
This is one of those that I assume most bloggers know about already, but maybe not. You can add an invisible site tracker to any website so you can see where your visitors are located, how they're getting to your site (Google search, other site's link, etc.), and how long they're staying. This was how I found out my DivaCup review had been posted on DivaCup's Facebook page -- within a few hours, I suddenly had about 200 visits all coming from Facebook directly to that post.
A tip: StatCounter showed me the importance of adding target="_blank" code to all of my external links so they open in new windows. Otherwise people leave and don't come back!
If you're worried about losing your files when your hard drive crashes (and eventually it will) but can't afford an external hard drive or online storage space, this is a good option. It allows you to upload your files to another computer, then will sync the files once a day as long as both computers are on. When we first got it, it said that we'd have to pay some fee after the first 30 days, but that never happened and their website now doesn't say anything about that, just that it's free for personal backup. My files are backed up to Mike's computer, which won't help if we have some major natural disaster since both computers are in the same place, but at least protects me from a hard drive crash.
A tip: Even though the other person doesn't have access to your files, it does take up the same space on their computer that it's taking up on yours, so be aware of that before asking a friend to swap backups with you. You can change which files are backing up to only include the ones you're most concerned about, which will help save space.
Here's another one I assume everyone knows about, but it's worth sharing just in case. Pandora lets you pick a song or an artist and builds a custom radio station of music that's similar. You can mark songs thumbs up or thumbs down to help it better understand what you're looking for, and you can also add additional "seeds" -- artists or songs -- to a station to give it variety. The free version has audio ads and a monthly listening limit of 40 hours, but I find it's still better than a traditional radio station for listening at work.
A tip: If you're looking for a certain type of music or a "mood," consider seeing what other users have created first rather than creating a station from scratch. Pandora seems to have buried the option of searching for stations created by other users, instead wanting you to connect using Facebook or Twitter to share stations with your friends, but you can still get to all shared stations. The quickest method I've found is to click "Help" and then the "Shared" button at the top, and "Find a shared station." Then you can search for whatever keywords you want.
I hope you learned something new! I should mention that I have no affiliation with any of these sites... I'm not that cool, haha. These are just things I love using and hope they'll be of some use to you as well. Please share your own favorite free things in the comments -- I love learning about new sites and services!
Tuesday, May 10, 2011Tweet
I posted last week about how I was frustrated that I wasn't making my personal projects a priority amidst all the other things I needed to do and wanted to do. While lack of time is certainly part of the explanation -- I'm at work 8 hours, plus 3 hours total commuting each workday -- this didn't seem like a complete enough explanation. After all, there are days where I find myself just wasting time online or looking for things to do, yet I don't start on those projects. Why not?
I started thinking about this fact: When Mike is gone for the evening, I get a LOT accomplished. I embark on large-scale projects that I wouldn't normally do, like cleaning the kitchen. In fact, I was starting to worry, now that he's unemployed, that I wouldn't have these uninterrupted blocks of time anymore. So I asked myself, why does that matter? Why does he have to be gone for me to do anything?
(I should probably note at this point that this is not intended as a criticism of my husband, but rather a look at my own less-than-ideal reactions to being home with him.)
I came up with three reasons:
- When Mike is gone, I have the ability to surprise him. That is part of the reason I do things like clean the kitchen. I am thinking, "Won't it be a nice surprise for him to get home and find the kitchen clean?" When he's home, if I'm cleaning the kitchen and he's sitting on the computer playing video games, I'm more likely to think, "Why am I doing this work while he's just sitting there?" This also opens up the possibility that he would comment on how I'm doing something, which would make me really annoyed. Not that he would, I'm just overly sensitive to the possibility.
- Mike makes a lot of noise when he is in a good mood. He sings, whistles, hums, laughs, and wants to tell me all the great ideas that go through his head every 2 minutes. This caused a big problem on the days I was working from home last summer because it made it very difficult to accomplish anything. Since we live in a small apartment, there's not really anywhere I can go that's separate from him, plus he gets upset if I shut myself in the bedroom to get away from him. So when I'm home from work, it's easier to do mindless things than try to work on something that requires concentration. OK, maybe this one is on him. But I can't really begrudge him being cheerful or wanting to be with me, right?
- Mike and I spend a lot of evenings doing our own thing on our separate computers. I always feel vaguely guilty about this, like we should be making the most of the time we have together before we have kids, so when he suggests doing something (playing a board game, watching a movie, etc.) I feel compelled to drop what I'm doing to spend time with him. He tends to be spontaneous about these things and sometimes gets annoyed if I agree to do something but don't want to do it immediately, because he is in the mood to do it immediately. I realized that the upshot of this pattern was that I was avoiding involving myself in anything that couldn't be wrapped up within 10 minutes. Starting up something that involved spreading out papers on the floor or otherwise settling in for a solid period of work would make me feel like I was isolating myself from him and rejecting in advance any suggestions he might have for things we could do together.
Has anyone else run into this problem of sacrificing actual accomplishment time for potential partner time? Do you have any other re-framing suggestions?
Monday, May 9, 2011Tweet
I've joined a great site called 20 Something Bloggers. One of my first orders of business was to get some feedback from people unfamiliar with my blog on whether it was something they'd read. The consensus seemed to be "Your blog is great. I really enjoy your writing and what you write about. But your posts are all really long, and I don't like that. You should make some posts shorter."
I have a couple of thoughts about this:
- If you like the content, it should be OK for it to be a little long. But if the post length turns you off from reading anything in the first place, then that's not good.
- I could try varying up my post length, but I don't want to throw off my regular readers. When one of my favorite blogs pops up in my Reader and then I see it's only a short post, I'm usually disappointed. But then, maybe I'm nobody's favorite blog :)
- Occasionally I do have thoughts for a short post -- something like one "take" out of 7 Quick Takes -- but I don't want to get annoying with too many posts, which is why I stick to my thrice-a-week schedule.
- On a related note: I post Tuesday and Thursday evenings when I get home from work, but most people don't read them until the next day. Maybe I should just say I post on Wednesdays and Fridays and schedule my posts to publish then?
Sunday, May 8, 2011Tweet
Two very important notes:
- This post is not intended as a judgment on anybody. If you are not married and you have had sex, I am not casting judgment on you. This post is intended as a response to people who judge me for choosing to wait until I was married to have sex.
- The usual disclaimer that if you don't want to read about sex, you don't want to think about me having sex, or you are my mother, you should skip this one.
So you can imagine, if people who had kissed before marriage felt somehow threatened by us, how much more threatened people who had had sex before marriage felt.
And when people feel threatened or judged, they start coming up not only with reasons why what they're doing is OK, but with reasons why what you're doing is actually a bad idea.
The number one reason I've heard for why you shouldn't wait until marriage to have sex is: What if the sex is really bad? What if you're just not a good match sexually?
I find this argument rather stupid for a number of reasons, but let me use an example from a book I read recently to explain why I disagree with the premise of these questions.
In my quest to read funny books this month, I have ended up with a few recommended books that ended up not only not being that funny but actually being kind of sad. (This may be because I'm overly sensitive.) In Milkrun by Sarah Mlynowski, the main character tries desperately for the entire book to find a boyfriend and basically puts her whole self-worth into whether or not she can find a good guy to date. (Not surprisingly, this was the inspiration for my previous post.)
She eventually ends up with Tim, who is sweet, cute, nice, loving, etc., everything she's looking for, and then she finally gets him to have sex with her. And it's terrible. He ejaculates the moment he enters, then immediately cuddles up with her, seeing no problem with the situation. She's appalled. She doesn't know what to do. She consults with her best friends. She has sex with him again with the same result. She decides she has no choice but to dump him, since "Life's too short for bad sex."
The joke, I guess, is supposed to be that he says he's had sex with thirteen women, and she can't imagine how none of them told him that he was bad at sex.
And yet, she doesn't either.
Saying you should have sex before marriage because "what if the sex is terrible" is operating on the premise that the Tims of the world are just hopeless cases who will never end up marrying anyone unless it's some poor girl who waits until she's locked into holy matrimony to discover his lack of sexual ability.
When Mike and I got married, we didn't know what the hell we were doing. We didn't even know how to kiss. It took a couple of days until he learned to keep his mouth closed and stop slobbering on me. And that was fine. I wasn't horrified or immediately regretting that I'd married him. (Although I did ask my matron of honor, "Is this how kissing is supposed to be? Is it always this wet?") I won't get into the sexual details, but that took quite a while as well. And we're still learning.
Here's the key, though: We have trust. We have open communication. We are not afraid to talk about sex, and not afraid to ask for what we need from each other.
And because we're married, we recognize that we're in this for the long haul. We know we have to put some effort into it. We're not trying to build the best marriage by continually searching for the ideal partner. We're building the best marriage out of what we've got -- the two of us, flaws and all.
Thursday, May 5, 2011Tweet
When Mike and I had been dating for a few months, he told me something that confirmed that everything I'd thought and been taught in high school about dating and being attractive was a lie.
He told me that the moment he knew he was in love with me was when we were eating dinner with a group of friends in the residence hall dining room. It was before we were dating, before he'd shown any interest in me, before we'd even become close friends. Here's what happened: Another friend got up to dump her tray with a piece of garlic bread sitting untouched on her plate, and I asked her if I could have it.
I'm not sure if it was because Mike thought I was unusually self-confident, or just appreciated that I didn't like to see food going to waste, or some other explanation other than that I really enjoy eating. (I suppose all of the above are true about me.)
Knowing this, I wish I could go back and tell my high school self to stop trying to be attractive.
It kind of upsets me, actually, to think about all the days when I let myself freeze in class because I had worn some cute baby tee to school instead of wearing a sweater. To think about the stress that went into unsuccessfully trying to make my hair something other than a gigantic mass of frizz on my head. (Think: Hermione Granger.) I rarely wore makeup despite my mom's encouragement to do so, but sometimes after I'd gotten all dressed up for a school dance I would convince myself it was worth the effort and would wear it for a week or so.
I cried too many tears over the fact that all my girl friends had boyfriends, and I never got asked to any dance except two, and never by any guy I actually liked, and I usually had to ask several different guys to find someone who would go with me to the "turnabout" dances. For someone who was supposedly self-confident and mature and intelligent, I invested too much of my self-worth in whether or not (usually not) I received attention from guys.
Would it have made any difference, I wonder, if I could have gone back in time and told my high school self that I would meet my husband in college, that he would be everything I wanted and more, and that he would fall in love with me not only without my trying but despite my best efforts to dissuade him?
I probably wouldn't have believed it.
Near the end of that same first year of college, a particularly over-dramatic floormate reacted to something I'd said about Mike by loudly lamenting that no guy would ever love her, that she was ugly, etc. etc. I tried to provide some wisdom from my own experience by telling her that if she focused more on just doing things she enjoyed and didn't worry so much about finding a guy, the right one would come in time.
She didn't want to listen to me. I'm not too surprised. A year earlier, I wouldn't have wanted to listen to me, either.
(She's now engaged, by the way.)
So I say all this not really with the hope of convincing anyone of anything, but just to share with the un-paired out there two things that I believe to be true:
- There is no point in attempting to attract as many people as possible. You don't need 12 spouses. Assuming you are meant to be paired with someone for life, as soon as you meet that one person, how many people you attracted before that will become irrelevant.
- If you focus your efforts not on doing things or being someone you think will attract others, but simply by being yourself as proudly and passionately as possible, you will attract that person -- the right person -- much sooner. I know it's a cliché, but it's one of the hardest things to get your head around, and yet I believe it is so, so true.
Life is strange sometimes.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011Tweet
Here's what is on my mind today: College vs. "real life."
This is not an original thought by any means, but it's nonetheless amazing to me to think about how hard I used to work, and how much of my time was taken up by work -- including actual paid work (two jobs), schoolwork (two scholars programs), and working harder than I probably should have for the two student organizations I was in. I don't feel like I can ever legitimately say anymore that I'm "really busy" when I rarely bring work home and I'm not trying to save the world every weekend. (Exaggeration. But I was really passionate about some stuff in college.) Until I have kids, I doubt that my stress level will ever reach the consistently high level that it was for a large part of college.
In college, I was always working on something, and that something always had an end in sight. Either a paper that was due, or a class presentation I was giving on a specific date, or an event I was planning for some other date, or a safe-drinking campaign we were launching, or the newspaper's twice-a-week deadline I had to make, or any one of the many milestones I had to hit in developing my thesis. And so I was constantly accomplishing things. Sure, maybe I wasn't tackling a lot of personal projects or things that gave my life greater meaning, but I was doing things and finishing things.
Now, there are many different things I want to be doing, and ideas I have for projects, but there are too many and it's impossible to prioritize because none of them have deadlines or even have to get done, ever. It's stressful because there's no end in sight. There's no "I can focus all my energy on these projects for four years and then have a life afterwards." This is life, and the projects I want to do get all mixed in with things I have to do like shred junk mail and make doctor's appointments, and things I should do like exercise and go to sleep by 9:00, and usually end up getting worked on only in fits and starts when I find myself with a free evening and nothing I feel obligated to do.
I suppose I accomplish things at work, but more often than not it feels like I'm just putting out fires and pushing papers, rather than actually developing and creating projects I'm proud of. I do that, certainly, and that's why I like my job, but it's not the same as college, where it seemed all I ever did was create things.
Lack of energy is, of course, a big part of the equation here. I couldn't have done all that I did in college if I'd felt like this all the time. And I won't feel like this forever. I have to remind myself of that.
What it comes down to is this: I want to use this life I've been given to create meaningful things. I have ideas of what some of those things are that I want to create. And yet, through a combination of sickness and obligations and a lack of true deadlines for anything, I find myself typically not working on creating those things.
I have no answers or inspiring words today. I just want to know: Am I alone in this? Is it just the mono holding me back, or am I always going to have to make a concerted effort not to let day-to-day to-do items consume my life? Without quitting my job or taking equally drastic measures, how do I bring my focus back to making meaning in my life?
Note: It is entirely possible that today's post is just the mono and the gray skies talking. (Seriously -- it is May! It is time for sun!) If that is the case, I apologize for the melodrama. I'm feeling a little depressed today. Hoping things are better in your world!
Sunday, May 1, 2011Tweet
Today is my 100th post! Hooray! Also, this Friday will be my two-year anniversary of having this blog. Strange to think where I was two years ago: Living with my parents, job-searching, apartment-searching, and planning a wedding!
Thanks to everyone who has taken my Positive Feelings Survey! The results are really fascinating, and I'm itching to start doing some analysis, but I want to get at least 100 responses first. Please feel free to link to the survey on your blog if you're interested!
So it's May 1, which means it's time for a happiness project check-in. I've got several months' worth of resolutions now to summarize, so I'll try to be brief!
- January: I am still doing Wii Fit twice a week, taking my vitamins, and flossing. However, the vitamins are pretty expensive, so I'm going to use up what I have and try taking a break from them once we start getting local produce, since that should have more nutrients anyway.
- February: I'm still keeping up with my journal of things I'm grateful for and things I'm looking forward to, but I think I may switch to a different format, where I just keep ongoing lists of both things. It's hard to think through each time frame (day, week, month, year) every day without repeating things.
- March: I've gotten in the habit of always saving my work and doing my tea and tissues check every day. As with last month, things keep breaking and getting holes, but I'm trying very hard to repair them within a reasonable period of time. My emergency kits are still half-finished. I need to work on that.
- April: Ugh. OK. The good first: I am doing awesome at always keeping an e-mail draft, and I already feel more connected to friends and family because of it. Secondly, I realized I should have better defined social events since I work at a college where I'm always getting invited to different events. But when something is clearly a social event, I'm making an effort to go. I still suck at talking to people while I'm there, though. Which brings me to my third resolution: Pay a compliment. This is way harder than I thought it would be, for a variety of reasons I don't need to go into here. But I'm still pressing on, and I think it's helping to give me an extra push to talk to people when I normally wouldn't.
May's goal is a lot simpler, and comes at a good time. This post from the Happiness Project really jumped out at me because my project so far has been mainly about eliminating sources of guilt (for not exercising, not flossing, not eating right, not maintaining relationships) so that I feel more at peace. But this argument is that it's easier to do all those things when you're happier in the first place. This has been hard for me -- finding things that bring me pure happiness, that aren't wrapped up in "should"s. So I'm glad that I planned this month's theme into the year: Laughter. I have two simple resolutions:
- Read funny books. I looked over my long list of books I want to read -- mainly recommendations I've collected over the past few years -- and 90% of them are serious, deep, philosophical books about life. I do enjoy those books to an extent, but I know that one of the few things that really brings me happiness is reading books that make me laugh. So I ran a couple Internet searches for books and phrases like "laughed out loud" "funniest book I've read" and "funniest book" "long time" to put together a list, then requested a whole ton of them from my library, since most were at other libraries in our network. If you have suggestions to add to my list, please leave them in comments!
- Have lunch with a friend once a month. I know this seems like a resolution that fits better with last month, but I chose this because spending time with friends, particularly one on one, is one of the most consistent sources of laughter in my life. Sending so many e-mails this past month actually helped lay the groundwork for this resolution, and I have lunch scheduled with one of my favorite and funniest friends today. Since my resolutions are supposed to be carried throughout the rest of the year, I figured once a month was a reasonable goal.
And that's it! Nice and simple, some easy sources of more happiness on top of all of the self-improvement I've been cultivating so far.
If you have suggestions for ways to incorporate more laughter into my life, I'd love to hear it! I am not usually a big movie-watcher, but I would be open to suggestions of funny movies as well as books. Thanks! (And don't forget to take/re-post the Positive Feelings survey!)