Friday, June 28, 2013

Red, white, and blue, and geeks too!

The best fourth of July I had was probably the first year I attended CONvergence, a local sci-fi convention held every year over 4th of July weekend. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy cook-outs and fireworks as much as the next gal (well, cook-outs anyway I can take or leave fireworks) and I'm happy to live here in the good ol' US of A, but your typical Independence Day celebration just doesn't stand up to a long weekend of rowdy, geeky fun.

If you've never been to a fan-run convention before, you probably have a very different picture in your mind of what it's like. I know I did before I started going to cons. Events like CONvergence are held at hotels, not convention centers, and they're about more than meeting famous people. They're about meeting other fans, and having fun. Spending time with people I like is a central reason why I go to cons. Every year I see people from college, work, high school, the internet, and of course that other category of "I have no idea how we met, but HI!". And con gives us a chance to catch up, have a drink, play a game, go to dinner... It's just... fun.
My husband and I as Jabba and Leia at a con

Aside from seeing friends, the biggest draw for a lot of people are the parties. Every night at CONvergence each room in the first two floors hosts a party. The parties have themes, food, booze, decorations, and their own unique atmospheres. For example, there's the TARDIS Tea Society party room, where the door looks like a TARDIS (and it is bigger on the inside) and they play Dr. Who and serve tea and adult beverages and cute little British-style finger foods. It's one of the more low-key rooms and one of my favorites. But there are parties of all speeds and intensities, here's just a short list of things I've seen at CONvergence parties: fake political campaigns, zombie snot drinks, massages, pole dancers, body shots with vodka whipped cream, giant inflatable peeps, toast with any topping you can imagine, movies, klingons, delicious meatballs, custom made cupcakes, a completely convincing Star Wars cantina, people in every costume imaginable, and many, many more fun, geeky, spectacles.

There's so much to do and so many things to see, I'm afraid this post is not doing it justice. Stay tuned in 2 weeks and I'll give the skinny on what CONvergence meant to me this year. And have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How many mistakes can 4 college kids make in one road trip?

Back in college, my 3 best friends and I took a road trip from Minnesota to San Francisco by way of the Grand Cannon and Las Vegas. There were more than a couple mistakes made along the way. It was a crazy fun road trip (emphasis on crazy), even if we did do almost $1,000 worth of damage to the car, even if we did make a lot of mistakes. That's what you do when you're young, isn't it? (make mistakes, that is, you don't have to damage cars). But let's start at the beginning. Before we even hit the road we made a tactical packing error, by putting a cooler full of glass beer bottles in the trunk of Ethan's old car. Bump, bump, crash. By our first rest stop there was no more beer. An inauspicious start to be sure.

Our next mistake was believing that we could drive through the night during a snow storm in Nebraska.  You know you're a stupid college kid when it takes you until your tires can barely make traction to start looking for a place to hunker down. We finally pulled off the highway and miraculously made it up the exit ramp and into the parking lot of an old motel. Exactly the type you see in horror movies. And they were out of functioning rooms, functioning being the key word. They had one room with no beds (only mattresses on the floor) and a broken shower, not legally occupiable, that we got for $25 for the night. I'm amazed we didn't get flees. 

Our third mistake was letting somebody who had never driven stick-shift before drive Ethan's old manual Volvo. Within minutes (minutes!) of taking the wheel she let go of the break before engaging the gas and we rolled back smack into a semi truck, smashing the tail lights. For some reason she got to continue driving. And it was fine... until we needed gas, at which point she pulled up to the pump and ran right into the cement barrier post, with just enough force to crack the front bumper. That was the last time she drove the car. 

Thinking about it, I should correct my earlier statement; our first mistake was planning a road trip predicated on the idea that we could just show up at the Grand Canyon in mid-March and get ourselves a nice cozy camp site. When we did arrive at one of the most beautiful places in America (it really is, you should visit), we realized our mistake. So we took some pretty pictures and hit the road again, this time headed to Las Vegas. 

And that was, in a way, our next mistake. Las Vegas is really fun (as I've said before)... once you're 21. Three out of the four of us were under 21. And the one person old enough for drinking and gambling, my beloved future husband, didn't even want to gamble. He was eventually persuaded to put $5 into a slot machine. He came out 25 cents ahead and that was that. We did have some great food at the Paris buffet and a Korean bar-b-que, but that wasn't enough to entice us to stay, so instead we headed on to San Francisco. That part wasn't a mistake, luckily. While there, the fourth member of our crew got to meet up and fly back to school with her boyfriend. And I got to visit California for the first time. It was lovely (although there were many, many hobos).

Our final, and possibly scariest mistake, was again thinking that driving through the night across the western states. Nebraska must have really hated us, because we made it that far before the sleep deprivation and excessive consumption of Blue Ox (a Red Bull knock-off we decided was totally awesome) took their toll. I was driving, and driving pretty fast, when snow blew in quite suddenly (if you've never driven though Nebraska, know that is is flat as hell, and thus incredibly windy, ideal for instant white-out conditions). Before my sleep-deprived brain could react and slow down there was suddenly a semi truck right in front of me. I swerved, my life flashed before my eyes, and then we were in the median ditch. A post knocked off one of the side-view mirrors, but we came to a stop unharmed. We even managed to push our way out of the ditch... once we woke up Josh, who had somehow slept through the whole thing in the back seat.

Luckily that was our last mistake and we made it back to Minnesota in one piece.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

6 Reasons why you should go to the Renaissance Festival (and take the kids!)

My husband, kids, and I love the Renaissance Festival! (yes, we are giant geeks, thankyouverymuch) For the past several years we've been season ticket holders. During fest season you can find is at fest most every weekend day, for at least part of the day anyway (each year the kids' staying power gets stronger and we can stay longer). We've got the costumes (aka garb) and swords and everything. And we're super lucky because the Minnesota Ren Fest is one of the biggest festval sites in the whole country (but there are many more, check it out). But still, some people have somehow managed to go their whole lives without giving it a go. Let's change that for some of you, shall we? I present for your enjoyment and education:

1. The Entertainment - There are a ton of different shows and street performances at the festival. There's humor for adults (like Vilification Tennis, where people hurle insults across then net instead of balls - although some of the insults are about balls) and for kids (like The Whacky Chickens, which despite having seen in a dozen times still gets laughs from the kids... and me.) Our favorite shows though are the musical performances, they can be fun and bawdy or sweet and relaxing (I like fun and bawdy best). I have friends who sing for one group there, DeCantus, and the kids love their music (which they call "fest music") so much that we listen to it year-round (hurray for the modern convenience of CDs)

2. The Costumes - Dressing in "garb" is one of my favorite parts of going to fest. Sometimes I wish I could wear it year-round. But even if you don't have your own costume, part of the fun of fest is admiring the amazing clothing all around. In particular I love the women's clothing. We ladies look hot in these clothes. I don't know if it's because the corsets cinch our waists and thrust up our boobs, or because the big skirts hide our badonkadonk butts, or maybe it's because of the way we hold ourselves as we strut around in this fabulous garb, but something about it just makes me ridiculously happy. And then there are the men. Yes, there are men in codpieces, and yes, I could live without those. But then there are men like my husband who look rugged and awesome. Especially on a hot day when hubs doesn't wear a shirt until his vest... yum. And kids, well that takes little to no explaining. What kid doesn't want to run around all day dressed up as a princess or a knight or a pirate?

3. The Food - If you're a health nut or a culinary snob, this might not be a draw. But if you appreciate food of the on-a-stick variety, you will enjoy yourself. My family loves the giant turkey legs. We can get one of those and all share it and be quite satisfied... until it's time for cream puffs and popovers, which my daughters and I devour while my husband gets himself some fried cheese curds. Since we go there a lot, some days we do pack our own picnic lunch to eat outside the gates, but if you're only going once or twice a year, you should really dive into all the fabulously unhealthy options (and FYI: the bread bowl soups are never as good as they look).

4. The Booze - But forget about food, let's talk about the most important consumable: booze! Fest is filled with it, specifically beer and wine, although a blini is always a good way to start the day. If you've read my Vegas post, you'll know I'm a big fan of the good ol' walking-around drink. Strolling through the grounds with a big mug of beer on a lovely late summer's day, what could be better than that? And how does this make the kids happy? Well, if mama's happy, everybody's happy, right?

5. The Animals - Our festival is full of animals and our kids LOVE it. There's a farm petting zoo with sheep and pigs and goats and chickens, even a giant cow. There are animal rides: horses, elephants, camels, llamas... and let me tell you, a toddler riding a llama is just about the cutest thing ever (but bring your ATM card, animal rides can be pricey). The Minnesota Herpetological Society is there each day with snakes and turtles and lizards that the kids can pet as well. There are also animal shows: the raptor center bird show, the arabian horse show, and my personal favorite, the sheep herding demonstration. I've been ro real zoos with less exciting animal offerings.

6. The Culture - Of all the things, it's the overall culture of fest that is the biggest thing that keeps us coming back week after week, year after year. The people who work there are welcoming, and the atmosphere is filled with light-hearted fun. The kids never get sick of being called "princess" (when they aren't playing in the dirt, then they prefer to be called "mud children"). It also gives us a chance to give them some feeling of freedom/self-determination, because they each get an allowance during fest, and that means they decide for themselves how they want to spend it (we give them enough for either two small rides or one big ride, and if they save money between sessions then they can do more on one day or even buy something special) And it's one place in the world where chivalry and insane pick-up lines are funny and don't feel awkward. It feels more like a big, crazy family.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ali and Ethan sitting in a tree...

The house where we met and had our first... cuddle. ;)
In the fall of 2001, as a new college freshman, I visited the Carleton College's sci-fi house for their open house night. That's where I met Ethan, a junior computer science major with really nice hair. Later that month we went on our first date, first we went out to a coffee shop (where neither of us drank coffee) then went back to the sci-fi house to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000. Days, and  a little confused waffling later we had our first kiss while watching an episode of Star Trek. After kissing, I totally freaked out, like, absolute panic because my last relationship had ended very badly. But Ethan didn't run away, despite my craziness, and we kept dating.

At Carleton Mid-Winter Ball, 2002
Dating Ethan was one of the many things that made my time at Carleton awesome. We discovered that we shared a goofy sense of humor, love for food and travel, and unabashed geekiness. He was a the sweetest guy I'd ever met, bought me flowers, gave me fudge when I was PMSing, came to all my hockey games, and held my hair the first time I got drunk and puked (even though I drunkly told him I'd never love him as much as I loved Star Wars and hockey). It didn't take us long to start talking about the long term, it just felt right.

In the spring of 2002, over a nice dinner at Fuji-ya restaurant (his first time having sushi!), Ethan proposed to me with a poem. Of course I said yes. We were so happy, we rushed back to call our parents and tell them the good news. Well, I was 19 and he was 21 and they did not take it well (at the time it felt so unfair, but now that I have kids I totally get it). So although we were still in love, and still planned to get married, we backed off the official engagement (there hadn't been a ring yet anyway) but we continued dating with the same commitment to each other in our hearts.

A year and a half later Ethan had graduated and moved to North Carolina to work for IBM and we finally got engaged "for real" and I got my ring. At this point we got full support form our families. But being engaged to somebody that lived over a thousand miles a way was hard. During those long years, I visited him on my school breaks and he came to Carleton for as many weekends as he could. And we spent a lot of time on the phone and on chat. Thank god for cell phones and internet. I don't know how long distance relationships survived before them. We did the long-distance relationship thing for 2 years before Ethan moved back to Minnesota.

Finally, on June 25th, 2005, Ethan and I were married, at Carleton, surrounded by friends and family. Since then, we've  traveled abroad, bought a house, moved, bought another house, had two kids, gotten new jobs, adopted a dog, and overall built an amazing life together. Eight years later we're still in love. I still love his goofy sense of humor, how he manages to put up with all my craziness, and, of course, his awesome hair. He's a wonderful husband and amazing father. Like any relationship, we've had our bumps along the way, but we've come through them all stronger than before. And I'm sure we have many more years of kissing and watching Star Trek together to look forward to.

Happy anniversary, Ethan. I love you. So much.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Another awards post! :D

I'm finally getting around to responding to some of the awards people have bestowed upon me. Yay! Also, I want to remind you to look to the right and click the links to follow me on twitter and like my facebook page and all that stuff. It's super fun times.

Thanks to Nicole of The Madlab Blog award and for one of the most entertaining things I've ever read about myself: 
When you come across someone like Alison at AliOfftheMark, who tells it like it is -- or how she perceives it to be, you gotta appreciate the raw and uncensored material. Ali’s not one for sugar-coating things such as the awkwardness of teaching your toddlers how to refer to their “lady parts” and finding some normalcy and practicality in pay-by-the-hour hotels, she keeps it real.

And thanks to My Mom's A Whack Job for the Very Inspiring Blogger award. I hope I really do inspire occasionally. :) So here are the rules:
1: Display the award logo.
2: Link it back to the person that gave it to you.
3: State seven things about yourself.
4: Nominate 15 bloggers for this award and include their links in this blog. 
Seven things about me:
1. I'm doing the award post today because life is otherwise shitting on me today and this makes me feel better.
2. My jeans probably cost as much as the rest of my wardrobe put together because I'm addicted to designer jeans AND thrift store skirts/dresses. I feel like it balances out.
3. I love Star Wars but I have absolutely no interest in Boba Fett.
4. Buying me nice flowers is a cliché way to make me less mad at you... but it totally works.
5. I did my senior thesis (aka "comps" at Carleton) on The Great Leap Forward, and I'm totally going to write up a nerdy post about that one day.
6. I am a woman who does not worship at the house of chocolate. I'd rather have nachos.
7. I hate the word sandwich and type sammich anytime I can get away with it.

And 15 bloggers?  Ok, there are a lot of awesome bloggers out there but I'm totally burned out emotionally and can't pick 15, so here's the list of who has not only made my BlogLoving blog roll, but I actually read all (unsponsored) posts, even if I don't always have the energy to comment, because y'all inspire me every damn day:

Now I'm off to zone out in front of the TV and try to ignore my throbbing leg (had more work done on my tattoo, ow. Awesome, but painful)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Oh what dramatic beings teenagers can be...

Many times on this blog I have mentioned that I am a huge Star Wars fan, and that I am also, and always have been, a little weird. Luckily for me I also have almost always been a writer... in the sense that I write things down. So not only do I remember being a really dorky teen with a big crush on Luke Skywalker, I have proof. Please enjoy this diary entry I made when I was 14 (which also goes to prove how desperately bad my spelling was, and honestly, still is if I don't have access to spellcheck).

Hello, I'm back and tonight I hope to have adiquite time to write an entry
of acceptable length.  Unlike the last three time I have attempted to 
write to you this time I do not have to rush off to hockey soon nor do I 
have the over hanging thret of dinner on it's way.  
  I feel as though I have been born again into the hands of Luke Skywalker
It may sound strange to you but the feeling is one of love happieness and,
though I do not wish to acnolage it, a feeling of empending doom.  I have
felt this feeling before but then I did not know of the eventual outcome
and the emotion thrived on my inocence.  Being nieve as I was, I did not
feel the impending doom and there-for totally enjoyed the experiance
compleatly.  I have a new Star Wars book and the feeling that I love Luke,
I adore Mark in a very deep maner but due to the fact that I have never
truely met the man I cannot truely love him.  Luke on the other hand, I
feel I know all there is to know about him and I enjoy learning more in
each page.  Luke's thoughts are dignified and wholesome, his actions are
brave and heroic.  He has one flaw and it comes in a package know as The
Crystal Star.  As Darth Vader put it "That name, no longer has any meaning
for me!"  I do feel in my hearts of hearts that my destony is not fixed
and I am in charge of my own actions.  
  I grow more and more tiered with every word I type and I hope to god 
that I can stay awake long enough to finish this letter, take my shower
and get into bed.  As my eye lids droop I remember my book, sitting on 
the shelf waiting for me.  I don't believe I have the energy or enthusiaum
to read much more than I already have today.  I must go now.

                           -Alison 5/23/97

And that, ladies and gentleman is why you should always keep a journal, preferably on a computer without spellcheck, so that you can embarrass yourself on the internet 16 years later! But seriously, I'm glad I have so many old entries like this, because it's hard to imagine being full of teen drama and angst, but I'll always have these as a reminder. So when my daughters are heartbroken over their love for Harry Potter or something, I'll be more sympathetic. Perhaps.

Monday, June 17, 2013

TEDx Draft #1

Hey blog readers! As you may know, a while back I auditioned for and got a spot in a TEDx conference this fall. My talk is on anxiety disorders and panic attacks. I'm working on my first draft, which is due in exactly a week. I'm going to post it here and hope that maybe some of you will be able to give me some constructive feedback. If you've read all of my blog then some of this may be quite redundant, but I think (hope) that's ok. Thanks guys!

Hello, my name is Alison Sommer and I suffer from an anxiety disorder. I have a form of OCD that causes me to feel frightened and anxious when something unexpected or “wrong” happens, like somebody sitting in my normal seat at the table, and that also causes intrusive thoughts about things I’ve done or might do, things that could happen by chance or because other people are secretly plotting against me. As you could expect these intrusive thoughts are also quite anxiety producing. This anxiety can trigger different emotional and physical responses, one of which is the panic attack, but I’ll get to that a bit later.

One thing that makes me so hyper aware of the effects of my OCD, and makes me determined to spread awareness of effects of anxiety disorders on those of us who suffer from them, is that life wasn’t always this way for me. As far as I can remember, I have always been an obsessive-minded person. I will find a... thing, good or bad, and roll it over in my head over and over. I’ve also always been somewhat shy and socially awkward. And I know a lot of you are probably thinking “yeah, me too” because there a ton of shy people in the world, and most of us all have our own little obsessions. 

I don't know if there’s a scale for being a quiet, awkward, and obsessive, but I always felt near the high end of the range. "weirdo" and "freak" were labels I happily accepted as a teenager. When most girls were into the Backstreet Boys, I was in to Star Wars. And once, when I got in trouble (for what I can’t remember) and my Star Wars stuff was taken away from me, I felt like the world had collapsed.

And I’d had on and off issues with anxiety and depression for a long time. Depression and anxiety go hand in hand, like two best friends who like to corner a third person and make them feel like shit. So for a long time, most of my life really, I was an anxious, obsessive, at times depressed girl, and that was life, and that was normal. And I started going to sci-fi conventions and realized there were lots of people like me. I was just your average anxiety/depression story with some obsessive behavior thrown in for good measure.

Then I got a really bad concussion. That's when my brain took the nose dive from normal don't-worry-it-runs-in-the-family crazy, to scary crazy. That's when the intrusive thoughts started to get louder and louder. And it was bad. Really, really bad. I was angry all the time, mostly at my husband, but my road rage was also pretty epic. And while I was being an ass to other people, I also was being an ass to myself. I wasn't eating, I was down to a size 0 and still wondering if I could get smaller. And the scary thing is, in my head *I* was doing everything right, *I* was kicking ass. I judged the crap out of everybody I saw. Deep down, I knew something was wrong, but I fought the idea that it was me. My marriage was going through the shitter, I wasn't sleeping, and just the thought of changing my habits, any of my habits, would give me panic attacks. Panic attacks are one of the scariest manifestations of anxiety.

For people who've never had a panic attack, I've got to assume the name of it sounds kind of... lame. We all have moments of panic. "Did I leave the car running?" "omg, my kid just bolted into the road!" "I'm totally going to get fired." But none of those are panic attacks. 

The Mayo Clinic's website says that a panic attack “is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.” That gives you the general idea, but what does it really feel like? I’m going to try to show you.

I'm doing something pretty normal, but overall it's probably either a stressful day, like a day where I visit a doctor, have to do a performance evaluation, or pack for a vacation. I start to feel off, I know something's not quite right. I'm getting tingly. The tingling numbness creeps up my neck and all over my face, seeping into my head. I feel dizzy. I think maybe I didn't eat enough today and I grab for whatever food may be at hand. A piece of candy, a handful of crackers. My head is feeling fuzzy so I sit down. 

Although sometimes a small part of me thinks of seizures or heart attacks, I know better. I know it's a mounting panic attack when my heart starts beating harder. Not fast really, just... hard. Like the heartbeat in the background of a horror film. The panic is raising in my throat, pressing on my chest. I'm already starting to get scared. No, no, not again, not now, not here. The right medicine right now might cut it off here, bring the crescendo back down. But even the right medicine doesn't always work.

I don't want to move, but it's impossible to sit still. I want to be frozen but somehow my body just won't listen. I pace. I lash out. If I try to hold it all in I twitch. Then the tears come. Broken dry cries. Weak angry shrieks break through, while my brain screams shut up shut up shut up. I can't really cry a real cry, something that may be cathartic. It all gets caught in my throat and in my head.

I get angry. At this feeling, at myself, at anybody. I want it to end. I want to smash my skull in and make it end. Sometimes I can't hold back and I pound my head with my fists, or hit it on the floor. Just enough to hurt. It feels like relief for a moment to have physical pain.

I crave physical pain. Cuts, burns, bruises.  Then that scares me more and I stare at my shelf filled with pill bottles. I could take them all. I could end it forever. But I don't. Real tears come now. Slow, sad tears. Now I can lie still and cry and breath and wait for it all to be over. And eventually it ends. It always does. And I'm tired. But I'm still here, and with my sanity coming back, and my head clearing, I'm grateful. It's always stops eventually.

This is not an easy thing to live with, knowing it could strike at any moment, at home, at work, at the tattoo parlor. And most people don’t talk about it, but a lot of people go through this. After I first posted to my blog about panic attacks I had people contacting me from all corners of my life to share their experiences. It seems like everything these days has an “awareness” day or month, a ribbon or a picture you can share on facebook. Well, this is my panic attack awareness effort. Hopefully now you know a little more about what they really are.

As for me, my husband did finally get me to see a doctor. As it turned out, my anxiety and obsessive tendencies had been basically given steroids and I was diagnosed with severe OCD and we started the dance of trying to find that perfect balance of meds and therapy. We're still figuring it out. I still have panic attacks. And blogging about it and talking about it have become part of my therapy. If you or somebody you know has an anxiety disorder, speak out, get help, offer help. because there are more of us out there than you might think.

Friday, June 14, 2013

My name's Ali, and I'm a bookaholic

Reading a book looks different in the digital age. 
The hardest part of the day is any time I have to put down my book. When I'm in the mood to read, I never want to stop. Reading is addictive. It's sort of like binge drinking, once you get started you don't want to stop until you pass out. Wait, that analogy makes me sound like an alcoholic. Forget I said that and let's try again. It's like eating your favorite food. You want to both savor it, and to stuff it in your face as fast as you can because it's just so good. You want to gobble it all up and yet you also want the flavor to linger forever. That's what it's like to have a good book. (if the book is not good it's like eating at the school cafeteria: you still stuff your face, but there's nothing satisfying about it).

When I was younger, I was the kid who always had a book and read on the sly during class. I got caught now and then, but it was always worth it. Now that I'm an adult, and technology has advanced, I can read a book on my phone, any time, anywhere. But now I have to exercise a little more self-control, because a woman who reads novels during meetings does not keep her job for long. heh.

Right now I'm in the middle of a book series, the Legacy of the Force (no judging), and I'm finding it hard to snap out of it long enough to write blog posts. This type of all-consuming obsession with my latest read is part of the reason why I go through periods, months even, when I don't read at all. Because I need time live in the real world, or at least that's what I'm told.

Here are some top signs that you too may be a Bookaholic:
  • You view every trip to the bathroom as an excuse to read at least a page or two.
  • You've had people ask you "what's wrong" and you've had to admit that a fictional character just died. 
  • You've let a book influence the way you speak, write, or dress.
  • You've snapped at somebody because omg why are you interrupting me now don't you realize that John just walked in on Susan and Mike, and he has a gun!
  • You've ever smashed a fork full of food into the side of your face because you were trying to read and eat at the same time.
  • You've ever looked up and suddenly realized you've basically read through the whole night and you have work in 3 hours and you're so completely screwed... but you'll worry about that right after you finish this chapter.

If you are a bookaholic like me, let's virtual high five. And then get back to our books.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pack up and move out.

First grade was the worst grade for me but also the best, and what happened that year has come to shape my life, and my kids' lives, in a way. When I was in first grade my family moved. I know a lot of kids get moved around, and this may come off as whining, but it was hard for me, so there. My family moved first into a rental house in our town, Groton, MA. The house had its upsides, it was near the playground and there was a trap door in the floor (although it was nailed shut it excited my imagination). But it felt awkward, even to little 6 year old Ali, because I knew the house wasn't ours and that we wouldn't be staying long. And we didn't.

We left Massechusettes for Minnesota on a rainy Halloween night. Some days later we arrived in Minnesota, at our new rental home. I hated that house. When I think about it, my first thought is always of how the squirrels chewed up and ruined our Christmas lights. A cheery memory, no? It was a bleak winter. There was very little snow that year, so the naked trees on the flat plains of Minnesota seemed extra grey and dreary. Everything we left behind in Groton seemed so rosy in my memory, the yard the house, the people... I started to hate Minnesota. It took me years to get over that. 

First grade itself was a challenge. I was a very shy and self-concious child, and I had not particularly enjoyed kindergarten, which had only been a half-day, so first grade would likely have been hard no matter what. But changing schools, and states, mid-way into the year, adjusting to a new ciriculumn (my old school had done well in teaching math, but I was behind in reading when I started school in Minnesota), and to taking the bus for the first time surly compounded my stress.  But on the positive side, I was lucky to have a fabulous first grade teacher. And I did make friends. My family made a lasting relationship with the family of a girl in my class, and that lead to some really fun times for years to come.

But we didn't stick around. After the school year was out we moved again to the house where my parents live still. The house where I fell in love with the great state of Minnesota. The house I now live only 3 miles away from. And as hard as it was, being brought to Minnesota ended up being one of best things that happened to me. I love it here. But the difficulty of the journey affected me as well.  I have vowed  to never, ever, if I can possibly help it, move my children while they are in school. I place a high value on stability and routine (that might be the OCD talking though). Some people can move a hundred times and it does't phase them. But I think I'll stay put and keep my traveling to vacations and conferences.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why aren't there more women at the table?

It's pretty well known that women aren't as empowered in the workplace as men. It's not just that women are paid less for equal work, or the fact that we even have discussions still about how female breadwinners are destroying families (why does anybody watch FOX News??

It really drives home the depressing realization that I'll probably never live to see true workplace equality, even in my own country.

And I've been wondering what I can do about it, other than to teach my daughter's to be tough and stand up for themselves, what can I do about my actions within the workplace. One thing that has crossed my path is Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In. I haven't read it, but I've heard enough descriptions from NPR and people I know to get the general idea (at least I think I do). What I hear is that to advance in the workplace, women need to lean in, to sit at the big kids table, to be heard. And I see the lack of this, even in my own actions at work.

For example, I was recently at a book talk with a small group of very intelligent and generally awesome people.  At the talk there were 12 women, 13 men, so about even numbers overall. In the room there was one center table and then extra chairs around the periphery of the room. Because the speaker sits at the center table, it's the more powerful/coveted location to sit (also then you don't have to hold your lunch in your lap.) I sat at the table. I always try to sit at the table. I love the table. Anyway, I noticed that at the table there were 8 men and 4 women. (Ladies, why don't we sit at the table more? Please, come join me at the table.)

When we got to the question and answer session of the talk, right away the woman sitting next to me clearly had a question to ask. She raised her hand, and the speaker saw her and was about to call on her, but he didn't get the chance, because before he could four different men in succession just spoke out with their questions. The speaker answered their questions and eventually there was enough of a lul that women, all of whom (including me) approached more timidly, started asking questions as well. 

None of this was happening with any sort of maliciousness on the part of the men in the room. But it got me thinking. Why are we so quiet? Why are they so loud? It might be partly how we were brought up, to be sweet, polite girls. It might be our nature (generally, there are plenty of outspoken women, obviously). But what I really want to take away from these examples is how I can do more to assert myself.

I've read some much more eloquent and point-driven posts than this on the matter, but my head is still a bit muddled by the realization of how truly unequal the playing field currently is. How despite being 52% population we aren't close to holding 52% of the money and power. Hell, we aren't even 52% of fucking movie characters. And I'm absolutely daunted by the idea of trying to fix that.

Monday, June 10, 2013

It's a living language, y'all

"Grammar nazis" are all the rage these days on the internet, or at least it seems that way to me, at least within my circle of friends on facebook/twitter/etc. And mostly I find it amusing. I love Red Pen Brigade, which points out all sorts of spelling and grammar mistakes from signs, menues, etc. One of my own first blog posts, Ping's Big Shit, was about the appalling grammar in my daughter's class news letters.

However, I feel a bit stuck between two ideals when I think about it, because I also believe strongly in the concept of living language, meaning that I think language changes as our culture changes and that's okay, good even! I work to strike a balance between following reasonable rules of grammar/spelling with my belief that sticking too rigidly to rules is foolish, and that we should accept some of the natural changes to language. For example, I think people should learn the difference between your and you're (and that just ditching it all for ur is stupid). However I also think that since English decided to do away with thou and thee, it is only natural that a new way to differentiate single and plural forms of you would be adopted, therefore I find no problems with using the word y'all.

All of this is a overly complicated lead-in to my top favorite bits of living English, including my favorite not-real-words-but-they-should-be (and by not real I mean your 7th grade English teacher would circle them in the red pen of death, and maybe even write a little frowny face in the margin).

  • Y'all - Ok, I've mentioned this already, and even my browser spellcheck thinks it's a word, but up here in Minnesota using y'all seriously will get you some funny looks. And that is part of what I love about it (beyond what I said above).
  • The Oxford Comma - I fucking love the Oxford comma. It forces sentences to be clear when they otherwise could be left up to interpretation. This cartoon is better at explaining (and more hilarious). 

  • "Can you itch my back?" I know the right word here is scratch, but saying itch instead still gets the point across, and more importantly it drives my husband crazy, which is why I love to say it.
  • It's/its, your/you're, their/there/they're - using these words incorrectly is only possible in written language, which I think is by nature more formal than spoken. And using them incorrectly is usually a product of laziness or a lack of editing. So although forgivable now and then in emails, facebook, or (ahem) blog posts, if they are used wrong on signs or other printed materials there is no excuse. (and if somebody truly does not understand how to use them properly, that's just a depressing failure of our afore mentioned 7th grade English teachers.
  • Tinch - I'm not sure if other people use this word or just my family, but it means a tiny amount. "Would you like some pepper on that?" "Just a tinch, please." I like it because unlike "pinch" it's scalable and there are no physical actions (aka pinching) associated, which makes it more versatile.
  • Good vs well - I am ready for language to fully evolve here to accept good in more situations where well is currently defined as correct. More to the point, I'd like to stop being harassed by my players and teammates for telling them they played good today. To me it's akin to who vs whom. People can continue to use it "correctly" for all I care, and I will too... just not on the bench.
  • The semicolon - The semicolon is another fabulous gramatical tool that is underutilized; it allows you to join to independent clauses in a way that is much more clear than a comma. Also, a properly used semicolon will often make me think of my freshman English professor, Dr. Owen Jenkins, and he was a fabulous teacher (of slightly crazy). 
  • Frowny - If smiley gets to be a word, so should frowny. (so there, Chrome spell-check)
  • Lack of gender for stuff - I appreciate the comparative lack of gendered nouns in English because I took German for 6 years, and in that 6 years the most difficult thing was remembering the gender of every. single. object. The table is masculine, the sausage is feminine, the girl is neuter. What?? I am so glad we do not have that nonsense in English.
I can probably think of a hundred more points to make about English, especially since I've broached the topic of comparisons to foreign languages, but I think I'll save that and not language nerd all over you any more for today. Overall this is a pretty insane language, English. And I'm glad it's my first, because as much as I love learning languages, I think English would be a real pain to learn. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Driving test flunky

I hit a turning point in my life when I got my driver's license. I turned left, I turned right, I even did a few donuts. har har. But really, learning to drive and gaining the independence that went with it, changed a lot of things for 16 year old Alison, not all of them for the better (you can't get lost driving around a city at night if you can't even drive to the city in the first place, and being late for curfew is a lot harder when your parents have to pick you up). However, it wasn't easy to get said license. There were the usual hoops to jump through, permit classes, written test, driving lessons. But then there was the driving test. Or should I says tests.

The first time I took the driving test I was a bundle of nerves. I took the test in my mom's Saab. It was still really new and was the fanciest car we'd ever owned. I loved driving that car. It was smooth, it had heated leather seats, a sun roof, and even a CD player. Woah. It also had a funny little quirk: you couldn't turn off the headlights when the car was on (we even looked it up in the car manual, you'd need to remove the fuse). But why should that matter? As it turns out, one of the first things on the test instructor's evil little checklist, after buckling your seatbelt and adjusting your mirrors, was "know how to turn headlights on and off". I couldn't. The test instructor, a grouchy gray-haired man, was not kind about this. One point off. And I hadn't even put the car into gear yet.

It all went downhill from there. It was bad. I stopped when there weren't even stop signs. Before the test was even complete I had lost enough points that he told me to just drive back to the test site. I'm pretty sure I cried. A lot. But in hindsight, I'm glad I failed that first time, somebody driving with that little confidence should not have a license. Then I took it again and passed and went on to live my life.

Just kidding!

The second time I took the test, I did so at the same testing location, but this time I got a very nice woman as my testing instructor. I immediately explained about the headlights and she understood and didn't dock me any points. Then we went out into the street. I should mention, this wasn't a closed course. This facility tested you on real live roads with real live traffic and, in this case, real live construction detours. It was a little overwhelming, but I was feeling much more confident than last time. The instructor told me to take a right. I started to turn left (what 16 year old know their left from their right away?), at which point she yelled "NO! THE OTHER WAY!" Ok, I might be exaggerating, but however she said it the result was that I swerved to comply, cut somebody off (pretty closely), and immediately knew I had flunked the test. Again.

Failing twice is really, really embarrassing for a teenager. The prospect of failing for a third time scared the crap out of me. So for my third test I chose a different testing location, this time one with a closed course, hoping that would help break the pattern. It did (or maybe I was actually a better driver by then, who can say) and finally, I passed. It was November, 1999. 8 months after my 16th birthday. And I was never the same since. I love driving. And don't worry, I've gotten better at it in the last 14 years.  I even know how to turn off my headlights.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Top 10 Devices from Sci-fi/Fantasy That Somebody Should Invent FOR REAL

"Things I wish somebody would invent." This is a great theme, thanks Theme Thursday! Now I can post something lighthearted and fun to follow the total buzz-kill downer that I posted yesterday. Can I make it a top 10 list? Can I add a geeky flair? Hell to the yes.

1. Transporter beams - Near instant transportation. If we could transport to work with a simple "beam me up!" it would give me an extra hour (or more if there's traffic) with my family each day. It would mean long-distance relationships would have to be inter-planetary inorder to require more than stepping onto a transporter pad to see one another. It would probably make helicopter parents 1000x worse, but I think that's a trade-off society could live with. Maybe.

2. Bacta - You might remember that in The Empire Strikes Back Luke gets mauled by a wompa snow monster then falls into a hypothermic shock (before getting stuffed inside a stinky tauntaun), when he finally gets back to base movie viewers are treated by the sight of Luke in his tighty-whities floating in a tank of goo. That goo is bacta. And bacta heals pretty much anything. Blaster shot? Grease burn? Mauled by wild ducks? Slap some bacta on that bad boy and you'll be good as new before you can say Admiral Ackbar. We could use a little of that.

3. Replicators - Replicators a la Star Trek (NOT Stargate, those mecha-bugs suck) can produce basically anything out of "raw matter". We're getting close with 3D printers, really a lot closer than I expected. But we still can't print food. And I could really use a food replicator for those days when one kid wants shrimp, the other wants spaghetti, and I want potpie. Mmmmm. (Also, we could probably solve world hunger or something.)

4. Time turner - A time turner lets you travel back in time, in Harry Potter it let Hermione take more classes than natural time allowed. Who wouldn't love to have a little more time? Then I could read and watch TV at the same time! (nerd!) Or maybe do something useful like go to work and get chores done at home. Anything for that little extra bit of time.

5. Space ships w/ FTL drives and artificial gravity - Spaceships in science fiction pretty much come with these two features standard: they can travel faster than the speed of light, and you can walk, not float, around in them. As somebody who is both impatient and gets motion sick, but would also die to visit another planet, I think NASA should really be putting a lot more time into these two features. It's just so obvious.

6. Holodecks - Introduced in Star Trek The Next Generation, the holodeck is an amazing little room that can project a holographic replication of anything, complete with sound, smell, and touch. Instead of reading a book, you can participare in a holonovel (I don't recommend participating in Game of Thrones though). Instead of visiting a brothel you can bang a hologram (look ma, no STDs!). Ew. But seriously, being able to expand your hopes and dreams and desires into realistic images that you can interact with is just so cool. Actually having holodeck technology would probably destroy the human race (there have been many articles written on the implications of this technology). But I still think it would be awesome and I want one.

7. Things that can be bigger on the inside - The TARDIS looks like a simple old fashioned police call box, but on the inside it's... much bigger. So if we could harness just that piece of TARDIS technology, we could all stop complaining about lack of storage space in our closets and pantries, because they'd all be bigger on the inside. It's would be a hoarders dream. 

8. Speeders - You could also just call them flying cars. Speeders can't too high off the ground, and they can't break atmosphere, but they can fly around. This is what the Star Wars, The Fifth Element, The Jetsons, and a dozen other sci-fi classics have been promising us for years. It's overdue. I want my flying car, damit! It's 2013! Stop making other-sized ipads and give me a reason to ditch my beloved CRV for a vehicle with a little altitude

9. Driods - Who wouldn't want a cute little R2 unit of their very own? Maybe you could program it to do dishes and laundry. Forget ever changing your oil again, just let your droid do it (haha, take that smarmly up-selling JiffyLube guy). Also, if you did decide to take your speeder out rather than transport by beam, you'd have a nice little navigator to chat with and even take over flying/driving for you if you want.

10. Lightsabers! Duh! Of course I saved the best for last. This serves no real purpose in every day life and without The Force I'd probably cut my arm off. But lightsabers are just so. damn. cool.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

When it rains, it just keeps raining

You know the saying, "when it rains, it pours"? Well, lately it's felt a bit like "when it rains, it just keeps raining... fever..." Which is to say, I've been feeling depressed again. And it keeps actually raining (seriously, Minnesota, this is not Seattle, wake up and give me the oppressively hot and sticky summer I was expecting!). And I got sick. While PMSing. Also, my fish died. And none of this is catastrophic but it's just bogged me down deeper and deeper until all I felt up to was reading and sleeping. And then that seemed like too much so I gave up on the sleeping part too.

Do you ever feel that way? Like things just keep spiraling down and down you keep neglecting more and more until you're scared to start doing anything because the To Do list had become so long that you everything on it seemed absolutely impossible? As I wade through the clothes on my bedroom floor I think, why even bothering to do any laundry when we're so behind I might as well give up and live in dirty pajamas for the rest of my life? There's an anxiety about doing anything that can be absolutely crippling. You get to the point where you can't even sleep because that means being alone in your own head.

But as much as that anxiety claws at my insides, I can't lie in bed reading Star Wars novels and avoid the world forever. I have kids. They need clean clothes and something to eat other than frozen pizza. They need to have their hair done, and teeth brushed, and be driven to school and t-ball. They need a million little things, and my husband can't do it all forever. And I'm actually thankful for that. It's usually a simple task I do for my kids that breaks the ice and gets me started doing anything at all. Yesterday I cooked a real dinner (honey-ginger duck, brussel sprouts, and rice) and watched Dani play t-ball. I may have come home completely overwhelmed and stayed up until the wee hours reading, but today I woke up and went to work anyway. Tonight I might even do some laundry.

So that's why I haven't been around the blog. Depression and anxiety flared up and I ran down my supply of prepped and ready posts and just couldn't get any more written until I built up a little steam. But I'm starting to gain ground again. I bet this will happen again, hopefully not to soon though. Thanks for sticking with me through it. I promise tomorrow's post will be more fun.