Thursday, March 31, 2011

Does the Fun Ever STOP?!

The SPRING BREAK insanity continues!

Today was Nathan's first experience with legitimate theater, as Homer Simpson would say. We saw a live show called "Thomas Saves the Day." I kind of feel like the title was a little bit of a spoiler. At intermission they left us with a bunch of cliffhangers -- Percy was stuck in the mine! The bridge was out! No ships could arrive to the Island of Sodor for the Lantern Festival because the lighthouse was burned out! -- and then you were just wondering, Hmm, I wonder if Thomas will save the day? And you know he will, because that's the title of the show.

Otherwise I probably would have wondered if hard work and friendship would help the good guys save the day.

The thing about Nathan is, he is not an interactive participator. The actors in the show were trying to get the kids in the audience to clap along and make train whistle noises, but Nathan just sat there, questioning whether there was a real Island of Sodor and, if so, how the trains got here from there.

But I think he had fun:


And since all the other kids' parents had bought them these $15 light-up spinny things, I gave in, too:


After the show, there was a really long line of minivans waiting to get out of the theater. Instead of waiting in the line, we pulled into a combination Dairy Queen/Orange Julius. My post on Tuesday got me craving a strawberry Julius. I was worried that after 7 years the strawberry julius wouldn't live up to my expectations, but I was wrong.


Yeah, I photographed it

The froth inside the cup is the best part

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

SPRING BREAK!

I come from a family of people who work in the general teaching/education field. My mom was a teacher, my dad was an assistant principal, and my stepmom was a guidance counselor. They worked in different school districts than the district where my brothers and I went to school, so sometimes we had the same spring break and sometimes we didn't. But even when they had different breaks than we did and we mostly had to spend our spring break at daycare or visiting grandparents, I remember my parents always trying to do something special with us on our spring breaks. I remember when my dad took a day off to take us to Disneyland during one day of spring break, and since apparently nobody else had that same break, the park was nearly empty and we got to go on Big Thunder Mountain three times in a row without waiting in line. I also remember another spring break when my mom left her work right after school so she could pick us up early from daycare and take us to the movies to see Beetlejuice. (I seem to recall the usual restrictions on movie snacks being severely bent that day, too.)

I hope to make Nathan's school breaks fun and memorable, too. This is his first spring break, and even though he kind of doesn't understand the concept of spring break yet, and may not have any lasting memories from when he was four, I wanted to make this week fun. The weather is just getting really, really old, and we need some fun around here!

As I've mentioned before, I used to be the champion of fun day trips. I knew all the fun places to go, and we would usually be at a park, museum, or the like at least twice a week. But ever since Nathan started going to preschool and various other extracurricular activities, we don't have time to go on fun outings very often.

This week, though, everything was canceled, and it was like the old days of long, sprawling days that just beg for a field trip.

Monday we had to catch up on chores and errands after our weekend trip. So the fun didn't start until Tuesday, when we went to Bellaboo's Play and Discovery Center in Northwest Indiana, which is the facility where we held Nathan's birthday party. Tuesdays are free admission days for adults who bring in two cans of food (promo good until April 26), and normally I can't take Nathan on Tuesdays because of his school.

I didn't take any pictures at Bellaboo's because I feel like I have a million pictures from there, and after awhile I just get kind of sick of the same pictures over and over again.

For today, I gave Nathan a choice of either of the two places we have memberships to: Brookfield Zoo and The Museum of Science and Industry. Citing weather-related concerns about the zoo, Nathan picked the MSI. Which I had no problem with, because as I mentioned here and here, the MSI is my favorite museum in Chicago!

The biggest exhibit at the MSI is a German U-Boat submarine that some American sailors captured during WWII. At the exhibit I was trying to tell Nathan a four-year-old-appropriate version of the story behind the capture. The conversation went something like:

Me: So there was this really bad man named Hitler.
Nathan: Why was he bad?
Me: I don't know, some people are just bad.
Nathan: Because he was frustrated and didn't know how to control his feelings when he got mad?
Me: Yes, exactly. So anyway, Hitler told his army to shoot from their submarines at all the boats in the ocean. [Note: I assume it was the German navy and not the army, but Nathan only knows army.]
Nathan: Well, then I think Santa put Hitler and his army on the naughty list.
Me: Yes, I'm sure Hitler and his army were on the naughty list.

Which leads me to think, if it takes Hitler- and Nazi-like behavior to get on Santa's naughty list, that's setting the bar pretty low. In fact, I don't think anybody is lower than Hitler.

(I did point out that after the bad man died and the war was over, the Americans made friends with the Germans again.)

In the hallway between the submarine and the rest of the museum, they have this really cool screen where your shadow can catch falling sand:


We saw the farm exhibit, and you guys, not only did my kid wait patiently in line to sit on the combine, but he got out willingly when I said his turn was up. Finally, a breakthrough.

At the model train exhibit, I only took one picture. These miniature people are part of a model of the Indiana Dunes, which is the beach we go to in the summer.

I'm so jealous of these miniature plastic beachgoers. I can't wait for summer!

Next to the train exhibit was the gift shop at the end of Body Worlds, the temporary exhibit of plasticized dead bodies. We didn't go to the exhibit itself because it's not recommended for children under 13, but Nathan enjoyed the gift shop because (1) he enjoys all gift shops, and (2) he has been interested in human anatomy lately. (If I were my grandma I would say He's going to be a doctor someday!) Look, he took this picture of the stuffed stomach in the gift shop:

He's nestled among the stuffed lungs and brains.

Sometime later I wanted to go look at the baby chicks. Here is how Nathan reacted to the idea of visiting the baby chicks:


But then he got into the chicks and took approximately 17 photos of them. Here is one of those photos:

The kids peering in the other side look cool. That Nathan is going to be a famous photographer someday.

We finished the day at the kids' area. Nathan took this picture of me while standing in line:

I need to stop standing in a way that makes me look like I'm pregnant.

The kids' area is so super cool. There are all kinds of little mechanisms that interconnect, like a flowing river that carries plastic balls, and then kids put the balls in a vacuum tube that carries them over to another bunch of mechanisms. These two shots show Nathan pulling really hard on a rope that controls a ramp that the balls can roll down:




And here he is putting a ball in the vacuum tube:


Finally, I'd like to end with a photo I took of a sign in a hallway on the way back to our car. It seems some frustrated editorial-type museum-goer discovered that there was a space missing in one of the signs, and took it upon him/herself to bust out a Sharpie and mark up the necessary corrections. While I'm opposed to defacement of public property, it's nice to know there are people like me out there. (Though the proper editorial mark to indicate the insertion of a space is #.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Yesterday

Yesterday was ... not my best day as a parent.

Let me start off with a brief tangent (huge surprise). So, I know this person who likes to point out that every problem I have as a parent, from Nathan throwing tantrums to Nathan forgetting to bring his backpack to school, stems from the fact that I do not have my kid on a solid schedule. To those of you non-parents, let me tell you: "Your kid isn't on a schedule," them's fightin' words.

The weird thing is that when you have a baby, schedule is kind of a bad word, at least in the circle of attachment parenting, feed-on-demand people.

And OMG I just want to stop and scream when I look over what I typed. Could all the buzzwords and philosophies and parenting camps of our generation be more ridiculous?

Oh, and BTW, have you worried yet today that your kid suffers from Nature Deficit Disorder?

Anyway, I think my point was that while you're supposed to let your baby dictate his/her own schedule, you are definitely supposed to impose a strict schedule on your toddler/preschooler. I kid you not, my kids are on a very rigid schedule is a brag among parents.

"Oh, he's just a little frustrated because his music class got canceled, and he's used to having that in his schedule. You see, my kids are on a very rigid schedule."

Let me note that while I am dissing braggy moms here, I'm not dissing schedules. I get the point of schedules. And I'm jealous that I can't get my kid on a schedule that is so strict that we could tell you exactly what we'll be doing next Wednesday at 11:45 a.m. I wish I could be that organized.

The thing is, I like schedules. I like predictability and routine almost as much as any preschooler does. Nathan has a bedtime, and when he doesn't fall asleep for like another hour (or two) after he lies down, I start to get all kinds of frustrated because ohmygosh now he's going to be crabby tomorrow and he has school and he'll probably get three time-outs there and then I have to enforce that at home and ohmygosh why am I such a failure?

When he used to nap, I tried very hard to be home for the naps, at least when it came to day-to-day activities. Why sign a two-year-old up for a weekly art class at 1:00 p.m. when he should be napping? However, I was never one of those moms who could be like, "Oh, sorry, we will not be at Grandpa's 100th birthday party because it interferes with naptime." So, I guess what I'm saying is that while I generally like to enforce a bit of a routine, I am not uber-strict about it.

I feel guilty about that.

Anyway, my point is that, try as I may, I cannot control my child's schedule to the point that outside factors don't interfere sometimes. The child doesn't get up at exactly the same time every single day. He doesn't fall asleep at exactly the same time every night, even if he does have a bedtime. We don't eat meals at the exact same time every day. And I'm not good at scheduling specific times for at-home activities like TV time or art time or free-play time. I wonder if the lack of super-predictability is hurting my child.

Let me note that, once again, blogger of awesomeness Ask Moxie rescued me from my negative thoughts with a timely post yesterday about scheduling. Moxie pointed out that there's a difference between a "schedule" and a "routine." I do like to think that we have routines. I mean, we mostly eat meals at around the same time every day. We have a bedtime routine.

So, that was a not-so-brief tangent to explain the fact that every time my kid acts out, I blame myself for not having him on a better schedule. And if our regular routine is somewhat loose, this past weekend things went all to hell. He was up at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, rearin' to go because he was so excited about the trip. And then we didn't leave until 1:30, eight full hours after he was ready to go, and once we got there we still had all the excitement of Being in a hotel! and Swimming in a pool! And he didn't get to bed until like 9:00 that night, and was up early the next morning for more trip-based excitement, and then on the drive home he took like maybe a half-hour nap in the car and that prevented him from falling asleep before 9 p.m.

By Monday, which was yesterday, he was kind of a wreck. And so we went to the grocery store, and he was his usual begging self, but also added in some fun bonuses like "climbing all over the cart" and "yelling 'shut up' loudly." At one point he begged for some jell-o, and I said we would not get it if he couldn't turn off his dirty mouth, and of course when he didn't I had to say we wouldn't get the jell-o. Which is always very frustrating because even though it's good to follow up on your threats, the effect is a massive outcry that causes other people in the grocery store to become disturbed and judgmental.

I turned on all the calm, rational statements I learned to say in my teacher education classes: "Look, I told you that if you chose to keep saying 'shut up,' you would not get the jell-o. And then did you choose to keep saying 'shut up'?"

The response I got was, "AHHHHHHHHHHH! I don't want to talk to you! I HATE YOU!"

Wow, that's not at all how the kids in the training videos responded.

Anyway, it went on like this throughout the store, and I finally got to the checkout, where I got a crabby clerk and Nathan set the record for how many unpleasant behaviors a child can cram in during the course of a single checkout. Yelling! Climbing on the cart! Taking out a fruit roll-up and chewing on it! Grabbing candy off the rack by the checkout and saying, "I'm gonna open this!"

Oh God.

And BTW, somehow the jell-o still made it home with us.

My problem with discipline is that I'm always second-guessing myself. Like, should he get a time-out when we get home from the store, or is that too late because by then has he gotten control of his emotions and his frenzy of misbehavior is over?

The same sort of frenzy happened at bedtime, when he was kicking his legs so that I couldn't put his pajamas on, and I said he lost his bedtime book privileges. Although I stood by that, I couldn't help but feel guilty because seriously, I was taking away reading time? Also known as the most wholesome, educational thing I do all day as a parent?

So he got so out-of-control mad that he threw a massive tantrum and I locked myself in the bathroom. I wondered, should there be a time-out for this, or would that just get him more worked up and prolong the bedtime that was probably the only solution for his behavior?

Why aren't the answers so cut-and-dry? Why isn't my parenting taking place in a training video?

Anyway, when he got his totally worked-up self calmed down and went to sleep, it was 8:00 p.m. He slept a solid 13 hours, so I hope today will be better. And this is another one of those posts where I feel totally afraid to hit "publish," because I feel like I have just exposed myself as the worst parent ever and people are going to judge me. But I like to think that Nathan's behavior was just the result of exhaustion. I mean, after all, he was off his schedule. He gets a little worked up when he is off his schedule.

See, I can brag too.

The Happiness Project


It's been awhile since I linked up to The Happiness Project, a photo carnival hosted by Leigh vs. Laundry. In this carnival, you post a photo of something that makes you happy, and I just happened to have this pretty photo of a container of strawberries!

I packed the strawberries and other fruits in a cooler so I could have some healthful snacks for our drive to Milwaukee on Saturday. When we stopped at the oasis (rest stop located on a freeway overpass) so Bill could go to the bathroom and get a Shamrock Shake at McDonald's, I busted out my container of strawberries. They looked so pretty that I had to take a picture of them.

Strawberries are my all-time favorite fruit. Whenever there's a choice of what flavor of something to get, I pick strawberry. (Well, except for ice cream. Then I pick cookies 'n cream.) I like strawberry smoothies with boba (tapioca balls) at the bottom from the Chinese restaurant. I like strawberry snow cones.

And Orange Julius? Forget it. It's all about the Strawberry Julius. (Though I haven't had one since moving to Illinois. In California Orange Julius was a mall food court staple, but in Illinois they are few and far between. However, there are a lot of copycat recipes you can make at home. The "secret" ingredient is vanilla extract.)

Strawberries are also very special because they signal the arrival of warmer weather. Sure, you can get expensive, sour strawberries year-round, but you know spring and summer are near when you can start getting big, juicy, sweet strawberries for a reasonable price at the grocery store.

And finally, with the new Weight Watchers system, fruit is free, points-wise. So I have been eating approximately a pint of strawberries per day since going back on WW. Unfortunately strawberries are not free, dollar-wise, so I think I consume about $20 worth of strawberries per week. Like, seriously, I make special trips to the store just to get more strawberries. I buy them at Costco and Target.

Strawberries are the only fruit that really does seem like "nature's candy," and that's why they make me so happy.

As a side note, I'm really just loving this new camera! It takes photos so quickly, and doesn't do weird things with the flash like my old camera did. (Excuse my use of highly-technical photographic terms like weird things with the flash.)

Thanks for visiting, happiness seekers!


Photobucket

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday in Wisconsin

Well, we're back in Illinois. Here's a brief photo recap of our time in Milwaukee yesterday.

It was a full day. We were all up and out the door by 8:30. After a breakfast at Baker's Square, we hit the Midwest Gaming Classic convention right as it opened at 10:00.

First a few photos of video games and pinball:

I am playing Baby Pac-Man, which is a combo arcade and pinball game.


Godzilla pinball!

This was at a birthday party for the Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong. Who knew they all had the same birthday?

Warp zone!

Next we went to the "museum" area. Just a warning, you may have played with these "museum pieces" when you were a kid.

Speak 'n Spell

Frogger

After we left the convention, we went to The Domes plant conservatory. There are three separate domes, each one housing a different type of greenhouse.

Tropical Dome

Desert Dome

Show Dome, which features rotating displays. We were lucky to catch the train show, which had a fairy tale theme this year. Nathan is standing in front of a scene depicting Winnie the Pooh.

Sometime after we left The Domes, Nathan got into my purse and got a hold of the camera, producing such shots as this one:

At least now I have a photo to prove I drove on this trip, for the next road trip when Bill and I argue over who will drive.

I included that shot to point out that the camera was in the backseat at that point, and that it eventually got dropped somewhere in the backseat, which is why we couldn't find it to take photographs of our stop at the Mars Cheese Castle. Cheese castle. You know where you shouldn't be when you are on Weight Watchers? A cheese castle. I was disciplined(ish) and only brought home one package of cheese, a 4-year aged sharp cheddar. Nathan wanted that one because I think he heard "4-year-old cheddar" as "4-year-old's cheddar," and he is 4 years old. I'm glad he likes it because he will be eating most of it.

After the castle we drove straight home. And that was our trip. As you can see, it was an exhausting whirlwind of activity:


And I just want you all to remember, no matter where you are, no matter what you do, please don't forget the following:

up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, B, A, Select, Start

(Leave a note in the comments if you get the reference.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

SuperIma Sunday Check-In: Wisconsin Edition

Greetings from Milwaukee! I really don't have any interesting travel updates because all we did yesterday was arrive, swim in the hotel pool, and eat dinner at Five Guys in the mall next door. Then Bill took Nathan for a quick trip to the video games and we all went to bed. Nathan had been up since 5:30 a.m., chomping at the bit to leave, and I had to keep explaining to him that we couldn't leave until Dad woke up, which ended up being at about noon. (Bill had been up all night the previous night working on a paper, though I don't know how an almost 40-year-old can pull an all-nighter.)

So, we're tired. It's 8:30 in the morning and we're heading out to eat breakfast, and then I guess there will be some video game time, and I hope we'll at least be able to see one Milwaukee-based attraction.

As a side note, although I wear my Speedo workout bathing suit a couple of times a week at the gym, yesterday was my first time pulling out my regular "recreational" bathing suit since August. While you would think this would be a degrading experience, and you would be right, there was the side bonus that the bathing suit smelled like sunscreen and the beach and summer, OMG summer. Which was a nice memory to evoke, because boy is it ever freezing here.

Anyway, onto my check-in! And go over and say hi to Leigh Ann after you read this, because she's still in the middle of her moving insanity!

So, you'll recall that last week I made a stupid "Chart of Responsibility" to remind myself of my key responsibilities. In essence, the point of the chart wasn't to nag myself to do things, but to remind myself that if I worked at each area of responsibility for an hour, I was free to stop feeling guilty and/or lazy. However, the chart kind of stressed me out. For one thing, there were more responsibilities than those on the chart, which makes sense because I have more than three hours' worth of tasks to complete daily. Except some days I got really busy/tired doing other tasks like laundry, errands, or cooking, and then I felt stressed out that I still had more "chart" activities to complete. So, boo to the chart. Chart FAIL.

For reference, here is my completed chart:


But whatever, I got all my lines memorized, though I'm still experiencing the occasional slip-up in rehearsal. (The show is still two weeks away, and during that time there are approximately 8,000 hours of rehearsal.)

At the gym, I managed to get in two swims, two treadmill workouts, two weight-lifting sessions, and one Spin class, so I think that's pretty good for only having gone five times.

Cleaning-wise, I got most of my house clean, and then it all got messed up again, and ... whatever.

My other goal was to get Nathan to bed at 7:00 every night and take the rest of the evening off. This new bedtime schedule is going pretty well, though the child falls asleep closer to 7:30 or 8:00 when it finally gets dark. (This does not bode well for bedtime in June and July.)

Oh, it looks like I have to go now, so let me quickly rattle off my goals for this week:

1. Finish reading a book.
2. Don't make any charts.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Midwest Gaming Classic, A Retrospective

As I mentioned earlier this week, my family will be leaving at some point today for a one-night trip to Milwaukee for the annual Midwest Gaming Classic, which is a classic video game competition. This will be our third year attending the convention, so I thought I'd post a photo retrospective of our previous two trips.

Midwest Gaming Classic 2009

Let me note that in March 2009, I had the crazy (but successful) plan to swim at the gym every single day for the entire month. So before we left for the Midwest Gaming Classic, I had to go to the gym and do my laps. Then we left for the convention, which that year was being held in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, a town about 30 minutes past Milwaukee. The hotel we were staying at was called the Olympia Resort and Spa, named because Oconomowoc has 5 O's in it, which resemble the 5 Olympic rings. (Umm, yeah.)

Oh, and don't let the term "Resort and Spa" fool you. The hotel was kind of a pit. I mean, it was clean enough, but it was kind of in a sad state of disrepair. They did, however, have a nice playground with a sandbox, which was adjacent to a lake. (The lake had a large dead fish floating in it, and, I kid you not, Nathan was still talking about that dead fish like a year and a half later.) Here's Nathan at the playground, which randomly had a pretty cool fire engine toy in it:

Dead fish not pictured.

We did peruse the convention a little bit and take a few pictures:




But Nathan was just barely 2 then, and he got bored quickly. So I was chasing him through the playground and swimming with him at the pool (not pictured) while Bill got a more in-depth conference experience. At that point I was exhausted from my morning swim, a three-hour drive, and chasing around an overstimulated two-year-old, and I was beginning to grow resentful of my husband and his leisurely solo stroll through Video Game Land. So Bill said we could go out for a nice dinner, and we found this German place called The Golden Lantern, which was right next to a lake. It was one of the best meals I've ever had, the high point being this appetizer, Shrimp Stuffed With Shrimp:

As my brother said, shrimp stuffed with shrimp is like "the nexus of the universe."

And here's Nathan eating his chicken strips, which on the menu were called something like "fried strips of fowl" and cost $9.50.


The next morning Nathan and I went to the hotel breakfast buffet. Now, the thing is, the hotel was hosting two separate groups that weekend: (1) The Midwest Gaming Classic, which was largely attended by fat, white computer nerds, and (2) some kind of all African-American social club. So, that was the demographics of the morning breakfast visitors. Yay diversity!

Anyway I made Nathan this Pancake of Awesomeness:

The strawberry was the only thing he ate. He was probably still full from his $9.50 strips of fowl.

Shortly after that breakfast, we packed up and left Oconomowoc. I was eager to get home in time to swim my laps before the gym closed. I do recall that we had to stop on the way home in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, so Bill could visit his favorite board game store. I took Nathan over to a nearby park. By the time we got home I was tired, but, dammit, I dragged myself to the gym anyway.

-----------------------------------------------------
Midwest Gaming Classic 2010

In 2010 the Midwest Gaming Classic moved back to Milwaukee, at a hotel that was a teeny-tiny bit nicer than the previous year's hotel. Our 2010 trip to the Midwest Gaming Classic was a little more complicated, though, because Bill was on a work trip to Texas the day before, so he flew straight to Milwaukee and didn't get in until about 11:30 Saturday night. That meant Nathan and I had to drive up to Milwaukee and hang out by ourselves on Saturday. I recall that Nathan also had swim lessons that morning, followed by the annual Easter egg hunt in our hometown, so he was sufficiently tired out by the time we began our drive. I had purchased the first two volumes of the Glee soundtrack to entertain us on the trip.

When we got to the hotel, we wandered around and went swimming, then went to Edwardo's Pizza for dinner. Let me paint the picture for you: Me, alone in a restaurant with a three-year-old who had gone to swim lessons, run around an egg hunt, sat in a car for 2.5 hours without sleeping, and swum in a pool. (Oh, and somewhere in there I recall my attempt to watch some kind of random 80s made-for-TV movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker, which Nathan was lobbying to watch SpongeBob.)

After a stressful dinner, during which I'm pretty sure Nathan did not eat, we went back tot he hotel and bathed Nathan in the hotel bathtub. Fortunately Bill was able to take a shuttle from the airport to the hotel, so Nathan and I went to bed.

The next morning we all went to the convention. The big excitement that year was that I entered the Tetris tournament, which required me to pay not only the $10 admission fee for the convention (which I would have otherwise been willing to skip, having seen it the year before), but also a $6 fee to earn me three tries in the tournament. The thing is, I have spent a lot of time in my life playing Tetris. I'm pretty good. But the tournament was on the old-school original Nintendo, which I hadn't played in awhile. Also they used the version where you start out with some random configuration of already-existing rows, the kind of rows you would only get if your cat fell asleep on the controller. I only ever play the version where you start with a completely blank screen, so I wasn't good at the version the tournament used. (Some guy next to me said this was called the "B-Game," which explains my poor performance, because don't people always refer to their best performance as their "A-Game"?) So, bottom line, my participation in the Tetris tournament was an embarrassing waste of money.

We only managed to get one good photo from the actual convention last year:

Pinball wizard!

Nathan and I left the hotel to do some Milwaukee sightseeing. We went to the Mitchell Park Conservatory, a.k.a. "The Domes," which is three separate greenhouses, each housed in a glass dome.

Show Dome, displaying the Spring Flower Show

Tropical Dome

There was also a Desert Dome, which I didn't take any pictures of. It wasn't that interesting to me because just housed all the plants my parents have at their house in California.

After the Domes, Nathan and I drove to downtown Milwaukee so we could go to the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. The parking was a hassle, the wind coming off the lake was freezing, and Nathan was whiny, but damn if I wasn't going to get me some aged cheddar.


First I bought my kid this pointless but adorable cheese hat

Where is that dang cheese? I'm hungry!

Here's Nathan enjoying the Aged Cheddar Flight:

The cheeses were aged 2, 5, 9, and 13 years. Note that 3 out of the 4 cheeses were older than Nathan was.

Close-up of the cheese flight, with the cheese information card:

Aaaaand I think maybe the abundance of cheese photographs might be evidence of my dysfunctional relationship with food.

After the cheese mart, Nathan and I drove back to the hotel to pick up Bill and his new collection of video game paraphernalia, and then we drove home.

Friday, March 25, 2011

AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!

Remember yesterday when I reported my exciting-but-not-that-exciting-because-I'm-still-discouraged 15-pound weight loss, as measured on my home scale? Well, I thought maybe today I'd be more encouraged if I went into Weight Watchers and did an official weigh-in.

And I was up 0.2 pounds from where I was at Weight Watchers two weeks ago. (This was 3 pounds heavier than my apparent liar of a home scale said I was, too.) And I took off my sweatshirt and had gone to the bathroom before the weigh-in, so that 0.2-pound figure was being generous.

All that planning and cooking and measuring, all that spinning and running and lifting, and ...

+0.2 pounds.

Look, I've done Weight Watchers many times before, and I know how it works. You can't expect your weight loss to comply with a regular weekly weigh-in schedule. Your weight fluctuates with your womanly cycles, maybe your body is holding onto water because you ate something high in salt, maybe you're gaining muscle that will eventually aid in your weight loss.

But damn, if it isn't so effing frustrating to have a week where you gain.

I've started to consider that maybe I'm actually undereating, not compensating for my caloric burn from exercise, so that my metabolism has slowed down. But I just can't wrap my head around the idea of eating more to lose weight, and yes, I know, that's what the research says, but the whole thing sounds like something a fat lady would say to justify ordering dessert.

And right now I'm scared to eat anything. No grabbing extra crackers! You'll get 16 reduced-fat Wheat Thins and like it! Don't even think about sneaking those fries off your kid's plate! You shouldn't even be eating an entire salad!

Now I'm afraid to eat.

I'm going to give it one more weigh-in before I more to the "eating more" approach, just to see if this week was some kind of fluke.

And the good news is, I'm stubborn. I will not let the Evil Forces of Weight Gainitude defeat me! I must win!

But somebody, please say something encouraging now!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

And We're Back

First off, my absence for the last couple of days was due to exhaustion/laziness, as well as the fact that the damn phone/Internet was out again. Seriously, it's 2011. I can get the entire Internet, in animated full-color, on my cell phone, and AT&T can't reliably provide a landline service?!

Today's reason for phone outage: AT&T was working on somebody else's phone line in the area, and that caused our line to break. WHAT?! Working on one line causes another line to break? That sounds like a really good way to guarantee job security for AT&T technicians. Or, I mean, at least until the whole world gives up on landlines ... which will probably happen in approximately 2 months anyway. So, enjoy your run, AT&T.

Anyway, petty concerns about utility companies can't hurt me now! I have something far more exciting to occupy my thoughts! So, remember how I started tracking my blog ranking on Technorati back in December? Well, when I last checked three weeks ago, my blog was ranked #22,865 on the Internet. Today I just happened to glance over at Technorati, and I was #9,004! I'm in the top 10,000! And my Technorati authority ranking, which has hovered between 126 and 129, is now 388. I don't really know what exactly that authority is based on, but as a reference frame, the top blogs are at about 900.

So, now that I am a person of influence, I would like to express my disappointment about the following: Tina Fey has a book coming out April 5, and according to this article, her book tour will not include a stop in Chicago. WHAT?! Tina Fey got her start with The Second City in Chicago. Has she forgotten her roots? And also, we have the best pizza. Anyway, I'll give Tina a break because I know she's so busy writing/producing/starring in the greatest show currently on television, so maybe she doesn't have time to visit the middle of the country. But I am disappointed that I won't get to see her and have my book signed.

In music news, I broke down and downloaded the two original songs from Glee. The first song, "Get It Right," is beautiful, but, I kid you not, I get dizzy when I listen to it because I'm picturing that incessant camera-spinning they used on the show when Rachel sung it. The second song, "Loser Like Me" has a fun Kids Incorporated vibe to it. "Yay I'm awesome/You can't hurt me/I'm the future/La la la." (Actual lyrics from a Kids Incorporated song, I believe.)

And speaking of losers, or the opposite of losers, I have been quite the winner this week with my cooking. (Clearly I am not the winner when it comes to graceful segues.) Monday I made Crock Pot Indian dal (lentil) soup. Tuesday I made a baked macaroni and cheese, and Wednesday I made matzo ball soup. Tonight I made crepes and other breakfast-for-dinner items. And these dishes were all from a Weight Watchers cookbook! My husband actually described the matzo ball soup recipe as "great."

A top 10,000 blog and my husband thinks something I cooked is great! Quick, check weather.com, enter the zip code for hell, and see if there are any sub-freezing temperatures predicted in the five-day forecast.

So, Weight Watchers has been going pretty well. I have some sort of new, out-of-nowhere discipline this week. I weighed myself at home yesterday and I had lost a total of 15 pounds, which is ... bittersweet. I lift a 15-pound weight at the gym and I think, that's heavy. But honestly, I want to lose 75 pounds, which means I'm only 20% of the way there. And as much as I can spout out cliches like Every little bit helps and You have to take the first steps before you can take the last, the fact remains that I still feel overwhelmed and like a big fat-ass. I have so far to go. It will take so long. But I quell those thoughts with another cliche: The time's gonna pass anyway. The next day and the next week and the next month come anyway, no matter if you've lost weight or not.

Then there's the workout front. Last week I was talking to Trainer Jill about how I tend to punish myself at the gym and possibly work out harder than an overweight person such as myself probably should. As I've said before, Jill's philosophy is that you should not over-do it when it comes to exercise. As I've also said before ... dammit. I thought it was good to push yourself, and now I find out that, despite the fact that I am a huge fatty, I have been over-exercising?!

Jill also started talking about how if I'm going to exercise, I have to eat more. And it's like, yeah, but I'm on this damn diet. I cannot eat more! And yes, Weight Watchers does tell you that you earn back "activity points" for exercising, so you can technically eat more if you exercise, but I've always had trouble figuring out how many points I've earned back and I think I tend to underestimate in an attempt to err on the side of caution. And my philosophy has always been that since I'm already losing weight at a relatively slow pace, I probably shouldn't go and take any more activity points for myself. But then Jill says that it's possible to work out so much that your body lowers its metabolism so as to hang on to every precious little calorie it gets, which I mean I guess I technically knew (that's why you shouldn't skip breakfast), but ... come on.

And then Jill starts talking about the glycemic index and protein and ... OMG, I cannot win.

But I will say that every time I swim, I get up to 2,000 yards and then I hit a point where I am so famished I think I am going to drown, and I have to drag my lightheaded self out of the pool and somehow find the vending machine so I can shove pretzels into my mouth. So, I was maybe thinking that the solution to my excessive swimming-based hunger might be ... wait for it ... to eat more before I swim. So today I had a bowl of oatmeal and my disgusting protein shake that Jill recommended (blended together with strawberries, bananas, and Splenda), and guess what? I actually got to 2,200 yards, and my workout ended due to time constraints and not an advanced state of hunger. But damn if it wasn't hard for me to eat an extra-big breakfast, because then I had to skimp on lunch and dinner.

So, as I said, our family is going to a classic video game convention this weekend. I rounded up some pictures from Midwest Gaming Classics of years past (okay, two years past), so I'm going to do a separate post with those. Because I am now 3 posts behind in my quest to post 365 posts this year, and so I need to break up some of these longer posts so I can get a few extras in. Also I will be giving something away soon, so stay tuned. It's my first giveaway, and granted it's a bit of a small start, but enter anyway for the chance to say you won my very first giveaway.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Virtual Coffee

Photobucket

Welcome back to another session of Virtual Coffee, sponsored by Amy at Lucky Number 13!

I'm here drinking my coffee, and I just finished my pumpkin oatmeal. Weirdest thing ever, Leia actually just licked the oatmeal bowl clean. (And yes, I did just write an entire post about her digestive problems, so no, I should not be letting her consume other exotic, outside human foods.)

Anyway, you might be wondering why we're having our coffee in my upstairs hallway, outside the bathroom. Well, the thing is, I just cleaned the entire top floor of my house yesterday, whereas the bottom 1.5 floors are still total pits. Nathan built a blanket fort in the middle of the living room, and filled it with various toys and debris, so the living room is off-limits for company.

Also the kitchen ... So, when we moved in, there was a trash compactor in the kitchen. Let me make this clear to anybody contemplating a trash compactor: Do not get a trash compactor. Why on earth would you want a trash can that was also an electrical appliance? It is always breaking, and the bags for it are expensive, and it stinks like nobody's business. Anyway the thing finally crapped out the other day and Bill removed it, then dragged it to ... a few feet farther into the middle of the kitchen. And so not only do we have a trash compactor in the middle of the kitchen, we have a big, gross gaping hole where the compactor was. So we're not hanging out drinking coffee in the kitchen either.

Anyway, should we talk about the weather? The weather was so nice last week, so nice. And the weekend kind of sucked, weather-wise, but yesterday we got a little bonus warmth in the afternoon. And now today ... bleh. Which gives me an excuse to go to the mall all afternoon. I need some more Bath & Body Works lotions and body washes, because my supply is dwindling. And yes, I know, I could buy perfectly nice toiletries at Target or Walgreen's, but dammit, I'm on this stupid diet and I'm already depriving myself of good foods, so I have to reward myself with good lotions instead. Because I think if a nice body wash makes your post-workout shower more pleasant, or you can put on a good-smelling lotion at the end of a hard day, those are worthwhile purchases.

In other news, my family and I are driving to Milwaukee this weekend for our annual trip to the Midwest Gaming Classic, which is a classic video game convention. For those who don't know, my husband is a law professor who teaches a course on video game law, so obviously he is the one who initiated this trip. Some people assume I'm going to find the whole thing to be a big drag, but I'm just happy to go away for a weekend. The hotel has a pool for Nathan to swim in, and it's right next door to a big mall. And there are some fun things to do in Milwaukee, such as The Domes plant conservatory and, umm, cheese-eating.

I probably won't do the cheese this year, though. I have a renewed resolve for Weight Watchers, largely due to the fact that I finally got off my ass and went to the grocery store to buy some appealing produce products.

And if I can close on a serious note, I just want to say that I am blown away by the responses I've gotten to my post last week about my time in the depression program I call Crazy Camp. I am so touched by your support, and also the trust you put in me by admitting to your own mental health struggles. I am thinking about all of you, and I hope you find the help you need. I am always here for you.

Thanks for coming to coffee!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Share Your Breakfast


The Kellogg's Share Your Breakfast program is a campaign to reduce childhood hunger. You just take a picture of your breakfast and upload it to their site, and for every picture Kellogg's will donate the money for a free school breakfast.

This is a picture of one of my favorite breakfasts, pumpkin oatmeal. The idea came courtesy of Ashley. It's half a cup of quick oats, half a cup of water, half a cup of canned pumpkin, and one tablespoon of brown sugar. You microwave it for one minute. It's 5 points on the new Weight Watchers program, and, as Ashley pointed out, it allows you to get in a whole serving of vegetables at breakfast.

Katie has already become a convert to pumpkin oatmeal, and you should try it, too!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

SuperIma Sunday Check-In

It was a fantastic week! The sun was shining, spring was in the air, I was basking in the afterglow of a good report from my doctor, and I reflected on how much better off I am than I was three years ago at this time. And I set my SuperIma goals in the true spirit of self-care with which Leigh Ann intended, so there was no guilt and self-loathing. (Okay, there was less guilt and self-loathing.)

Last week's goals were:
  • Cap off my housecleaning after an hour: Well, some days I didn't clean at all, and other days I cleaned for more than one hour, so I think I probably averaged out to an hour per day. This week was filled with such beautifully unprecedented March warmth and sunshine that it seemed like a waste to spend afternoons indoors cleaning when we could be at the park. So I guess you could say that not only did I achieve my goal of cutting my cleaning short, I actually surpassed it. I'm such an overachiever. Or underachiever. Whatever.
  • Get Nathan to bed at 7:00 each day and take the rest of the evening for myself: This mostly went well. As predicted, there were some challenges due to DST and the fact that it was still light out at 7:00. But the ample fresh air and park time wore Nathan out enough that he usually fell asleep by 7:30, with the exception of one really bad night when he didn't fall asleep until 9:00. But I think he did get enough sleep, and his behavior was better, so ... WIN. And I, too, won because I spent every evening watching TV or reading, and not feeling guilty about it. You know, while I was on the treadmill at the gym the other day, I saw something in the garbled Closed-Captioning of one of the TVs, and I couldn't tell you what the show was or who said it, so this is kind of irresponsible journalism ... but anyway the unknown person on the unknown show said something like, "Women tend to feel like if they aren't working all the time, they are lazy." OMG, yes. I totally feel this way. It's like if I'm not either cooking or cleaning or doing something vaguely professional-ish on the Internet, I feel guilty. But I think with this week's SuperIma goal, I gave myself permission to not be working all the time and to not feel guilty about not working all the time, and that lack of guilt went a long way toward making it a better week.
So, this week I am setting the same goals: (1) Clean for an hour per day, and (2) Get Nathan to bed by 7:00 p.m. and take the rest of the evening off. In the interests of complete accuracy, I do have to note that I have to spend some hours this week memorizing my lines for the show, because the deadline to be "off book" is this Friday. So that will sort of cut into my "me" time, although I guess technically my participation in community theater is something I'm doing for myself, so memorizing lines will still be "me" time. (I'd really rather be at the spa.)

And, somewhat obnoxiously, I have formalized my goals into a chart.


(Saturday is all X-ed out because we are going on a trip.)

There's no bigger buzz-kill than a chart! But the message behind the chart is, You have three categories of daily responsibility, and once you have worked at each for an hour, you are free to relax without guilt.

Have a good week, everyone!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Just More of Her to Love

WARNING: This is an entire post about my cat's digestive problems. Click away now if squeamish, pregnant, and/or eating.

Okay then.

You all know that Leia is the best cat I've ever had. She's sweet and friendly and doesn't wake you up in the middle of the night begging for food.

However.

She is the puking-est cat I have ever owned in my life. I could probably count on one hand the total number of times that all previous cats in my life combined have vomited.

Leia, on the other hand, has thrown up approximately 100 times in the last week.

Okay, slight exaggeration. She's probably thrown up about 6 times in the last week. Generous cat that she is, Leia recognizes that even God rested one day a week, and that the Resolve carpet cleaner should be afforded the same luxury.

At this point you might be wondering if I have sought medical attention for Leia's digestive problems. (Okay, in fairness, nobody is wondering that. Everybody is just wondering why on earth somebody would waste a portion of the Internet on a post about a cat's puking problems. And the answer is, I'm trying to post every day, people. It's hard to think of topics.)

Anyway, yes, I did take Leia to the vet about this problem a couple of years ago. And if you think my hypochondria is just limited to my own medical problems, or just the problems of other humans in my family, think again. I was fairly convinced that the vet would tell me that Leia had stomach cancer or some other terminal illness, and I had already envisioned our tearful goodbye before having her put to sleep.

In actuality, the problem was that Leia was too fat. The vet showed me an x-ray of a normal cat, and then an x-ray of Leia. He pointed out how Leia's pockets of fat were compressing her abdomen such that her internal organs were all rearranged and smashed. Essentially, her fat was pushing on her stomach and making the food come back out.

I was supposed to put Leia on a diet. Like my own dieting efforts, I was only marginally successful with Leia's weight-loss plan.

And so, the cat keeps on puking. Bill has become so frustrated with her that he has started to refer to her as "your cat" in conversations with me.

After the most recent incident, I suggested maybe we start feeding Leia a different kind of food.

"Maybe dog food," suggested Nathan.

It's worth a shot.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Saturday in the Park

I finished reading Matched. It's a young adult novel about life in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic society, so comparisons with The Hunger Games trilogy are inevitable. However, the government in Matched was way less cruel and punitive, and claimed to eliminate individual freedom of choice for the sake of its citizens' well-being. It's the classic question of how much freedom we're willing to give up to ensure safety and happiness. Naturally, the seeds of rebellion are planted, and perhaps because this book lays the foundation for a trilogy, it was more informative than action-packed. I'd recommend it to people who liked Hunger Games, even though I think Hunger Games was a lot better.

Next I think I'd like to read either:
(1) The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of the life of Ernest Hemmingway's wife
(2) Minding Frankie, which seems like one of those sweet little stories about quirky characters in an Irish village

In movie news, I finally got The Social Network from Netflix. Yes, I know, I'm timely! Not only that, I'm uninteresting, because I haven't even watched it yet.

What also makes me cool is, right now I'm listening to Chicago's Greatest Hits. (Chicago the band, not the city.) I got the CDs from the library and ripped them to my computer. Who doesn't love "You're the Inspiration"? And what is "25 or 6 to 4" about, anyway?

Other tidbits of information:
  • I'm supposed to be "off book" (that is, have the script memorized) for Snow White by next week. I have absolutely zero interest in learning the lines. I think I just need to paint myself in a corner so that it's like, Oh God, I have to have this memorized by tomorrow! and then I'll be motivated.
  • My kid needs to get out of my bed. I realize this sounds like an easy task, but if it were, I wouldn't have had him in my bed every night for the last several months. He was never a co-sleeper before. Just one day randomly he decided he was scared in his room, and he crawled into our bed at night. And then the portion of the night he'd spend in his own bed got shorter and shorter, and now I just flat-out give up and let him start the night in our bed. His presence in my bed has had some negative implications for various areas of my life, not the least of which is my eating habits. See, with him in my bed, I don't watch TV or read in my bedroom in the evenings. This means I hang out more downstairs, which is where the kitchen is, which means that I have easy access to food. And with my post-7:00 compromised will power, I end up eating everything in sight, ruining the rest of my good-eating day. Anyway, in an attempt to get Nathan out of our bed, we are buying him a new, more comfortable bed this weekend at Costco. Currently he's still in the converted crib/toddler bed (the fate of an only child, because he never had to give it up for a younger sibling), which means he's sleeping on a hard mattress designed for a baby. Our thought is that if we get him the same comfortable type of mattress we have (assuming Costco still sells the same brand as they did when we bought our mattress), maybe he won't wake up in the middle of the night and come into our bed. It's kind of a last-ditch effort, one for which we don't hold out much hope. If that doesn't work, we'll need to resort to actual parenting and enforcing policies. Dammit.
  • Yeah, so Weight Watchers is ... umm ... I didn't even weigh in this week, I've been cheating so much.
  • At least it has been warmer. We've been able to go to the park every afternoon, which tires Nathan out and makes him fall asleep more easily. Which is an especially good thing because Daylight Savings Time often throws a wrench in bedtimes. Like my Chicago CD says, "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?"
Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

This and That

First of all, I want to say a big fat thank you to everybody who commented on Tuesday's post. I should have said it yesterday, but I started yesterday's post early, before I got all the comments on Tuesday's post.

Anyway, thank you! That was a hard post to write, and I appreciate your support. And I want to send an extra dose of love to those who are battling depression. IT WILL GET BETTER. And I hope you get the help you need soon. DO NOT GIVE UP.

Tuesday's post was one of those reminders of why blogging really can make a difference. I love it when you guys tell me, "I don't know you, but I feel like you're my friend," or, "I'm so glad I found your blog." Oh and by the way, I appreciate the readership of those who do know me, too. As I've said before, sometimes it takes the written word on the impersonal Internet to really get to know somebody you thought you already knew in real life.

So I'm glad that my blog, no matter how small and unpopular, can make a tiny difference in people's lives. But I have to admit that in spite of all my warm fuzzies, I still obsess over the pageview stats for my blog. I had this goal to get to 1,000 pageviews per day by the end of 2011, but it's mid-March already and I only get 100 on a good day. I guess I'll have to have something really controversial happen to me so I can write a post about it and go viral.

In other news, who loves the sunshine?! Everyone does! I really marvel at how much sunshine and daylight improve people's moods. Yesterday we got the kind of pure, bright sunshine and warmth that I don't think we've seen in several months. It made me instantly happy and energetic. I was the patient mom I wanted to be. I took advantage of teachable moments when they arose and gently reprimanded when necessary. And we got so much done! We went to the gym, the library, Target, and the park.

And so I resume my annual March delusions of maybe the weather will be like this from here on out.

Anyway all that outdoor excitement tired me out, and so last night when I was supposed to be working on memorizing my lines for the show I'm in, I watched two episodes of Hoarding: Buried Alive instead. Now, is this a different show than Hoarders on some other channel? Why are there two shows about hoarding? And, more importantly, why do I get sucked in to these shows? I know the obvious conclusion to the show is going to be that the house gets cleaned out, and yet I keep watching through the whole episode so I can find out what happens at the end. I tell myself that my interest in this show stems from my interest in psychology, but really I think I like watching it because I can taunt my husband about how his collecting interests are just a few steps away from hoarding like the people on the show. And the worst is that I always watch the hoarding shows live, which means I have to wait through commercials, and I should DVR it, but it's just too embarrassing to record Hoarders.

And on the last night's episode, this woman refused to tear down a shrine she built to her dog, which included a small plate with a piece of the woman's own birthday cake under cellophane. She said the dog died before the her birthday and she wanted to share some cake with him. Uh-huh. And on another note about that same show: I know opening up your craphole of a house to TV cameras might indicate that you don't have the same level of shame as the rest of us, but please replace your missing front teeth before you go on national TV. Maybe you have some dentures lying around in those piles of yours.

Okay, off to fight the good fight for another day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We Can Work It Out

So, remember my ridiculous bout of hypochondria last week, the one where my neck glands swelled up and I was convinced that I had cancer?

Well, so on Friday, when I had my cell phone attached to me in the hopes that the doctor would call, I had an appointment with my trainer at the gym. I explained the whole gland-swelling situation to her, and her first comment was that she used to experience the same thing, and it was a result of working out too hard.

Working out too hard.

Now, there's no real way to know what the cause was (except that it was not, thankfully, cancer). The doctor speculated allergies and gave me allergy medication. Just to be safe, he prescribed an antibiotic in case I had some kind of undetected infection. And in case the glands were swelling up due to over-training, I took the weekend off from the gym.

Something in this multi-pronged attack made me feel better. And let's not discount the healing effects of peace of mind. I think we've all had some mystery ailment that just disappears on its own once a medical professional gives us a clean bill of health.

But, hypothetically, let's just say that part of the problem was that I was exercising too hard. First of all, I am the last person anybody would ever expect to have an over-exercising problem. It's kind of like how everybody thought I drove like an old granny, and yet I still managed to get a speeding ticket (stupid Iowa state troopers).

But, you know, Jill could be right. I could possibly have been pushing myself too hard at the gym. What I like about Trainer Jill is that, unlike so many other gym personnel, she doesn't work you too hard. She works you to an appropriate level of challenge for you. Obviously it is easier to individualize a workout plan when you're doing personal training than when you're teaching a group exercise class, so I can't be too hard on the other instructors. But the fact remains that Jill believes in moderation.

And so I realize once again that I have trouble defining moderation.

I do know I have a "go big or go home" attitude about the gym. As in, Well, I managed to get here, so I might as well knock myself out. And I have a bit of a denial problem when it comes to accepting that maybe I am like 50 pounds overweight and should not be attempting the exercises of some of my thinner fellow gymgoers. Then there's the not-so-insignificant fact that a harder workout will get me to be thinner faster. (Or so I thought. Jill says over-exercising can actually be counter-productive to weight loss, because it slows down your metabolism. Yet another one of those counter-intuitive human body things.)

Also doing cardio every day makes me feel better. As I've said before, I see myself as a car that has been sitting in a garage, undriven, for too long. My body needs to go out and get used so I can blow out some of those exhaust fumes.

And isn't every single article you read in every single publication always upping the ante for the amount of exercise that "experts" recommend? You could feel good that you're doing the treadmill three times a week for half an hour each, and then somebody in Parade magazine is telling you that you should be doing it five times a week for 45 minutes each.

And I want to train for a triathlon, and I want to be able to swim 3 miles in a lake, and, and, and ...

I would say that I can't win, but I think I can. See, ever since the conversation with Jill on Friday, I have turned off a little bit of my workout guilt. I didn't go to the gym yesterday, and that's okay. Sure, So-and-So goes every single day, twice a day, but So-and-So is not me.

I have also started paying more attention to my own heart rate (seeing as I own this fancy $60 monitor) and not letting my heart rate get too high. I've been saying that if I do want to exercise most days, I need to exercise at a more moderate pace.

It seems weird to me, somebody who is overweight having to cut back on exercise. But I need to do what is right for me and not turn exercise into yet another example of a situation where I feel like I'm not good enough.

So, I am learning to be reasonable. At least when it comes to exercise. All the other things, that will come.

Crazy Camp, 3 Years Later

I was supposed to write this yesterday, since March 14 is the actual anniversary of my first day of Crazy Camp. But at the end of the day I was tired, and this is a hard post to write when you're tired.

So.

March 2008 was possibly the worst month of my life. I'd been battling depression for a couple of months by then, but had held off on getting a prescription for antidepressants because I was nursing Nathan. Finally the last week of February I went to the doctor to ask for a prescription for Prozac, which I would begin taking on Nathan's 1st birthday, the day I would stop nursing him.

The whole idea of cutting a kid off from the boob abruptly on his first birthday still guts me a little. I'm hardly all La Leche League, but I enjoyed nursing him and imagined his weaning would be a little more gradual, a little more "when it's mutually beneficial for mother and baby" as all the attachment parenting people always say.

Anyway, two days before Nathan's birthday I went to the doctor and requested a prescription for 40 mg of Prozac. The doctor suggested I might start at 20 mg, but I swore I was taking 40 mg before (3 years or so earlier). I didn't want an inadequate dosage that would need to be upped, thus taking me months and months to feel normal again.

I filled the prescription. The pharmacist, Lisa (who becomes an important player in this story), told me 40 mg was too high to start on. I told her I swore I was on 40 mg before. "Okay," she said dubiously.

The next day I nursed Nathan for the last time, cried, and swallowed the first pill.

The day after that was Nathan's birthday. I more-or-less spent it feeling like I was in an alternate reality. And it was pretty much like that for two days. I sobbed and sobbed. I didn't want to live. I apologized to Nathan profusely for getting stuck with me as a mother.

And then one night I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep, unable to go on in general. That's when I remembered something:

I had only been on 20 mg of Prozac before. And I had built up to it from 10 mg.

I quit the Prozac cold-turkey. I went to another doctor later that week, hoping he would help me. He gave me Lexapro. I still wanted to die. I don't mean I actually had a plan to end my life, just that every minute of the day and night was painful. I called the second doctor. He told me to go off Lexapro and see a psychiatrist to "get analyzed." You know, analyzed, like I should make an appointment with Sigmund Freud himself.

I felt so let down by the medical community. I didn't know what to do. Somehow I was making it through life, caring for my child and (God knows how) going to work. At one point Nathan and I were shopping in Target, and I casually mentioned to pharmacist Lisa that I was having some trouble with meds. Well, it turns out Lisa later phoned my doctor and expressed her concern about me, and the nurse from the doctor called and told me she would call a local psychiatrist and get me on the fast-track to an appointment. (The guy has like a two-month wait otherwise, which seems like a bad thing when people are severely depressed.)

The doctor suggested that rather than see him in his office, I enroll in an outpatient program at the hospital's psychiatric unit. He would come and see me there. And that's how I ended up going to Crazy Camp.

It was, of course, not actually called Crazy Camp. It was actually called the Intensive Outpatient Program, or IOP, but I called it crazy camp because it felt like a camp. A day camp, at least. I'd go every day from 8:00 to 2:00, and we had various activities like group therapy, workbooks, movies, recreational therapy (umm, yeah), and lunch in the cafeteria.

The first day of Crazy Camp, I tried extra hard to make myself look presentable and not crazy. I was concerned that because Camp was in a very bad area, all the other people there would be deranged transients who the court ordered to be there.

But, it turns out that depression hits people from all walks of life. And the other campers at Crazy Camp were diverse in terms of socioeconomic status, but all were rational, intelligent, thoughtful people. We were just all experiencing a temporary bad patch in our lives.

There were two social workers who came to Crazy Camp to talk to us, no-nonsense Betty, and Lauren, who was like Social Worker Barbie. We spent the days talking and doing little workbooks about mental health. Sometimes Cassie the Rec Therapist came to do little worksheets and games with us.

One thing that made me stand out at Crazy Camp was that I was the only person who hadn't been hospitalized in the inpatient psychiatric ward. All of the other people had spent some time "upstairs," having been admitted through the ER after suicide attempts. That's heavy. That feels like something that you could never get over. Every happy moment of your life from there on out, you'd have to deal with the guilt and shame that you almost weren't there.

There was the young mother who was sleeping on a friend's couch after leaving her children's abusive father. Another young mother who was addicted to prescription drugs, and whose husband left with their child during the course of Crazy Camp. (At one point I was outside with her during a break, and I swear I thought she was going to step in front of an oncoming car.) There was an older lady who had just somehow lost her way, and whose adult children were worried sick about her. A teacher whose final undoing was a battle with her principal. A mother of two special-needs children. A woman who lives very near me, who I couldn't possibly talk into seeing the point of going on. (I still worry about her every time I drive by her neighborhood.)

And so, as the week wore on, we talked. I learned not to feel ashamed about depression. It's a medical illness. It happens to a lot of people. Betty called it "the common cold of mental illness."

I was forced to question a lot of relationships in my life and a lot of my beliefs. I realized there was a lot of guilt I needed to give up. I discovered I was being kind of a martyr about motherhood and wifehood, and that there were some responsibilities I needed to delegate to others. I got angry about the stigma of depression and about society's attitude toward mental illness. The doctor visited and put me on a new medication.

You know, just your typical week in an outpatient psychiatric facility.

At the end of the week, I graduated from Crazy Camp. I got a certificate and a handshake. I wasn't even close to better. But at least I was pointed in the right direction.

It took a long time for me to feel normal again. It took exercise and talk therapy and a medication change. And even now, as you all know, I have some relapses. But nothing along the lines of what I felt when I went to Crazy Camp.

And I still have the certificate and the workbooks from Crazy Camp on a shelf in my closet. I'm afraid to throw them away, afraid to jinx myself by the implication that I'm all better now.

But today is a different life than three years ago.

I am going to have a hard time hitting "Publish" for this post. But I have to do it for other people fighting depression. There's a sort of brother/sisterhood on the part of depression sufferers. We have to be there for other people who are fighting depression. Depression is so pervasive in your mind, that not only do you feel overwhelmingly sad, you feel sad that you are sad, and guilty for feeling sad, and guilty about everything, and ashamed at your own weakness, and unable to see how it could ever get better. And it is the responsibility of all of us on The Other Side to assure those in the trenches that it does get better. It will get better.

I shouldn't feel afraid to publish this. Depression is a medical illness, caused by a lack certain neurotransmitters in your brain. Sure there are lifestyle triggers to depression, and those of us who have tendencies toward depression might be sent over the edge by these triggers. But it does not mean that there needs to be something sad in your life that makes you depressed. You can have a perfectly good life and still feel depressed.

And if you do feel depressed, please get help. Tell a doctor or pharmacist or friend or family member or someone. Heck, tell me. I know it is scary to admit that you are depressed, but it's better than going on this way. I saw too many people at Crazy Camp who were too embarrassed to admit to depression, and who figured in their compromised mental states that the better option would be to take themselves off the planet. Don't be one of those people. Get help.

I love you guys.

Monday, March 14, 2011

SuperIma "Sunday" Check-In

Somehow in the excitement of my big weekend in the city, I failed to realize yesterday was Sunday and I didn't do the SuperIma Sunday Check-In. So I'm doing it Monday instead.

First off, speaking of SuperIma Leigh Ann, let's all send her happy thoughts and good vibes because not only did she just pack up her entire house and drive across several states with three small children, but she had to say goodbye to her husband for a few weeks while he stays in a hotel close to his new job and they wait for their new house to be available. And also she has some job interviews this week, so go over and wish her luck!

Now, as you recall, I took a break from setting goals last week. I needed that break, especially since this past week ended up being a crazy up-and-down of mental and physical health worries.

But ... phew! ... all is well, and so this week I'm going to set goals, and I'm going to do them in the true spirit that Leigh Ann intended, which is to give yourself a break and put yourself first occasionally.

For the "let something slide" goal this week, I am vowing to only spend one hour a day cleaning my house. I know an hour a day of cleaning hardly seems like some kind of treat, but what I'm letting slide are Hours 2 and 3 of daily cleaning. I don't want to let the cleaning slide altogether, because my house is a wreck and living in it is bothering me. However, after an hour of cleaning, I'm calling it quits. I can clean the rest the next day. Otherwise I'll go crazy because, I'm not sure if this happens to you guys, but often while I'm cleaning, other members of my household generate new messes, so theoretically the cleaning could go on indefinitely.

Here's what I'm going to do for myself this week: I'm going to put my kid to bed every night at 7 p.m. and take the rest of the evening for myself. In the past few weeks his bedtime has creeped up later and later, largely due to my now-aborted plan to go to classes at the gym in the evenings. Two problems arise from him going to bed too late: (1) He is a giant crab the next day, and (2) I tend to fall asleep as I put him to bed, and then I get no time to myself. So, hopefully I'm not going to encounter trouble getting him to bed early because of the time change. I love the extended daylight hours, but sometimes the drawback is that Nathan resists going to bed, saying it's still light out.

Have a good week, everyone!