Random Saturdays – Thanksgiving Guide for Aliens

We do not have the kids this Thanksgiving (and I’m writing this post before Thanksgiving).  It took longer than normal to figure out what we’d do for Thanksgiving this year because we didn’t have to figure out when we’d pick up the kids, what activities they had, what activities our friends and families had, and how to be as efficient with our time as possible so that everyone got to see the kids and nobody’s friends or families were forgotten.  When we realized that we wouldn’t have the kids this year and that nobody had offered any solid plans for us to add to the calendar, we had no idea what to do with our time.

I had been talking to some friends about their different plans for the holiday and I read many articles in magazines and online about how to plan a stress-free Thanksgiving or how to deal with the stress of Thanksgiving.  There are also plenty of articles on how to decorate, clean, and cook for Thanksgiving.  I love Thanksgiving!  I love that we, as a country, set aside a time to be grateful for anything and everything.  If an alien visited the U.S. during Thanksgiving, though, how would we explain Thanksgiving?  I mean, there’s history with Pilgrims and Native Americans and whatnot, but that would mean nothing to an alien.  How do we explain how we celebrate Thanksgiving now?  The obvious answer is that we’d compile a list of Must Dos and post it on the internet for all the aliens to read.

Thanksgiving Guide for Aliens

  1. Figure out when the most people are the most available.  Is everyone off on Thanksgiving?  Would meeting the weekend after work better?  Does anyone have child custody, probation, or Mogwai time restrictions that must be followed?
  2. Find a location big (or small) enough to hold the available people.  This could be someone’s house, a restaurant, or the neighbor’s backyard since they have a better landscaper than you and are out of town this week.
  3. Make a menu.  This is really important because the timing of everything else depends on when the food will be ready to eat.  My family always had Thanksgiving dinner.  Ben’s family always had Thanksgiving lunch.  I’ve even heard of Thanksgiving brunch.  It really doesn’t matter as long as the person cooking and the person arranging the location for eating are on the same timetable.  Everyone else can do whatever they want as long as they don’t make the person cooking wait to eat.  It’s even better if everyone makes a little something so that no one person has to do all the work.  I say this (a) having made entire Thanksgiving meals from scratch by myself because my perfectionist attitude and my tastebuds told me to and (b) my antidepressants now make me really unmotivated to do much of anything 90% of the time, despite my tastebuds.
  4. Cook, travel, gather, and eat.  Don’t argue (or fight) over something dumb.  This is a time to enjoy family, friends, and food.  As long as you have a sliver of one of those, then you’re doing well.  Don’t instigate arguments.  Don’t be snarky.  If someone says something snarky to you, ignore it.  I always feel sorry for those people because they are bursting with so much negativity that it just spews from their mouths like stinky farts.  Also, if you’re with your loved ones, then it’s safe to assume that they did not mean what they said in a way that would hurt you.  They either have diarrhea of the mouth or it sounded better in their heads.  Even if you know this person just likes to complain and pick arguments, consider it a mouth fart and be glad that you don’t mouth fart.
  5. Sleep.  Watch the parade.  Watch football.  Play games.  Eat way too much.  Read.  Go for a walk.  Enjoy this time because it will be a memory in the past before you know it.

That’s my guide to Thanksgiving for aliens.  There’s no need to thank me.  I just like to volunteer out of the kindness of my heart to check things off the Alien Invasion Preparedness List.

H A P P Y   T H A N K S G I V I N G !

Or Happy Random Thursday if you are not in the U.S.!


Random Saturdays – Welcome Holidays!

The holiday season is here!  If you’re old like me, you find yourself saying, once again, “I can’t believe it’s already November.  Where did the year go?”  If you love the holiday season like me, you are also excited that the holiday season is here.  Canada has already celebrated Thanksgiving, and Halloween and Election Day have just passed in the U.S.  The next big U.S. holiday is, of course, Thanksgiving.

The holiday season is also the birthday season in my world.  From October – March it’s a non-stop birthday celebration.  I used to be one of the few summer birthday people that I knew.  Now that I’m married, half of the family have birthdays during birthday season, and the other half of the family has birthdays in the summer.  I’ve always felt sorry for people who had birthdays around the holidays because their birthdays are overshadowed by the big holidays, especially if you’re born around Christmastime.  That’s why I try to make a point of giving separate Christmas and birthday presents to Christmas babies.  Plus, there are so many great sales during the holiday season that it should be easier to shop for holiday season babies.

Oh and shopping.  There’s the neverending fight between shopping vs. meaningful holidays.  I really don’t think that they are mutually exclusive.  I believe you just have to be aware of the meaning in holidays and you have to try to share that meaning with others when you are giving gifts.  This is especially tricky with kids because they are naturally inclined to just want stuff, lots and lots of stuff.  If we don’t teach them to be grateful for what they have and to think about what they can give and do for others, then they turn into ungrateful adults who have the nerve to think they can actually criticize gifts given to them and favors done for them.  That is the type of attitude that kills the holiday spirit and turns everything into a debate about the “true” meaning of any given holiday in a bad way.

This was our first holiday season together. The kids are about twice the size as they were then. My stomach is about twice the size s it was then. (From left to right: Dora, Lego, Ben, Minecraft)

I am American and I celebrate Thanksgiving.  I love the food.  I love time off from work.  I love spending time with my family and friends. When I plan Thanksgiving at my house, I always try to do it as low key as possible, but then find myself stressing myself out by trying to cook everything perfectly and make the house look immaculate.  I do it to myself.  Not once has anyone ever criticized me for not having enough food, the right food, a dirty home, ugly decorations, etc.  It’s all in my head.  With the kids, I’m trying to be more aware of that and remember that if I stress myself out over this crap that doesn’t matter, then they will learn to stress themselves out over crap that doesn’t matter as well.  Just as bad, they may start stressing others out about crap that doesn’t matter and think they are entitled to criticize the cooking and entertaining abilities of others.  So, I’m trying not to pass stress and judgement on to my kids.

Then there’s Christmas.  Let me say now that I am not Crhstian but I do celebrate Christmas.  I grew up Christian, spent many years in a crisis of faith, and have finally found myself in a good spiritual place, the details of which I am not going to delve into during this post.  I celebrate Christmas because it’s what I grew up with and it represents a time of giving and spending time with loved ones for me.  When I had the Great Santa Claus Crisis around the age of 10, my mother told me that she believed in Santa Claus because he was the spirit of giving.  So, no matter how old you were, you should always believe in Santa Claus.  No matter how much or how little you got in your stocking, you should always believe in Santa Claus.  I decided to adopt that belief as my own.

We just had the kids write their letters to Santa because we won’t see them much in November and we wanted to make sure that Santa had plenty of time to get their letters.  They asked for some surprising gifts, but also had interesting conversations with Santa.  Dora was concerned that Santa might not like the milk and cookies she wants to leave for him.  Minecraft told Santa that if he were lucky, he would get cookies and milk.  Lego just wanted to know if Santa and Mrs. Claus were doing okay up in the North Pole.  They all decorated their letters with colorful pictures and included phrases like, “Santa’s #1!”  Three years ago, their letters to Santa just told Santa what they wanted.  It might not seem like much, but to see their thought processes go from “Here’s what I want,” to “How are you. Here’s what I might do for you.  I think you’re great!” is pretty cool.  They also helped each other write their letters, with no help from Ben or me.  We did have to get onto them once for arguing over marker colors, but they worked together well otherwise.  Now, I can add cooperation, mental growth, and emotional growth to the great things that Santa represents for me.

As I typed this, it was about 6:30 AM and I had been awake for three hours with a terrible headache.  The kids were just picked up for school by their bio-mom and Ben had just left for work.  The cat was running circles around the house, chasing invisible toys.  The Excedrin has moved from making my head a bit numb to making me rather dizzy and the cat has begun her grooming routine, signaling that she is ready to curl up with me for her morning nap.  I’m going to take the cat’s advice to end this post and get some rest.  I hope that you are as excited about the holiday season as I am and that it holds as much meaningful promise for you as it does for me.  Happy Holidays!

Random Saturdays – Pokemon Birthday

When I told my dad that Lego wanted a Pokemon birthday party, he said, “The only problem with that is you gotta catch ’em all.”  I didn’t even know Pokemon still existed!  Amanda’s little sister loved them when she was about 6, but she’s in her 20s now.  Apparently, kids still love Pokemon, even though they’re harder to find and cost more.

Since we now own our lovely home, I we decided that a birthday party would be the perfect butt-kicker motivation to get unpacked.  We’ve been working really hard and making alot of progress, but the boxes seem to be multiplying.  Still, thanks to the beauty that is Pinterest, I got a lot of great ideas for Lego’s birthday party and I’m hoping he’ll have fun.

One thing Pinterest couldn’t help with is the whole broken home thing.  Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that Lego’s bio-mom moved as far away as legally possible.  The kids had alot of trouble adjusting to the move, the new house, the new school, making new friends, leaving their dad, etc.  They’re finally settling into things, which is great, but school functions, holidays, and birthdays are still a bit weird.  The kids have one birthday party with their bio-mom and one birthday party with us.  I asked Lego if he wanted to invite any friends from school, if he thought anyone might be willing to drive out that far for the party.  The school also has a rule that you cannot bring invitations to school unless you invite everyone in the class.  We’re fine with inviting Lego’s entire class over, but we didn’t want him to feel bad if nobody in the class wanted to come since it’s so far away.

Also, Minecraft is in football this year.  He has a game on Saturday, which would be the normal day that we’d have a birthday party.  So, we talked it over with the kiddos and they decided that we would go to Minecraft’s football game on Saturday, we’d do a family outing Saturday afternoon, we’d have Lego’s birthday party on Sunday afternoon, and Lego would invite two kids who live in his bio-mom’s neighborhood to the party.

It made me sad that it had to be so complicated, but it makes me grateful that our kids are so mature and considerate of each other that Lego didn’t want to overshadow Minecraft’s football game and Minecraft didn’t want to overshadow Lego’s birthday party.  Lego didn’t make a big deal out of who would or wouldn’t be at his birthday party either.  He was just excited to see what I’d do with the cake, decorations, and games and he’s looking forward to seeing any family and friends that do show up.  It warmed my heart and made me feel like a big ol’ Jigglypuff!

Random Saturdays – Plan, Plan Plan

It’s barely the end of January and my calendar is filled through the end of June.  How is that possible?!  As I move through the days, I can’t figure it out, and yet, I keep packing more stuff onto the calendar.  It’s no wonder I keep having nightmares about people being mad at me for missing the ball on something that I either promised to do and never did or something that they volunteered me to do without my input.

Christmas was fun,  though.  Ben and I made the most of the time that we did have with the kids, our families, and our friends.  I was on call the week of New Year’s, but it was actually quiet enough that I was able to get out of the house without having to bust out my laptop and work.  It was a belated Christmas miracle!

Since then, I’ve had difficulty getting motivated to do any of the things I need to do, and I finally realized that it was because I was depressed…even though I’m on anti-depressants.  When I went to the doctor a week ago for a med check, she found that I had been doing well in alot of areas (cholesterol, blood pressure, asthma), but could tell right away that my depression had worsened since she last saw me.  After talking about my options, she encouraged me to see a psychiatrist who could monitor my depression more closely, but I told her that I don’t have the time or money for that.  She upped my meds a little (since I was taking the bare minimum anyway).  I will see her again in a week and am feeling much better.

It’s a difficult thing to stay on top of brain meds.  You have to keep track of where you are, what you think might have led to that, and know where you want to go.  Then, you have to keep track of your progress as well as any regression that occurs.  If you’re at the point where you need brain meds, this can be especially difficult to do.  I’m an old pro at this, though, so I like to think that I’m a bit self-aware in that aspect.

Since increasing my dosage, I am a bit more motivated to get things done.  I haven’t gotten into a regular workout plan yet, but I do work out while I brush my teeth and while I watch tv.  It’s just short spurts, but I suppose it adds up.  I’ve gotten worse at portion control since increasing my meds, but have been eating healthier in general.  So, I still haven’t found the best route for me yet, but I’ll keep trying.  Ben got a Bowflex this month and has been doing the 20-minute exercises three times a week.  It’s helped remind me that if he can find one hour a week to workout, I can too.  The cat has also been sick and we are on the second round of liver meds to try and get her better.  Having to make time to care for her reminds me that even though I may not want to workout or always eat well, it’s important to take care of myself.  At least, this is what I’m telling myself.

Plus, I need to get healthy to gear up for all of the stuff going on in the coming months.  Right now, we’re planning on getting our finances aligned to buy a house, we have a wedding to go to in February, Minecraft’s birthday, Spring Break with the kids, we’re getting married, other family members’ birthdays, the reception, tons of work, being on call, finding and buying a house once the financial stuff is good, and (hopefully) packing and moving.  Those are the highlights, but plenty of smaller events are sprinkled in throughout the weeks and weekends.

I used to rely on staying busy as a distraction from depression, but now, it just wears me out.  Ben has been great at trying to remind me that I need to rest when I need to rest.  I hate giving in and being lazy even when I know he’s right, but if I keep pushing myself, I know I’ll just end up burned out and on the couch for weeks or months.  Right now, our big project is getting the kids’ furniture set up in their rooms.  Santa gave them great gifts, but did not give us the time and energy it takes to put the furniture together.  This will really be the first weekend since Christmas that they’ll be at our house long enough to use any of it, though.  So, it’s important that we get everything set up so that they can enjoy the furniture before they outgrow it.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile, but work, life, and laziness continued to distract me until I read this interesting article on non-dishware things that can be cleaned in the dishwasher.  Blew my mind!  Also, I don’t quite know how it inspired me to write this post, but, you know, such is life.  Either way, you can thank me when all your stuff is clean.

Random Saturdays – Hot Springs, Arkansas

The last weekend in July, I went on vacation with Ben, the kids, his brother, his brother’s kids, and their parents.  We decided on Hot Springs, Arkansas because it was a relatively short drive and the weather would be decent.  I’d only driven through Arkansas before, but had never really visited it.  Ben’s parents took the family on vacation there years ago.  Even though it was a miserable experience, they agreed to give it another try.  Ben said that this was really the first vacation he’d been on with his parents and brother since 1999.  I think the last family vacation I went on was Christmas of 1994.  Though I wasn’t going on a vacation with my family, per se, it was still nice to be going on a family vacation.

Now, if you’re not from The South, then you just assume everyone in The South is stupid and that the food is good (i.e. battered and fried or covered in butter.)  If you are from The South, then you know that we argue about which of us is dumber and which of us has better bad-for-you food.  If you are from Texas, then you know that we live in our own world and don’t understand why any of the other states do any of the stuff that they do at all.  Even when we do think that other states have a better idea about something, we still have plenty of reasons why that would never work in Texas, and those reasons mostly involve statements like, ” Because it’s Texas.”

I say all this because when I make some of the following statements about Arkansas, I don’t want you to think that I’m states-ist or anything.  It’s part of Southern Culture to do this.

The hotel was nice. The people working there were great. The landscape was beautiful. Everyone smoked (thankfully, outside), but it was still bothersome to have to hold my breath going in the building. Most of the locals were rude. Most of the places we visited were a disappointment. Downtown was strange because it was very hipster-ish while also being run down while also having the cleanest hobos I ever did see. The clean hobos were due to the numerous hot springs fountains in the downtown area. Hobos and tourists alike gathered free water from the fountains in plastic milk jugs. At one point, while driving through the mountains, we passed a group of men by the side of the road who waved to us. Minecraft commented that he would like to live there someday. Ben told him that it’d be difficult for him to find a job to support himself. Minecraft said, “I’ll work in construction or something like those men back there.” We had to explain to Austin that those men were not construction workers, but homeless people who lived in the mountains and that they were not dark from tanning, but from dirt. They were not as clean as the homeless people in downtown. It was funny, but sad.

I think the kids had the most fun mining for rocks. We came home with four bags of various quartz crystals and geodes, most of them from Ben’s efforts. I was most looking forward to the Mountain Tower, but didn’t make it (that’s a whole other story of miscommunication + hurt feelings = unnecessary stress). Ben brought a mug back for me, though, and it’s a pretty good one. By that point, we hadn’t really been anywhere with very good gift shops. I kept thinking that the National Park Aquarium would be a good place for souvenirs for people, but it ended up being more like a run down pet store. The tiny gift shop had shirts with sharks on them, but should have had shirts with anxious fish and dirty fish tanks.

Arkansas is a beautiful state, though. Hot Springs, in particular, has some impressive man made lakes, plenty of greenery, and places to eat while enjoying the view. I’m glad we went when the weather was okay because I would have hated to be trapped indoors with a migraine rather than enjoying ice cream on the lake.  It was a really great way to end the summer.

Random Saturdays – Weddings

On the way to work, I tend to flip around between the different radio morning shows.  Everyone kept talking about weddings and I couldn’t figure out why.  Finally, one of the shows mentioned that this is June, which is apparently right smack dab in the middle of Wedding Season.  Why anyone would want to get married during the hottest part of the year baffles me.  If you’re a teacher and you want to get married when you have some time off, I get it.  Otherwise, I don’t.

Then again, I don’t really like weddings anyway.  They seem like a really expensive way to turn you and all the people around you into stressed out jerks.  I expressed this sentiment to Ben and told him that I’d rather invite my friends and family to all jump in our cars and drive through traffic together because we’d get the same results without all the fuss.  Most of the conversations on the morning shows have been about people’s bad experiences at weddings or while planning their own weddings.  People are too cheap to pay for something that a guest wants or the guests are being too demanding about something.  Future in-laws fight.  Lifelong friends stab each other in the back over the choice of dresses.  Bridezillas.  It’s really a terrible thing.

I’ve been watching Friends reruns here and there over the past few weeks, and they’ve had episodes of all of the different Friends weddings.  As funny as they all are on tv, those weddings would all be completely miserable experiences in real life.  They were all also very expensive and time consuming.  I have never understood why people put themselves through so much stress.  Why not spend that money on a down payment on a house?  Pay off student loan debt?  At the very least, go on a nice honeymoon?  Actually, people seem to like to start their lives together with lots of stress and lots of debt.  The American Plan is supposed to be that we go to college, graduate with ungodly amounts of debt, get into more debt by planning a huge wedding that nobody enjoys, go on an expensive honeymoon, and then come back and get into more debt by buying a house that you can’t afford while driving multiple cars that you can’t afford.

Right now, Ben and I are both paying on our student loans.  I graduated with $32,000 of student loan debt in 2012 and I now owe $36,000 even though I have made every one of my payments on time for the past two years.  I can’t afford to pay more on them than I’m already paying, though.  We are also saving up for the down payment on a house.  Since he has three kids and rebuilds cars, we need a house with alot of space.  As it is, Ben crams himself into a tiny garage to work on the Mustang, or he makes the three-hour trip back and forth between our house and his parents’ farm to use the trailer and/or work on the Jeep.  It would really save us time, money, energy, and stress, if we just invested into a home where he could do all of that without making the long drive.  Looking into the cost of homes, we could buy one similar to the one we’re renting right now for close to the same price as buying one that will allow him to enjoy his hobbies at home.  Thinking about adding more debt to my name frightens me, but it’s also necessary (just like it was for my degree).

So, when I think about people spending the amount of money on a wedding that I spent on college, I feel a a bit nauseous and a bit violent.  Why put yourself through that for something so stupid?!  You can celebrate the day with your friends and family without all the muss and fuss.  Eliminate unnecessary costs and stress because there will be no shortage of either of those in your life.  Have a small ceremony, gather your closest friends and family around for a nice meal, and enjoy your time together as a new family.  As far as I’m concerned, the only things about weddings that really matter is the promise that you are making to your husband/wife and, of course, the wedding cake.  All of that other mess can go somewhere.