Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Past

Someone sparked a wonderful discussion over on G-Plus, asking her circle to share their favorite Christmas memories. (Mine was watching my mother decorate the tree, but I have many favorites.) A few of us replying admitted to getting tearing during the chat.

I have some sadness during the holidays, and not just because I've lost some family and friends. It just feels like there was more of a holiday spirit all through the year.

Remember when we made more time to enjoy our family and friends more often? A lot of us can recall a time when we gathered at somebody's home more often than on holidays. For my family, it was my mother's house. At any time of day, someone was dropping in. During the week, it was after work. Maybe one of the many folks who called my mother "Mom" would have stopped off on their way home. They'd come in "just for a minute" and end up staying to help Mom with something - say, reach something off a high shelf - and then they'd end up helping her finish "picking" greens for dinner. Or she'd have them sit and have coffee with her and watch the news or catch up on their life news.

After work, I'd go in to see my mother and she'd have two people watching TV in the living room, someone bringing up the the laundry from downstairs, and someone stirring whatever was cooking on the stove. By dinnertime, we could have five to ten us us setting us TV trays and fighting over who was going to leave their plate to get rolls out of the oven. My mother would be watching over us, like the contented grand dame she was.

On weekends, with all us siblings (blood- or love-related), our kids, their friends, Mama's friends - whoever we had gathered into our clan - the driveway looked like Walmart's on Black Friday.

There was never a week that passed without some kind of "company" being around my mother's home. I didn't have five siblings and one living parent, I had love flowing from hundreds of people into my life.

Ironically, it was Christmas that gave me time with just blood family. Well, Christmas Eve. The night before Christmas was traditionally a family-only event. Still, if my mother had taken in someone for a while, they were included. And my mother took in people who needed to be taken in. If someone living far from their own family ran into my mother (with 2 military bases here, that happened a lot), they were going to be part of her family if that's what they needed.

This was one Christmas Eve with just some of the kids that year...

Mama is the little dark lady surrounded by just some of her babies." This us the year before she passed away.
Christmas Eve, the kids (little ones and grown ones!) got to open one present. Mama picked the present.  She had the mind of Sherlock when it came to her tree. If any of the kids touched a single ornament, gift or candy cane, she knew.

For me, whatever year this photo is from, it's when I got one of the pearl rings my mother always got me. Not because of the gift, but because of Mama, I haven't had a Christmas so happy since. I think I was about 36 or 37 at the time. It was a Christmas or two before Mama died.

Check out the tree behind me. Every ornament just so!

So, really, Christmas was almost like any other day in Mama's house. Throw in some gifts and a turkey dinner, any day could be Christmas.

I don't think that my family was unique as far as spending time together.

What's happened to us? What happened to making time for each other? Why does it take a designated day for us to put away our computers and briefcases and cellphones and actually relate to each other?

How does the saying go: "Tis the reason for the season"? So why does the season have to be the reason. Why does Christmas have to be the day for family and showing our love and gratitude for each other?


Friday, December 20, 2013

Life in the Age of the Web

So much of our lives are tied to the internet. I didn't send out many Christmas cards this time around - there are online services for that. I really kind of miss getting some cards in the mail that I can hang around my front door for the season.

This is the age of the internet though. Not surprisingly, I'm finding that a lot of my social esteem now comes from my online social circles. If I don't post on Twitter or Google Plus for a few days, I see a major drop in interactions when I return. This also affects my blog because visitor numbers drop into the canyons.

How does this make me feel? So far, it doesn't really affect my personal feelings, but I can see how it could (and still might).

Will I sign onto Twitter or G+ just to keep people interested in me, in what I have to say? Maybe. Will I do it, no matter how insincere my shared thoughts and opinions are? No.

I wonder how it makes other people feel when they experience this social lag. Does it make them realize how thin and passing an online social life can be?

We really need to make sure that we keep a balance in how much time we spend online and off.
Internet acquaintances are alright, but it's our intimate friendships that need to be nurtured most. Go ahead and fall out sick and see which friends are going to be checking up on you first.

This random line of thought brings another to mind: How many people have just disappeared from their online social circles without anyone wondering what happened to them? I've known a few people who went from super-active online to dead silent. Are they dead? Did something happen to take away their need for interacting online? There's really no way to know without turning into a stalker, is there?

I'm a worrier. When I get to "know" someone online - say on Google or Twitter - and they suddenly stop posting or blogging, I think the worst. I don't for one minute imagine that they are just too busy living an offline life to post their every third thought for me to criticize.

We might all need to take regular breaks from our online lives. I do this about once every couple of months. It's an ordeal. You can almost hear the sucking sound as I pry my brain away from the computer. I always have a little bit of "dry out" fever and I will fidget for a couple hours before I can even get anything useful done.

Everything I do offline is cushioned by the internet. If I clean or do laundry, I need my for music because I no longer own a radio. When I writing, I need Wikipedia or Google because I have no paper encyclopedias, newspapers or dictionary references. I've given my last TV away to a friend, so I have to go online for my shows and movies.

I was talking to a doctor some time back about my Sarc and the problems it causes me. He approved of the "work-arounds" I've fallen back on: different types of listing and note-taking apps. He doesn't like the idea of calculators being used by the general population though. He feels it causes a loss of basic math skills. He's right. I feel almost the same way about our use of the internet.

When did this start happening to us? How far will it erode our skills? Will children one day not know what it is to hold a book in their hands (maybe with a flashlight under their bed-covers because they just have to know how the chapter ends)? I'm already annoyed that my nieces and nephews actually have never had to leave their seat to change the TV channel. It's not fair. On the other hand, they have been robbed of the joy of decorating their bedroom walls with their favorite album covers.

Don't you ever wish that we could have stopped the progress of the internet at a certain stage? Like, we could have email but only for business reasons. We could keep our social networks, but had to ask someone what an agoraphobic is. I think if we could still have a need for each other - to share mentoring and learning and real communication - we'd be better off. I can't imagine what's going to happen to human relationships if we let things keep going the way they are. On the other hand, I wouldn't have been able to tell you all this without the internet. So... we should keep blogs. Definitely keep blogs. And shopping. I can't take those long store lines...


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Writing With Sarc-Brain

For me, writing is a passion.

(noun) a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something
Writing with sarc-brain is a frustration, a painful struggle. Sometimes I feel like a starved woman gagged and bound at a feast. All my creativity is at full-throttle, but I can't corral any of the thoughts ricocheting around in my head.

It's maddening to sit for hours, trying to pull all the little sparkles of ideas together onto paper the way they strut through my mind. My mind creates the picture. I can see the picture, but I can't draw it. The characters and the words they speak are real and vivid inside my imagination, but they log-jam into confusion on their way out and onto paper.

The other day, I almost broke down and cried.

At this point in my life, when I am tied into myself with this "cognitive disorder," I regret having been so responsible before I got ill. I wish I had gifted myself with a year or two of selfishness. I could have gone off and locked myself in a cheap apartment to just write.
"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you." Ray Bradbury
This sarc is my reality. It is what I think about in the early mornings when I am trying to navigate the worlds I've created with my fiction.

In every other part of my life, I've figured out (mostly) how to control the ways sarc impacts me as a person. I function, I manage, I live. I just cannot figure out how to get my stories written from beginning to middle to end. At first, the puzzle pieces to the plots come together beautifully, but then - as the minutes and hours past, they shift and drift apart in my head. I can spend days at a time, trying to collect them back into their proper place. For three years now, I've been trying to collect them. I always end up standing somewhere on shore, watching them ebb and flow, bump and collide.

I believe this is a form of madness.

The most frustrating thing about having this disease is that no one can "see" it. There's no physical badge of impairment. Unless I'm wearing heels and trip over some invisible obstacle, you'd never know there was something wrong with me. Maybe I'll get excited when talking about something and stutter or stringtogethermywords. You might think I've been drinking. Sometimes I have. Most times I haven't. But if I thought it would help...

The best thing about having sarc is that the people who love me still find me lovable. And amusing. (That amuses me, unless it pisses me off.)

Do I think that I could (even without sarc) be a "great" writer? That's never mattered to me. All I've ever wanted was to have at least one book out there with my name on the cover. Writing fiction is a form of history-keeping. I only ever wanted to tell the stories about people and places I know. They are good and interesting people and places. The world should have the chance to enjoy reading about them.

Will I stop writing? Nope. I'm just losing hope of being read.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Quickie Post: Snow, Vodka & Birthdays

This is Alaska. It snows sometimes. Sometimes it snows a lot. No matter. I had a birthday party to go to.

Yep. My car. My job to shovel out...
Did you get a good look at that? Crazy, right?  Snow almost to my kneecaps...

Seriously. Want to see it again?

I love it when the snow avalanches into my passenger seat like that...
I made it. My hair looked like a wet tumbleweed, but I made it.

Half hour before the party, before the place filled with toddlers, I had a quick Vodka and O.J., and found the sleepy birthday boy. He was a little cranky and wouldn't sit still for long. I managed to get one half-decent photo by turning his attention to a cartoon on TV.

He is bored & waiting for his friends to arrive. Sitting still for 2.23 seconds!

That kid right there made my trek through the snow worth it. More than worth it.

Happy Birthday, little Mister Stole-My-Heart! I love you.

I spent two and half hours wearing a silly hat, helping corral little ones and sneaking sips from my drink. Now I am back home & having a cup of HOT chai. Screw this snow. My bed feels a little empty but, mmm mmm, so good. At least I don't have to share the blankets.

Goodnight all.


Life Jubilee

A new year is creeping up on us. Again.

As always, I have been examining my life. In 2007, my life felt something like this

via Sim U
Then I just had to go and get married to the wrong-est man in the world. In less than a year, this is what my whole existence felt like

God's going to trouble the waters...
Because I have friends who love me and a family who will collect all their noses to put them in my business if they think I am in distress, I was pulled back on track. I got home to Alaska and right onto a great job that I loved. Ironically, things fell apart for me on the Fourth of July - a national and, for me, a personal celebration. Just when I was getting my shit together, this freak show called neurosarcoidosis decided to come and visit me.


But I try to look for my blessings in everything. Guess what? I wasn't in my right mind when I married a man who pulled a Jekyll and Hyde act. Yes! It wasn't really me who stayed with someone who treated me so badly. It was a woman with a strange stuff happening inside. My brain was just having its own problems.

Or your brain cells doing weird things...
And I have a million stories to tell, most of them kind of funny. (But not the one about walking nine blocks in 100-degree heat for groceries because Mr. Tingles left with the car and stayed gone for over a week.)

Anyway. My brain digresses...

This post is about healing and progression. In shedding the weight of the past, I have decided to no longer make resolutions for a new year, but kind of go bit by bit with my self-improvements. It's the same idea an aunt of mine has about Thanksgiving. She will remind well-wishers that every day is "Thanksgiving." While, she has felt that way since youth, I have just now taken up the same belief about renewal.

I've decided to fall back on what the Bible teaches about cycles. I'm not sure if I have it right, but 2014 is the year for things being better.

In the Bible, the number seven is significant. I'm no scholar, but I remember enough from reading the Bible (and from the sermons I sat through as a child) to know about this "perfect" number.

What I didn't remember in detail, I could easily find around the internet. This one really goes into some detail. Too bad I have the attention span of a gnat.

I found other explanations for the perfection of seven as a number. Some were too scientific for my sarc-soaked brain to love. The vision of numbers in parentheses makes me go blind.

Nooo!!!! I can't look, I can't look!
God being so good as math is enough to make Him my hero. Me being so bad at math, yet fairly intelligent, makes me the opposite of Rain Man.

Kidding aside, this was the best for me. It's a simple repeat of everything I learned in my Pentecostal home as a youth. The seven year/day renewal idea is a simple one that I can intellectually grasp and it fits in with my faith. (Note that it doesn't affect my faith.)

My simple mind can deal with this. It's something I can incorporate into my own life system. I can handle fasting once every seven days, doing something charitable, cutting my hair, trimming my Google Plus circles. Every seven weeks, I can check my oil, call my great-auntie in Arkansas, change my online passwords and delete useless apps from my phone, hint to the fam about the things still on my Google Wishlist.


2007 was when things got twisted. 2014 might be at least the beginning of things going better. I'm hoping to get that book written, this heart of mine softened back up, this hair of mine under control, this disease tackled for good... I'm not looking for miracles, just a little joy.

Now that I'm thinking about it, this could be a really good thing. It's a simple thing to hope for. Seven years of struggle, seven years of peace. Please, God.

It's my life, somebody's got to live it.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

One Month of Going Natural (on the cheap)

I am just at about one month in on my natural hair journey. Actually, I've been in transition since taking the Methotrexate to treat my sarcoidosis. For some reason, I didn't lose all my hair, but the texture changed and it did thin a bit. Going natural - getting away from the relaxing and dyeing chemicals - has really helped.

As for being overwhelmed by all the information withing the natural hair culture, I am finding a balance by keeping things very simple. I don't have a lot of money to spend on products and there are too many to try without going broke. You don't have to spend a fortune on products to take care of your natural hairstyle.

So. What to do? The same thing as with my other cosmetic issues: go natural to be natural.

First, I thought about what my hair type needs:

Moisture, moisture, moisture
Yep. Good old water. Free and on-hand. I've upped my daily intake from at least 70 to about 100 ounces per day. This is something my doctors will love me for even though staff at any place with a restroom are starting to recognize me by by my run-gait. I go into Starbucks and someone is handing me a pink or blue key before even thinking about taking my order.

In addition to hydrating my body from the inside, I am also watering my hair on a nightly basis. While steaming is way too much trouble without the right equipment, anyone can manage a spray bottle and plastic cap (like these). I think I paid just over a buck for the little sprayer and not much more for a bundle of plastic hair caps. (Heck, I might just mess around and get fancy and spring for a sturdy conditioner cap next month.) I take a 30-minute break in the evening, treat my naps to a good leave-in conditioner, adding a few drops of some SoftSheen glycerin, and do my routine spray-bag-and-sit in a warm bathroom. Just to kill more than one bird with that stone, I downloaded a really cool brick-blasting game on my phone. Reading a book or studying something useful might be a better way to go but, hey, at least I'm not still playing Angry Birds. As much.

$1 Spray bottle from Walmart
I remove the bag and, while my hair is still damp (or I guess you could say "porous"), rub in a little bit of oil and let my hair air dry - and it's amazing that there is no greasy feel. I'm using whatever oil I have on hand, by the way. Right now, it's either olive or sunflower oil (because those are what I cook with most), but I did get pick up some Jamaican black castor oil with my membership at Sally's Beauty Supply when they had a sale. (That JBCO is the bizness!) I tie on a satin scarf to cover the nape and sides of my head so that I can look cute while I protect my hair from my pillows. And, ladies, the look really can be cute in a 50's style kind of way. You don't have to be all "country" about it so that you scare the hell out of your man.

JBCO (About $6) This is great on my skin too.

 mix of black castor oil, sunflower & olive oil.
(Beauty tip: Use w/a baby wipe to remove
 make-up or cleanse & moisturize the skin.)

My niece gifted me the scarf a couple years ago. Thanks Gabs!

Left from an old relaxer kit I had. It's good stuff.
I added a touch of oil to it though.

I like this for the softness and shine

For the wake-up, I will cover my hair for the shower (or another light water-spritz) so that I can add some more leave-in or oil if needed. By the time I brush my teeth and hit my eyes with some liner, my hair is ready to be finger-styled. If I do need to use a tool to "lift" my curls, I use either this comb or a "pick."

Great for styling the natural
 Any plastic. undamaged afro "pick" will also do. I just try not to pull at the root of my hair. I like the comb you see because it's multi-use: it detangles, parts and lifts. I think I paid $1.50 at a local beauty supply.

Since I was too lazy to go get my glycerin spray from the bathroom pantry, this is what I'm talking about.

For now, I have not even gone out and gotten any special shampoos or wash-out conditioner. I've always used ones that are for boosting moisture and softness. Until I use up the different brands I have in the bathroom closet, I am just adding a few drops of oil to them. Next time I buy, I will worry about things whether or not they are sulfate-free or have good "slippage. For now, I'm glad I don't have to buy anything for a couple months. Maybe if I save on products, I'll be able to get this t-shirt

I like it kinky

There you have it. That's my cheap and easy way to keep these natural curls in shape and looking nice. If you have a good routine, you don't have to spend a ton of money. And by the way:


Sunday, December 08, 2013

**REVIEW** Lancome DreamTone (Final Update?)

Just a quick post about the results my sister is having after about 2 weeks use:

Her skin is loving the DreamTone. She had some dry, rough patches that were soothed and smoothed almost immediately.

At 10 years older than my 52 years, her skin is taking to the product the way it seems it was meant. To be really honest, I have pretty good skin for my age while my sister does not. She has had a lot of up and down weight gain over the years that affected her face. The DreamTone is not only improving the feel of her skin, but results in texture are visible.

Unfortunately, my sister will not let me post Before and After pics because she is such a grinch. Kidding. She is just vain and camera-shy. I get it. Who knows, in a few weeks, I might be able to convince her to let me show photos.

So, there it is for now. If your skin does not react as mine did to the product, it seems like it could be just the thing for a lot of you ladies - no matter what your age.


Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Good, Bad & Ugly Internet

Google Plus and Twitter aren't enough for me anymore. I've signed up for Tumblr (not sure how I like it yet), (not sure how it's useful yet), (love it), and I've delved back into my dormant Pinterest account (totally hooked this time).

My older sister doesn't have or want to have anything to do with the internet except for the games on her phone. If it were not for the games on her phone, she probably wouldn't even know what her mobile data is for. I think that's a shame. There is so much on the internet that is good, educational, entertaining and socially world-shrinking. On the other hand, there are the Kardashians. This brings me to the point of this post: the good, bad and ugly of the internet.

The Good

  • It's taught me, better than the other time I spend, that there's a difference in being known and being respected. The internet can make a star or villain out of almost anyone. 
  • People find a lot of harmful enjoyment - like my sister with the games. It sure is cheaper. Example: $8/mo for watching movies and shows in my PJs. $10.25 for one evening movie theater ticket. That's solo, no refreshments (or "Pause" button for the bathroom breaks). Nuff said?
  • It's an open classroom for anyone wanting to learn anything. People who can't afford normal portals of education can gorge themselves on knowledge.
  • It really does erase boundaries. People on different continents of different cultures, races and backgrounds can connect, chat, share and even make plans to meet in person. 
  • For people who ever wondered if they were the only ones who (fill in the blank with whatever insecurity, health problem, life problem, etc.) get relief in knowing they are not.
  • People who can't travel - or maybe even leave their home - can see the beauty of the rest of the world.
  • All the time we spent running to the store, the Post Office and bank and holding our phones listening to bad "Hold" music is pretty much done. Gift-shopping is so easy, you can check a person's Wishlist online, order the very thing they want and have it delivered - even if said person hates you and you're under police orders to stay a hundred feet from them at all times. (Don't ask how I know this.)
  • Jobs are opened up by the existence of the internet. Technology needs the tech savvy. Those tech-leaning folk (and those who run from tech) can find jobs they might never have heard about. Some of those jobs can be done without stepping foot into a shower or out of the front door. (I don't recommend that shower part.)
The Bad
  • Fame is there for the grabbing, but that fame is like any pleasure and comes in varieties: worth it, no way in hell worth it, long-lasting, fleeting, surprising or painful - and always with a consequence.
  • The internet gobbles time the way I'd gobble cheesecake if I lived in an alternate universe with no calories or gravity. (By the way, if you know anyone who uses Pinterest, slap them the next time they claim to be to busy to do anything else. That site is like choose-your-crack city. I spent two hours on there one day and almost missed an appointment.)
  • People need people (sing it, Barbra) but, sometimes, the internet is the worst way for people to meet. It's too easy to lie about who and what you really are. 
  •  Seeing our societies shallow attraction to only those who are beautiful and successful can really breakdown the rest of us mere mortals.
The Ugly
  •  Not all people (yet) have access to the internet (though more than ever before) and, sometimes, they are shoved further into a poverty - whether a poverty of learning, opportunity or of spirit.
  • It seems that just many people use the broken boundaries for bad as for good. The cowards and bullies have a bigger platform to recruit and target victims. And they use it. 
  • As far as meeting someone on the internet (for more than "casual" contact), so much can go sideways. We've all heard about the friend of a friend who finally met Mister or Miss Right via some site. Sometimes, they find out just exactly why the liar face is so lonely. Lots of times it can be funny (to the rest of us) when a real-life meet goes wrong, but too many times, it's dangerous as hell, maybe even deadly. At the least, it can be heartbreaking. That's bad enough for some people.
  • You have to be careful with what you put out there online. Most of us (I include myself here) are not nearly careful enough. Someone with enough time or money or lack character can find out what brand and color underwear you use on alternate days of the week. (And don't even wonder why the ads that pop up on the site you visit always have ads for the exact flavor of Coffee Mate creamer you prefer.)
Yeah, so...

The thing is, there is good, bad and ugly in everything. We just need to be more aware.