Friday, January 20, 2017

Activism in a "Post-Factual" America


The next four years will be hard for this country. Our rights will be hacked at with ice picks, machetes, toothpicks that introduce cracks in the foundation. It is Day 1 and the White House's climate change webpage has already disappeared, along with the LGBT, civil rights, and ACA pages. Trouble is not brewing; trouble is here.

So what can we do about it?

Artist Haley Gilmore

Make calls.
Phone calls are the most effective method of contacting elected officials. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to call on a regular basis. Keep your senators' contact info bookmarked (or on speed dial) so you don't have to look them up every time. Take 10 minutes out of your lunch break, one day a week, and pick an issue. If you're nervous about what to say once you call, write out one or two sentences. That's all you need. Remember to be polite and make a connection with the person on the phone if you can - making a good impression means the staffer is more likely to discuss your call with others.

When organized, civil protests happen, take part. If one isn't organized and should be, make it happen. Be safe and put everything through legal channels, but remember that change doesn't happen through armchair activism alone. This is going to take some hard work.

Pick an issue and get involved. The issue I've chosen is women's rights, and I've joined the National Organization for Women. It's easier to join up with others who are already working on issues than to start from square one, so grab your friends and get involved.

Not everyone has time available to spend, so reach out to the groups that will suffer most in the upcoming years. See the list I've assembled here. You can also donate to organizations in your city/state, such as women's rights groups and domestic violence shelters.

Support political candidates.
If you don't know of a rock star in office right now, research, find one, and back them up. Learn about up-and-coming candidates for local or state offices whose policies you admire. Vocalize your support through phone calls, letters, guidance about what kind of world you want to see, etc. We need to start putting more progressives in office yesterday. 

Run for office.
This doesn't have to be a senate position. You can start at a neighborhood level. Get into your neighborhood association. Teach them why it's so important for us to all stick together, why supporting rights for those who are different from us will keep our own rights in place. 

Send letters to people. Sure, signing petitions online can have some impact, but you can better effect change by putting things into your own words and sharing your own experiences. If repealing the ACA will personally affect you, tell your senator why. . 

Reach out.
We need to contact more than just our elected officials. The only way we survive this new administration is together. Step out of your comfort zone. Make friends with those who are different from you. Learn about things that you never realized were under threat. Be a support to those around you so that if we should need help from one another, we all have someone to turn to and know what others need. This post is from shortly after the election, but is still mind-opening and relevant.

You'll probably make mistakes here and there. That's okay; I will too. You might stick your foot in your mouth sometimes. That's okay, you'll survive. But if we don't speak out, some people might not.

If you have other suggestions that I can add to this list, please share. 

Artist Micah Bazant

Activism in a "Post-Factual" America: Donations

If you're looking for causes to donate time or goods to or volunteer for, here are a few. You can find another list here. If you want to check these out more carefully, view them on; I haven't done so for all of these yet. Please share this with others. 

Boys & Girls Club
Big Brothers, Big Sisters

Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault PreventionNational Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Freedom of Speech/





The Anti-Defamation League


Reproductive/Women's - a 4-star charity for 14 years straight

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Personal Goals: 2017

Having made lists like this for many years, I'm starting now to better recognize my limits and reasonable expectations. Here are 20 goals for the year; I hope to accomplish 15 of them.

The above paragraph makes me feel old.

1. Have specific "me" time once a month

2. Complete three home projects from the following list (roughly in preferential order)
  • Fix the driveway
  • Fix the toilet
  • Hem the white curtains that are floating around the basement somewhere (for the bedroom)
  • Have Troy and Sam over for a renovation party (yaaaaay)
  • Paint bedroom trim white
  • Get and hang new bedroom blinds
  • Get an A/C tune-up
  • Redo the tea room (more shelves, hang calligraphy)
  • Paint and re-carpet the basement steps
  • Replace a window?
3. Continue to attend NOW meetings

4. Go to Dragonfly Yoga regularly and/or do yoga at home once a week 

5. Knit Ingrid another sweater

6. Knit myself hand warmers with a freaking I-cord so I don't lose the damn things a fourth time
  • Bonus if I also finish the second sock in the pair I started four years ago
7. Replace the broken mandolin string

8. Clean out old financial papers
  • Bonus: Develop a better storage system (meaning any at all)
9. Attend a swim class with Ingrid

10. Save money through three of the following
  • Fix the phone plan
  • Shop at Aldi once a month
  • Have a "buy nothing" week at least four times to clean out the kitchen cupboards and use up fridge items
  • Only get takeout or go out to eat for special occasions - as part of this, keep frozen meals on hand
  • Ask for an internet service discount (because I definitely won't get one if I don't ask)
  • Get a clothing rack so we use the dryer less
  • Keep track of pet food deals, look for coupons, and stock up
  • Write down personal expenses and amounts
11. Write twice a month at minimum, with at least one blog post here per month--one post will be about a book I'll read this year

12. A personal goal that I don't care to divulge here

13. Record Ingrid's reading list on Goodreads

14. Get new tires for Yorick (the little car)

15. Go on a family camping trip

16. Make krumkake

17. Remember that afghan I made three years ago? Sew in the ends and give it an edging.

18. Have a tea party (much like my friend Sandy)

19. Send my novel to three people for review (volunteers?)
  • Bonus: Re-read it myself
20. Finally buy one of these ottomans with a reversible tray that I've been eyeing for months (for the craft corner)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Personal Goals: 2016 Recap

Hi! It's been a while. Consider this my attempt at getting back to it. Um. Again.

I didn't post it here, but at the beginning of 2017, I made a list of 21 goals for myself.

1. Reread The Happiness Project's chapter on clutter - done
2. Complete at least three home improvement tasks - done

  • Replace front window with a bay window
  • Get tools (jigsaw and sander, not that I used them)
  • Get rid of stuff we don't use, including a lot of clothes
  • Fix the driveway ... kind of. It still needs new asphalt.
  • Paint house
  • Get/make a file cabinet/bench

3. Do an activity with Tickle once a month over the year - done, including an awesome family vacation
4. Exercise more - nope
5. Play mandolin more - I broke one of the strings; does that count?
6. Create craft corner - done, and I love it!
7. Send Grandpa lefse - hand delivered, along with cookies made from his grandma's recipe
8. Make krumkake - nope
9. Start food/garden share with neighbors - sure, I'll allow it
10. Craft and hang Germany frames - done, and they look nice (now I just have to rotate out the pictures)
11. Frame and hang the Avatar poster - done
12. Get a haircut at least twice over the year - done! I think I got three.
13. Write for at least two minutes/day - nope
14. Finish at least eight books - no ... I read two and half of two others.
15. Sew a clothing item - no, but I'm counting it. I knitted a lot.
16. Pay up on the mortgage - nope
17. Create a mutual fund for Ingrid - nope
18. Get a shower clock/mirror - yes
19. Cut down time online - I'm satisfied with my online time this year.
20. Weed more than twice; put down mulch - done
21. A personal goal that I don't care to divulge - done

So I met 14 of my 21 goals (at least sort of). I'm pleased with this. The goals were simple and, for the most part, reasonable. I'm still going to try to keep my list shorter for next year, though. I especially like the way I arranged my home improvement goal, so I'll reprise that.

I was feeling pretty bummed about my lack of reading this year until a friend pointed out that, while she fell short of her own reading goal, her relationships and job were all going well, and that's substantively more important. So while I met 67% of my goals (great in my opinion, but still a D), I made a lot of good memories and took strides that can't be quantified. I now have thousands more pictures and had lots of wonderful conversations with beautiful minds. I did great things that aren't even listed here, like going to the Weird Al concert and FREAKING KOREA. I read Tickle the same five books way more than eight times each.

In that sense, it was a very good year.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Subconscious Wisdom

First of all, my postpartum depression post has quickly become the most viewed one I've ever written. You are all amazing - thank you for all the support. I hope that post has helped many of you in some way.

Here's a bit of an expansion on that. I mentioned that I had two dreams that led to my decision to take meds; they were so vivid and spoke so clearly that I still recall them in detail seven months later.

The First

Tickle was two and a half months old, and I couldn't admit to myself yet that I was experiencing PPD. And then I dreamed.

I saw a drawing. That was it: a simple drawing that could have been a cartoon clipped out of a newspaper. It was an alphabet quilt, colored in brown scale on a bright white background. Each square of the quilt was its own letter, with a corresponding animal family: A for alligator, B for bear, and so on. But in each panel, one parent played energetically with the child and smiled happily, while the other parent sat by themselves to one side, either looking away or looking at the other two as they played, wearing an expression of worry or anger or sadness.

I especially remember the zebra family. The baby zebra was so happy with the little wooden train (with an expression that Spousal Unit calls "unfettered joy"), pushing it while the mom smiled and lovingly rested a hoof on his back. But the zebra dad was sitting by himself, looking away, visibly upset.

On waking, I immediately realized that yes, I'd been feeling depressed. It's not like I'm a stranger to the feeling; I've dealt with it most of my life. But I was able to acknowledge that it was more than hormones and difficulty adjusting, because the thing that struck me most about the dream was that in each panel of that quilt, a parent was missing out on his or her child having fun and growing up, unable to appreciate the good times.

I knew I had already missed out on too much and had to do something about it.

The Second

Two weeks later, I had been trying to follow a new routine, doing my best (but still failing) to actively hold back the worst of my depression while continuing to see my therapist. If I were to take meds, I had to start right away for them to have any effect before my maternity leave ended. I'd filled the prescription and even brought it home, but still felt unsure about taking them.

(Looking back, I don't know that I even remember why I was so divided. Part was probably not wanting to depend on a drug for happiness, which is a flawed view - it's more about allowing me to experience a proper range of emotions. I think it mostly had to do with taking them while breastfeeding. My doctor had given me the most well-researched prescription and assured me that any amount that might reach Tickle was negligible and harmless, but still, I worried. Because I'm really, really good at it. If it were an Olympic event, I'd take home the gold every time.)

And then I dreamed.

In the dream, Tickle was born as twins and immediately whisked away from me. Birth had been so intense that for a while, I thought it had been a dream, especially without the babies at my side; the nurses and doctors wouldn't tell me anything, either. But after repeated confrontation, they admitted what had happened, and I went off in search of my daughters in the cold, industrial-sized hospital. I finally found Tickle in the dark hospital NICU, which was lit up with awful red lights. I clutched her to me and it was clear that she had no issues at all - she was small and so very new, but healthy as could be. They had only taken her away from me because they (whoever they were) thought it was best for her. But I knew that was wrong. I knew that she needed me.

Holding her tightly, I left the NICU and encountered the hospital director and a few other staff, who had been trying to chase me down and keep me from finding the babies. I was so upset that when the old balding director provided a weak apology for the situation, I clutched newborn Tickle tightly in one arm and swung out at him with my right.

You know how in dreams, you always end up moving as though through water? Fighting is completely ineffective and you can never run fast enough. But that wasn't the case with this dream. I gave the director several solid punches, all while yelling at him and holding my little girl close. I was able to defend and protect her, because I would do anything for her.

I woke up feeling exhilarated and empowered, and knew that desire to do anything for her extended to improving my mental health. I took the first pill immediately, with a smile on my face.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Saying the Hard Things

Let me preface: I love my daughter.

I have loved her since Day 1 (however you might measure that). I'm continually amazed at all the things about her - from the way she stared at everything so intently the moment she was born to all the shifts and changes as she's become a different person over the last nine months. She's incredible and studious and smart and adorable and (yes) perfect.

I thought (hoped) it was just hormones at first. Then I thought it was just trouble adjusting to this big life change. Then I called it by its true name (at least, in my head) and tried to ignore it, and then hoped it would go away on its own. I'm sure many other mothers do this too.

I felt so guilty for having postpartum depression. I also felt angry for so many reasons: I couldn't figure out how to do it right (because surely I was doing it wrong). Spousal Unit had (still has) a different parenting style than me and we had trouble compromising (largely because of the depression and hormones). I was also angry because I love being a mom (!) so much more than I thought I would, and I felt like my entire life had been re-written with Tickle (i.e., Child Unit) as the focus ... and I was okay with it. I felt like that made me a bad feminist, or like I was betraying my old self. 

It was a complete 180 from who I once was. Because becoming a mother made me a different person. Is making me a different person. And it's been tough coming to grips with the facts that (a) I would completely give up everything I am in a heartbeat for my daughter, and (b) it's better for both of us if I don't, because I'm a better parent when I take proper care of myself - in all ways.

Medication and therapy have helped a lot. So have Spousal Unit's incredible patience and understanding. So has learning about PPD; it turns out that anger is one of its main symptoms. I had a hard time deciding to start taking meds back in July, but I realized that taking them was, for me, the best way to continue being a positive force in Tickle's life. Taking them was part of being a good parent. The way I felt before and after they kicked in was night and day, and it's noticeable even in pictures.

Before - June 2015, 2 1/2 months

After - September 2015, five months

It was like stepping into the wonderful technicolor land of Oz. And hearing Nessun Dorma's triumphant climax for the first time. And catching a whiff of that amazing dish your mom used to make when you were a kid, bringing beautiful memories to life before you.

All at once.

I had forgotten it was possible to feel so good. Best of all, I was still capable of feeling a normal amount of sad or angry when appropriate - a big difference from my last experience with antidepressants, 12 years ago. For several months, life was still difficult sometimes (usually due to lack of sleep), but a thousand times more wonderful. I can't imagine what it would have been like to go back to work while feeling like I did before.

While my mood isn't nearly as bad as it used to be, I've had more trouble since winter began and the days shortened. I've dealt with seasonal affective disorder in the past, and apparently having PPD doesn't give me a pass on it this time around. I've had to remind myself again that taking care of myself is taking care of my family.


Lately this means renewed diligence with taking the meds (because they're still important, damnit) and making time for my SAD light. It's hard to remember that it's okay to put myself first - when I feel like myself, I tend to give away the last cookie, do five "quick" errands before bed, and forget for an hour at a time that I wanted a glass of water. (Really - when I get caught up in something, I even forget that I'm hungry.) I need to remember that feeling well doesn't mean I can slack off on taking care of myself.

When I feel like a shadow-cloaked beast has taken hold of my soul, showering is a victory. Recognizing that the words I want to say are fueled by depression - and then holding them back - is a triumph. Through all of this - despite all of this - I have loved Tickle and Spousal Unit immensely. Even when I felt suicidal, my warped brain felt that course was the best thing for my family (again, I'm no longer feeling like this, but I still have rough days). I'm emphasizing this because of how often PPD is misunderstood. I want to be transparent about it so that others know that feeling like this doesn't make you broken. It doesn't make you terrible. And asking for help doesn't make you weak.

I almost didn't write this post because I don't want Tickle to ever think that my PPD and other depression means I didn't love her during those times. I don't want her to think she isn't enough or that anything other than my biology was to blame. But not talking about it is the easy thing, and I don't want her to think that the easy thing is the right thing. I don't want her to be shy away from doing difficult things or having complicated discussions.

I don't want her to feel embarrassed by or scared of her own feelings.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Dichotomies of Parenting

Parenting so far has been an adventure in ups and downs.

Strength and Weakness of Body

My daughter's birth went well. I was healthy throughout pregnancy and she was born with no complications. I'm still amazed at the fact that after she was born - after birthing a freaking child - they gave me ibuprofen, and it was enough to manage the pain. My body makes food for my daughter while I'm busy doing things like taking pictures or cleaning poop off the floor. I was able to function week after week without REM sleep.

That said, the first week was a trip. I don't deal well with lack of sleep, even now that I have a three-month-old. In the first week, I got so dizzy from lack of sleep and weird hours that I nearly fell over several times. It was enough to make me feel nervous about carrying her from room to room; thankfully, Spousal Unit was home during that time as well. I also got a painful infection, and later that month, I was sick enough that I had to get two liters of IV fluid just to keep from being admitted to the hospital. Once I was finally cleared to hold my daughter again (10 hours later felt like forever), I had to do it while wearing gloves and a mask. But my setbacks don't seem to have bothered her much. She's grown steadily; I marvel at her ability to do what seems like little things, like holding a toy and taking note that the stuff on the other side of the window isn't like the stuff inside the house.

Joy and Sorrow at Gaining

I was in the unique position (though probably not as unique as I think) of having to decide, quite actively, whether or not I wanted a child. (Let's not even start on the idea of more than one.) I was torn. Decision made, this naturally leaves me wondering a bit at what life would have been like had I chosen differently. Everything about this new life seems so strange at times; just the phrases "I'm a mother" and "I have a daughter" still have a foreign ring to them. (Luckily, there's Zoloft for that; see "weakness of body" above.)

But I do come back to joy again, especially when every time she wakes up, I get a huge smile and legs that kick in excitement. I remember that she will grow, is growing, and (especially after getting a few hours to remember that I am more than just a parent) I just want to spend all evening holding her and hearing her babble.

I Am a Bad/Good Scientist

I am often mistrustful of my scientific instruments. Last week, I attempted to measure my daughter's length for her three-month records, but ended up not writing it down because some part of me does not believe that she really reaches the number 23 on the yellow tape measure. The numbers are all there in stark black contrast, yet I suddenly disbelieved the tape measure. Perhaps I thought it had skipped a number, or the number order changed in the night. Despite the data, I also sometimes jump to the conclusion that if a mosquito bites her, she is definitely going to get malaria. (She's not.)

Similarly, I have a hard time believing that these two pictures are of the same baby.

Two weeks old

Eleven weeks old

Sometimes I even have a hard time looking at her and remembering that she started out so small - that I grew her. That my romaine lettuce salad turned into a heart, and a can of pineapple involuntarily consumed in one sitting became neurons and synapses firing that would eventually yield a smile.

But I am also reconsidering all the things I once took for granted - rerunning old experiments to be sure I haven't missed anything. Apparently a sweater hanging on a chair is fascinating! Who knew that the cat was such a marvel? Consider the sunlight on wood floor, and the way it contrasts with shadow. I'm documenting everything for future review.

And I find myself running the "boop your nose" experiment over and over again, just to hear her laugh.
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