Saturday, May 22, 2010

Oh May . . . You Are Crammed!

Sorry about the lack of posts lately; May has been one heck of a busy month! Between getting Brandi (my new roommate) moved in, the end of the semester, the starting of summer semester, and all the other odds and ends, I have been one busy (and tired) girl! A lot has happened in a very short space of time, but here's my best attempt to summarize:

1. New Roommate: Brandi is awesome! We get along famously. In fact, I wonder now how I'll ever go back to living alone when grad school is over! We have similar tastes in just about everything, so living together is going far better than we ever imagined. Jasper is besotted by his new human friend; every morning, he has to see Brandi before he is willing to go outside. It is a blast having someone else who is taking the same class, since Brandi and I are able to discuss our reading together and prepare together. So, it was a very wise idea going ahead and getting a roommate!

2. End of My First Semester of Grad School: I finished with a solid 4.0!

3. Summer Semester: I am insane and masochistic, therefore I am taking two summer intensives simultaneously. Modern American Military History is fascinating but absolutely overflowing with work, to the point where I worry about how I'll get it all done. The professor is also my thesis advisor. Film and Television History is fun, taught by a very humorous and engaging professor, and is actually proving to be the easiest class ever, since I have already seen all of the films on the required viewing list.

4. Military History Conference: Beyond epic! I met the authors of three of my books from last semester, all of whom are really nice in real life. I also met four fascinating historians from the CIA (one of whom helped me with my thesis), another author whose book I enjoyed, and a very friendly British historian who offered me some thesis help. The sessions were quite interesting, and many of the papers presented actually pertain to one of the classes that I'm taking now, which gives me a little extra insight.

5. My Hand: I smacked my left hand on a doorknob the other night, in the EXACT spot where I hit it back in the winter. So, I now have an exceedingly painful hand that is twice the size it ought to be.

6. My Novel: I apparently didn't have enough on my plate already, so I started writing a fantasy novel. The hilarious part is that I never write fantasy! I guess I was inspired by my friends in my writing club. So far, my story is heavily influenced by Celtic and Welsh mythology and is about fifty pages long. I am planning to do some significant work on it this week, since I have a lot less classwork to worry about this week.

7. Jasper: He had a session of pampering and grooming at Petsmart about two weeks ago, where they gave him an adorable haircut. He loved it! He is still as quirky and funny as ever, perhaps even more so now that he has another human living with him. He loves my roommate. He insists on seeing her every morning before going outside (he's going to be bummed when he learns that she's leaving for a few days to go home and see her family).

8. My Bedroom: I finally finished decorating and arranging it. I got rid of the beanbag and added two bookcases and a desk to the room, so it is now much more functional and more attractive. I promise to post photos soon, to satisfy the curious relatives.

9. LU's "Controversial" Graduation: I went in order to show support to Brandi, and because I was curious to hear Glenn Beck. He did a great job. I read a few articles where some of the liberal media attempted to completely take his speech out of context AND significantly alter it. Those poor-excuses-for-journalists completely (deliberately) missed the fact that Beck gave a warm, inspiring speech that actually meant something to not only the graduates, but the rest of us students as well. He made only a brief reference to politics, instead focusing on good advice for how to live a life that matters, with strong focus on how best to serve other people. It was well done and was the right speech for the right time.

10. The Evil Final Paper: Remember that paper that the instructor assigned a week after class ended? Well, apparently he didn't feel like grading it (or just procrastinated for too long). Final grades are done, and that paper never received any credit at all. So, my classmates and I stressed out writing for absolutely no reason. I am more than a little bit annoyed over that whole business.

11. 26th Birthday: Slightly traumatizing realizing that I'm now closer to thirty than to twenty, but it was still a fun day. Brandi had put a little sign on the microwave and there were some very nice presents from some very sweet people. That evening, Brandi and I made a delicious stir-fry, I met friends for dessert for a little while, and then Brandi and I went to see How to Train Your Dragon (her first time seeing it, my second). Any birthday that involves dragons is a good birthday!

Well, hope this post satisfies those who wondered what on earth was going on and where I had gone. I will try to get some pictures up later today or tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Oh Why Must I Be Such a Blasted Perfectionist?!

Yesterday evening, I finally finished that miserable final paper. I wasn't terribly pleased with the result, but at least it was done. I was done -- with everything! First semester, completely wrapped up! I could actually go to bed and sleep. Or so I thought . . .

As I lay in bed last night, my mind kept returning to a few unique paragraphs in the paper, which were far different in both tone and quality from the rest of the paper. Suddenly, a great idea occurred to me. And now, because I'm a bloody perfectionist (at least when it comes to history classes), I'm going to be up all night long rewriting this blasted twelve-page epistle.

Originally, I had written my paper with passive-aggressive revenge in mind. Because my professor hates military history, I used military history as my theme. However, the paper lacked spirit, interest, energy . . . in short, it was acceptable, but flat. Reading it, I felt sort of like a cannibal who has just been handed a baked potato.

My new idea, however, positively scintillates with creativity and originality. Not to brag, but I am a little proud of where this is going. I am now writing a paper that applies K├╝bler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief to European daily life and society after the First World War. It's ambitious, but it's working. And, I think I can pretty safely say that it will be dynamically different from anything that my professor is expecting. Plus, it's still got military history in it, so I still get my passive-aggressive revenge. :0)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Homeopathic Migraine Remedies

Since I have been on a regular migraine-safari for the past few weeks (mostly owing to my neck issue, which has suddenly decided to flare up), I have been experimenting with different methods for easing some of the intense constant pain. I know that there are many fellow migraine-sufferers out there, so I thought I would share some of my techniques.

To begin with, the second I feel a migraine coming on, I immediately dose with my prescription migraine meds. Since those are incapable of getting rid of all of the pain, I use the following methods to help further:

1. The best thing that I have found is a hot bath with no lights on in the bathroom. I put just a little bit of lavender body wash in the water, since lavender is soothing. I bring a hot cup of tea in with me, preferably camomile, although peach, mango, and peppermint tea are all quite soothing as well. Vanilla tea seems to have an adverse effect. I sip the tea slowly while stretching out in the tub. I take intermittent deep breaths. Then, about halfway through the tea, I submerge my face under the water, holding my breath for as long as possible. I come up for air, then repeat a few more times. After that, I finish the tea and soak a while longer.

2. Heat packs are also good. I have an herbal neck wrap that I heat up in the microwave for about four minutes. I first wear it around my neck, then place it over my face and ears.

3. My latest discovery is the healing power of lavender essential oil. I put a little bit of it just under each nostril, then rub a little of it into my temples. Many smells will make migraines worse, but lavender is actually very helpful.

4. I have a vibrating massager that I use on my neck, forehead, and cheeks. After alternating between these areas several times, I use the massager in the area next to each eye.

5. For a serious migraine that has lasted longer than a few hours, I often find that the best thing is to make myself vomit. It's unpleasant, but many times it has instantly caused a lessening of the pain, plus it does wonders for the nausea.

6. I have also found that it sometimes helps to lay on my stomach with a bag of ice on my neck, right at the base of the skull. I lay this way until I cannot stand the cold anymore, then take a break for a minute or so, then repeat.


Tonight Jasper and I shared a very special experience. I have been wanting to see the film Hachi: A Dog's Tale ever since I first heard about it, so tonight, I rented it. It's a very sweet little film about a dog who waits at the train station for his owner to come home from work each day. After the owner dies, the dog continues to wait - for another nine years. It's actually based on the story of the true Hachi, who lived in Japan (and did the exact same thing).

Normally, Jasper prefers to play or chew on a bone when I watch movies. He'll come up in my lap for cuddles, but he generally shows no interest in what is on the TV. There are a few exceptions: he gets upset if he hears shooting or knocking on doors on TV, and there was an actor awhile back (the name escapes me at the moment) whom Jasper took a definite dislike to (he spent that entire film growling at the actor). Generally, however, my dog is not a cinema buff.

This film was different. I lit several candles, just because I like them, and their gentle aroma and flickering light lent a very special ambiance to the film. I was snuggled up on the couch with a few pillows, getting ready to hit "play" when Jasper decided to join me. Naturally, his favorite toy, a disgusting and raggedy stuffed mouse (at least, I think it's a mouse) had to join us as well, along with the tire toy that Jasper picked out at Petsmart a few weeks ago. For the entire film, Jasper snuggled with his toys and me, and actually watched the film! His ears perked up and twitched whenever the dog was on camera - in particular, Jasper seemed very interested in the scenes where people were throwing a ball for the dog and in the scenes when the dog was just a puppy.

The film is quite sad at the end, though not in a heartbreaking way - rather, it's a warm, touching sort of sadness. Since I'm a sap, I of course started crying. Jasper turned those large, chocolate-drop eyes of his on me and regarded me patiently for a moment. Then he licked my hand and buried his head in my chest - as if to say, "Don't cry, Mom - you've always got me!" I think Jasper actually understood the film!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Getting My Kicks before 26!

I don't know what it is about the number 26 (and really, it IS just a number), but for some reason, it's affecting me considerably more than 25 (and believe me, THAT one hit pretty hard). I guess it's the ever-closer proximity of 30, or perhaps the lengthy list I things I HAVEN'T done that other people seem to think I SHOULD HAVE done by this point. Of course, in my favor there is the list of things I HAVE done that other people HAVEN'T done by this age, so in reality it all probably balances out.

Nevertheless, despite all the clever adages, the reassurances from friends who've already been here (and beyond), and the general optimism I have about my future (which defies logic at times), I am profoundly affected by this encroaching number. Try as I might, I can't shake the emotional/psychological response. It's not an issue of vanity - my first white hairs started cropping up last year, and honestly, although I fuss about them as I yank them out of my scalp (there are only three, so this is much less painful than it sounds), I'm okay with looking older. In the mornings, I can see where the wrinkles are going to set up permanent residence before too long, and even with that, I'm okay. I don't always rejoice in it, but I do accept it. The physical consequences of getting older are just fine by me. It's the psychological ones that have been nagging at me.

Everyone seems to have their own mental "laundry list" of what it means to be a successful individual by my age. Though well-intentioned, the gentle (and not-so-gentle) hints of "you're not getting any younger" and "what are you waiting for?" (among others) have the same effect as a branding iron applied directly to the back of my neck. While it would great to have a stable career or a happy marriage by now, and while I do love children, none of these are required for success. Let me rephrase that. For some people, those are the marks of success in life. For others, like me, there are other things that come first.

I'm not going to give a self-appreciating list of my many accomplishments. I know them, God helped me attain them, and that's enough. I'm not sitting on my haunches, feasting greedily on the efforts of others - I'm actively pursuing something, and I'm working HARD. No career, no marriage, no kids, but by golly, I am still successful. I'm where God wants me, I'm doing what He wants me to do, and I'm loving it - brother, that right there is success. Gleaming, golden success. It may not get much glory for me yet, but it's enough that I should be entering 26 with my head held high.

Despite all that, 26 is still a mountain to be conquered. It still intimidates. It still makes me sit up, eyes wide, and say aloud "Am I really getting that old that quickly?!" To those who have already scaled this particular height, my consternation and mental whiplash must seem a bit silly. Compared to 40, 50, 60, and beyond, 26 is still a relative infant. To someone staring it in the face, however, it's a little daunting. Where did all the time go?

One of my dearest friends is also approaching this particular summit, and is also grappling with the angst and the psychological side effects. Together, we have agreed to tackle 26 with grace and attitudes befitting the plucky, sassy dames that we are. In that spirit, we have both committed to a list of 26 things to get done before 26 smacks us in the face and takes over from where 25 left off. Maybe then we can turn the tables and be the ones smacking 26 in the face! Several items are the same for us, while some are unique to our own needs and desires. For fun, I've opted to share my list. Some of it is frivolous, geared toward greeting 26 with an attitude of humor and merriment. The rest is more serious, in order to meet 26 with maturity and self-improvement. At any rate, I'm certainly going to "get my kicks before 26!"

(NOTE: Items are listed in no particular order, since I have decided not to add any weight of importance. I'd rather just do them all, and not worry about which things carry more significance.)

1. Find something I've never tried at Starbucks and try it, but with creative alterations.
2. Find a truly odd nail color and paint my toenails with it.
3. Attempt to locate aviator sunglasses that don't make me look like an evil bug from Hades.
4. Buy and try something new from the foreign food section at the grocery store.
5. Celebrate my birthday in a way that I have never celebrated any other birthday.
6. Get a toe ring.
7. Spend more time basking in the outdoors; take some downtime from stress.
8. Create something artsy to wear on "that fateful day." (most likely jewelry)
9. Add something reminiscent of childhood to my wardrobe (i.e. jelly sandals, a flowered hair accessory, a plastic headband).
10. Make a conscientious effort to listen a whole lot more.
11. Have an old movie marathon with the theme of "Suave Leading Men that I Would Love to Bring Back from the Dead and Marry." (obviously, Cary Grant will be well-represented during this upcoming film marathon)
12. Experiment with scallops.
13. Live backwards for one day (meals, general activities, etc.).
14. Do a completely spontaneous act of random kindness for a friend.
15. Do something to my hair that involves temporary color (and no, it is not going to wind up burgundy again - that much is resolved!).
16. Re-read the three most influential novels in my life: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and The Perilous Gard.
17. Memorize Psalm 73:21-26. Try to live with it in mind more often.
18. Finish one of the short stories that I have started writing and then abandoned.
19. Make a list of good things from age 25 and tack it up on my bulletin board. Read it often.
20. Find three new ways to cook asparagus (it's my favorite vegetable, but I'm in a rut).
21. Improve my time management skills.
22. Explore a place in Virginia that I have never explored.
23. Research a topic that I know absolutely nothing about, just for the fun of being better-informed.
24. Go for two whole days without reading the news.
25. Finish one of the projects that I have started and left dangling.
26. Take Jasper hiking
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"