Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Ok, despite the inspirational title, It’s not that kind of post.

This is a post about washing your hands.

Or, at least, that’s where it started.

I’ve been doing my best to avoid getting sick during flu season for the past few years: getting enough sleep, eating (sorta) well, and most importantly — getting the damn flu shot! And in addition to those basics, the other basic is employing proper hand-washing technique [source: the CDC]:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up with “Happy Birthday” stuck in my head at work because I’m silently singing it to myself as I lather my hands.

Anyway, yes. I dutifully go through the song twice when washing my hands… except…

Except when there’s someone else in the washroom at the same time. When that happens, I default to my previous hand-washing routine where I just get ’em wet, cover ’em with soap, and rinse ’em off. In and out, lickety split.

Why? Why am I so self-conscious about washing my hands?

Ok, I can tell you why. It’s my dumb social anxiety and my somewhat intense need to not interact with anyone in the washroom. But it’s not so strong it needs to interfere with my Quest for Health. (No shame to anyone for whom this *is* a deal-breaker. Brains gonna brain.)

So this week I resolved to stick to my song and lather lather lather until I can wash those nasty germs away — even if there is someone else there.

And that’s when it hit me: maybe other people are doing the same thing I had been.

I’ve never witnessed anyone at work washing their hands for the proper amount of time. But maybe they’re doing it when I’m not around? Or maybe they’re not, but they know they should be. Either way, acting as an example may trigger my anxiety a bit, but it does that less when I think of it as doing a purposeful demonstration for the good of General Office Health.

I am well aware I over-think things. And there’s every chance no one will even notice except maybe to be like “who’s that weird chick who washes her hands for so long?” But whatever. If I can inspire even one person to wash their hands longer just one time, it could be the time that person would’ve come down with something righteously nasty, and I saved them by also saving myself.

You’re welcome, random co-worker. You’re welcome.

Relaxing About Meditation

Apparently this week is a series about my new self care routine and how I’m handling it. Neat!

I grew up doing Transcendental Meditation (TM) with my family, so that’s always been what “meditation” means to me. I knew other types of meditation existed, I just didn’t bother trying any of them for most of my life.

Then I attended a conference that covered entheogens, how brains work, and the nature of reality. The day of programming ended with a guided group meditation. That 10-minute experience was more profound and relaxing than almost any of my 20-minute TM sessions. (This may have had something to do with the shared nature of the experience — I recognize that.)

Ever since then I’ve wanted to explore other meditation options (especially since I haven’t found a ton of benefit from my TM practice over the last several years). I did try a “beginning meditation” course, but I bounced off the instructor so that wasn’t helpful. My brother gifted me a book that’s a guide to many different types of meditation, but I found I can’t really get into meditation via reading — it just doesn’t work for me. I know there are phone apps for guided meditation, but having to fiddle with my phone doesn’t appeal to me in terms of getting in the right head-space for meditation.

Then last week while I was lying on the yoga mat getting ready to do my TM practice, I had the bright idea to try asking my Google Home to play “10-minute guided meditation”, and bam! Instant guided meditation. Cool!

That’s when I ran into my next problem: my brain. (Why does it always have to be my brain?)

I’ve been doing TM on and off for over 30 years. Doing something else, especially something that takes less time, felt a little like failure. I know that a) not all types of meditation are right for all people at all times of their life, and b) the frequency of a meditation practice is more important than the duration of the sessions (at least according to that meditation teacher I didn’t like). But tell that to my damn emotions.

I did! I did tell that to my damn emotions.

They didn’t exactly listen. I still get an uncomfortable flutter in my stomach when I even think about doing something different from my decades-long routine, but I truly feel that changing things up will be better for me. I know that right now I’ll get more out of something different and a little more structured.

I will probably keep doing TM several times a week, but (especially in the morning when time is more precious) I’ve insisted to myself it’s ok to do something different and shorter. The ability to do this feels very akin to my triumph at learning to stop doing yoga when it hurts.

As I’ve said before, I’m not really into new year’s resolutions, so the fact that all this is coming together right at the beginning of 2020 is mostly coincidental. But maybe 2020 will be a year of learning to let go of behaviours that don’t serve me. Who knows?

And heck, if you do have recommendations for meditation apps, let me know in the comments (and let me know *why* you think they’re good). At some point I might be ready/willing to incorporate that extra step in my process. Gasp! Who am I even becoming?

(Someone better. Or at least healthier. That’s who.)

Letting Go of Perfection

This is a topic I come back to often — and in almost every aspect of my life. While there are some up-sides to being a perfectionist (I usually turn in pretty darn good work!), there are also plenty of down-sides. One of the biggest for me is I let my desire to get-things-just-right and do-them-completely get in the way of doing things at all.

I know I’m far from the first person to experience (or write about) this, so I’m not here to lecture you about it. If you deal with this too (and I know so many people who do!), you already know it. Instead, I’m here to celebrate a small way I’ve managed to let go — in a way I’ve never managed to achieve before.

Yesterday I wrote about how I’ve picked up my yoga and meditation practice again. Exercise of any sort tends to be a place where I get stopped up. When I finally make myself do it, I want to really *do it*. Then I hurt myself because I go too hard too soon. This has happened more times than I can count. (And I would have had to start counting several decades ago.)

This time I decided not to let that happen. Of course, deciding something and actually doing it are two different things — I’d made that same decision before and didn’t stick with it. This time, however, I’ve actually followed through, and I am honestly kinda giddy about it.

I am happy to report that I have cut short or significantly altered my yoga sessions four times. (I’ve only been at it for a little over a week, so this is a significant number.)

I’m not sure I’ve ever bragged about quitting before, but right now I totally am. Every time, I felt a muscle twinge or a nerve being pinched, I slowly came back to centre then called it quits for that session (or rested in child’s pose until the video moved onto something I thought I could handle). Could I have forged ahead and kept going without doing damage? Maybe. (But at least one of those times it was very unlikely.)

But why risk it? Is it worth it to finish that YouTube session with an instructor who doesn’t actually know I exist? My perfectionist brain says YES.

But I’m smarter than my brain.

Suck it brain — I’m taking care of myself.

 

Small Steps

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions. It’s nice to think about ways I can make 2020 better than 2019, but I’m more into continuous improvement. Sometimes having an arbitrary day to start something new helps (I prefer to start new routines on Mondays as opposed to mid-week), but I used to fall into the procrastination trap all too easily. “I don’t want to start X right now because I have That Thing next weekend. I should wait until after.” “[Arbitrary date] would be a good time to start X because it’s a holiday.” Lather, rinse, repeat.

That’s why I didn’t wait until the new year to start getting back to my yoga and meditation practice. I’d let it fall off quite a bit over the latter months of last year. During my holiday break, I decided I was sick of feeling tired and creaky so often, so I started near-daily practice of both yoga and meditation again — before the calendar clicked over to 2020. (It was only a few days before Jan 1, but it’s the principle that counts — I didn’t let the calendar dictate when I’d start my self care.)

It’s only been about a week, but I’ve already noticed a difference. Even before I re-started the regular yoga, I’d been doing a basic toe-touch stretch a few times a day in which I’d breathe deeply, hold it briefly, then let it all out slowly. Every time I did that, my spine would crackle like a bowl of breakfast cereal. I’d keep breathing and stretching until the crackling stopped.

Now, roughly a week later, when I do that stretch, almost no popping to speak of! It’s a little thing, but it’s really neat to get a measurable result so quickly.

I wouldn’t necessarily know I had made that progress if I hadn’t already been doing that one stretch. So I’m going to keep this in mind as I move forward with this (and any other) self-improvement effort. Stuff is happening. As long as I’m putting in the work, things are getting better. I might not always be able to see or feel it, but it’s occurring just the same.

Knowing that helps.

Hockey as a Health Indicator

Me, in a navy blue Oilers jersey, in my seat at a hockey game

Hockey season is almost upon us again, and I am far more excited about it than I expected. Not just because the Oilers look like they might finally be on the right track (and yes, I know that’s the perennial chorus of Oilers fans everywhere), but because of how I feel about hockey in general.

Last season I was happy to root for my team(s), but at a bit of a distance. I live an easy walk from the rink, but I rarely took in a game. My mental health just wasn’t at a place where I could summon that much energy.

This year, I’ve already been to three live games, plus one open “fan day” scrimmage. And I just bought tickets to the home opener on Wednesday.

This is exciting for me on a much deeper level than just the hockey front. It’s a real-life indicator that I’m in a better place than I was a year ago. I started on my current brain-meds (quetiapine) in mid-May, and I really, truly am having better quality of life as a result.

Last year, the few times I went to a game, I waited until the day of to buy a ticket, just because I wasn’t sure I would be in a mental state to handle it. I’ve planned almost all of this season’s games ahead, and I’ve enjoyed the heck out of the ones that’ve already happened. (I fully expect to enjoy the heck out of the game Wednesday as well!)

I’ve also been thrilled to be talking about hockey again. Beginner’s Puck has kicked off for a third season, and it feels so good to be talking about all the fun with my cohost Deb.

If you’re into hockey, I’d love for you to take a listen. And if you’re not, but you’re hockey-curious, then I’d really like you to listen. Spreading the love to more new fans is what we’re all about!

Speaking of the love, I loved my experience at the game I attended last week. I went on my own and livetweeted the fun. (That’s another thing I mostly didn’t have the energy to do so enthusiastically last season.) If you’re curious what an NHL preseason game is like in Edmonton, wonder no more:

Time vs Anxiety

Last night I tweeted this and thought I’d follow up:

My brother had a projection alarm clock many years ago, and I was always jealous of it. Cut to almost 15 years later (I’m a procrastinator, ok?), and I finally got around to getting one for myself.

I had a few worries, but they were unfounded:

  • I worried I wouldn’t be able to position it to display on the ceiling. (I didn’t want it on the wall.) I could!
  • I worried it would be hard to read. It’s not!
  • I worried it would be so bright it would be distracting for me or Steven. It isn’t!

So it’s pretty much everything I hoped it would be — and more!

As I said in the tweet, an unexpected benefit was that I’m less anxious at night. This is simply because I can very easily see what time it is. I do wear a sleeping mask, but I can push it out of the the way without moving much (or even sometimes just tilt back my head and peek out from under it). And the time is just THERE! Right in front of me!

I used to wake up in the middle of the night (several times a night) and wonder what time it was. Moving my arm in *just* the right way to trigger my FitBit to show me the time while also disentangling my arm from the blankets was a hassle-and-a-half. Steven’s bedside clock was too hard to see—I had to sit up to get a good view of it. (I didn’t have a bedside clock before this because I didn’t want to have to move to see it anyway—I sleep on my back.)

So sometimes I did the little song-and-dance I needed to do to see the time (which then woke me up enough that I couldn’t fall back to sleep easily). But much more often, I’d just continue to lie there and hope to fall back asleep…

That didn’t work either because I’d keep wondering what time it was and how much time I had left to sleep and was it so close to wake-up time that getting back to sleep would be a bad idea anyway and why can’t I stop thinking about this and just go back to sleep?

So anyway, that’s my latest one-weird-trick for slightly subduing my anxiety. Obviously, if always knowing what time it is *makes* you anxious, I don’t recommend this!

Also, it’s worth noting that the thing that’s been helping most with my anxiety is the doctor-prescribed medication I take. And I do not for a moment take for granted how lucky and privileged I am to be in a place (physically, mentally, financially) where I can access that.

So anyway, I guess the moral of the story is that help can be found in unexpected places, and it’s important to recognize and celebrate even the small wins!

Alarm Clocks Time Projection, New Clock Time on Ceiling Wall for Bedroom Decor, Digital Travel Clock with Colorful Backlight for Kids, Adjustable Brightness & Projector Focus, DC Adpator Included

Goodbye, Grandma

First of all I want to thank all the lovely people who sent me cat pictures on Twitter the other day. I really needed it.

I lost my grandma this weekend, and due to multiple circumstances, I won’t be attending the celebration of life in Florida this weekend. I know it’s the right decision, and I think Grandma would agree, but being so far away from my family makes this extra hard.

I wish I had it in me to write the kind of blog post about her that she deserves, but I am exhausted both physically and emotionally. Again, I know she would understand and tell me to take care of myself.

So instead, I’ll just share this amazing pic that my sister found from one of Grandma’s college yearbooks. Check out Flossie Peterson playing basketball. If you can, I highly encourage you to zoom in on her and look at that sparkle in her eye. She never ever lost that sparkle. That’s the Grandma I’m going to remember.

Grandma.jpg

Shoe (Travel) Anxiety

**UPDATE** I didn’t get a chance to post this when I first drafted it (last week), so despite the opening sentence, I can affirm that I’m 100% Travel-Anxious at this time.

Ok, so I don’t actually have travel anxiety *yet*. Is there such a thing as travel-anxiety anxiety? Our big MN-WI vacation doesn’t start for another few days, but it’s been a few years since I’ve traveled for longer than about five days so the prospect of being away from home for two and a half weeks is daunting from a packing perspective.

Happily, we’ll be staying with friends and family for enough of the trip that we can do laundry partway through. But that’s not really why I struggle with packing. When I get dressed for the day, I do it largely based on whim and current emotional state. How am I supposed to know what my emotional state and whimsy will look like two weeks ahead of time??

This is how over-packing happens.

I did swing the other direction for a few trips. I was so dedicated to slimming down my suitcase that I didn’t pack *enough* to wear. And that happened on trips where I didn’t have the option of doing laundry. Oops. Thus my most recent trip swung back to overpackage. Oy.

And can we talk about shoes? This is the thing that stumps me every time. I don’t have a great pair of all-purpose shoes. So I end up packing the shoes that are super comfortable to walk in but are old and ugly and the shoes that are decent looking but only comfortable for moderate walking distances and the shoes that look nice (usually just in case) and maybe the boots because I might want them and they’re so cute and comfy and also the slip-ons because maybe I’ll want to be able to go outside and back in really quickly without having to deal with laces and such.

Shoes take up a dang lotta space.

The solution is probably to find a nice pair of all-purpose shoes. I welcome suggestions! (I have narrow feet, so I’ve always struggled to find shoes that fit.)

**UPDATE** I have decided on one pair of Converse (which I will wear to travel) and one pair of sandals. Here’s hoping that carries me through.

Converse Turquoise All Star Ox Glitter Trainers

I can’t resist a bit of shiny/sparkliness–I nabbed these shoes the moment I saw them. I also have a pair that’s silver, but they’re more worn so these are coming with me.

Spring Grasshoppers Chambray Velcro Sandals - light blue fabric

These are so comfy, and I’m sad Grasshoppers doesn’t make this kind of sandal anymore.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

His Majesty's Dragon: A Novel of Temeraire by Naomi Novik - a black dragon wrapped around a picture of a naval sailing ship hangs in front of a red and black background

[For an audio version of this article, please listen to Episode 39 of Recently Read on The Incomparable podcast network.]

The Deck of the French ship was slippery with blood, heaving in the choppy sea; a stroke might as easily bring down the man making it as the intended target. Laurence did not have time in the heat of the battle to be surprised at the degree of resistance, but even through the numbing haze of battle-fever and the confusion of swords and pistol-smoke, he marked the extreme look of anguish on the French captain’s face as the man shouted encouragement to his men.

That’s the first paragraph of His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik. In the midst of reading lots of current books for awards season, I decided I needed two things: a break and dragons. I enjoyed Novik’s novels Uprooted and Spinning Silver, and I’d heard good things about her Temeraire series.

Those good things proved true.

The briefest description of this book could be “Napoleonic war with dragons” because that’s exactly what it is. It’s an alternate history in which dragons exist on Earth and have been bred and used in warfare for hundreds of years. I generally don’t care for alternate history, but I really really like dragons, so I decided to give this a shot. I’m glad I did because I quite like these dragons. There are many breeds of differing size and capabilities. Some breathe fire, others acid, and all of them are deadly in the art of aerial warfare.

The dragon at the centre of this book is named Temeraire, and he enters the story shortly after the battle described in the first paragraph. The British captain, Laurence, discovers the French frigate he captured was carrying a large dragon egg. That egg is now England’s. But there’s a big complication: it will hatch weeks before they can get back to land. This presents a problem, as the Aerial Corps is a very different branch of the armed forces. Dragon aviators are trained from youth; they’re a group apart, and as such, they’re looked down upon by pretty much everyone else (not only the military, but society at large). The officers must draw lots to see who will attempt to harness the dragonet. In the event, the dragon bonds with Laurence, which means he must leave the navy and everything and everyone he knows to train for a totally new type of military profession.

I enjoy a good fish-out-of-water story (and I’m not talking about Temeraire fishing for his supper until they can reach dry land). Laurence is an officer and a gentleman and his struggle to acclimate to the much-more-relaxed and informal and wrinkled world of the Aerial Corps makes for an entertaining and engrossing read. This is easily the part of the book I liked best (besides the dragons themselves, of course).

I appreciate the thought Novik gave to just how dragons would be integrated (or not integrated) into society and warfare—though it’s the society angle that gripped me most. It reminded me a lot of Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern series in that the dragons and their crews provide a valuable service, but most of society looks askance at them. Also, dragons are able to speak immediately and bond with their riders upon hatching, though it’s not the same type of deep, telepathic bond as in McCaffery’s books—these dragons can (and do) take new riders when required. Another similarity: a certain type of dragon only bonds with women, which is a nifty way of working in some modern gender politics. Well-respected and easily-accepted female captains are just as awesome as the dragons are and, compared to the contemporary society, feel just about as fictional.

Speaking of contemporary society, the language in this book feels like a throw-back to that time. It is very formal and occasionally florid. I’m impressed by Novik’s ability to write in this voice while still keeping it accessible to a modern reader like me (someone who doesn’t always go in for period-style writing). Though I will admit the stiff formality of the language and phrasing did slow me down a little bit. It was a minor, added layer of difficulty that I mostly didn’t mind overcoming in order to get through the story.

The bigger obstacle for me was the fact that in the end, this is a war novel. I enjoyed the beginning of the book much more than the latter bits. I liked watching Laurence learn the ropes and deepen his friendship with Temeraire, but eventually they’ve been trained, and it’s time to go into battle. Even in visual media, battle sequences bore me, so while the battles were well-conceived and well-written, I found myself drifting as I read them. I’m not certain I’ll continue on with Throne of Jade (the next book in the series), because I suspect the subsequent books may be even more war-novelly than His Majesty’s Dragon. That said, I am glad I picked up this one and made the acquaintance of these lovely dragons.

Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines

Terminal Alliance (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse Book 1) by Jim C. Hines -- a woman in a space suit stands on a platform in space with a space-suited man and a shaggy worm-like alien. The woman holds a mop and a spray bottle. The man holds two spray bottles. Explosions appear in the background over a distant planet.

[For an audio version of this article, please listen to Episode 35 of Recently Read on The Incomparable podcast network.]

“Marion Adamopoulos.”

That’s the first sentence of Terminal Alliance (Book One of the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse) by Jim C. Hines. I love apocalyptic books. Whether it’s a book about how the apocalypse happened or a post-apocalyptic book in which the characters learn hints about how and why the apocalypse happened in the first place—that’s always been a corner of genre reading that drew me like a moth to a radioactive flame.

Lately, however, with the world feeling like a trashfire that’s not terribly far from any one of several possible apocalypses, I’ve sorta cooled off on reading apocalyptic fiction. I still like the concept, but it makes me sad and scared enough that I just can’t quite do it these days.

Or so I thought.

Enter Terminal Alliance. The only reason I was willing to try a book with “Apocalypse” in the subtitle was because it was written by Jim C. Hines. His Magic Ex Libris series was one of the most entertaining things I’ve read in the last decade so I figured if anyone could make an apocalypse feel humourous and acceptable to me, it would be him.

Folks, I was correct.

I don’t want to scare you away if you’re not a fan of humourous sci-fi, because that’s usually a sub-genre I avoid. Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett were geniuses at what they did, it just wasn’t for me. Hines’ style walks the line between funny and heartfelt and exciting and quippy so deftly it’s like he wrote this book just for me. If you do happen to be a fan of comedic sci-fi, this will probably work for you. It’s certainly well worth trying.

So back to the first line of the book: “Marion Adamopoulos.” This is not just the first line of the book, but our point-of-view character. She’s the commander of the Shipboard Hygiene and Sanitation team on the EMCS Pufferfish, a spaceship that carries Earth Mercenary Corps soldiers to and fro as they help keep peace in the Krakau Alliance.

The Krakau are the race that figured out how to “cure” humanity. Oh yes, there was an apocalypse. It resulted in all humans turning “feral”—becoming mindless creatures that roam Earth trying to kill and eat most anything they come across. Civilization and human thought were a thing of the past until the Krakau started “waking” humans up with their cure.

Recently woken humans choose their own names from a list of historical figures. The original Marion Adamopoulos was the woman who accidentally created the virus that destroyed humanity. Huh.

“Our” Marion Adamopoulos is in charge of a small crew of sanitation experts who are the only humans on their ship to keep their higher brain functions when a bioweapon turns the rest of the ship feral and results in the death of almost all the alien crew members.

Marion and her rag-tag group of cleaners have to figure out how to survive their fellow humans; figure out what happened to them, who did it, and why; and also figure out how to control a space ship none of them are trained to pilot.

This requires some delightful galactic intrigue and politics, a diverse array of differing alien species with individual characteristics and motivations, and some closely guarded conspiracies. There are also great scenes in which the team get into tight spots and get out by using their knowledge of cleaning agents, plumbing, and proper ventilation. This isn’t a story where the cleaning crew suddenly learns how to be heroes in any conventional way. They still aren’t pilots. They still aren’t really fighters. They’re janitors, and they use those skills to get the job done.

Maybe my favourite thing about this book (and that’s saying something!) is that never once is the janitorial profession treated as a joke. There are some characters who certainly look down on it, but the book makes it clear there’s nothing embarrassing about performing a crucial job and doing it damn well. Marion is rightly proud of her skills, her team, and the service they provide.

Terminal Alliance is full of details that build out the world and also make me smile, like the aforementioned tradition that “awakened” humans read their planet’s history and choose their own name from those of historical figures:

For example, we have rough-and-tumble Wolfgang Mozart. She’ll threaten to eat your face as soon as look at you.

Or disabled veteran Marilyn Monroe. He lost an arm and much of the rest of his body as an infantry soldier. Prosthetics help him get around, but his balance will never be what it used to. This is another detail I love: Monroe’s disability is a fundamental part of his character, but it’s never treated as if he’s at the centre of “A Very Special Episode”. There’s no inspiration porn here. He’s simply a human being who requires assistive devices to get his job done. Enuff said.

The various alien species are well-realized too. This isn’t a universe full of bipedal creatures. Humans are seemingly rare in that respect, and a lot of thought went into what each species would need to survive on a spaceship or space station, given their respective physiological needs.

As is clear from the title and subtitle, this is book one of a series. Terminal Uprising, the sequel, is a fantastic follow-up that answers some questions and takes the characters somewhere they’d’ve never dreamed of going.

If, like me, you’re in need of something that’s rather lighthearted, with a decent amount of laughs and snark, but that also pulls in post-apocalyptic and space-opera sci-fi themes, look no further than Terminal Alliance (Book One of the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse) by Jim C. Hines.