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I'm working on a lot of long term, slow to develop things, and I'm happy about all of them but sometimes I have to sigh and forget about all of it for a bit while I do something that will yield some immediate results. Otherwise I get stuck in this loop where I look at my credit score and think, yup, it's up one point, and look at my credit card balances, and think, yep, they're going down (sloooowly), and will be even more down in a couple more months... score will be up more, then, too... Then I go to my FIU email and the FIU site and check both and, nope, still no word on whether I got into grad school... so I look at my little notepad file about all the pounds I've lost and it's like...yup... down another .8 after another plateau... Etc. My chard and holy basil are looking ok, still not ready, baby mangoes are slightly larger, nowhere near ready to eat. Squash plants and lavender are creepin' along... don't see any bananas yet... There is ONE MORE BLOOM on my front porch dahlia and my lemon seedlings are half a centimeter taller! ...yawn.

Geez, you know? Time passes so fast and yet this is all draggin'.

I've got one definite solo summer trip in the works, that will involve several of my favorite long distance people, and I'm looking forward to that. There's also one possible Grant-me-and-Annie trip that miiiiight happen, that would be awesome if it works out.

I also FINALLY started to write, which is a Really Big Deal, even if it's also another long term, large scale project that I will be working through forever a long time.

The 7 of us went down to Key West this past weekend, because my mother and her husband got a guest house for the week. She wanted to reconnect with the side of her family that lives there, and commemorate the 7th anniversary of her father's death in the bar he basically lived at. I love seeing my Dad's family, that is down there, and I love Key West, and it's usually really expensive whereas this was free, so we went. And, I'm glad we did - the kids loved the sunset shows on Mallory Square, and my Aunt Michelle cried when she saw Annie, and Aaron and I found a backyard parrot rescue where we spent half an afternoon. All of us but Isaac, who wanted to sit and relax and play video games, went down to a pier and saw crabs and lobsters galore, and a small shark. The weather was lovely. The island is always lovely.

My mom, though. And her husband. They're just drinking so much. I don't get it. My mom never drank until her alcoholic father died of liver failure, and now it's like she wants to be a drunk in his honor or something. Like I get that it's a vacation but who can just wake up in the morning and fill the glass again, to start a new day, over and over? How can you not feel terrible? How can you even afford that shit? They just stayed at the guest house drinking while we went out exploring and having a good time. Which, you know, whatever I guess. You do you. I keep untagging myself from embarrassing, emotional, long winded facebook posts. And the both of them are gun people, now?! O_O


Anyway. I found a fellow herbalist and mother that lives here in my town, via mutual facebook friends, and that's intriguing. Also there is this other woman/mom, who is pretty cool, that reached out to me online a year or two ago and I guess we've been circling each other slowly ever since but now she's started going to this weekly meditation on the beach that Grant and I love. Maybe we can settle into friendship at some point despite the geographic and resource hurdles. Next week I'm going with a PATH woman I've known for years to a bookstore and some other spots. I also have a meetup.com potluck in a couple of weeks that I'm hopeful about.

As for my kids... Ananda is brilliant, beautiful, has a bad attitude in the morning but is pretty happy all the rest of the time, continues to spend far too much time locked in the bathroom, continues to refuse to eat breakfast OR lunch on school days. She had multiple people competing to buy a piece of her art at an event she entered through school, not long ago, and was pretty pumped about that. She's reading Flowers in the Attic, and continuously aghast - that is one of the only books I've ever told her she couldn't read, since it had too many close issues and topics that seemed potentially disturbing. She was 12 then, though, and now she's almost 16, so yeah - she's reading it. Her best school friend is a never ending fount of hilarious stories that she tells us.

Aaron is attending a lot of outside-school-hours rehearsals, for dance, and loves his dance teacher, which is nice. He gets recognized a lot as doing well. He's "taking a break" with his girlfriend. He skated the whole time we were in Key West and is obviously depressed about being back home. He's talking about living down there as an adult. He also seems open to dancing professionally and/or teaching (dance or something else) in a way he hasn't in the past. Him and Annie have been doing things like spending a day of Spring Break riding bikes miles out into the redlands, exploring. Or going out into the woods two blocks over and coming back with an entire raccoon skeleton to clean and take to school so people can draw it as a still life.

Isaac is often having a hard time. He's been to a gastro, an allergist, and his regular ped, recently, and none of them seem to be able to work out where his "allergies induced coughing-possible reflux-probably anxiety caused stomachaches and headaches" circle begins. He also see a psychiatrist for his Zoloft, which may need to be increased due to growth and puberty, and attends an anxiety group for kids his age which contains at least one person he considers a real friend. He's in a bad mood or having some kind of physical suffering at least half of the time. He's a very picky eater and upset about the options we have in the house every day, no matter what we have in the house. He's still responsible and organized, still polite and doing well in school when he manages to get there. He has several good school friends and his teachers love him, when they're not emailing me about why he's out. I've had to meet with his principal and email with his teachers a lot about his absences. He spends a lot of home time at his new best friend's house - that's a kid I love who lives one street over and is also here often.

Jake is doing great. He does his chores without being asked pretty often, he builds clever things with legos and flies through school work. He's curious and interested in everything. He and I are the only two who've resisted an illness going around the house (so far). He's been adorably considerate of his sick siblings, making Elise tea and getting her movie set up, or delivering messages from Isaac when he doesn't want to get up and offering him his turns on the computer. I'm reading him the Narnia series now; we're about halfway through the 2nd one. He's been writing limericks and drawing comics.

Elise has been sick for the past two days, which is unusual but now she seems to have bounced back. She talks a LOT, is very energetic and cheerful, surprises me with how well she's reading regularly (though she's not quite where she "should" be). She's cuddly and hilarious and has started doing things like using air quotes. She seems to live on 90% bowls of yogurt with granola and berries in them, and cut up tomatoes with salt and olives on them - both of which she frequently prepares for herself. She counts down basically hourly, to her 9th birthday, which is less than a month away. We've been reading in the hammock under the mango tree a lot, which is pretty sweet.

Grant and I have been watching shows again for the first time in awhile - Horace and Pete, which is a Louis CK creation I HIGHLY recommend, and High Maintenance, which is a great Vimeo series that recently got picked up by HBO.

I've also been thinking and talking about the concept of class often - a friend sent me a podcast to listen to, about the difference between economic and social class in the U.S. It's interesting stuff I've thought about before. I happened to hear something semi-related on my NPR One app two days later, about the way we view food based on the status of the people whose culture it's from. I suppose that's all relatively entry-level material on those topics, but hey.

I was considering making a tumblr called Altarflame's Cooking School, where I just make entries about basic shit that it took me way too long to figure out - it would be geared toward adults who did not grow up eating home cooked meals and who feel pretty lost in the kitchen. Topics I've considered include things like "Roasting Vegetables 101," "wtf is a dutch oven and why should I care," "cooking with wine: also, the definition of 'deglaze'," and so on. I find there are a lot of REALLY SIMPLE THINGS, that take very few steps, that somehow intimidate people the most. Such as, roasting a whole chicken, or baking a cake without a boxed mix. Those things are actually much much easier than many of the alternatives that get attempted instead. *shrug* We'll see.
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Written early yesterday evening:

Adapting to life without school in it is weird.

I didn't have to do it in January or February because I had 40 hours of crisis counselor training (plus commute times...) and grad school app shenanigans to take up the hours I might have spent on academics, over the last couple of years.

Also, re: applying to a, single, grad school... I had to get stamped and addressed envelopes, with forms I'd printed, to 3 different people who had agreed to recommend me via emails. I had to apply electronically to the university and via paper to the particular grad school. And, I had to submit an 8 page (minimum) Personal Narrative Statement, addressing various questions. I'm not complaining, I'm just kind of astounded by how people recommend you apply to as many grad schools as possible. You're supposed to have fail safe schools and high hope schools, with mid-range options in between. Aside from how this guideline does not really apply to me as someone who doesn't want to just move my whole family anywhere in the country, on a whim once we hear back - wow, that sounds like a full time job! To fulfill the application process for a bunch of different schools. Not to mention non-refundable application fees (mine was $30, and I've seen several listed at $50, so they would add up quickly). It just really rams home the idea of "privilege," I guess, which is something I think about a lot, lately.

Aaaaanyway. Life without school in it. I'm supposed to be using it to write, and that's not really happening thus far, which is absurd because I NEED to write and that manifests in stupid ways. For instance, picking fights with Grant.

Today I made a bunch of vegetables held together by eggs and asiago, for Ananda, Jake, Elise, and myself. We ate out on the deck, as is the habit lately. The deck picnic table is literally rotting in several places and will need to be thrown out soon, but for now we're enjoying watching the fungus change (really). Grant made fantastic coffee like he does every day since we got each other/ourselves an espresso machine for Christmas and he set out to master it. He works from home 3 days per week now, which is kinda huge since his commute is so intense.

Jake, Elise, and I skipped watering our various plants and flowers, which is normally A Thing each morning, since it unexpectedly rained so much yesterday.

I took Ananda to the Orthodontist at 11, which is the reason why she was home. The wait was kinda ridic, and I spent too much of it pointlessly arguing on facebook about a meme I disagree with. On the way back we drove through Starbucks for green tea, which was an excuse to put Bernie Sanders stickers on their drive-thru stickering spots. I do try to pick places that accumulate stickers and are (hopefully) not obviously the bane of employees forced to scrub them off.

I weeded our hibiscus while talking with Annie about getting our soil tested because I'd like to know it's safe to make tea out of that hibiscus and this is an old house that's liable to have lead in the soil. Especially there, where there are pipes present.

Grant and I worked on a budget for the next couple of pay periods, including the STEM and yoga classes Jake and Elise are in, and these other class I'd really like to put them in. Among many many other things. We've had a never ending stream of home repairs - the AC, the dryer, the kitchen sink, the house's water pressure, more Septic Tank Saga. The front door and deck are next up but it's kinda intimidating/never ending.

I picked up Aaron and Isaac from school, and took them with Ananda to Michael's, to get her the pens and ink she needed for art class.

I talked to Aaron about the new rouge plant (Rivina Humilis L.) that's sprung up at the corner of our house, as it fits in with our mutual goal of providing habitat for birds and butterflies. He's got milkweed seeds that will be planted soon. We've also been rolling pinecones in bird seed and hanging them around. Sometimes I wonder if I'm just baiting them to be killed by our cats, though the cats seem to rarely if ever go after them.

Jake and I talked more about limericks. He wrote a couple, and did some multiplication assignments, which I checked. Elise and I reviewed all the words and sentences in her handwriting book, once she was done working on today's pages. I read him more of The Magician's Nephew, in the hammock, and her more of The Prisoner of Azkaban. She's the last one still listening to Harry Potter.

I made a big caprese salad for me, Grant, and Ananda. I cut up a loaf of sourdough and set it out with the most delicious honey. Everyone is in love with that honey, Aaron raves about it like someone describing wine for a magazine.

I thinned out and repotted all my tiny chard seedlings, and brainstormed with Grant about how to build more draining tables or raised beds.

Written Tonight:

While I was typing that yesterday, my sister was calling and texting my cell phone over and over. It was forgotten in my locked car in the front yard, and she needed me to give her a ride to the hospital ASAP. WTH, you know? My phone is almost always in arm's reach - as I type now, I realized it's actually under my wrist on the desk.

So I spent 7 hours at the hospital ER with Laura, and then awhile at the pharmacy, and we managed to laugh a lot and she's ok. She's in a lot of pain but it's nothing dangerous, just something to get through. I'll be taking her school kids to and from school along with mine, tomorrow.

TODAY, after I took my school kids in and made sure breakfast and activities were available, I slept for a couple of hours. When I got up Jake and Elise showed me all their new lego creations and drawings, and told me about the dreams they had last night. We ate together and took care of our plants and watched videos about parasitic fungus taking over carpenter ants in a rain forest, pausing to talk often. We also talked about the democratic primary states that were up today, and native plants we could put in our yard that would take minimal upkeep, and ideas for inventions... our good friends who are in Hawaii sent us tons of pictures of black beaches, sea turtles, and more, that got us talking about and e-searching all sorts of other things... basically until it was time to pick kids up from school.

On the way I played a song I'd never heard before, and lo and behold, it made me cry continuously. And laugh out loud several times. I had to pull over to keep paying attention and crying as it's 10.5 minutes long:

I sat there in a parking spot and shared it on facebook, tagging the first half dozen or so moms I could think of, before continuing with my day.

I'd promised all my kids Chipotle after school, so off we went, and while we ate there was somber talk of our (beloved) pediatrician, who recently died. We're attending the memorial service in a few days.

Then we made a list of ingredients for a bunch of soups I'll be cooking in the coming days:
-french onion
-butternut squash
-kale and bean
-italian (italian sausage, vegetables, tomato-olive oi-broth base, beans)
-cream of mushroom
-zuppa toscana

Two grocery stores and lots of good talk with Annie in the car later, after I'd put everything away and made sure Isaac took his meds and checked in with Laura about tomorrow and argued for continued political hope, on facebook...

Here I am.

The point of listing what I did, yesterday, was supposed to be to show how it really is a lot, added up, and yet it's not nearly enough to fill the time. The crisis counselor gig is 4 hours once a week. My kids are great company, though the amount of food they eat drives me to distraction lately. I have a lot of long distance communication with some great people I really care about. I'm fairly happy. It's kinda drifty, though. Kinda unfocused and diffuse. Which is...ok? It's temporary, on several levels, and... I'm not even sure what my point is. Except that sometimes I'm so aware of myself twiddling my thumbs between tasks.

I took Jake and Elise to a 3 day, 2 night herbal conference a couple of weeks ago and (partially because I was so ready for it, and it fit with the place where I was anyway), it really changed my life. It's not something I've talked about online anywhere, but I guess I probably will at some point. I'm not sure where to begin. I took a ton of notes, during classes. We camped. They had a great kids' program and a good meal plan. I made friends and got their contact information. I joined groups like United Plant Savers and Florida Native Plant Society. I spent time alone by water and under stars. When I got home, I changed the way I eat completely and totally, and without any of the angst or struggle that usually accompanies that. That transition has already altered the way I feel, physically, SO MUCH. Emotionally, I feel quieter and slower in a peaceful way, most of the time.

I'm very aware on many levels of meaningful change and growth being slow processes. Somehow that seems ok, now, though, when it really never has before.

I think about age all the time - how I feel so young, but I had to get older TO feel young?

While I was away, my bachelors degree arrived in the mail. I was extremely on edge about it coming whenever I thought about it, as though I hadn't really finished it until the paper showed up at my door and I wasn't ready to face finishing it at all. I have a fear of success that is hard to explain. Not the possibility of failing... success, itself.

When I had The Paper here, though, it was just nice. Kinda like the difference between the frenetic energy and near terror as my wedding approached, compared to the peace and contentment of realizing I was married. Or the anxiety and pseudo-despair of going through the editing and type setting and cover choosing aspects with my book publisher, vs the happy pride when I received a box of copies. I think that once something is finalized I relax into knowing that it can't be taken away. Even if things change in the future, _____ was real and happened.

Grant insisted we buy a frame straightaway, but honestly, where do you hang your own college degree in your own home? It makes perfect sense to me to display in an office setting but seems silly to put up in our hallway or something. He thinks differently; that I'm the first in my family to do this and that it's a good thing for our kids to see. I'm sort of mortified by the idea, though. I think if the home office we originally planned for my writing existed, it would make a little bit of sense there.

I have to go to bed now, so that will have to do.

I have continued to update my tumblr with personal stuff pretty regularly.
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I can be hard on myself for not taking charge of certain aspects of my life that are ongoing struggles - making regular writing time happen, improving my health. It's really hitting me this morning how little time I EVER have to myself, and how difficult that makes proactivity, or even the kind of thought gathering that precedes making plans.

I really get motivated to do my own "stuff" almost immediately when I have the smallest slivers of alone time - it's why I used to stay up til all hours of the night when I had babies/toddlers. I have a WAY harder time doing that, these days, though. And so when day after day passes without any chance at regrouping, there's this sense of never being able to stop and thinking - and always reacting - that starts to make me feel stagnant.

I do DO things apart from my family, but they're not really "on my own." I've went to a group meditation and I've been in crisis counselor training a lot lately. I text with friends often. But the idea of like, being at my house by myself? Is just wild. The idea of sitting somewhere alone ANYWHERE for a period of time, has become foreign. As I type this, this little beginning of an entry, Elise has been rambling about things despite me asking her twice to give me a few minutes, and Grant's woken up and come to ask me how I'm doing this morning. Which is nice, and I love them, but it can also get kinda Give Me Strength at times.

Some of my whirlwind:

Isaac went to the doctor twice last week, I met with his principal once, I emailed with his teachers and played phone tag with two different specialist offices (it seems he's developed asthma and has gastritis; poor kid has been coughing until he pukes WAY too much and missing a ton of school, it's awful for him...I sometimes worry his respiratory and gastro issues will never end, but then again it's really hard to untangle what of those things is his anxiety... poor Isaac). He is doing better this week, at least, with the help of albuterol and Zantac...

Aaron is sad again about another breakup with the same girl and I'm trying to surprise him with cups of tea and slip him random Chipotle burritos, when he doesn't want to talk. I'm also cutting him slack when he needs me to do his laundry constantly because this week, his ability to plan has fallen by the wayside (laundry is generally Aaron's chore, and he has daily laundry from dance at school).

Last Friday all my kids' had dental check-ups. Despite the fact that we LIVE at the damned dentist (it feels that way; they get checkups every 6 months but Jake had to go in for a cavity last month and Annie's there every month because of her braces), Elise had an abscess! A freaking abscess! They had to do an extraction before we could leave. I couldn't believe it - she hadn't complained at all, and the tooth looked normal from most angles. But the whole inside, looking down in from the roots once it was out, was green and hollow :/ So Friday was devoted to helping her through that, and the recovery, including buying/prepping soft foods. My 3 younger kids are just so prone to dental troubles, it blows my mind. Neither Ananda nor Aaron have ever had a single cavity, which is how I was until back to back pregnancies - and Aaron is the worst about brushing/flossing. My little kids are methodical and thorough about those things, and have started with regular dental visits way younger, but it's just intense - Jake had an infected cavity for the first time when he was only 3 or 4.

I didn't go to the dentist the first time until I was 17!

Monday there was no school - Annie was back at the dentist for the orthodontist, and then all five kids had their annual physicals, which took foreeevvveeerrrrr. We laughed a lot while they weren't bickering but overall the amount of waiting around in a small room was not cool.

Tuesday aside from needing to pick things up at the pharmacy and drop things off at the post office, Elise and Jake had kids' yoga and Elise tried a new Girl Scout troop, since she hasn't really had one and misses it.

I'm doing schoolwork with Jake and Elise during the school days. I'm reading to the younger 3 at night. I'm grocery shopping and cooking dinners all the time. We had to have an AC guy out last week, and we've got a plumber coming this week.

Soooo yeah, on the one hand wtf life, how am I supposed to accomplish anything "for me"?

AND YET - while I was in school I had a system of structured deadlines with accountability, and therefore accomplished plenty of my own things. I took 17 credits of upper level coursework Aug-Jan 7! And I ended with a term GPA of 3.36. I was doing survey research at FIU and meeting with professors in between visits to the hospital, while my little niece was in-patient and while I helped my sister with her older kids! Also, I skyped a presentation and studied tons of math while we were out of town for a wedding! But I felt I HAD to do those things, and I can cram school in around the edges. The way I'm doing with my training, now, I guess.

But exercise? Blocks of writing time? Not blogging time that I can be interrupted at 75 million times and keep coming back to, or eventually give up on... the kind of writing time where I've opened a flood gate and need to give it a couple of hours behind a shut door. The kind where I need a plan and I get very upset if the plan is messed up.

Hopefully this entry is part of me working my way around to figuring these things out. I'm fairly sure they're connected, as writing siphons off so many of the capital-f Feelings that lead me to eating more than I should. It's really about proactive vs reactive.

Off I go... to the kitchen, ironically. But as they say, I got shit* to do.

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I suppose I think about death in a conscious way, and talk about it, more than most people do? I mean everyone is always aware of death on some level but, I dunno. I don't think it's a downer to bring it up. I seek out the latest Ask A Mortician videos and am in the process of becoming a Hospice volunteer. I kind of adore gallows humor.

It's sort of a relief to just have it out on the table. I think it also makes me live my life differently (in a very good way).

At some point in the past year or two I realized I would be absolutely disappointed and just really not ok with being buried here in the greater Homestead/Miami area. This is noteworthy as typically I am someone who says I don't care much what's done with my body one way or the other aside from 1.) not wanting it to be embalmed (it's horrifically bad for the embalmer and the earth you go into, to say nothing of the manufacturing process - and aside from being totally unnecessary and strictly a US-centric thing) and, 2.) having a very strong (PTSD related) desire to not have it be used for medical research. Which I realize it selfish, but, *shrug.*

I'm not 100% sure why local cemeteries seem like such terrible burial spots, and have spent some time trying to pick apart whether it's a kind of symbolic geographical failure - would it represent having never "gotten out of here" before I died? I don't think so... I really love a lot about Miami and the Keys, moreso every year. When we talk about leaving, we talk about coming back, too. I still want to move away eventually, and I even think this place will be under water at some point, but I still think of it as home.

I think maybe these cemeteries are just...normal cemeteries. Full of embalmed bodies and sealed caskets and fake flowers. Places that are along highways and behind shopping centers. They're sterile and have roads and lanes and rows. They're part of an industry I increasingly disapprove of, for all kinds of reasons I don't want to get into right now.

I found this place, Prairie Creek, about 6 months ago. It's up around Gainesville (Fl) and it's awesome:

It's a natural cemetery (meaning you can be buried in no container at all, just a natural fiber shroud, or an all-wood casket), and it's also a nature preserve - so basically a place with wildlife all over, where loved ones can come take picnics or go bird watching if they want to. There are big old trees everywhere. They mark your grave with a little thing if you want, but either way they record GPS coordinates, which are available to the family, and can assist your loved ones getting to your spot anytime they'd like help. The only parking lot is grass and the road is dirt tracks.

They charge $2,000, half of which goes to securing new lands that nobody can ever build on or mess with.

Basically, I love it. I finally sent them an email tonight asking if a person needs to secure their spot in advance to be guaranteed a place upon death (though it doesn't seem so, from the info on the site).

The Order of the Good Death, which I aspire to be an active member of one day, has been encouraging people to take care of their advance directives. I've been meaning to - seeing my Nana suffer day in and day out following her strokes has had the subject on my mind, off and on... as well as seeing my Grandpa's body, a few years back, before his cremation. I'll probably really print it out and start writing things down tomorrow.

Here's a video about Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery:

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Dec. 31st, 2015

This month has been extremely productive and overall wonderful.

My semester end was hectic, with finals and papers (I turned in a 35 page paper full of statistical analyses, with various graphs and SPSS readouts in the appendix, for my Research Methods class...) coming fast and furious as soon as we got back into town. I felt a bit rushed about the Christmas season - we never got decorations up on the outside of the house at all, and it's the first year my kids haven't had little mini trees in their bedrooms. We baked a scant, single batch of gingerbread cookies before Christmas Eve!

And, I had some intense sadness about Christmas Eve, and my incapacitated Nana, and lost traditions and family gatherings gone by.

But, in the end it all turned out pretty great, and we've been coasting on the Twelve Days of Christmas ever since.

Grant and the kids all have two full weeks off, and I'm now "only" in this one mini-session course (online). It requires working every day, but is very manageable. Overall this is an unstructured and luxuriant time full of visits from out of town friends and relatives galore, with dates and cuddle sessions and repotting plants and so on. G is doing half of the cooking, cleaning, and parenting. Everybody's got a ton of new stuff, so there's a lot of taking Elise out on her new bike, and taking various people one at a time to spend their various gift cards, and viewing and videotaping the K'Nex roller coaster Jake worked on for hours. Life is pretty sweet.

Grant and I gifted each other an espresso machine, and the coffee around here has improved dramatically as a result. He also got me some essential oils, dark chocolate, and a new teacup and saucer. I got him Dune magnets and buttons and a new water bottle (that he'd been asking for), and some caramels and cookies.

I actually got the old granny square pattern book back out and looked up the one I was using for a blanket I had half finished, earlier in the year. My (very dusty) sewing machine was brought out for the first time in some 8 months.

Kid Updates!

Elise (8.5) just got a (requested) haircut that I think makes her look like an elegant mushroom. It's a short bob, longer in the front.

She is very high energy and usually really happy. She had a major breakthrough a few months back that shoved her forward in many areas - she could suddenly listen to more complex chapter books with thorough understanding, play Minecraft by herself, speak with less hesitations and searching for words. I think another of those is happening, now. She's also growing RAPIDLY - on December 11 I stood her against our height wall and she'd grown at entire INCH since December 2! At which point, she was a centimeter taller than a week before that! She's still obsessed with My Little Ponies, and plays with hers on the library carpet every single day. I don't know how much longer we can stretch this sweet innocent period of bath toys and "underwear girl" running around the house in the evenings, but I'll savor it while I can.

Jake (10) is hitting the slightly chubby phase that happens before the big puberty growth spurt. He reads a lot and usually has a pile of books next to him when he falls asleep. He's still affectionate and sweet with me, still moody and stoic in general. He's not as quick to anger as he used to be. I think he's going through a fearful period - scared of death, of fair rides, of social awkwardness. He's got some friends in the neighborhood but still seems restless and lonely at times. I think he's in a transitional phase. He still spends a lot of time building/innovating/drawing/etc. He is so in love with his cat, Jake Jr, the fluffy demon who rules us all, and says nonsense like, "how does it feel to be a grandmother?" He'll carry her up to Elise and tell him, "that's your Aunt, Jr." He's also a total sucker for any kind of cute animal video, and has this involuntary giggle that reminds me of a hamster.

Isaac (almost 12) looks an awful lot like a teenager all of a sudden. He's also really quick to assure us that he understands complex things and knows about everything. He's got a kind of image conscious defensiveness that wasn't there before, and is almost strangely matter of fact about the girl he has a crush on. He and Jake sometimes have a great time together, but Isaac is more and more likely to want to go somewhere with friends or just Dad and/or me, or close his bedroom door to be alone (a brand new thing). His anxiety seems to be mostly under control, but there was a relapse recently and I'm eager for him to get into a couple of programs that currently have him wait listed. He continues to be more "together" (organized, prepared, able to easily find misplaced items, etc) than the rest of us. His vibrancy - bright blue eyes, freckles, white eyebrows, etc - is stunning these days.

Aaron (14) is over the moon that he got a Wii U for Christmas. At school, the various art areas recently did performances during the school day for other students in other art areas, and it was the first time he danced for peers who are not dancers (including his siblings, and girls he likes, and friends/acquaintances/etc, and there were also core subject teachers in the audience...) This seems to have really changed his life. People who had never seen him dance were in awe of him and he said getting up there was the scariest stage fright he'd ever experienced. Typically recitals have been just for parents of dancers and dance teachers, and competitions or like the Hammerstein Ballroom thing in NY were for strangers - this was some whole other deal and he says he almost didn't do it. Just wearing tights on stage at 14 in front of your whole school of band kids and theater kids and writer kids, etc, is a lot! His tarantula, Tulip, is about half grown now. He's not depressed lately and I'm eating it up. He's still awkward and sensitive. He makes me laugh whether I like it or not pretty often. He's fucking obsessed with Chipotle and drives us all nuts wanting to go there constantly.

Ananda (15) is the bee's knees. She's so comfortable in her own skin and brilliant. I feel really proud of her almost all the time, lately. She has this horrible ironic fashion - like she just got SHINY GOLD HEELIES for Christmas like she wanted, and she's pairing them with these light wash, high waist mom jeans she had to have - it's painful! But she kinda pulls anything off. We talk a lot and I drive her friends places with her and we show each other things we find online. I betray her any time I get a note from a teacher that she should come to math tutoring or retake a spanish test, by immediately telling them she can do tutoring every day and this is my number, etc. She groans and says "THE WORST!" but with a smile, and then worries about how she's gonna do stuff like that in college without me forcing her to. Her teachers adore her. She has chai with the one she has an aid period with. We have a lot of fun eating gourmet food and exclaiming about science. She adopted some elderly rats a friend of hers needed to rehome and she's completely smitten with them, constantly feeding them vegetables and carrying them around.

So, that is them, and they are epic :) I'm gonna edit this entry to throw some pics in, since that's so much easier to do on a phone now.

These are their Christmas Even pajamas - Jake got a Gryffindor robe instead of regular PJs and immediately ran to grab the cinnamon broom, to go with it. He's trying to somehow be "in character" in the first shots :p

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It's nearly a month old, now!

Ah well, here we go, circa early December:

We took a 5 day trip right after ThanksgivingCollapse )

Aside from that, well, a million things.

I watched Transcendence with Grant on Saturday night, and then we had a long talk about the transference of memories and cloning, in the Dune series, and the nature of consciousness, and the meaning of life, until he was sleeping and I was up weeping and crushed under the weight of death coming for us all.

I watched The Interview with Grant on Sunday afternoon, and then went down a rabbit hole of research about North Korea and Kim Jong-Un. I didn't know and couldn't believe that he actually had private meetings with Dennis Rodman, and is obsessed with basketball in general. It's really interesting to me that he attended international schools in Switzerland for much of his youth (since there's so much of a censoring-regime-bubble around everyone in North Korea). Some of what I found seemed to indicate he is a nicer guy than his dad and grandfather were, his wife is alright, and that maybe they're making some very gradual positive changes within the strict, terrible system they inherited. He's fired a particularly hardline general, and has been quoted as making at least one statement about how the common peoples' standard of living is sad? She traveled to South Korea on a trip about "unity," when she was younger, and she does wild (by their standards) things like appear publicly in a pantsuit and carry western-style designer bags. Ooooor maybe I'm grasping at straws.

I'm somewhat ashamed of how, when reading about his human rights violations and seeing his absurd propaganda photoshoots, I can't help but think of how great it would be to see Vladimir Putin just beat the shit out of him. Putin could take him; he'd ride in shirtless on a horse, as he does, and it would be one false image vs another.

I almost never watch movies, two in a single weekend is basically unheard of, and perhaps this is part of why; I don't know how to let things go. I keep thinking about things for days (at least). We were driving home from grocery shopping yesterday and I was blurting out a steady stream of questions they never answered, in Transcendence. It is, btw, the most unfinished and underdeveloped film EVER and should have been at least a trilogy if not a cable series.

Today I went and interviewed for a job and got hired. It's a parttime, $10/hr thing that doesn't start until January, but it's assisting professors, and it will provide a good note on my CV, connections, and recommendation letters - all of which I need for grad school. I feel really good about it so far. Grant's work from home days allow for Jake and Elise continuing to be homeschooled (which would be a dealbreaker, otherwise...)

It was a group interview - a dozen women sitting around a big board room style table, with two professors (a man and a woman) asking all of us questions we'd go around and answer. I was one of only two women at the table without intentionally sculpted eyebrows, a salon hairstyle, or a manicure. I was definitely the oldest and heaviest woman in the room - both by wide margins - and even though I arrived 5 minutes early, everyone else was already sitting down quietly when I walked in.

I also seemed to be the only person who had been personally invited to be there, though, and the only one who wasn't dying of nerves. At the end of an hour of turn taking everyone was dismissed but one of the professors said, "Tina, you stay." The conversation we had afterward was pretty great and incredibly validating.

It's really interesting how honest I've been and how much that seems to be working out. They knew before I was invited to interview about my intense book, and my intense blog, and my teenage children that clearly indicate I was a teen mom. I was candid in my course evaluation about what I thought was tedious about my Research Methods course and times I was lazy because the material seemed like a chore. It's pretty obvious from the transcripts I sent in with my application that I am taking Stats II for the millionth time.

But somebody apparently waited each week for my discussion board posts, specifically, and said they "made teaching worthwhile" and were "the best part of his job." My (prompted and assigned) discussion board posts, that mentioned everything from my personal religious confusion to my forays into polyamory. And more. One of them was a long defense of why obese people shouldn't be judged as people on the basis of their obesity. A couple heavily quoted and referenced Carl Sagan. I've also linked (and APA cited) clips from Jenna Marbles, Hank Green, and Louis CK (along with many articles from Psych journals from the proxy research library).

And this has actually amounted to something. Something that could be a huge stepping stone, for me.

That's pretty fucking awesome.
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I turned in the most mediocre and half assed paper of my academic career, tonight. It was absolute horseshit and will probably get about a 50%, based on the rubric. But it's for a class I'm doing well in otherwise, and that averages in better than a zero would.

Today was supposed to be Paper Writing Day, but instead, it was a day of talking on the phone about all kind of Serious Business (like, the counseling center I've been waiting on FINALLY wanted to do my intake interview for Isaac to participate in their program...), taking Annie to her orthodontist appointment, doing an online test I'd forgotten about for another class, and about a million other things.

During the windows I had to work on the paper, I mostly squinted angrily at the convoluted instructions and got interrupted by Elise. I suppose I should reference that this was basically a math paper - running increasingly complex statistical analyses in SPSS and then analyzing the analyses. It isn't really that hard to understand, if you give yourself adequate time, which I clearly did not.

I am keenly aware of just how many large scale projects and daunting final exams I have looming in the next couple of weeks. Also quite cognizant of how most of my next week is ostensibly devoted to grocery shopping, cooking, transporting tons of shit to my sister's and helping her host upwards of 25 people for Thanksgiving, and then getting on the road with my crew for a friend's destination wedding. SO clearly I'm needing to do a lot of micro-scheduling such that I can cram hours in here, there, and everywhere.

This is a cyclical thing that is subject to change, but I am definitely thinking tonight of how great just sticking with a terminal master's in a counseling related field sounds, compared to going for some neuro-related PhD that will keep me in dense deadlines and math stress for the next decade.

I've been so inspired and motivated to write creatively lately, and aside from the odd poetry break here or there I just don't have the resources for it. I've also been keenly aware of how unwilling I am to let go of certain things at this phase of my life, from bedtime reading with my children to weekend dates with Grant. I just won't budge on certain indulgences, regardless of what's pulling me in various directions, which is not really the philosophy of the tortured type A grad student.

Part of this is the insular (and sometimes isolating) effect of having been very triggered recently. But, you know, I have PTSD. I don't want to give an inch, ever, on this front - I don't want to be limited by mental illness. Or chronic illness, if needing to get weekly shots and quarterly blood draws even qualifies. But the truth is that I'm going to have seasons where I pull back and draw in, and have to be at least a little bit gentle with myself. I want to enjoy my life and realism should be some part of that.

Tangential: My own therapist frustrates me... he does a lot of things I find helpful, like EMDR, and I've had some great epiphanies with him. My ability to enjoy my mom's company in small doses with no repercussions, and see the good in our relationship without expecting anything more, is a great thing. He's also been a valuable grad school and career planning resource. We talk a lot.

The problem is that he's really dead set on this idea that he can "clear out" trauma so that it's gone and doesn't bother you anymore. Ever. He has an unprofessionally obvious disappointment if I am not truly over anything we've ever worked on. He actually admits to impatience with subjects that resurface, and gets visibly irritated that we have to revisit topics.

To be clear, I believe that CBT and EMDR are both capable of lessening the ongoing effects of trauma. Significantly. I believe you can improve your quality of life radically through counseling. But true PTSD alters your freakin' brain anatomy. You respond to future stressors differently than you did before, even if you stop having frequent spontaneous nightmares/constantly intrusive thoughts/whatever worst effects you originally had. Counseling can give you great tools to put into practice when you get triggered, and it can help you recognize when you are triggered so you can gain some objectivity, but I don't honestly believe it can keep you from ever being triggered again. Less often? Absolutely. I used to gradually deteriorate if I saw a hospital scene on TV. Things really have to pile up in my real life to get me, these days, which I'm grateful for.

This guy is kind of a pompous windbag and he's really stuck on the idea that he has personally cured however many hundreds of peoples' PTSD, often in (what he perceives to be) as little as one session. We get into passionate arguments about this. I really believe he's helped a lot of people - and I don't doubt some people can FEEL BETTER, especially temporarily, after one session of EMDR (though some people will need way more than that to get a boost, or even have a way harder time than they were, in the beginning). But he's not wiping people's slates clean as though their experiences never happened. If someone goes from barely-functioning to super productive but then becomes triggered and has a setback, it's not a failure of or reflection on the previous treatment.

This is a kind of pure, altruistic (albeit also narcissistic) misconception he has going on. It centers around people needing him only briefly, so it's not about keeping people coming back. He is really not interested in customers as such - he wants success stories. And he's been featured in the books of other people who claim to be racking them up, and it's only validated his ideas.

I feel like I learn a lot about what not to do, from him. But like I said, I also value him, it isn't black and white... and, I try not to interpret our sessions through the lens of "I'll be on the other side of that desk one day," in the moment, because it isn't helpful.

Clearly I need to sleep, instead of rambling about this.

Last thought: I'm contemplating tonight what a Licensed Clinical Social Worker could potentially do, with/for The Order of the Good Death.
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This has been a really, really hard month or so.

1.) I am triggered all to hell and back.

So many doctor's appointments, so many tests, so many tense, anticipatory waiting periods. I can't go to bed, can't sleep when I get there, feel tense and on edge most of the time for what appears to be absolutely no reason. It's isolating and I keep pushing people away even though I feel so lonely. Ignoring texts, postponing vists. Normal efforts feel like huge efforts, though school, kids' schedules, kids' needs, and so forth keep marching on as I metaphorically drown in life. I have horrible intrusive thoughts when dealing with scissors and knives.

I'm still in counseling, it's better than it was, and it's been a year since I really felt triggered, so... I'll be ok. But this is coloring everything else.

2.) Grant's been depressed for a long time. He's gained weight, he's eating like shit, hates his commute, etc (those are his reasons/contributors, not mine). This, in addition to periodically worrying me and generally making things feel a bit glum, results in things like less fun, less interaction, less sex, etc, within our marriage. I've been in a "make my own happiness, be responsible for my own day" paradigm for years now, but it gets a lot harder to maintain when I feel like a shaky crazy person and just really want affection and distraction from my own BS. Also, his subtle and not so subtle rejections really underlie how few real life friends I have locally. I think I'd turn to him a lot less if he wasn't the Fount of All Adult Interaction, these days. But so long as I'm in this transitional period of being completely bogged down with my (mostly online) schoolwork and homeschooling a couple of kids, I don't exactly have a ton of resources for a social life. I fantasize constantly about being in a communal living situation with other adults, such that they would just be readily available for a sit-down breakfast, or a late night talk, or whatever.

Spoiler: "whatever"=sex.

3.) My sister and I keep having these knock-down drag out mega dramatic messaging sessions that just sap me of all strength and happiness. She's working out a lot of old pent up issues, we're both trying to bridge a communication gap we've always had, and it's the most tedious, long winded, emotionally exhausting thing. I don't even know how to explain it. We're so similar that our differences always seem glaring and cause us to clash. New issues tend to feel like historic patterns, which magnifies them...

There was the evening I spent crying on a sidewalk, and in a public bathroom, and on a dock, weeping and sending fucking novellas back and forth by the dozen. The immediate following weekend filled with more of the same. I turned off facebook messenger notifications because of how stressful the sound of receiving a new message became, but just checked it obsessively anyway.

We ended up having a "date" that went really well and seemed to settle a lot in a positive way, but I feel all the old stuff edging back in again and then today feels right back where we started a month ago. I think we mean too much to each other to drive each other this fucking crazy. I also think we both have too much on our plates to devote nearly as much to the other, as we'd each like... GAH.

I don't have any other relationship that's like this (and neither does she). Neither of us are dramatic in our friendships or even put up with this shit with other relatives. It's this migraine of a paradox that "us" can be important enough to us both that we'll wade through the muck and "do the work," buuuut...that still doesn't fix the muck. Both of us feel like we bend over backwards for the other one in a way we never would for anybody else.

With my sister and with Grant, I don't know to what degree my PTSD kicking into high gear is affecting things. I know it makes me more sensitive, at times, and more loathe to deal with conflict at all. What's less clear is how it alters my perception of the relationship issues themselves. Basically, I have trouble trusting my own judgement on subjective interpersonal things at all, when I'm in this state.

Those are the main three things. ISIS is also getting me down, and taking up all my NPR airtime, and Boko Haram and antibiotic resistance just make me want to never look at the news again. I've spent an awful lot of heavy time talking to my children lately, about terrible current event stories they're confused about.

They're great, though. Shining stars every one :) Isaac has had some resurgence of anxiety for the first time since he went on Zoloft and that's been a struggle, for him and for me, but he seems to be back on the upswing and all told it was nothing on how he used to just always be.

I'm reading him Stephen King's Eye of the Dragon (which is not at all like other Stephen King books), and it's SO DIFFERENT than it was to read the same book to A&A, years ago. Isaac is so complicated and brilliant and...worried? He also interrupts constantly, but that is another story.

Elise is SO WONDERFUL. She's had a massive cognitive leap in the past couple of months, I'm so proud of her. All of a sudden she can listen to more complex chapter books (and be really into it), play Minecraft on her own, speak with far less hesitating and searching for words - her drawings have went from stick figures and suns (exclusively, for years) to varied and detailed. And, she also maintains her bubbly, high energy, chipper self a solid 90% of her waking moments. She makes me laugh and we snuggle and take walks and she's constantly got something to show me.

We finally found a couple of good homeschool resources, too, so she and Jake are able to get out around more people and do more things regularly and I'm relieved about that, even though I sometimes feel as though I'm walking uphill with cinderblocks as I initiate these activities and get us out the door for them.

They are the bees knees, those two, and my school days with just the two of them are sweet even when I'm dragging a bit, and preoccupied. They're both really into TERRIBLE MUSIC, I don't know which is worse - Jake wants to listen to things like "It's Raining Tacos" and "Best KittyCat Song" and Minecraft music from YouTube all day, and she wants a steady stream of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. That I still enjoy our time so much speaks volumes ;)

They're still very innocent, our interactions are so simple and focused on them in an easy way, and I'm keenly aware of how fleeting that is. I adore taking Ananda for an afternoon at a tea shop or staying up watching Montage of Heck with her, and I love to slip off with Aaron for Chipotle or lie around talking about his school issues/girlfriend, but...I don't know. Jake and Elise are still with me in the moment, for now, in a really different way. And not just because they don't have smart phones yet.

There's some adolescent complexity that tints everything with self-consciousness, once it comes on, and something about the lack of it in Jake and Elise seems really vibrant, and temporary.

I'm still doing well in my classes, and am so ready for them to be over. I have less energy for obsessing over grad school options and am taking it one day at a time until a few upcoming events that may clarify things for me.

Very pleased with how spring seems to be shaping up for me, re: part time internships and other professional opportunities, as well as my determination to use it to write. Hopefully this triggery bs will be long past by then, but if not writing is about the best purge there is. Just sitting down to write this nonsense has lifted me up significantly since I sat down to start it.
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Saturday Grant and I drove down to Key West. We stopped for mushroom brie soup, ham and cheese croissant and iced coffee on the way, and we saw many mostly naked people while there - mostly in costumes and body paint, and drank free rum after getting to a rooftop bar via my Aunt's free wristbands. I had a bunch of party goers yell after she had the announcer say, "Happy Birthday to Tina Marie!" (which she will apparently always call me) and I walked around on an old bridge in the moonlight alone with Grant, looking at stars and our changing shadows.

Sunday I slept in, I had sex, I took my big kids out for a LUSH shopping/macaron getting/tea shop date, I was sung to by my sweet family.

I'm 34!

Today O_O

Today I took Ananda to the orthondontist (one of her impacted teeth is finally showing!!!) and myself to both an ultrasound, where I learned my IUD may have embedded itself in my c/s scar and need to be surgically removed (but I have to wait to know), and to my primary care doc with Grant where we were finally able to get training and prescriptions for him to give me the B-12 shots I have to have. Jake and Elise had to come to all of these appointments and brought books and were generally pretty tolerant. Somewhere in between there, I made a big pot of pumpkin oatmeal for Jake, Elise, G and I; helped Jake finalize the Halloween costume he wants; and I took an hour and a half long beast of a french test.

Then I fielded a call from Aaron's spanish teacher as I dropped off prescriptions, picked up my school kids, had a big sit down about a class Annie's slacking in, talked to my gynecologist about my pending test results, left FIU's psych advising a message about a registration problem, and started on my research methods work. 45 minute test and hour+ on an assignment later, I ran to eat the delicious dinner Grant cooked and talk with Isaac for a bit.

Good. Grief.

Since Saturday, I've been having an awful lot of long, hard, heavy, emotional, irritating, comforting, potentially helpful fb messages back and forth with my sister. About misunderstandings we've had, habits and patterns we've outgrown, ways to meet each other where we're at now, and more. Just novellas upon novellas worth of word counts, often with tears. BAH-LAAAAH....

There does seem to be some progress, though, and at least we both care enough to make the effort.

I just took a break from writing this to read Elise 3 chapters of Junie B. Jones (and the Stupid Smelly School Bus), cuddle her a bit, and explain what we have coming up this week. She's so great. Reading to my kids can be EXACTLY the recharge *I* need, sometimes.

Still pretty damn tired :p
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The Miami Book Fair just published their annual list of booked (haha...ha...) authors. The usuals like Dave Barry, Joyce Carol Oates, and Amy Tan will be there, and then there are a bunch of people I don't even personally usually think of as authors - Patti Smith, Jessi Eisenberg, JACKSON GALAXY, and John Leguizamo. Joseph Fink, cowriter of Welcome to Nightvale, will be there, which is sort of interesting. Also Edwidge Danticat, whose book I had to read for my Cultures of the Caribbean class.

Since last year involved both Anne Rice and Caitlin Doughty, I am not super excited. If I can get a good lineup of things I'm somewhat interested in happening on the same day, we'll hit it...

The major themes of my day have been enjoying the windy, cooler (as in low 80s) weather; trying to make sense of our calendar in light of a rescheduled wedding, a rescheduled field trip, a rescheduled appointment, upcoming exams, various facebook event invites, and my birthday this weekend; and, cleaning the kitchen FOREVER (in stages).

I also rolled up to the intersection right by the kids' school this afternoon only to find at least a dozen regular and undercover cop cars just EVERYWHERE, including blocking the road, multiple ambulances, police on foot...they were rerouting parents MILES via backroads and my stomach was in my throat. Thankfully Ananda texted me back that they were all fine basically immediately as I sat in stopped traffic wondering what was going on. It was "just" a traffic fatality. GAH!
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