Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking back at 2017

Today is the day to look back on the year I just had and try to take stock.  Problem is, my memories are kind of fuzzy.  Last New Year's feels like forever ago.  So I grabbed this survey off of Facebook and am going to use it to jog my memory.  Feel free to answer the same questions in the comments or on your own blog!

New Years' Survey!

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?
Dropped the boys at school and left them there.  ALL DAY.  I think I missed them more than they did me.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Yes!  My goal was to "rise to the occasion" and do all that executive-function adulting stuff that I dread, and I did.  I took Marko to numberless assessment appointments.  I scheduled shots and showed up to the appointments.  I did not get to the dentist.  Oh well.  I had a physical though AND saw a dermatologist for a mole that has been scaring me for two years.  I can say that I have grown massively in organizational skills and in confidence.  I feel like I can commit to showing up somewhere or making a phone call without hedging that I'm a flake and may not show.  When I have to make a phone call, I usually do it the same day rather than stalling for a solid week.  Having to do it made me do it, and that made me less scared of doing it the next time.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
I racked my brain for awhile before remembering that I DID.  Jeez.

Two people close to me got pregnant, and I have been supportive instead of making bitter comments about how their lives are going to be ruined.  Go me!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Not very close.

5. What countries did you visit?
None.  I went to Maryland once.

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2018?
My room to myself.  Sometime this year, I'm kicking Jackie out into Miriam's room and will finally get to put my pajamas on with the lights on!  It's going to be great!

7. What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
January 20th.  Jackie's birth and Trump's inauguration.  It wasn't a great day.  At least the afterpains distracted me from reading the news.
Also August 15th, the boys' first day of school.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finally, after over two months, getting Jackie to go to bed at a reasonable hour so I didn't have to spend 8pm-midnight nursing her and unable to move a muscle without lengthening the process by hours.

9. What was your biggest failure?
The garden.  Basically didn't do much of anything in there.  I planted stuff and ignored it and it all died, except the tomatoes and peppers which sort of plugged along in a half-hearted way.  The soil is not as good here as at the old place, and there isn't as much sun either.
Oh and the chickens.  I gave them the same treatment as the garden, and to the same effect.  Two died and the remaining one I gave away for fear she'd meet the same fate.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
So many illnesses.  Cold after cold after throat infection after flu.  The kids bring it home from school and share it around the family where, with six of us, it hangs around forever.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Honestly I don't remember buying much of anything.  I did buy a nice pendant for my birthday, so I could have at least one piece of jewelry that wasn't a cross.  It's just the earth.

12. Where did most of your money go?
That big ol' mortgage, I guess.  Also school supplies and clothes.

13. What did you get really excited about?
NaNoWriMo.  It was the most thrilling thing that's happened to me in a long time.  It meant I could be myself again and do something I wanted to do instead of spending all my productive time on kid stuff.

14. What song will always remind you of 2017?
Probably Blue World.  I've had that in the car for a long time and it's very catchy.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:?
– happier or sadder? happier
– thinner or fatter? thinner
– richer or poorer? richer (in savings - income has stayed about the same)

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Nothing really.  There wasn't any extra time I could have spent on other things.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Waking up at night?

18. How did you spend Christmas?
At home, in my jammies.  I recommend it.

19. What was your favorite TV program?
Probably Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  That's John's and my show to watch together right now.  I also watched a good bit of Call the Midwife, Jane the Virgin, and Parenthood.  Didn't get back into action shows, though I would have liked to.  It wound up being too much tension for me.  Though my anxiety is getting better all the time, so next year I bet I will be able to.

20. What were your favorite books of the year?
All the Terry Pratchett books.  They got me through.  I highly recommend them when you're stressed, anxious, or depressed--they're light-hearted and never scary.

21. What was your favorite music from this year?
Like the previous question, I'm going to go with music I listened to this year, not music that came out this year.  I mostly listened to Rush and Moody Blues.

22. What were your favorite films of the year?
The only movies I can remember watching are Zootopia, the MLP movie, Rogue One, Boss Baby, and Bright.  Liked them all.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I was 31.  Don't think I did anything special.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
I have had a strict policy against might-have-beens this year.  I'm sure y'all can guess the very first place my mind went when I heard this question.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?
Two words: Yoga. Pants.  Though my weight has stabilized to the point I can go buy some jeans now.

26. What kept you sane?
This mental health technique

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017?
Probably to trust my kids to meet obstacles and fears and still be okay.  I've been very protective up to now, and maybe that was the right thing then, but this year it has been the time to force my kids into situations they didn't feel ready for . . . and find that they were ready after all.  It did a lot for their confidence and for my trust in them.  And I gotta say, it's great not to be the only person responsible for their entire education anymore.

So, how was 2017?  Well, it beat 2016.  2016 was chugging along wonderfully when it suddenly started to derail, and things got worse and worse for the rest of the year.  I spent a lot of effort on my mental health that year, with the net result that I did not actually have the total mental breakdown I felt like I was going to have.  So that was something.  But it was, in general, a horrifyingly bad year.

But this year I knew it would be better, because no matter what awful things came my way, I figured at least I wouldn't be pregnant anymore.  And that happened.  Nobody has ever been pregnant forever.  Of course Jackie's newborn phase was a living nightmare; she was just the worst ... and they have all been high-needs so I know what I'm talking about.  But I at least had the comfort of having my body to myself.  That matters a lot.  And I felt a lot saner than during the same time period with Miriam, whether because I had a house big enough to hold my family, or because I used a baby swing instead of trying to hold the baby all the time, or because my hormones were in better shape.  I felt bad a lot of the time, but I didn't scream at the other kids (much) or fail them in any obvious ways.  Miriam loved being a big sister, so that really helped . . . one of the hardest things about having a newborn who isn't the first is that you are dealing with a clingy, upset toddler who is jealous at having to share you, and that really didn't happen at all.  It also helped a lot that she was potty-trained, no longer napped, and gave up nursing when Jackie was born.

But really, it was still overstimulating and exhausting.  The big kids were bored and fought with each other a lot, and I was usually too overwhelmed to get them out of the house much.  The real turnaround happened when they started school.  Finally they had a built-in place to go and do big-kid stuff, while I had some hours a day where I wasn't surrounded by yelling and screaming and mess.  Miriam had more of my attention, and when the boys got home from school, they played nicely together more and fought less.

Now Jackie is almost one, which means she is light-years less trouble than she was as a newborn.  She's still high-needs.  It takes her a lot to get her to nap, and then she doesn't nap long.  When she's unhappy she doesn't want to snuggle, she wants to claw your face off.  It's tough.  But I'm rejoicing at every milestone she reaches, because the older she gets, the more she joins the Big Kid Gang and the more I can do other things.  That's how I managed to write a book ... though she's having a difficult phase at the moment and I can't work on editing very much.  But I expect to be able to write another book in the coming year; I can't see why not.

So.  It's a year of slow improvement.  I'm proud of how I've handled it.  I did rise to the occasion, absolutely.

What are my goals for the coming year?

1.  I want to work on publishing my book.  I believe it's good enough, or can be made good enough.  It might not be what the market is looking for.  I hear a lot that the dystopia "moment" is over and nobody wants to publish them anymore.  But perhaps I can get someone to take a chance on it.  I'll submit it to 100 agents, or even more, and if after all that I don't get a bite .... I'll move on to the next thing.  I am telling myself that if I want to get published, I can.  All I have to do is work hard at it.  Writing not good enough?  I'll just get better at it.  Story not what publishers are looking for?  I'll write other stories.  A lot of books get published every year.  There isn't any reason why one of them can't be mine.

2.  I want to write another book.  I am bursting with ideas right now.  Should it be the one with the alien with another person living in her head?  Or the space pilgrims?  Or the agoraphobic, possibly autistic inventor who has to foil a global conspiracy?  You see I'm trending toward sci-fi at the moment.  I want to keep working on my fantasy epic sometime, but maybe not right now.

3.  I have to make a decision about school for the kids for another year.  Michael almost certainly will stay in school because it's been obviously great for him.  Marko is begging to homeschool again, but I am not sure I want to put myself through that wringer again.  He is really, really hard to homeschool.  My goal is to make a decision that weighs the entire family's needs, and is right for him.  (I say "I" because John is adamantly pro-school -- he's made up his mind.  So if I decide homeschooling is better, we're going to have some tough conversations and then decide as a unit.)

4.  I want to get out of the house more.  I want to visit with friends, meet new people, join clubs.  I want to join a writer's group and actually attend the meetings.  I want to volunteer at the library to teach knitting classes again -- something I did one time this past year and liked.

In short, I want to move on, move forward.  I want to value my own dreams and wishes, because I will have the space to do so more and more.  I've learned you can't go on forever putting yourself last.

I just don't know of a word that sums all that up.  Hopefully I can think of one before we're too far into 2018!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Weighted blankets

I've been busy lately.  And I mean really busy, not scrolling-through-facebook busy.  School has all kinds of random demands lately--bring cookies for this party!  Bring grapes for that party!  Send in three dollars, must be cash, for the field trip!  There's homework, of course, a daily nightmare.  There's editing my book, which I've started now that I let it sit for a few weeks, and a few people have read it.  (They had some hard-hitting criticism, which stung at first, but I sat on it and I think they're right.  And now at least I have a direction to go in for the rewriting.)  And Christmas presents too!

For Marko and John, I made weighted blankets.  They're very popular for kids with autism, SPD, and anxiety, because supposedly the sensory input is calming.  I figured Marko's would help him be a bit less restless at night, and as for John, he's always loved big heavy blankets, but they make him very sweaty in summertime.  So he is getting one as well.  My hope is that it will feel like a big comforter without being hot.

I read some online tutorials and figured out the basics: you sew around three edges and sew some vertical channels.  Then you pour in the weights and sew across a horizontal row, pour in some more and sew those in . . . until you have little square pockets all over that hold the weights.  That's the way to make sure they stay put instead of all gathering in the corner.

You can use any number of things for the weights.  There are PVC pellets, like in beanie babies and bean bag chairs.  You can use beans or rice if you don't care that it's washable.  You can use BB pellets apparently.  I picked sand.  This was a mistake.  Sand is very dusty and I worry it will wash right out if I attempt to put the blankets in the washer.  Imagine fifteen pounds of sand in my washer.  I'm not even going to try it.  And there is a thin film of dust everywhere I worked on it, little bits of sand on the floor, sand trying to get into the crevices of my sewing machine.  I cannot recommend it at all.  Next time I'm going to see if I can find washed pea gravel or aquarium gravel, because much as I like the idea of something softer that won't feel lumpy . . . I also want something that won't get everywhere while I'm working on it.

My first step to make this was to get my old sewing machine fixed.  My Grandma J -- the grandma who taught me to sew -- got it for me for my 18th birthday.  It's been shipped across the country more than once, kept under a bed, shoved in an attic, left in a garage . . . it's had a hard life.  When Marko was a toddler, I tried to use it and found a little rubber part inside had melted from the heat in the attic where I was storing it.  I took it completely apart, ordered the new part online for a few dollars, and put it back together . . . but alas, it still didn't work.

So a few weeks ago (read: after it had been shoved in a box, broken, for six years) I finally took it to a repair shop.  The guy said it would cost me a fortune to fix, and all because I'd unscrewed something I hadn't been supposed to unscrew.  So much for my repair skills.  In addition, the bobbin case was rusted and would need to be replaced.  The repair man (who was really nice, I'll heartily recommend him to any local people who are interested) told me he couldn't possibly take my money to fix it, because it was a cheap machine in the first place and it would cost me less to replace than to fix.

That upset me because I don't have money right now for either.  So I moaned about it on Facebook and my other grandma (Grandma C) emailed to tell me to pick a new machine, whatever I wanted, and she'd get it for me.  Wow!  I was tempted to say no, but my Grandma J passed away some years ago, and all I could think was, let me let my grandma love me.  I wish I had more memories from Grandma J, let's not make the same mistake with Grandma C.  And there's just something special on sewing a machine that comes from someone in the family who also loves to sew.  So I picked out this baby:

I thought I was being greedy, because it's a high-quality machine with heavy-duty metal parts inside.  The sewing machine repairman recommended Singer as a brand that's easy to repair.  It can do all kinds of things, like a zigzagging and decorative stitches and automatic buttonholes.  But my grandma thought I was holding myself back.  Nope!  I know there are more expensive machines out there, but they're complicated computerized gadgets.  I want something simple and strong.  This fit the bill.  Reviews say it can sew through layers of denim!

The actual materials cost under $30.  The My Little Pony fabric was a little pricey, but I knew Marko would love it.  The other side of his blanket is green, like Link from The Legend of Zelda.  He wears green daily, so he can be Link, so naturally the blanket had to be green too.

John's is dark green on one side, and a green pattern on the other.  It's kind of huge -- about 3'x6'.  That size weighted blanket is over a hundred dollars online.  Whereas with the help of my sewing machine, I was able to make it over about a week's worth of naps, for a fraction of the cost.  Am I proud of myself?  Yes.  Yes I am.

The real question is, are they really soothing?  I tried John's out today to see.  It certainly did smoosh around me in an interesting way instead of tenting the way lighter blankets do.

But I didn't really love the feeling.  It wasn't constricting as I might have feared--it doesn't feel heavy, with the weight distributed over the whole blanket.  But it didn't seem to do anything for me either.  Maybe if I'd felt anxious or overstimulated I might have felt differently.

We'll see how John feels about his!  I gave Marko his already -- he was having a really hard week, and I didn't feel like waiting on something that might be comforting.  He didn't say anything about it helping, but he did really like it, and I think he might be sleeping better.

Now, of course, everybody else wants one.  But no one really cares about the "weighted" part, so I'm going to make a plain cotton blanket for each of the others.  Miriam wants pink on one side, rainbow on the other.  Michael will have to come to the store with me and pick one.

But that, alas, will not be by Christmas.  There's only four days left and Jackie is too much of a toddler for me to take out needles and scissors any time she's awake.  But I'll get them done eventually!
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