Thursday, March 3, 2011

February (et al) Declutter Update

I started following along on the Declutter Challenge last, um, year, at Amy's Finer Things. I was hoping to make it to 730 ft cubed exported in 2010. I made it to 113.8, 15.6% before I was distracted by shiny things the rest of the year.

So, I was happy to see that Nony at A Slob Comes Clean is a) a woman after my own heart and b)continuing the Declutter Challenge link-up.

Full disclosure, I haven't paid much attention to decluttering since last year, when I made it to the 113.8 ft cubed. (Yes, I did in fact measure everything and that kind of complusive behavior may have had something to do with my loss of momentum. Merf.) The bulk of that material was purged from items we'd brought back from my Mom's house in Ohio. Divorced parents + sparse long term memory= a lotta crap. "I don't remember this but it says 1984. Maybe if I keep it, I will remember something from 1984?"

Lately, though, I've been focused on the ways my life has stagnated. (I am a recovering grad student. I finished my research and coursework two years ago, life and a mental breakdown intervened, and I haven't quite put the finishing touches on that thesis and defense.) I want to clear out everything that's been staring me in the face for the past few years, big and small, mentally and physically. My declutter steps have made a small impact in terms of what we see in the house, but have really lifted me mentally.

~Returning my Sbux uniform, a year after my last shift. Now it won't be in my closet sparking dreams of being late for my shift. I am grateful to Bux. They are a good company and gave me a job when no other jobs were to be found. However, it wasn't a good time in my life. Booker and I were fighting; anxiety and insomnia had put me in a very desperate and scary place. I was no longer a full-time student, so my loans were due, and when you've invested $60,000 in your education, working for minimum wage is a huge hit to your self-esteem. I'm not being snobby, just honest. So the sight of the green apron doesn't bring a flood of happy memories.

~Took a bagful to Goodwill, including the book American Taboo: a Murder in the Peace Corps. My friend sent it to my 4 years ago. I've been waiting this whole time to be in a mental space to handle Deb Gardner's story. I finally was able to admit to myself that I'll have to find other ways to honor her.

~ I realized that Lowes recycles CFL lightbulbs. It's not so much that we are early adopters, and have run through them after 5-8 years of use, as it is that one of us is very impatient. CFL's have a slight lag time when you turn them on, and I- um, one of us- had a bad habit of flicking the switch off and on, which just makes them burn out. "Is it broken? Oh. Shit. It is now." We had a collection of 9-10 sitting in our closet, that have led to a few bickerfests. The issue:

Me: These contain heavy metals, which are bad and wrong. Our city does not recycle them. We can't afford the $30 kit to mail them off. Throwing them out is not an option. So let's hold on to them until we figure it out.
Booker Phase 1: What? Heavy metals? I've never heard that. Are you sure that's right?
Booker Phase 2: O-KAY. Fine! No, I believed you. Yes I did. Yes I did. Yes I did. Since they have heavy metals, we shouldn't keep them in the house where they are subject to breakage. It would be great to recycle them if it were easy, but it's not, so let's just throw them away and try to do better next time.
Booker Phase 3: Yes I did. Yes I did. Yes I did. No, I care about the water supply. Yes I do. Yes I do. Yes I do.

Seriously, it's been YEARS that we have held onto these lightbulbs. At one point I even hid them. 50 points goes to the winner who guesses which of use was more invested in the idea of recycling these mofos???

And this whole damn time, we could've just trotted off to Lowes. Which I did this afternoon, and it felt great.

Small things physically, big psychologically. Let's see if I can make the thesis deadline of April 15!

I'm linking this up at A Slob Comes Clean for the February Decluttering Update. Stop by to cheer us on and join in!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How I Went Off Sleeping Pills

I had been taking Ambien in various forms (CR high and low dose, regular high and low dose) for about 15 months. When I went on it I was in a place of desperation because of extreme and chronic insomnia and anxiety. I had tried every single conceivable herbal or non-invasive remedy out there. I'd had a sleep study that showed that yes, I had mild sleep apnea and yes, I was only sleeping 50-60% of the time and no, there is no reason we can find for it. I am by no means quick to request medication and am typically highly skeptical of a prescription. But I swear to the Flying Spaghetti Noodle Monster that I don't for one millisecond regret taking sleeping pills. Paired with anti-anxiety medication, it was absolutely what I needed at that point in my life.

However, a year later my life circumstances had become more stable, and my brain chemistry had recalibrated. While a sleeping pill used to give me a 7-9 hour respite, I was now sleeping for 12 hours and groggy for 14, even after tapering down from Ambien Continued Release to Ambien (Standard) in the lowest dose available. My body was telling me that it was time to move on.

So for myself, and anyone else wanting to change medication, I knew the first step was to talk to my doctor. And from here is where I draw inspiration for this post. The conversation went a little something like this:
S: I want to go off Ambien.
Dr.: Why? Is it not working?
S: It's working too well. I'm sleeping for 12 hours a night and I'm very groggy.
Dr.: Ok. We can put you on something else.
S: No, I don't want anything else. I don't want anything. I don't think I need it anymore. And it scares me to be on it long-term.
Dr: Oh it's safe. We have patients that are on it for years.
S: do I go off?
Dr:, I guess
S's brain: {why don't you *know*??}
Dr: ...........I guess you'll cut them in half for about 2 weeks. Then you should be good.

Um,.....*not* how this story went. I can't say that he wasn't supportive, but I got the distinct impression that in this practice, they very infrequently foster patients *off* of sleeping pills. As for the long-term safety...I'm pretty skeptical. I'm not a doctor, but I am a biologist and I am certainly capable of finding and interpreting peer-reviewed publications. Guess what? A medium search for Ambien studies defined "long-term" use as 30-60 days. (Medium search being between a 3-click lazy search and an intensive 3-day search.) One to two months, not one to two years. I stopped looking for evidence. I don't want to know. If there's damage, it's already been done. But I have a lot of faith in the brains' plasticity, and even more faith in my own judgement.

Because I had been taking the drug for so long, an abbreviated taper down schedule as outlined by my doctor was not going to work for me. I doubt it would work for anyone in the same situation. Bitter. Moving on.

I started out on the lowest prescribed dose (5 mg) of regular, ie not continued release, Ambien. I cut these in half, and switched every other night between a full dose (5mg) and a half dose (2.5mg). So, over the course of a week I had 75% Ambien in my system compared to the week before. I stayed here for about 2 weeks, before adding in another night of a half-pill. So now it was one night at 5 mg, 2 nights at 2.5 mg. After a few weeks here I move on to 2.5 mg nearly every night, and a full dose about once a week. This once a week was usually in situations where my routine was off- vising people, staying out late, etc etc. Anything that would disrupt my routine and cause excess stimulation, which my brain interprets as stress. My body responds with an elevated heart rate and pulse, breathing quickly-yeah, no sleep for you.

Eventually I was taking 2.5 mg a night. From there I cut those in half, and followed my same protocol outlined above with every other night, every two nights, once or twice a week....Finally, I was at the point where I was only taking 1/4 of a 5mg Ambien pill every 3 or 4 nights. I made the leap to go cold turkey at that point. The whole process took me about 4 months. The advantage of slowly tapering off was that I didn't have any withdrawal or kick-back insomnia. I was very motivated to avoid withdrawal effects that would worsen my anxiety (I am still on that med.) Perhaps someone without concurrent anxiety/ depression could go off more quickly.

I have been completely off sleep medication for about a month. I don't sleep great (there's still that sleep apnea), but I do sleep well enough. I signed up for a computer-based Cognitive Behavior Training for Insomnia. I'll post more after I've completed it- I don't like to write about things I haven't tried myself. I am on a cleansing program (Dr. Natura Colonix) to eliminate all vestiges of Ambien from my system.

I still want to pursue the source of my poor sleep and other health problems. This winter, after my defense, I'm going to try an elimination diet to look for gluten or other food sensitivities. I know that something internal is causing bad skin, distended stomach, insomnia, and possible even anxiety and sleep apnea. Has anyone out there tried this?

If you're out there and looking for support to go off sleep medication, I hope this helps. But keep in mind I sure as hell am not a medical professional.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


New links! These blogs are not limited to the topics below, but this is why they appeal to me:

$5 Dinners- Quick, affordable meals
A Slob Comes Clean- aka, my home too
Amy's Finer Things- hosting a year-long declutter challenge
Chow Bella- Science! Food! Awesome. Mostly food and awesomeness. Scientist IRL.
I Heart Faces- photography
Knock Off Wood- make things!
Made By Joel- make toys!
Me Ra Koh- photography
Money Saving Mom- how to things for free
Once A Month Mom- lots of food, less cooking

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Where I Am Now

The February business assignment on the Soarority forum focuses on a current-state inventory for those starting photography businesses. I'm applying the same principle to my own stalled academic career.

Talents & Skills
: Improved whazoo skills, a surprising interest in zoowhazz, GIS mapping, better at experimental design (although that is a constantly evolving skill), solid writing skills, Speak French, able to live in rustic, low-to-no-amenity environments (pit latrine. 2.5 years), grant-writing, classoom management/ lesson-planning/ instructional skills; trained in community develoment and have conducted start to finish projects on that end, once in awhile I can come up with an idea and a half-plan on how to do some cool SCIENCE!

Money ...Received some grants for my MS research which I am currently writing-up...also received a travel grant to attend a national conferece and present a poster on my work. Had received teaching assistantships for several semesters. Currently employed full-time in my home department; hoping that will last. (We're in a state that is proposing murderous budget cuts, so a lay-off is always a possbility.) Now I need to finish the second half of my thesis and defend. I'll also need to present my final results at a conference for one of my granting agencies. We're okay on money right now- okay meaning we make all of our minimum payments with a very small margin at months' end. The best thing I can do to help us with money is have my Master's in hand.

- Booker. Two women who have invested a lot of time in mentoring me and listening to my whining and anxiety. Lots of friends who are in academia and understand the challenges. Lots of friends who are not in academia to remind me that there are other things to work towards in life. My advisor is pretty good, although distinctly slow in returning drafts. And often a no-show or reschedules meetings. I feel pretty good about my committee members- they are nice people who give constructive criticism---not really worried about one of them going apeshit on me in the defense. Above all else, they are *fair*.

Systems- Ummm....well, my laptop has Microsoft XP, as does Booker's. Both are ancient and of low-to-medium performance, but we're making them work for us. I have the BioStats program our Dept. uses. Access to computers on campus with ARC-GIS software. Hours and hours of whazoo recordings and a pretty kickin' zoowhazz collection. External hard-drive.

Agreements- I have a contract with myself to finish this degree, or lose my self-respect forever.

Mission impact- there's a gap in the literature which my results would fill quite nicely. This topic was hot 25 years ago, then folks moved on. Not because it was irrelevant, but few were looking at any specific components to this ecological issue. When it was all in generalities, the community couldn't really come to any conclusions. My hope is that my research provides hard data for a very tiny component of the larger issue, which can be used to bolster up declining whazoo populations. Long-term, my committment is to research and sustainability, however those come about. My first preference is a career in academia because I want the freedom to conduct my own research, I like teaching, and I want to start a non-profit working with my former village in far-away place. Life as a professor would support all those goals.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Declutter Challenge

Well, my goal of 730 ft cubed was waaay overambitious. As of right now I'm at 20 ft cubed. Still, it has changed how I approach my junk...I'm a lot more willing to get rid of things I would have kept in the past. I'm learning that just because something has another use, doesn't mean I have to be the one to use it. That's a hard thing for a tree-hugger to accept.

I'm finding all kinds of treasures too: ex: a cutting board of 4 different woods my Dad made for my Mom their first Christmas together. (They divorced when I was 7 and I find that I am incredibly sentimental over any artifacts I can find from when they were together. Odd, since most of my memories start at 8- it's not like I'm missing that time in my life- I can't remember it! I wonder if this is a typical child-of-divorce thing?)

Ex: an old bug barn, inscribed with 'Bug-el: A safe haven.' I didn't like bugs then. Wonder what I was thinking?

Ex: A battery-operated orange tabby cat my late grandmother gave me. We'd had an orange tabby with a litter of four; the kittens eventually found a home on their farm & 5 acres.

I haven't really had much time to go through things, so I do expect those numbers to go up every month. But the little bit has made a difference- I was able to turn one of our two junk rooms into a usable space. It's officially the man-room, and was Booker's Valentine's Present. My hope is that in the next month or so we'll really start to see a difference in clutter and open space.

See Amy's Finer Things for a community declutter challenge.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

January Pantry Challenge

Also known as, on-the-first-day-in-snow-in-21-years-our-as-old-furnace-died.

On top of my tuition and fees due for my useless thesis hour (earned everything long ago, just keeping my enrollment continuous), we are O-U-T of money till payday in 3 days. 72 hours.

So at first I was kind of here and there with the challenge; it didn't gain momentum until we ran out of money. We used up almost all of our quinoa and a lot of rice. We are down to one can of cocoa and almost out of the big jar of marshmallow fluff. (Making the most of this recipe).We used up all of our dried beans and lentils, and most of our canned beans. We are almost out of the fancy boullion-concentrate that has to be kept in the fridge. (Chicken is gone, veggie nearly). Ramen, gone. Pasta, gone. Frozen pie crusts, gone. Several bags of frozen veggies, gone. Several pounds of sale meat lurking in the freezer, gone. TVP, gone.

Not as planned: I was so, so excited to make Joloff Rice, a traditional West Africa dish that reminds me of my time in the Peace Corps. I don't know what happened, but it was a huge, colassal fail. I won't even link to the recipe because I am *certain* that it would be an injustice, sinceI somehow messed it up. Recipes' author should not pay for my sins. I don't want anyone to think that my bad experience is typical, because joloff Rice is actually totally, completely delicious. How bad was it? So bad that the night I made it, my husband told me he ate on the way home. (Don't judge him. He has a 1 hr45min commute- ONE-WAY.) A few nights later, I said "That rice wasn't very good. I don't even think I'll eat the leftovers." (Which filled 2 big containers). Booker says, "I wasn't going to say anything, but I could smell it cooking and it made me sick to my stomach."


As was the cranberry sauce. Sure, I thought, I bought these 2 months ago. Mais OUI, I can can them. (Botulism...?) A calmer sense prevailed. I threw 2 lbs of fresh cranberries on the lawn instead. I was rewarded 2 mornings later with a huge mixed flock of Cedar Waxwings and American Robins. (Down here, Robins mean winter. By Spring, they have taken off North).

Now what now? Can't see 'em? Yeah...sorry...not quite on the wildlife photography thing yet. Try this:

Cedar Waxwings and Robins are my favorites, because they flock like a bunch of insecure tweeners at the mall. As soon as one flies off, the others follow. They are noisy and obnoxious and are messy eaters. They may be my animal totem after all.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Me Ra Koh & SOAR! Community

I stumbled onto Me Ra Koh's blog a few months ago.... and am really enjoying it. She started a scholarship to enable women to start their own photography businesses. I'm not quite there, but I would like to learn how to use my own dang camera. I really like the positive, upbeat tone of this community. That kind of support is what I'm looking for in 2010.

Okay, so she has set it up to be an inclusive thing. Anyone who wants to can participate in monthly photo exercises, post them on the forum for support, etc etc. So, go to her site and check out the link for the SOAR! Blog, and you can also sign up to be a member of the SOAR! forum.

January photo exercises were to do a self-portrait in 2 parts- one, the image of yourself, and two, the image of an object that represents yourself.

Because this blog is anonymous, I'm not quite posting my self-portrait in-full here.

But this is what I took, and why:

I am sitting on the floor in our office, which we have wholly trashed. Papers and stacks of things everywhere. An episode of 'Hoarders' in the making. I'm leafing through citations for my thesis. I tried to frame it so I would look all studious and whatnot, and the cat walked though right when the camera fired. Anyway, I chose this picture because I do feel so distracted with everything right now. Small things, like losing the book I bought on organization and efficiency ('Getting Things Done.) Big things, like losing track of what my goals are, how to get there, not having the energy to even try. The picture summed it up- sitting there surrounded by crap. In the background is my great-grandfathers writing desk, which I have desecrated by piling up with old bills and junk mail. I'm trying to present an image of being a pulled together academic- She reads pubs! At home!- and in the end all it takes to distract me is a big orange cat butt.

Picture(s) 2 I will post:

This year we lit candles for Solstice. And by we, I mean I did, and made Booker come outside to look at them. Whatever. I am Pagan, and Winter Solstice in this tradition is a time for introspection, embracing darkness, and asking the higher powers for guidance. I gave the smallest of energies to the event this year, only thinking about these things in the time it took to set up and light the luminaries.

The very next day I learned that my close friend and former PCV postmate (Peace Corps Volunteer) was going back to Benin. She had originally planned on going in Spring, but she is on a Fullbright in a neighboring country and moved it up. We'd planned all along to send some money with her, for my village. Western Union won't work for a variety of reasons. When I left 5 years ago, my village didn't have any phones. Within a week of Solstice, this sister-friend had set foot in my village, and had re-established contact. My old friends have cell phones, and have called me! Some of my projects are going, some were a bust. But having my village be a part of my life again is doing a lot to heal me. For the past 5 years I've almost been living as if my time there had never happened. And I think that that approach has really messed me up.

But it really humbles me that I spent the smallest energy into the smallest bit of intentionality, and received something beautiful- old friends in my life again- in return.

The luminaries were table decorations at my grandparents' fiftieth anniversary party. If you look closely, you'll see 20 little hearts on each family tree on the glass. That was no accident- my grandma planned that shindig meticulously- 20 hearts for each member of our family.

I can't quite articulate why I chose this as my self-portrait object. Something about the layers of glass and ribbon and light. I'll have to chew on that.