I’m the boss of me, but it might be too much responsibility

My hair matches my cardigan! And look — I’m wearing both eye makeup and contact lenses! That hasn’t happened since my wedding in 2007! So much crunchy gel! So many exclamation points! Wow!
Somehow it only recently occurred to me that as a recluse self-employed person married to a person whose hair color used to cycle through the rainbow and who prefers to sing “What a Wonderful World” with the lyrics “I see hair of blue, black lipstick, too,” I would face no penalty, and likely only buttloads of encouragement, if I were to dye some or all of my hair a color not genetically inheritable by my species. When I mentioned to Matt that I had been thinking of getting a Rogue streak or a band of green in my hair he replied “Do it! Do it!” And then, pointing his spoon at me and looking grave, “Do it,” in a threatening tone.
I am happy to report that, while it was an incredibly time-consuming process (particularly for someone who has only ever used boxed dye kits from the health and beauty aisle of the supermarket) it was cheap and easy and not much messier than boxed dye. I’m afraid it might be addictive, though. I’m already trying to figure out where else I’d like a pop of color on my noggin.
When I turned 30 I decided I was going to stop dyeing my hair. I let it do its thing for about two months before I freaked the hell out and ran to the store for a box of my beloved Garnier Nutrisse. Under 10 years of #20 Soft Black was a startling amount of gray. Asked to estimate a percentage I said 50, but after consulting a few websites I am forced to admit it’s more like 20%, but that’s a lot to get used to all at once. I dialed down the pigment to #40 dark brown for a slightly less garish contrast with my wintertime pallor, but I gave up on the no-dye experiment. Now that I’ve had a little taste of the good stuff, though, I have a new plan. When I turn 40 I will do as my favorite librarian of all time did: skip the bleach and dye just the gray a candy color. Granted Mrs. Anderson had an advantage by having naturally super-black Asian hair, but my natural color is still pretty darn dark (think Hershey bar) so it’ll probably work. Man, if I could be half as cool as Mrs. Anderson . . .
Incidentally, do you know how hard it is to take a selfie? I took fourteen pictures in the bathroom before I decided that getting a decent angle was going to be impossible.

And then another 6 in the living room. You can see me getting progressively less thrilled with the process.

Flimsy excuse to try making an animated gif, eh? This is what procrastination looks like, folks. When you’re supposed to be editing you’d be amazed at how productive you become in every other area of your life. My bathrooms have never been this clean. I’m even thinking of vacuuming out my car.

— Amanda

P.S. Gifs were made at GIFMaker.me, which was super easy to use and thoughtfully did not slap a watermark on my finished product.

RIP, Mr. Coffee

It is a sad day in our household.  A beloved member of our family, Mr. Coffee, who had been with my husband for over 15 years, died quietly on the counter top this morning, alongside his companion of 9 years, Toaster. He died doing what he loved: making sweet, sweet coffee. One year ago he received a life-extending therapy in which his warming plate was recoated. He is survived by Fridge, Oven (Kenmore), and Microwave IV, and was preceded by Microwave I, Microwave II, Microwave III, and Oven (Roper).  A private service will be held this afternoon in the back yard where Mr. Coffee will be laid to rest in the garbage can. No flowers, please. Condolences may be sent in the form of espresso stand gift cards (Java Island is our fave).

— Amanda

Publishing update

Before.
After.

Have you noticed how incredibly productive a deadline can make you?  In the past month I have reorganized the utility room, spent several hours in the band shed loft restacking boxes, revamped the weekly/daily cleaning checklist, filed the B&O taxes for Matt’s business, added over 400 books to my Goodreads account, started looking for a part-time telecommuting job, cleaned the chicken coop twice (that’s huge, yo), and once I even backed up the hard drive.But, of course, none of that had anything to do with writing. And I mentioned publishing in the 2014 holiday card letter, which makes it binding. Several dozen people are going to be hounding me about this.  It’s in my best interests to light a fire under my own ass.

So this week I wrote “ELLIPSIS” in big letters on Thursday’s square on the calendar, and outside of eating and doing a load of laundry all I did was work on Ellipsis.  I finished marking up the last two chapters on the print copy and then got all those corrections into the computer.  I am now ready for the next step: beta reading.

A beta reader is another set of eyes to look over your work and find errors, omissions, typos, inconsistencies, and to give an evaluation.  Most betas are avid readers and may also be amateur or professional writers, but because they usually work for free (or for a beta reading swap) they are rarely professional editors.  Since I can’t afford an editor I’m going to use at least one beta reader.  I have never used one before nor have I beta read for anyone else but I am going to offer a swap. Today I’ll be throwing my hat into that ring.

After I’ve had a beta (or maybe two) look over the manuscript it’s time for the nitty gritty part of the publishing: layout, cover design, that sort of thing.

Holy crap, this is really happening!

— Amanda

Recipe roundup

Charred Lemon Chicken Piccata from Cooking Light.  Bitter-sweet wafers of lemon sliced thin and caramelized, briny capers, halved cloves of garlic, and finely diced shallots on top of chicken breasts in an easy, tangy, buttery sauce.  One pan and practically no time at all.  We had this over couscous and it was magnificent.

Braised Chicken in Sun-Dried Tomato Cream from Bon Appétit.  Like the Charred Lemon Chicken Piccata, this is another wildly flavorful one-pan weeknight chicken dinner.  This time the chicken breasts are cooked in the oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes and then smothered in a creamy sauce gull of garlic, more tomatoes, and fresh basil.  All this needs is a green salad and maybe some crusty bread to mop up after.

Lamb Chops with Farro, Arugula, and Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette from Cooking Light.  This was delicious and easy but I am afraid that it cannot be a frequent visitor to our dining room owing to the cost of lamb chops.  (About even with the high-end steaks at the place where I shop.) If you can’t find farro (or can’t be bothered) hard red wheat berries make a fine substitution though the farro has a more delicate flavor and isn’t quite as rubbery.  As with many recipes I made a note to double the vinaigrette next time.  It’s a lemony, herby, mustardy, pleasantly sweet-tart dressing that is just as tasty on the chops as it is on the farro.

— Amanda

I wear a cup

A warning to my dad and anyone else who’s not keen on reading about menstruation in general and mine in particular: you may want to skip this post. If you feel up to it, though, by all means read on! This is human biology: the topic and your interest in it are nothing to be ashamed of.

Here it is, with the cute (and handy) little storage bag that came with it. Overall length of cup is 2.75″. And, yes, my bathroom countertops really are purple. (sigh)

It is estimated that modern women experience about 450 periods in their lifetime[1]. At 5 days a piece, that’s 2,250 days with Aunt Flo, or 322 shark weeks. More than six years of my life will be spent bleeding from a major orifice! If I live to be 70 that will be almost 9 percent of my life on the rag. I will spend significantly less time, say, brushing my teeth, but I have no qualms about talking to the strange woman beside me at WinCo about floss and bristles. If we were ten feet further down the very same aisle, however, (in front of “feminine hygiene”) chances are we wouldn’t even make eye contact with one another. While I can acknowledge intellectually that this is a total crock, I cannot force myself to throw aside conventional manners and strike up a conversation with a real life person about vaginas in the grocery store.

That, my friends, is the beauty of the blog. Even someone with social anxiety such as mine can pose as a self-assured woman of the world in digital print.

* tosses hair triumphantly and looks into middle distance *

(Or, to paraphrase a text post from Tumblr: Some things are so private you can only share them with 17,000 strangers online.)

Longtime readers know of my obsession with natural alternatives and all things reusable. I use washable cloth coffee filters. I go nowhere without at least one canvas tote bag. I wash and reuse zip-top baggies. I bring my own mug to the espresso stand. I special-ordered a reusable K&N air filter for my beloved Volvo. But until very recently I was still using disposable pads and tampons — and putting myself through paroxysms of guilt and anxiety about it. Guilt for continuing to create unnecessary landfill waste once a month and anxiety about the alternative methods that would prevent that waste. (In my defense I was using Natracare products, which are organic, plastic-, perfume-, and chlorine-free and just about as awesome as disposables can hope to be.)

I had toyed with the idea of reusable pads for yeeeeeeeears. They are easy to make if you can so much as sew a button, and are plentiful online in sizes and colors and shapes and fabrics galore if you can’t sew so much as a button or just enjoy supporting cottage industry. Initially what kept me away from reusable pads was the mess: without a plastic layer there is still a chance for soak-through if you aren’t diligent about changing them. Also, the idea of a bucket under the sink full of water and used pads was too much even for this home butcher of backyard livestock. Many pad makers use PUL (polyurethane laminate) fabric on the backside of their pads to prevent the evil from wicking into your panties, and while the cloth diaper movement has made PUL fabric widely available, machine-washable varieties were not available until fairly recently.

But what finally pushed me past the “intermediate” step of washable pads to the greenest of all menstrual options, the cup, was yoga and my bum shoulder.

I have kvetched in a previous post about hurting my shoulder in the spring of 2014 (and subsequently re-injuring it twice). I have regained almost my full range of motion but I still cannot sleep on my right side. This means that for 5-7 nights a month I can only sleep in one position (on my left side) unless I employ le tampon. Without “shovies” (thanks, MST3K) I am also unable to do pretty much half of the yoga poses in my favorite routines. (Half an hour of nothing but mountain pose and the various warrior stances is kinda boring, to be honest. Yoga without downward dog just doesn’t feel like yoga.)

So I did it. We had a few extra bucks and Amazon was having a sale on Diva cups ($27.99 + free shipping, and they were $49.99 on the shelf at the local Hippy Connection*) so I placed an order super duper quick before I could change my mind.

(I was a little disconcerted when a ring of blinding light radiated rapidly out from my heart chakra and a disembodied voice boomed “LEVEL UP!!!” I haven’t been keeping track,but I think this makes me a level 4 or 5 hippy. I’m not a vegetarian or vegan (although I’d say I’m a flexitarian these days) but I drive a car that can run on alternative fuel; I have a fully paid membership in a natural foods cooperative; I garden organically; I don’t use commercial shampoo, conditioner, or deodorant; I bake my own bread; I have made my own soap; I have made my own yogurt; there are two active carboys of homebrew bubbling away in the house right this minute; and I have raised and butchered my own meat . . . and now there’s this thing. I don’t think I can level up again until I finally purchase a brick of tofu. CHEAT CODE: Installing a PV array or wind turbine will take a level 1 hippy directly to level 10.)

There are more than a dozen brands of menstrual cups out there. I chose Diva for the simple reason that I am not very good at making decisions. Diva is the #1 seller on Amazon (and worldwide, I think) and it was also on sale at the time that I made my purchase. I could have made one of my very extensive charts but then I would have lost my nerve again. I can’t tell you which brand is right for you or how to make that decision.

So, for those of you not in the loop, what the hell is a menstrual cup? It’s a silicone cup worn inside the vagina to catch menses. (Cue Flora Poste.**) You put it in before the show starts, empty it 2-4 times in each 24-hour period until the river runs dry, store it, and reuse it again the next month. Modern cups are made of medical grade silicone and can last up to 10 years. Somehow I had gotten the idea that these babies were invented in the 70s but in researching for this post I found out that the first menstrual cup was patented in 1932! They were on the market back in 1937 and new models were introduced sporadically from there on out, but the first the mainstream heard of them was in the 1980s with The Keeper. Cups were generally made of rubber until the last decade or two when manufacturers started making them out of silicone, which has the dual advantages of being hypoallergenic and much more durable than latex.

My cup arrived on a Monday and Aunt Flo was due on Thursday morning, so I had some time to experiment before show time, as all the blogs and FAQs suggested. I was nervous but determined: I am not afraid of my own body (anymore) but every single source I had consulted on this topic warned of a steep learning curve. I knew I was going to fail a lot before I succeeded. So why did I persist? Because I have yet to find a single woman who does not, once she has found the right brand and mastered the technique, emphatically, evangelically rave about the cup. Those who use them are very very insistent: It’s sooooooo worth it. You will be soooooo glad you switched. You will die before you go back to pads and tampons.

My very first experience with the thing was unpleasant to say the least. I followed the directions on the package insert but both insertion and wear were super uncomfortable. The next day I consulted the oracle of YouTube and got some magnificent tips that made my next attempt a breeze. From there on out, as long as I remembered to “bear down” when inserting and then allowed my body to put the cup where it wanted it was 100% leak free and so comfortable I couldn’t even tell the thing was up in there. (If I insist on positioning it where I think it should go it both leaks and feels absolutely bizarre. I want to put it in like a tampon but the vagina, when you are sitting, is almost horizontal — not vertical — so that’s 90 degrees of wrong. Let your lady parts do the work and you’ll all be happy.)

The videos that helped me were from a short series on YouTube channel Dirty Diaper Laundry. She has a magnificent visual aid: a menstrual cup full of fruit punch in a champagne glass so you can really see what’s going on in there and finally feel confident (when she flips the glass upside down and shakes it vigorously) that it’s really really really not going to leak.

Every woman who uses one has her favorite thing about the menstrual cup. For some, the best part is the money they save, for some it’s the lessened environmental impact. Some women claim that their cramps have disappeared since they started using the cup. Some like that they only have to fiddle with it once or twice a day and many enjoy the peace of mind that they’ll never be caught unprepared again (Aunt Flo at the door, an empty sanitary pad box, and five miles of snowy roads between you and a store that sells feminine hygiene products). Having now survived one period with a cup I have to say my favorite thing is feeling clean. I shudder when I think of all those hours sitting on a soggy, warm mess. Even with a tampon I wasn’t free of that feeling since they leaked without fail. (And then there’s that tickly, dangly string soaking up pee and getting all up your undercarriage.) Ughhhhhh. Blech. Twenty years of my life I have spent a week a month shuffling around like a newly-infected zombie about to turn, expecting someone at any moment to point at me and recoil and shriek “Unclean!” None of that anymore!

— Amanda

[1] “Menstruation and Menstrual Suppression Survey”, Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, (https://www.arhp.org/Publications-and-Resources/Studies-and-Surveys/Menstruation-and-Menstrual-Suppression-Survey/Executive-Summary). Accessed 01/07/15. Excerpted from Thomas, Sarah L. and Charlotte Ellbertson, “Nuisance or Natural and Healthy: Should Monthly Menstruation Be Optional for Women?,” The Lancet, 355, March 11, 2000, 922-24.

*The natural foods co-op.

** Miriam (derisively): What would I look like in a little rubber bowler hat?
Flora (gently, but patronizingly): You wear it inside, Miriam.
Miriam (recoiling in horror): Nah, ma’am — ’tis flyin’ in the face of nature, that is!

(Please, for the love of all that’s good, go rent Cold Comfort Farm already.)

New year’s resolutions, part 2: the actual 2015 resolutions this time

You’ve suffered through my review of the successes and failures of my 2014 resolutions, so now here’s what I hope to accomplish in 2015.

  • Savings. Try again with the little bit in savings every payday thing. (See 2014 recap.)
  • Continue toward ultimate goal weight. In the past I have cited the scientific evidence that the more precise one’s resolution, the more likely one is to achieve it (i.e. “exercise 30 minutes three times a week” is a clearer, easier to grasp goal than “be healthy”) but this time I am making my goal more diffuse. As I learned the hard way last summer, losing weight becomes asymptotically harder the closer one gets to one’s goal. This is because your basal metabolic rate changes as you become leaner, meaning that the number of calories needed to maintain your current weight shrinks with your waistline. So when I was obese (at 220 lbs) and eating 1600 calories a day the pounds melted off even though I was sedentary. But when I was 140 lbs last summer and walking around the neighborhood several times a day, 1200 calories a day kept me at a frustrating plateau. At some point a pound a week becomes a Sisyphean task. But if I set the goal at 1/2 a pound a week I wouldn’t reach my goal weight until June of 2016. You see my dilemma? I know that hard-set goals get better results but I’m going to have to be flexible on this one if I want to keep from being disappointed. So the goal is to continue on my increasingly healthier lifestyle with an eye to achieving my goal weight sooner rather than later. (There will be more on what I mean by “healthy” in another post. Hey — don’t roll your eyes!)
  • Vegetable garden or bust. I raised no edibles what-so-never in 2014. I planned on moving the vegetable garden to the front yard but then I got hurt. I was pretty much unable to lift anything heavier than a sandwich with my right arm for three months, whereupon I overdid my recuperation exercises and put myself right back where I started. I have regained full range of motion and almost 100% usage of my shoulder now. I also overdid my cardio and in November I injured the medial collateral ligaments of both knees, which landed me on the couch for a few weeks. My knees are recovered now but I learned my lesson,so no more lunges or squats (which I knew I shouldn’t be doing anyway) and no more attempts to do the work of five people by myself in one weekend. Going slow and being able to keep going is infinetly preferable to hurrying, getting hurt, and sitting out on life. I’m going to refrain from potentially damaging physical activity and focus on my goddamn garden! (It’s going to be fucking beautiful, man. Raised beds, weed-free paths, a pergola-covered bench, berry bushes, cold frames . . .)
  • Publish Ellipsis. The book I have been alluding to off and on. This resolution is pretty simple. This was put on hold for Nanowrimo but I shall restart the process of sending it out for editing and reviews and then it’s off to the presses! Websites (yes, plural) are in place and business cards and promotional plans are ready and waiting. Muahahaha!

I have inside information that at least one of my readers has made a revolutionary new year’s resolution.  What do you resolve to do in 2015?

— Amanda