Jan 28, 2016

Why I Quit Drinking

Giving up alcohol entirely is something I've been mulling over for the last year or so.  Every time I thought about it, I knew it was a good idea, something I "should" do, but I couldn't quite bring myself to say "never again."

Alcohol is such a pervasive element in our society.  We drink to have fun, we drink to celebrate, we drink to cheer ourselves up, we drink for courage, we drink when we're bored, we drink to make everyone else feel comfortable when they're drinking, we drink because we want to fit in with our peers, we drink to bond with others, we drink to have something to do with our hands at parties.

I've tried to make do with rules.  "Only 2 drinks."  "No shots."  "Just wine, cider, and dessert liquors."  But you know... I don't think moderation is something I'm capable of.  I've mentioned this and the persistent alcoholism in my family to people before, usually to be met with, "Oh!  My grandfather..."

It's taken lightly.  It's joked about.  It's socially acceptable to acknowledge and share and enjoy the tales of your family and friends' alcohol-fueled adventures.  But like many other diseases, buried under the jokes and nonchalance is a host of very serious issues.  Alcoholism, dependence, lack of control, hurting things, hurting people, hurting yourself.

My life has in some small ways been shaped by alcoholism.  I recently read Adult Children of Alcoholics and concluded that the final impact on me is small, indeed, and I really am quite fortunate to have been touched so little by this specter.  But it has left its mark and it has hurt me, many times, in childhood and a few occasions more recent.

There are scars that will never go away.  And somehow, as a young adult, I felt free to look past that and make my own experiments, and indulge.  I made mistakes.  I got sloppy.  I did all the things most people do when they first try alcohol.

But I got older, and hangovers got worse, and I wanted to start being responsible.  I wanted to "grow up" and take control of my actions.  I started to realize how dangerous some of my decisions were, and I never wanted to know how sickening it must be to wake up and realize I'd endangered or harmed someone by getting behind the wheel.

So I tried to make changes.  I set my rules.  Time and time again.  But moderation continued to elude me.

I don't know what alcoholism looks like to other people.  I never thought of myself at risk, because I don't crave a drink.  But when I have one or two, suddenly all those rules and values fly out the window and I drink as much as I want to.

I'm not capable of moderation.  I might not be an alcoholic, but I don't want to become one.  So I'm quitting now, before I do anything irreparable.  I'm quitting now because I see the damage others have done, and I've felt the hurt of the drunken actions of others, and I know I'm capable of that.

I decided to quit back in December.  I was going to wait until after Australia, both to not have to miss out on travel "experiences" and because New Years always seems like a good time to start new things.  I'd just begun when something happened that erased any lingering doubts or regret I might have.

If you're capable of moderation, that's great.  But for a huge portion of society, alcohol is a huge contributor to some of our biggest life mistakes.  Whether it's driving under the influence, getting into a fight, infidelity, making an ass of yourself and getting fired, injuring yourself (accidentally or deliberately), or making permanent life decisions without the benefit of your rational mind, the risks are huge.

What are the pros?  Fun.  Fitting in.  A few hours of enjoyment.

I don't think every person is at risk of losing their mind and doing dangerous or harmful things when they're drunk.  But for those of who are: how in the hell can fun compete with possible killing someone?  Possibly killing yourself?  Breaking your spouse's heart?

It is fucking ridiculous.  And I'm done.  No "just for special occasions."  No "only Bailey's because it's barely alcoholic anyway."  Nothing.  Because I'm not capable of moderation.  And that risk to benefit ratio is not and never has been worth it.

I don't expect the rest of the world to follow suite, although there's a few people I can think of that I'd plead and entreat if I thought it'd do any good.  It's a personal decision, and it's a painful one, and it's fueled by my knowledge of my own lack of self control, and by the genetics I know I've inherited.  And it took time.  I knew I should do it a year ago and it took this long to build up the will to follow through.

But I'm doing it now, and I'm grateful and proud that I was able to manage it before doing anything irreparable, and I'm hopeful that others in my life will get their shit together as well, so that we can move into the future together.  One that doesn't end in a blaze of flame and pain and regret.

Or police sirens.  I'd like to avoid those as well.

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Jan 18, 2016

Leave of Absence (Temporary, Probably)

I have plenty of things to write about - the Australia trip, the new house, my new career schedule but my mind's in a very negative place right now and I can't focus on any of it.  I'll probably be back.  But for now I'm going to save my unpleasantness for email drafts I never send and my journal.

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Jan 14, 2016

Book Challenge Month 2 Check In #SCWBC15



EDIT: I screwed up!  I accidentally posted this while I was gone, but it wasn't finished and I had some screwy stuff going on at the bottom.  Please forgive me.

Here's what I've read since the first month's check in.


The Girl on the Train - ♥♥♥♥

I enjoyed this quite a bit more than I thought I would.  I'm not terribly into crime thrillers or drama, and this had both of those in spades, BUT something about the way the book is written, in the present tense and right in the character's head (kind of like Hunger Games) makes it all very real and immediate and urgent.  I had trouble putting this down.  I did spoil it a bit for myself by reading about the book ahead of time so I wasn't surprised by the ending but I totally would have been!  While I still wouldn't seek out this genre, I did like the book a lot and I was surprised and interested in the emotional issues it covers (addiction, dependence, etc, etc).


Equal Rites - ♥♥♥♥

LOVED it!  After reading Good Omens, I was feeling kind of Terry Pratchett-y, and then Holly suggested the Witches subseries, and I'm so glad.  The title is a pun ("rites" because they're doing magic and "equal rights" because it addresses gender inequality).  It's clever, funny, and a good time the whole way through.


The Time Machine - ♥♥♥

So I went into this thinking about the movie that was based on it and I think that messed it up for me because I was expecting a much more complicated story.  It's short - only 118 pages, and it was an interesting story, but I really wanted more depth and I didn't get that.  It also had more of that wordy style that books from earlier time periods do, but that's kind of growing on me.


City of Bones - ♥♥♥

I got this from a friend as a Christmas present and only afterwards realized it was Cassandra Clare's debut book and perfect for the challenge!  So this gets 4 stars only because I don't feel like the story is super polished but I loved it.  It's YA dystopia, and it has a cheesy love triangle, which should have turned me off, but it didn't.  The story is compelling and I love how the plot unveils itself and generally just had trouble putting it down.  Definitely reading the rest.


PREVIOUS POINTS: 50
TOTAL POINTS: 85 (out of 200)


I swapped some stuff around because my reading got sidetracked, but here's what I'm planning on reading for the rest of the categories.

5 points: A book between 100-200 pages
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (118 pages - ♥♥♥)


10 points: A debut book by any author
— City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (485 pages - ♥♥♥♥)

10 points: A book that does not take place in your current country of residence
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett (228 pages - ♥♥♥♥♥) (Discworld)

10 points: A book that someone else has already used for the challenge
— The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (325 pages - ♥♥♥♥)

15 points: A book published under a pseudonym
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens (240 pages)

15 points: A book with “boy,” “girl,” “man,” “woman,” or their plurals in the title
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (217 pages - ♥♥♥♥♥)

15 points: A book with a one-word title
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (548 pages - ♥♥♥♥)

20 points: A book with a person's first and last name in the title
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (430 pages - ♥♥♥♥)

20 points: A food-themed book
Chocolat by Joanne Harris (306 pages)

20 points: A book with a verb in the title
Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life by Judith Orloff (401 pages)

30 points: Two books with the same title by different authors
Winter by Marissa Meyer (832 pages - ♥♥♥♥♥) and Winter by Sarah Remy (301 pages)

30 points: A nonfiction book and a fiction book about the same subject
— Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku (329 pages) and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (216 pages)

I did more swapping - I realized that "not in your current country of residence" didn't just have to mean another continent but totally qualified all of my fantasy books.  So more Terry Pratchett.  :P

What have you read recently?  What books would you recommend to broaden my horizons?


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Jan 12, 2016

The Truth About Australian Wildlife

I'm back!  And it's time to talk Australia.  So... you may have read Kristen's post about Australian myths that aren't true.  And as an expat, who better to give us the scoop on Australia?  But, and I hope she doesn't hate me after this post, there was just one myth that I felt deserved a closer look.

Australia is Trying to Kill You

Now, I fully agree with Kristen's post when she said the urban areas are perfectly safe.  Despite the posts on Reddit, we didn't run across snakes, spiders, or anything remotely dangerous in our hotel rooms or in the cities.  But I remain fascinated by Australia's wildlife (and animals in general), so I thought I'd do some research to see if the whole "Australia is super hardcore and dangerous" cliche holds any weight.

Some of the posters in the "Surviving Australia" exhibit in Sydney's Natural History Museum.  I felt I was getting mixed messages.

The main question I had: Is Australia's wildlife actually more dangerous than other countries?  The facts...

Venomous Creatures

Fact #1: Australia is one of the 10 countries with the highest number of venomous species.  Those 10 countries are marked as "over 50," while the US trails behind at "30-40."  Highest number of venomous creatures by continent: Australia, South America, Asia, North America, and in last place, Africa.  (Europe doesn't even get a mention.)

Fact #2: Of the 10 most poisonous/venomous creatures in the world, Australia is home to 4 of them.  Although the same can be said for Asia.  Africa and South America trail behind with 1 each and North America and Europe don't even make the list.  Note: this article talks about poison and venom, but the difference is death by ingesting something vs death by being bitten.

Fact #3 aka Fun Tangent!: On that previous list, the most venomous snake in the world is the inland taipan, which lives in Australia.  A single bite contains enough venom to kill 100 adult men, BUT there are no recorded deaths because it's shy and avoids people.

Sharks

Australia has the highest total number of fatal shark attacks.  To be fair, the US outstrips everyone in total number of attacks (Hawaii even has it's own category), but of 1,241 attacks, only 45 were fatal, whereas of Australia's 665 attacks, 232 were fatal (1/3-ish).  Also notable: Africa with 94 fatal attacks of 346 total.

Birds

After hearing about swooping season, I thought Australia would have more dangerous birds, but a list of the 10 most dangerous birds (opinion article) is spread pretty evenly.  The US boasts several of these species (swans, owls, and hawks, oh my), and Europe finally has a mention!  After researching each species, here are the numbers that were worth mentioning:
  • Cassowaries (South America) - 1 documented death
  • Ostriches (Africa) - 2-3 (estimated) deaths per year
  • Magpies (Australia) - hundreds of attacks per year, but less than 10 injuries per year caused by the birds (more injuries caused by cyclists being startled and falling off their bikes)
  • Mute swan (US and Europe) - 1 documented death and the occasional attack.
Also, we apparently have "swooping seasons" of our own in the US, we just haven't given them a name, nor do we have advice articles written about how to handle it.  I could claim that as my evidence, but I'm trying to stick with numbers, so we'll call it a draw.

Overall Death by Animals

After a while I realized that "deadly" is rather subjective and the best way to measure is by actual death toll.  These are the critters that actually kill the highest number of people each year.
  • Snakes: 50,000+ (with the most going to the Asian cobra - Southeastern Asia)
  • Scorpions: 5,000+ (75% to the Deathstalker scorpion - Africa and the Middle East)
  • Crocodiles: 2,000+ (Asia, Australia, Africa)
  • Elephants: 500 (India and Africa)
  • Hippos: 300 (Africa)

Not too many fingers pointing at Australia now... These stats make Asia and Africa look like the more dangerous places.  Here's the stats for the top killer on each continent.
  • Asia: 15,000, cobra
  • Africa: 750, puff adder
  • Australia: 500, crocodiles
  • North America: 5-15, 3 way tie between rattlesnake, coral snake, and great white sharks
  • South America: 0-5, piranha
  • Europe: 0-5, tie between wolf and asp viper

The Results

In comparison to Asia, Australia's starting to look awfully friendly!  Pretty much everywhere that doesn't have cobras is looking tame compared to that death rate.  To sum up:
  • Asia is trying to kill you.
  • Snakes are the ones you need to look out for.
  • Except in Africa.  Africa is more likely to stomp, chomp, gore, or trample you.

I was going to come up with some sort of hypothesis for why people (especially Redditors) are perpetuating the "Australia is trying to kill you" joke, but the more I educate myself, the less reasons I can think of.  Sure, some of their stuff is pretty strange-looking to Americans and Europeans (platypus, echidna), and they do things differently than our mammals (marsupials and egg-laying mammals), BUT I'd have to imagine a buffalo or a manatee looks pretty strange to someone who didn't grow up in the US and different doesn't always mean dangerous.

Of course there's all the fuzzy, cute looking animals like kangaroos and koalas and then you read stories about them biting or attacking people.  But all wild animals are dangerous.  People think moose look friendly, but they're very unpredictable, and squirrels look like adorable little herbivores, but they kill and eat birds when they can.

So I guess the moral of the story is all wildlife can be dangerous.  It's not your cat or dog so don't expect it to act like it.  But as long as you maintain some common sense, you'll be fine and there's no reason to be especially afraid of them.  Except for snakes.  Your fear of snakes is totally justified.

What nature facts do you find fascinating?  Any other thoughts on the "Australia is trying to kill you" thing?


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Jan 5, 2016

Bucket List Update and Yearly Self Actualization

I managed to cross several things off my bucket list this past year!  I got married and had a beach bonfire (the 2nd of which has been on my list since high school), so that was kind of a 2-for-1.  I also ran my first half marathon.

Just for fun, here's everything I've completed already (in chronological order!):
  1. Skydive (2009)
  2. Skinny Dip (2009)
  3. Parasail (2009)
  4. Graduate College (2010, 2012)
  5. Illustrate a Book (2011)
  6. Get a Tattoo (2011, 2014)
  7. Start a Business/Be an Entrepreneur (2011)
  8. See the Grand Canyon (2012)
  9. Visit Europe (2013)
  10. Get a Real Job (2012, 2013)
  11. Pose for an Art Class (2014)
  12. Acquire a Title (2014)
  13. Attend a Beach Bonfire (2015)
  14. Get Married (2015)
  15. Run a Half Marathon (2015)
And here's the rest of the list (in no particular order):
  1. Collect Pics of All the US License Plates (up to 48 of 50)
  2. See the Northern Lights
  3. See a Solar Eclipse
  4. Become Fluent in Another Language
  5. Take Dance Lessons
  6. Write a Book
  7. Zorb
  8. Win a Contest
  9. Travel the Amazon
  10. See Machu Picchu/Chichen Itza
  11. Experience Zero Gravity
  12. Visit Every Continent (Europe 2013, Australia 2016)
  13. Scuba Dive
  14. Build a Treehouse
  15. Create My Own Scholarship
  16. Go to the Galapagos Islands
  17. Stand on an Island so Small You Can See All Coasts at Once
  18. Ride a Mechanical Bull
  19. Be in a Flash Mob, or a LARP Event
  20. Travel by Dog Sled
  21. Ride in a Hot Air Balloon
  22. Do a Cartwheel
  23. Hang Glide
This year I'll be adding a continent to my list (in Australia right this very moment!) and possibly zorbing on this same trip.  I'd like to tackle another list item over the summer, but it's pretty low pressure since I aim for 1 bucket list item a year and I'll have completed 2 before January is even over!

In past years I'd also do an update on whatever my yearly project is (here's 2014), but the whole craft thing didn't pan out so well, so all I've got this year is bucket list stuff.  Though, frankly, that's more than enough for me!

For 2016, I'm going to go back to trying something new each month. I think new experiences motivated me a lot more than projects and really, when I look back at my life, I know I'm going to value those memories more than the (not so) pretty crafty things I assembled. But I also want to shift the focus to not just "new" things but opportunities. So expect a few freelancing and career posts later in the year.

What's on your bucket list?  Do you have any yearlong projects?


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Jan 1, 2016

Predictions from the Old Year and for the New

First of all, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

And onto business... I'm taking a break from resolutions and "lifelong" goals.  Of the posts I made last year, I think the predictions were the most fun and now it's finally time to see if they came true!

Las year I said that by now...


1. I will be married.


True!  Although that was pretty much a given, since I already had a ring on my finger.

2. I will master meal planning!


False.  I continue to struggle.

3. Ryan and I will be house hunting.  Fo' real.


True!  I actually had this marked "false" up until November, when we got serious seriously fast.  AND not only did we house hunt, but we've already closed.  New home owner over here!!!  We'll be moving in slowly throughout January after we paint and handle other small renovations.

4. Roommate will have locked us into a drunken promise to name our first child after him.


False.  Frankly, though, I'm surprised.

5. I will have quit my Creative Self Actualization project and started something else.  Probably a novel.


True!  I know myself.  Craft projects was a bit too ambitious.  And, thanks to NaNoWriMo I have indeed started a book.  Whether it ever gets finished is still up in the air.

6. I'll run a half marathon and successfully work running into my weekly routine.  At some point I'll probably start referring to myself as "a runner."


Mehhh... I did run a half.  And I certainly tried to become a runner.  But it's been a struggle and I have yet to be able to run consistently without some body part or other giving me trouble.

7. But I'll still hate it.


True.  In part because it hates me.

8. Ryan will be promoted.


True!  That man knows how to work!

9. I'll be contemplating a career change but won't quite have mustered up the courage to do it.


False!  Courage was mustered and I have made a change.  So glad to be wrong on this one!

10. Luke will learn to open doors so he can sleep on our bed when we're gone.


False.  I was giving him too much credit, obviously.

11. We'll be doing research on babies and health and psychology.  Not actually getting ready to have one, but just posting about it enough the blog to scare away my regular readers and keep my family members in a constant state of anticipation.


False.  We're far more chill than I expected.  No baby plans yet.

12. I'll start an anonymous secret blog somewhere in the Internet where I post D&D jokes, creative writing, and badly structured angry rants about my Facebook acquaintances.  It will probably be called something like Monkey with a Keyboard.  I will have no posting schedule, never show my real face, have only hand drawn images, and I will love it like a firstborn child.


Uhhh... No comment.

13. I'll attend a blogging conference.  Probably this one.


False.  BlogU ended up being the same weekend as Sister2's wedding.  Go figure.  I considered BlogHer, but what with weddings, vacations, and wasting some sick days earlier in the  year, I really didn't have many extra days.  It's ok.  This isn't a high priority anymore.

14. I'll finish reading War & Peace, despite Nadine's wise advice, "Dude, life is too short to read a bad book! Drop that shit!"  Because I'm terrible at following advice.  Even when I know it makes sense.


False!  Nadine was right - there's just so many good books waiting for me.  I finally decided I didn't have to read this one (although it's still on my Kindle, in case I ever change my mind...).

15. I'll have somehow managed to complicate my goals/resolutions/self actualization projects even more than they already are.


False!  I quit doing most of them, which makes things exceedingly simple, don't you think?


Well, obviously I'm terrible at predictions.  6 of 15?  Pah!  Any half-trained tarot card reader could do better than that.

But, you know, it's still more fun than regular goals.  So here's the next round for 2016!

My Predictions for 2016

By this time next year I will probably...
  1. Have optimized the crap out of our new home, but...
  2. Lost a few of the "let's buy new things!" battles with Ryan and/or Roommate.
  3. Be posting way too many pictures of my new baby or puppy.  (either one)
  4. Be the proud owner of a business that actually supports me!  (dream big)
  5. Get bored with my hair and try out a perm, despite everyone's frantic attempts to stop me.
  6. Master DIY hygiene products.
  7. Be brainstorming the next international adventure with my sisters.

What's in the cards for you this year?  Do you prefer predictions or resolutions?


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