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lifestyle Uncategorized

Thank You, Star Wars

Tomorrow, an end will arrive 42 years in the making. The Skywalker Saga – which started with the titular Star Wars in 1977 – will finally come to a finish with the release of Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. I’m counting down the hours until 7:30 PM tomorrow. 

Although it isn’t the end for all Star Wars movies and other forms of media, I’m a little sad to see the Skywalker Saga come to the end. Let’s be real, for the majority of those 42 years, the focus has been on the Skywalker family and their stories in that galaxy far, far away. Episodes I-VI were the story of Anakin Skywalker, and I am praying that IX proves to be part of his story, too. As of now, the only Skywalkers alive in IX is Leia Organa (born Leia Skywalker) and her son, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (half a Skywalker). There are many theories to how Rey fits into the story and may secretly be a Skywalker, but I’m of the belief that Episodes VII-IX are actually the story of Ben. There are many unanswered questions to IX (The droids and Chewbacca better survive), but I am confident that JJ Abrams will bring a fitting end.

But 42 years. Star Wars is the story that just kept growing. One trilogy, we’re done, oh let’s do another for the prequels, we’re done, and now we’re wrapping it up with three more. I was just a kid when Episodes I-III were released, and I still remember the wonder I had at going to each of them. Even though we knew how that story was going to end (Anakin becomes Vader, twins are born, Empire takes over), watching it all unfold was captivating. I never understood the hate that the prequels got. Star Wars is Star Wars. I get the same thrill every time I go to see a Star Wars movie for the first time, and when The Force Awakens came out, I was near tears I was so excited. In 2005, I had believed that Star Wars was over, forever. Then, ten years later, it was to begin again, and I had no idea what to expect. I was a kid again. It was thrilling. Even though I didn’t love The Last Jedi, to me it just meant that eventually, one of them had to be my least favorite. And my excitement for The Rise of Skywalker, well, somehow, it keeps managing to grow as we get closer. The limit doesn’t exist. 

What is it about Star Wars that has infatuated generations? As long as I can remember, I’ve been a Star Wars fan. My dad had the actual, original VHS of the original trilogy. Then we had the Special Edition VHS. And now I have them all on DVD or digital. I’ve had countless action figures and toys. Shirts. Books. Funkos. Bottle openers. Steering wheel cover. Salt and pepper shakers. If you can put Star Wars on it, I’ve probably had it. I even have a tattoo that says “May the Force be with You.” I just got laid off from my job, and my best friend sent me these motivational books Be Like Yoda,” “Be Like Lando,” and “Be Like Leia” as pick-me-ups. As a kid, I wrote a letter to George Lucas and got a message back from Lucasfilm and some cool patches. 

It is a cultural phenomenon. Look at Baby Yoda – he is apparently taking over the Internet and the world. I have never seen anything so universally adored. But Star Wars is everywhere. Dozens of shows have parodied it – it even had a parody movie in the Mel Brooks’ classic Spaceballs. Countless shows have mentioned it. Who in the civilized world doesn’t know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father with the misquoted, “Luke, I am your father?” Star Wars didn’t just change the movies – it changed global culture. There is a Star Wars equivalent for everything and anything – at a craft show, someone had toilet paper that said, crudely, “Come to the Dark Side.” What other movies make such an event of releasing their trailer? But what is it about these movies that people love so much? 

Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is front and center in each trilogy: Anakin, Luke, and Rey. We watch a nobody – a slave, a farmboy, and a junk trader – become something greater than they could have ever imagined and make a difference. And isn’t that truly what all of us really want? To make a difference? All three wanted to be someone more than what they were. And they did it! They went for it, and became more than they could imagine. It is a story of adventure, and most of us like being swept up in an adventure story. It is the classic story of Good vs Evil – but also the belief that good can remain in evil. You have Luke successfully bringing Anakin back to the Light, and now we have Rey convinced that there is still good in Ben/Kylo Ren. 

Who didn’t want a friendship like Chewie and Han, C-3PO and R2-D2, or even Anakin and Obi-Wan (prior to that fight on Mustafar). How many people have responded, “I know” to their significant other’s “I love you,” with Han and Leia in mind? It is universally accepted that there is nothing cooler than Darth Vader entering a room to “The Imperial March.” How many kids have used wrapping paper rolls in fights, making lightsaber sounds, and imagined what color lightsaber they would have? Mine would be green, by the way. Or pretended to fly the Millenium Falcon or an X-Wing? Despite it taking place so long ago and so far away, we can see ourselves in the story. It draws us in. We dream of being a Jedi Knight or Rebel pilot. It takes us out of our world and into an entirely different world. It sparks an imagination that some of us left behind in childhood, or rather, keeps it alive. 

As a writer, it absolutely amazes me what George Lucas was able to do. He didn’t just build a new world – he built a galaxy. His story has lasted more than forty years, and it shows no sign of stopping. As a storyteller, I know that only 98% of us will have a fraction of his imagination and success, even accounting for outside influences (Like Flash Gordon)

It isn’t just stories of adventure and courage. There are also themes of growth, learning, and failure  As Yoda said, “The greatest teacher, failure is.” And you don’t need to be in a galaxy far, far away to learn something from that. If you think back on it, there are a lot of examples of failure in Star Wars and what happens when you don’t learn from it. There’s a lot of learning from others’ mistakes. Star Wars is filled with whimsical, wise tidbits throughout the series. 

The late, great Carrie Fisher once said “It’s about family. And that’s what’s so powerful about it.” And I do think that is part of the draw. It is about family. In the original trilogy, it’s about a son’s desperate attempt to bring his father back and protect his sister. In the prequels, it is a husband’s determination to save his wife and unborn child which ultimately become his undoing and result in the son having to bring his father back. The sequels show a man, lost, feeling disconnected from his parents and their desperation to bring him back. Light and darkness cycle through this family, but what remains is love and hope. Anakin’s love made him do anything to save Padme and their child(ren). Luke’s love for Anakin Skywalker convinced him that Anakin was still there, alive. Han Solo and Leia’s love for their son, Ben, had them convinced that Ben could be saved, and Han was willing to die for that. And it’s Luke’s love for his sister that causes him to give her a chance to flee to safety and also tell her what he’s known since he saved their father: No one is ever really gone. 

This love leads to another theme – hope. Someone – Padme, Luke, Leia, and Rey – believe that there is still good in their loved one who turned to evil. They believe there is a chance he can be saved (The Skywalker women never turned to the Dark Side, by the way). It is this hope that continues a journey – although in Padme’s case, it is eventually passed onto Luke.  Perhaps the greatest lesson of all these movies is that of. hope. Each movie ends on a hopeful note, that better days are to come, that they are still fighting. There is no force (see what I did there?) greater than hope.There is hope each time someone says “May the Force be with you/us.” They believe in something. The Force gives them hope. As Cassian Andor and Jyn Erso say in Rogue One, Rebellions are built on hope. Star Wars shows that you can always find hope.

The Skywalker Saga may end, but the story will live forever. I look forward to the day where my future children learn about the Skywalkers and the ways of the Force. Thank you, George Lucas, for giving me the movies that changed my life and stories that have influenced me as a writer. Thank you, Disney, for bringing Star Wars back to me in ways I thought were over forever. 

Thank you, Star Wars, for teaching me about bravery, failure, friendship, love, and so much more. Thank you for showing me that hope exists,  even in the most dismal of times. And Star Wars shows us what hope can do – from the hope that two children can someday help save the galaxy, to finding and stealing your enemy’s weakness, that a son can save the father, or simply that they are there to fight another day – there is always hope. Thank you. May the Force be with you, always.

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books

My 2019 Favorite Reads

Always be Reading

I’m happy to say that I read more this year than I have in the last few years. Even more exciting, I read more than my usual historical nonfiction novels (although I read a few of those). One thing I know I’m always looking for book recommendations, so I decided to share what some of my favorite reads were in 2019. I think I have a good variety of genres and novels in this list. 

Note 1: Not all these books were published in 2019.

Note 2: This post may contain affiliate links.

The Nerd Novel

 

  • Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray: I know that my Star Wars love is showing, but I thought this was a great prequel to The Phantom Menace. I find it really unfortunate that we only had Qui-Gon Jinn for one movie, and I enjoy more media on him. It was also interesting to look at Qui-Gon’s relationships as a Padawan with Dooku and as a Master to Obi-Wan. The Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan dynamic is also fascinating as they are such different characters, and I kind of liked that they didn’t have the perfect relationship and struggled. I did find it hard to believe that Qui-Gon was ever offered a seat on the Jedi Council, as in The Phantom Menace Obi-Wan makes a comment that Qui-Gon would be on the Council if he ever listened to the Council. So a little bit of canon contradictions. I felt that there was really good character development throughout the novel, so props on that. It was also interesting comparing how Obi-Wan was with Qui-Gon compared to Anakin because those two have many similarities. I don’t think I’ve read a Claudia Gray novel that I didn’t enjoy, and she hits the mark again. If you enjoy the prequels or the characters of Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, or even Dooku, this is a must-read. 

 

The One That Left Me Wanting More

 

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: So this was published seven years before I was born in 1985, I had heard of it, I knew it was on Hulu, and I finally just had a whim to read it. It was so good and so frustrating! The ending drove me nuts, and I needed to know more. I still need to. I have some questions on how the entire situation happened, like what was going on in the rest of the world, how did the country just let this happen? But I also tend to overthink things. I really wanted to dive into the world of Gilead and understand it. But maybe there is no understanding it. It was really captivating and only took me a couple of days to finish because I couldn’t put it down. The sequel, The Testaments, is on my “To Be Read” pile, and I can’t wait. 

 

The Horror Novel

 

  • The Shining by Stephen King: A classic from 1977 with a famous movie spawned from it that I also recently decided to pick up. I’m not really a horror movie type of person, so I never read horror books. But some other works by Stephen King – and convincing by friends – made me think I should finally pick up one of his novels, and I wasn’t disappointed. I love his writing style, I love his use of language. He just lets loose yet is still so precise within his plan. As a writer, it’s fascinating to read. But it was also an enjoyable book that I needed to know how it ended. I read this in the middle of summer, and the setting is so dismal that it made me feel like it wasn’t summer. I distinctly remember reading it outside on a beautiful day and having a chill. That’s how good King is. 

Historical Heartbreaker

  • Report from Ground Zero by Dennis Smith: This was probably one of the most gut-wrenching books I’ve ever read. It is various stories of different individuals during 9/11 operations, and boy, is it rough. There are several accounts of the final moments of responders, and it is really hard to read. But I think that it is an important read to recognize what happened during 9/11. It really shows the nitty-gritty of what happened. There are many different accounts throughout different points in time for the operations. It is heartbreaking and heart wrenching, but a very necessary read.

 

A Story of Football and Math

 

  • Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Footballby John Urschel: The story of a kid-turned Penn Stater-also while being a math whiz-turned NFL player-turned mathematics PhD candidate. How is that not fascinating? How different can you get? Each chapter alternated between a football perspective and math perspective which was pretty good, although the math was way over my head. Urschel also played football for Penn State during the Jerry Sandusky scandal and ultimately played for coaches Paterno, O’Brien, and Franklin. Fun fact – he was also a teammate of a friend of mine. But this was a very decisive and challenging period for Penn State football, and the players had to go through more than they signed up for. So, as a Penn State alum, it was an interesting read, but I would have enjoyed it regardless as it is such an engaging story of the differences – and similarities – between living a life of football and mathematics. If you’re a sports fan, a math/academics fan, or both, this is a must-read. 

 

Economics Refresher

 

  • Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan: I love economics. I’m a huge fan of the Freakonomics books by Stephen J. Dunbar and Steve Levitt (I also recommend their podcast). This is a basic, simplified understanding of economics if you don’t have much of a background in it. As A.P. Econ was a long time ago, it was good to revisit. He has also written Naked Statistics (I know nothing about statistics) and Naked Money (I’m just interested) that I also plan on reading. 

 

Honing My Writing Skills

 

  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King: This is the Stephen King  book that led me to reading another Stephen King novel. I love reading about writing, which I admit is kind of weird. But it was very entertaining to read about King’s life and experience, and it was also filled with great writing anecdotes and advice.  Again, his distinctive style is present throughout, and I really enjoy reading it. Probably the best book on writing that I have ever read.

 

Memoir

 

  • Becoming  by Michelle Obama: I’m not an Obama diehard. I also don’t dislike them. I just don’t really have a strong opinion about them either way. But this was a really insightful read, and I felt as if I had a much better understanding of the former First Lady. I also felt that she was a very relatable person. She didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in her mouth by any means, and she worked hard for her accomplishments. Obama seemed very “normal” who just happened to marry someone who was a bit of an overachiever and persona kind of exploded. It also looked into different events of the Obama administration, missteps, and accomplishments. My favorite part was when she said she agreed to Barack Obama running for president when she did because she didn’t think he had any chance of winning. I love that she admitted that, and boy did that backfire.

 

 Learning About Law

 

 

    • “I loved this book! I couldn’t put it down. I thought it was a unique take on explaining the justice system without feeling overwhelmed by legal mumbo-jumbo. This book kept me engaged. I hope he writes more.”

And that’s it summed up pretty much. Bharara also has a Twitter account that is really     interesting. And he was once fired by Donald Trump. This was a New York Times Bestseller, and honestly, it is just phenomenal. I believe good writing is concise, this is concise writing. He also doesn’t use fancy legal jargon. It is very educational, and anyone interested in learning more about the law should read it. 

The One That Creeped Me Out

 

  • Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Crime Unit by John E. Douglas, Mark Olshaker: So…I began reading this because of the Netflix show Mindhunter. Everyone was talking about it, and my nerdy self wanted to read the book before watching the show. And then the book freaked me out in a way that I didn’t want to watch the show. That’s not to say it isn’t a good book – it is. But usually it takes a lot to gross me out or truly disturb me – and this did it. Special Agent John Douglas went after some nasty and evil people, real scum of the Earth. And I don’t know how he kept it together. As the book tells, he very nearly worked himself to death, and his work was a major factor in his marriage falling apart so it’s not like he walked away from the job unaffected. Again, it’s engaging. I couldn’t put it down. But reading it was enough for me; I didn’t need to watch the TV show afterwards. The book put together enough of a picture for me. 

 

Bonus

Book I wanted to love but couldn’t: Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse: My Star Wars obsession is showing again. But this book was considered a prequel to Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (it’s this week, people!) and I was really excited for it, especially once I learned fan-favorite from the Original Trilogy Wedge Antilles was going to be in it. While an easy and quick read, I felt that it was trying to do too much in too short of a time. I think there were five different plots going on. I don’t feel like any of them got the attention they needed to flourish. It felt very rushed, and I found it difficult to really care about new characters and their stories. This was definitely a disappointment.

I hope you enjoyed my 2019 favorite reads! Hopefully, you may find a book to read from this list. I’d love to know what you read in 2019 – I’m always looking for a reading recommendation!

 

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Uncategorized

The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

Impeachment is all over the news lately, and the media refers to two other cases in US history of impeachment – presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Most people know of the Watergate scandal and how Nixon resigned before he could be impeached and of Monica Lewinsky, Clinton lying, and ultimately Clinton being impeached by the House of Representatives and acquitted by the Senate. What most people don’t talk about is the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, the successor to Abraham Lincoln after his assassination. So I thought I’d do a post covering some history on his presidency and his impeachment situation.

Andrew_Johnson_photo_portrait_head_and_shoulders,_c1870-1880-Edit1

Politics and Vice-Presidency

What sticks out to me about Andrew Johnson comes from the book Grant by Ron Chenrow (a very detailed book, but very, very dry). Andrew Johnson got trashed at Lincoln’s second inauguration. He drank the night before because he had typhoid fever (I don’t understand the connection) and was hungover the morning of the inauguration so he drank more whiskey. Then he gave a drunk, rambling speech about his humble origins and “rising above” the “rebel aristocracy.” Johnson was so drunk that he could not perform his duty of swearing in the new senators. It wasn’t a great start to his vice presidency. 

Johnson was born in North Carolina, but rose to political fame in Tennessee. He fought to keep Tennessee in the Union and was against secession.  Notably, he put the Union before his political party (something that seems forgotten on both sides of the aisle at times today!) The role of vice-president on Lincoln’s second term ticket was sought after, and Johnson ultimately won.

Andrew Johnson only served as vice-president for 42 days before he was thrust into the presidency due to Lincoln’s assassination. At first, people thought that Johnson’s fiery, stern spirit would be good for the country at the end of the Civil War, and people applauded Johnson for accommodating Mrs. Lincoln on extended time to move out of the White House due to her grief. But the feel-good didn’t last long.

Presidency

One thing Johnson was quickly known for was his stubbornness. Members of Congress were disappointed when Johnson proved to have a more lenient attitude toward Reconstruction and when he pardoned Confederate leaders. Some thought he enjoyed the former aristocrats begging for a paradon. Johnson also received outrage from Congress when he supported regulating the rights of freed, former slaves. While he was a Republican, some Democrats thought he could be converted. 

Near the end of his term, it seemed unlikely that either party would nominate him for a second term. Throughout his presidency, Johnson had opposed multiple actions taken by Radical Republicans concerning the rights of freed slaves and Reconstruction of the South. More than once, Congress overruled his vetoes. 

Johnson’s impeachment began when he tried firing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Stanton, a Lincoln appointee, opposed Johnson’s views towards Reconstruction. Stanton was fired when Congress was in recess and replaced with Ulysses S. Grant. When Congress returned, Stanton was reinstated and Grant resigned – he didn’t want to mar his own political ambitions, specifically the presidency. 

Johnson fired Stanton again and appointed Major General Lorenzo Thomas as interim Secretary of War. In response, Stanton had Thomas arrested for illegally seizing the office of Secretary of War. It was a merry-go-round of Secretary of War. Congress believed that Johnson was violating the Tenure of Office Act and began pursuing impeachment. 

Impeachment and Trial

Ultimately, the House of Representatives produced eleven articles of impeachment, some arguably petty. These included Johnson intending to violate the Tenure of Office Act when firing Stanton, appointing Thomas without the advice and approval of the Senate, conspiring with Thomas to remove Stanton, bypassing Stanton by diverting military orders and instructions directly, conspiring to deprive Stanton of his rightful possessions, making speeches “with a loud voice, certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues” with the intent to disgrace Congress (that’s petty), and finally, Johnson was accused of  “declaring the 39th Congress unconstitutional, since it was a Congress of only part of the states, and therefore did not have legislative powers nor the power to propose constitutional amendments,” violating his presidential oath to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

It took two days for the House of Representatives to approve the eleven articles of impeachment, then moving to the Senate. 

The Senate provided an updated set of 25 impeachment rules, and thus the trial began. Johnson did not attend the trial but was available to the press for interviews. His defense was primarily focused on the misinterpretation of law, to test the constitutionality of the law, and to keep the War Department running. The trial was very popular among the public, resulting in the need for a ticket system to limit the amount of spectators and prevent overflow and also considered a constitutional crisis. Only three of the impeachment articles ended up voted upon. Ultimately, the vote on each article fell one short of the two-thirds majority required to impeach. Seven Republicans did not vote to impeach as they felt it disrupt the Constitution. They felt it more necessary to preserve the Constitution rather than remove an “unacceptable” president. But Johnson was one vote away from being the first – and only – impeached president. 

Johnson finished his term and ultimately resumed a role in the Senate before his death in 1875. 

So that’s the story of President Andrew Johnson, his turbulent presidency, and merry-go-round of an impeachment. I enjoy learning history, especially involving American presidents, and I hope this is enjoyable to learn.

My sources included Grant by Ron Chenrow and The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson (1868) President of the United States. 

The Senate website is a great resource, and the book is good but it is a difficult read. I thought Hamilton was hard, but I’m having more problems with this one, and I am an avid reader. But I have learned so much about President Grant, so it is worth a try. Chenrow has a wealth of knowledge.

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Uncategorized

I Think I Know Who Rescued the Mandalorian

Star Wars Mania

Star Wars is having another Moment. With the Skywalker Saga ending with the highly anticipated Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker and the first Star Wars TV show which debuted on Disney+, The Mandalorian, there is plenty of new content to go around right now. And that isn’t including the new game Jedi: Fallen Order or the new comics and books that have been released.

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But The Mandalorian has really taken the internet by storm for a few reasons. First, it is a quality show with grittiness that shows us a very different side of Star Wars, focused on bounty hunting and the crime syndicate rather than Jedi, the Rebellion, and the Empire or First Order. It isn’t about someone trying to save the galaxy, it’s about someone trying to survive and achieve a better life for his people, his future.
However, this all kind of pales in comparison to the sensation that is Baby Yoda.

The Mandalorian

In the first episode, the Mandalorian takes a bounty with a substantial reward for a fifty year old being. This individual is heavily protected, and it turns out to be the same species as the Jedi Grand Master himself, Yoda.
In this story so far, there has been no mention of the Jedi or the Force. As this takes place post-Return of the Jedi, it is likely that the Mandalorian knows very little about the Jedi who used to protect the galaxy in the thousands.

Surprisingly, the Mandalorian finds himself very protective of the little creature, who is absolutely adorable. However, I don’t think it is the Child’s cuteness that softened the Mandalorian’s heart.

So far during the series, we’ve seen a handful of flashbacks from the Mandalorian’s childhood. It appears to take place during the Clone Wars, as there are battle droids present. This would make the Mandalorian most likely in his thirties (For reference, the Clone Wars lasted three years, and there are 19 years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope). The Mandalorian appears to be a child, running with his parents to escape the carnage caused by the battle droids. Eventually, his parents place him in a hideout and close it up and are seemingly killed by battle droids in the process. The door to his sanctuary is opened, and we see a Super Battle Droid pointing its blaster at him and – nothing.

Obviously, we know the Mandalorian survived and ended up a Foundling with the Mandalorians, a culture of warrior people. So it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that a Mandalorian rescued our Mandalorian as a child and protected him from the droid.

Rescued by a Jedi?

There have also been rumors that perhaps it will be Obi-Wan Kenobi who rescues the Mandalorian as a child. In the Clone Wars cartoon, Obi-Wan has ties to the planet Mandalore and was romantically interested in their ruler, Duchess Satine. Bringing Ewan McGregor in for a scene or two as Obi-Wan rescuing our main character would be amazing, without a doubt, and a great way to hype up the Obi-Wan series.

Fan favorite Ahsoka has also been theorized to be the rescuer as she also spent time on Mandalore during the Clone Wars. This would be the first time Ahsoka would appear as live-action.

However, I think that it was Master Yoda who rescued the Mandalorian, and that the Child is the only other time he has seen someone of that species (there’s only a third one that we’ve seen, the Jedi Master Yaddle).

yoda.jpg

I can totally see the Mandalorian feeling a need to save the Child as Yoda once saved him – both from certain deaths. He feels a debt to his rescuer, and this is how he will repay it. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the Child also appears to be Force-sensitive, as we see when the Mandalorian is fighting the Mud Horn and the Child intervenes. Yes, the fans know what it means, but it doesn’t connect (so far) to the plot much other than the Mud Horn and the exhaustion it caused the Child. The Mandalorian tells his Ugnaught companion, Kuill, that he doesn’t understand what the Child did, but I don’t see the Mandalorian opening up about his traumatic childhood to anyone, let alone this individual he’s known only for a few days. It is possible that the Mandalorian witnessed Yoda using the Force.

Yoda fought throughout the Clone Wars – and we don’t even have confirmation of what planet the Mandalorian’s childhood took place on. Being 900 years old, Yoda had many connections throughout the galaxy (“Good relations with the Wookies, I have.”), so there isn’t anything saying he couldn’t have known traditional Mandalorians who were willing to take the child in as a foundling.

There is something pulling the Mandalorian to the Child, and I think that it is more than the innocence of being a child. The Mandalorian has his own people, with foundlings, to worry about. There’s a connection between the Mandalorian and Child, and I believe that it goes back to his own childhood. As I said, this is only the third character we’ve seen of Yoda’s species across ten movies and now a TV show, and all three were Force-sensitive. I don’t think it was just a fan callback to make the Child one of Yoda’s species; I think Yoda himself has a role in the Mandalorian’s story. Yoda also had a slight role in The Last Jedi, so Disney obviously still wants to use the character. With only eight episodes, we’ll have to wait and see. But I expect that we’ll find out who rescued the Mandalorian this season.

baby yoda

The Child/Baby Yoda

Meanwhile, the Child/Baby Yoda is currently taking over the Internet with no end in sight. He’s everywhere. He already made South Park. You can’t go on any form of social media without seeing Baby Yoda everywhere. And can we please give this poor kid a name so we stop calling him Baby Yoda? The dude deserves a name. It’s been established that the Mandalorian has had the Child for weeks, do you mean to tell me he hasn’t called the Child by a name once? Step up your parenting game, bro.

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Mental and physical health

Relationship Between Mental and Physical Health

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Many people were shocked when NFL star quarterback Andrew Luck, in a seemingly random move, retired from the NFL right before the start of the 2019 season. His reasoning was that the cycle of injury, pain, and rehab and the mental toll it caused was too much to handle. For Luck, it was an emotional and difficult decision to make but one necessary to maintain his life the way he wanted too. It wasn’t worth the mental anguish.

And you know what? Before this year, I don’t think I would’ve understood what he meant. But now I do. 

Everyone knows that physical health can play a role in your mental health. But usually we’re talking about the positives, how working out can help fight symptoms of depression and improve your mood. We don’t really talk about how when your physical health is poor, your mental health can suffer too. A quick Google search on “Relationship Between Physical and Mental Health” shows a myriad of articles from around the world about the relationship between the two, with common themes of “no physical health without mental health” (or vice versa), that  those with poor physical health are predisposed to mental health conditions, and that physical activity can improve mental health just to name a few. 

My physical health throughout 2019 was the worst it has ever been because of my leg. We’ve talked about this. Two surgeries on my left leg, one on my right leg. I’m currently in physical therapy but I can at least walk without pain. The month and a half prior to my second surgery, I had to use a crutch at all times to get around because I had so much pain trying to walk normally.

But I didn’t realize the toll it was taking on me until that glorious day where I had no more pain. I felt so much better mentally! It was like an actual weight had been lifted from me, and I wasn’t struggling under it anymore. It was honestly amazing to me how much better my mood was when I could walk freely without pain. While I still have other mental health things to worry about, not being in pain all the time had such a positive effect on my mental health. 

But healing isn’t always that simple. Physical therapy has probably been the hardest thing I’ve ever physically had to do. It gets really frustrated. I had surgery in September, I thought by now I’d be on the way to running again. I thought I’d be back to firefighting by the new year. And neither of those are looking very likely at the moment. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m ever going to get back to where I was before. That’s concerning. 

Before I got hurt, I had so many goals that I wanted to reach physically. I had all of that taken from me when my leg decided to deteriorate and not let me walk. 

My therapist tells me that I’m strong and that I’m a fighter, but frankly, I’ve never felt weaker. As weak as my muscles are because they atrophied because I couldn’t do anything without pain so I wasn’t using them. It is frustrating to know how much stronger I used to be, as I struggle through cardio and use light weights. 

And in my mind, if I don’t overcome this challenge, then I am weak. 

It is a hard thing to get out of your mind.

Sometimes in physical therapy I’m amazed what I can do without calf pain. There’s usually other pain as my muscles are like “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” But then I get that familiar cramping pain again, and it scares the crap out of me. Pain in my calf really scares me, that it didn’t work, that there is still something wrong. There have been times I’ve had to stop physical therapy exercises because the pain was as overwhelming as it was during my last attempts at running, now a year ago. Certainly, when this all started last year, I did not anticipate still dealing with this a year later with seemingly no end in sight. 

It gets to the point where you wonder, at what point do I give up? Say enough is enough? Andrew Luck got to that point. His injuries were more severe than mine, and we’re talking his livelihood, but still. 

It is a game that never stops playing in my head. Will I get well? Will I overcome this? I don’t have an answer. I don’t want to have to give anything up because of this. I can’t even consider it. It plays on your mental health. It’s your fears, front and center. 

I’ve held out hope for so long, and sometimes I just don’t know if it is going to work out the way I want it to. Frankly, that scares me. 

I miss it all so much too. Being able to exercise normally. Being stronger. While I can at least walk now, I can’t walk up steep hills. I can’t take my dog for walks. 

Don’t get me started on firefighting. I miss that more than words can say.

I understand the mental turmoil Andrew Luck went through. 

And then there’s those moments where I feel like Rocky, Eye of the Tiger, ready to give it my all in my workouts and get better now. I try to hold onto those feelings for when the bad sneak up on me. I keep trying, at least. I get to the gym. It is just so hard to figure out which pain to work through.

Mental and physical health are closely intertwined. We shouldn’t overlook the relationship between the two.

Categories
lifestyle Uncategorized

What’s On My Christmas Wish List

I love Christmas. I love everything about Christmas. Decorating, the music, the lights, the family time, the parties, ugly sweaters, and shopping. Yup, this includes buying gifts for other people. I love seeing people’s reactions to my gifts, because I really try to get something I think they’ll love. In my family, I buy for my parents, three brothers, sister-in-law, and brother’s girlfriend. The ages range from 14 to 63. That’s a wide variety of people to buy for.

The most difficult to buy for? My 31 year old and 25 year old brothers. Without fail. And that’s with my parents saying “Nothing.” Oddly enough, the past three years, I have found my sister-in-law gifts during the summer that I just didn’t want to pass up. 

Right now, I have just around half of my Christmas shopping done. My mom and youngest brother got Kenny Chesney tickets for next May, and they already know about that. I have a couple gifts bought that I think will be hits (fingers crossed). Even though I give a variety of ideas, I thought it would be interesting to create a gift guide of my own. I’m always fascinated by what people put on a gift guide. Sometimes I think they have the perfect gifts, other times I think they’re way off the mark. I really have no idea how they compile them, but I do find myself looking at some hoping to find gift ideas, and they couldn’t be further. So, my Star Wars obsession aside (with one exception), I decided to put together my own gift guide. If you need to buy for a late-twenties (ugh, I don’t like saying that), professional with a wide variety of interests, maybe you’ll find something for her on here!

**Please note: The links below are affiliate links.

For the Runner:

Hydration vestOne of my biggest struggles during running is what to do with my crap. I’ve never found an armband for my iPhone that I’ve liked, even though with my Apple Watch I don’t need to change my music anymore (probably the best benefit of the Watch). But I always bring water with me on runs. I don’t know and can’t believe how people don’t. But then the water bottle is something else to carry! 

What I like about this it is a backpack, aka my current obsession right now, and also that it is reflective. I have lights for my shoes that get extremely bright, but the little extra reflection doesn’t hurt! 

For the Music Lover:

Bluetooth Speaker: This is my “splurge” item. I’m looking for a new Bluetooth speaker, and I love the JBL headphones I have. I use them for running, and they are amazing. It is pretty cool that you can connect more than one phone to the speaker at a time, However, I’m not exactly sure why you’d want to submerge it in water, and you can’t tell me there aren’t people who are going to try. When I’m writing, working on jewelry, or crafting, I like to have music or podcasts playing. A good Bluetooth speaker is a must. Plus, it’s great for summertime when I’m lounging in my parents’ pool. And, sorry, but I’ll probably still keep it on the porch rather than the deck. Also, I’m not going to lie, I like the variety of colors it comes in! It’s fun. 

For the Fashion Lover:


Leopard Print Beanie: I actually have a CC leopard print beanie, just without the pom. But this is a great, fashionable stocking stuffer. Leopard (and animal print in general) is everywhere right now, and I am here for it. I also really like having a variety of beanies (I’m a hat person), and this is such a fun one between the print and the pom. They’re also super soft, which is a plus! They also offer it in different colors and with scarves. 

For the Reader:


Kindle: This is something else I have, but right now you cannot pass this up if you have someone in your life looking for a new eReader. Right now, Amazon is offering their newest Kindle at an amazing price. In my opinion, the eReader is the best technological advancement of the century so far. I can hold an entire library in the palm of my hand? The Kindle boasts a great battery life, and they aren’t lying. I can weeks without having to charge it. It also has a backlight, so I can relax in bed without having any lights on, and unwind reading. There are other cool features like being able to highlight passages for later browsing. I don’t like reading on my phone, but the Kindle is the perfect size. While not small enough to fit in a pocket, you shouldn’t have a problem putting it in most bags. In fact, it essentially gets lost in the bottom of my work backpack. This is the gift that keeps giving, and you’ll make their day!

For the Entertainment Streamer:

Fire Stick: I don’t have a Smart TV in my bedroom, and I have nothing but problems with my Chromecast (sorry, Google!). So lately, I have been considering getting an Amazon Fire Stick. I don’t have an Amazon Echo, so I don’t need the one with Alexa built in, and frankly, I don’t know why I would. But really, I just want to be able to stream my shows. I don’t watch a ton of TV to begin with, but lately, I’ve been using the streaming services more and more, especially with the introduction of Disney+. I think if you’re looking to get someone a simpler way to stream their shows, the Fire Stick could be the way to go. And if you want to get them something with more of the bells and whistles, you have those options too. Most of the reviews were really promising too, which helps. 

For the Practical Gift:

Phone Car Mount: This is one of those things I’ve meant to buy for myself, but just haven’t. And the one thing I really like about the idea is using it for directions. If you know me, you know I suck at following directions. Even though I can answer calls with my car if my phone is synced up, the two aren’t always synced up. It is a great way to be able to answer calls and being able to keep your hands on the wheel. It might seem like it is a “boring” gift because it’s practical, but it’s useful. I like to get use out of my gifts. This is something I would use all the time, and it’s something I just keep forgetting to buy.

For the Crafter:

Cricut Carrying Case: My Cricut can frustrate the hell out of me, but this is a great gift if someone you’re buying for has a Cricut. Disclaimer: Make sure you get one for the right type of Cricut. But when I’m not using my Cricut, I keep it in the box and keep my supplies in a separate container, which takes up more room. Not only does this protect the Cricut, but it has a handful of pockets you can keep some of the tools in, and apparently comes with a tote bag you can keep mats in. I’ve wanted to go to my cousin’s and learn more about the Cricut from her (because I’m freaking clueless), and this would be a very reassuring way to travel with my Cricut. Even when I’m taking my Cricut from upstairs to downstairs, I would feel a million times better with it in a traveling case that has a strap on my shoulder than awkwardly carrying it in my arms.

For the Fan:


Funko Pop: This is a great stocking stuffer for literally anyone who is a fan of basically anything. I have to have close to a hundred Funkos because I’m a nerd, and I can’t wait to line my office with them in my own house someday. I will never be disappointed with getting a Funko because there are so many varieties. And it’s not just movies and TV shows; there are Funkos of athletes, musicians, and even Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Queen Elizabeth II. People (at least me) like when you encourage their fandom. And they’re funny little things.

For the Technology Lover:

Technology Organizer: Another practical gift, but this would be useful as hell. I have a cell phone, Surface laptop, iPad, and Kindle. Oh, and an Apple Watch but I don’t think that would work with this. Actually, I don’t think my laptop would work with it either. Just for keeping a couple things more organized, it is worth it. We all know how charging cords can be the devil, and it kind of keeps your products in a protective space.. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t benefit from this in some way. 

For the Star Wars Fan:

Baby Yoda Shirt: I told you there was going to be something Star Wars on this list. And Disney, I can’t believe you don’t have all the merchandise everywhere yet, because Baby Yoda is going to make you even more money. People are clamoring for merchandise on the surprise star of The Mandalorian who can’t even form a sentence in Basic. Someone has already got Baby Yoda shirts hot off the presses, and I am sure that there will be plenty, official Disney merchandise to follow.

Holiday Gifting

For me, buying gifts can be more fun than receiving them. I think even wrapping gifts is fun. I hope this gives someone some ideas for what to get their hard-to-buy loved ones, or just an idea for something different this year! What are you hoping to receive for Christmas, or what gift can you not wait to give?

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Uncategorized

Why I Upgraded my iPad

Tablets are really fascinating to me. It’s like a phone, but not. It’s like a computer, but not. It is somewhere in-between the two that offers you…what, exactly? It essentially does everything your phone and computer can do, so why do you need one? I swear the biggest markets for tablets are school that give them all to students (my brother has had an iPad through school since he was in 7th grade; he’s in 9th now) and stores/restaurants that use them at the checkout. 

Recently, I upgraded from my iPad mini 4 to the latest, most basic iPad, which can be found here

Why I Got Rid of the iPad Mini

The iPad mini just never took off for me. I used it occasionally for watching videos, but it really felt like a larger iPhone. I bought a keyboard to attach, and that didn’t improve my productivity with it either. But I felt certain that there was a use that I could get from a full-size iPad. So I decided to trade in my iPad mini and I got the newly released iPad. Not the Air or Pro. Just the regular iPad. 

Now, I don’t know anything about the technical side like the Fusion Chip or anything like that. So I didn’t really think I needed the Air or Pro. I wasn’t using this as a primary device nor was it a replacement for a laptop. 

I ended up getting the Smart Keyboard with it because Best Buy gave me the indication that it would be a better choice than the regular covers that Apple offered but neither cover the back of the iPad so thanks for fooling me, Best Buy.

Although the keyboard has proved useful, but I’m still a little salty that the guy told me it was more protection when it really wasn’t. 

What the iPad Offers Me

My laptop of choice is the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2. I’m very happy with it, it does what I need it too. But the iPad has been great for a second screen. Whether I’m working on my book or a blog post, it is great just to pull my iPad out to look something up or pull up my notes without switching between screens. I can keep my laptop committed to my writing, and my iPad provides the support. 

I am learning, more and more, that I don’t like small keyboards. So the keyboard is a little bit of a hindrance to me, but that means I won’t be using the iPad as my sole writing tool. But for quick Google searches and scrolling, it is pretty useful.

I’ve also noticed that it is great for reading DIY blog posts that have step-by-step photos. It has a larger screen than my phone, it is portable, and it can also sit on a good angle with the case (still bitter though).

It is also better for watching videos than the iPad mini and for streaming shows on Netflix and Hulu and Disney+ (Anyone else loving for The Mandalorian?). If, for whatever reason, streaming to the TV doesn’t work (my one TV isn’t a Smart TV), the iPad is a great alternative to watch from. 

iPad Benefits

Not that laptops are exactly bulky these days – least of all the Surface line – but the iPad is just a little bit more portable. It is easier to hold and place. Probably because the keyboard is movable in this case, but it is easier to share a screen on an iPad than crowding a monitor whether I’m showing work or watching a video. 

An iPad works for me because I use it as a tool – not as the front and center piece. It is supportive. 

My iPad is great for research – I keep the dictionary app close for a thesaurus and even have the Wikipedia app. I really do use it as a research device. I keep everything syncing between my laptop, tablet, and phone so my OneDrive and Google Drive are constantly up to date. 

The one thing that makes the iPad worth it for me is that I pay a dollar a month for 50 GB of iCloud storage – I don’t think I’m in danger of running out of storage. 

I have my Microsoft apps on the iPad too, so I can easily access my documents if I need them. I also keep various Google productivity apps. 

Right now I’m writing a book, and I love being able to write on my laptop and keep OneNote open on my iPad with my various notes – it makes for quick reference and easy comparison. 

Apps I Use

I know some of the complaints about iPads are that the apps are better on the phones than the tablets. I really don’t have any major complaints. Like I said, the iPad is really good for me for streaming and also keeping my files backed up through OneDrive and Kindle. 

Apps may be better on the phone, but there are some I prefer to use on my tablet, like news apps or productivity apps. I like being able to use Microsoft apps on my tablet and, again, the bigger screen. And when I’m taking notes, no matter how brief, it is nice to have a keyboard. However, I’m hoping to find a good holiday deal on the Apple pencil to take even more notes. I think that’ll be a great addition to my productivity with my iPad.

 While I have a Kindle, I had a Nook at one point and time. Using the iPad as an eReader is a useful benefit as well – I can read books, comics, newspapers, magazines, and basically anything else. If there is an app for it, I can read it. I really wasn’t a fan of reading comics on my Kindle, but on the iPad, they’re in color. And Star Wars is going wild with releasing comics. 

Another great thing are the library apps – I have Litsy, Libby, and BookMigo.  BookMigo has an insane amount of classics to read for free, no account needed. Libby requires a library card. And Litsy is a social network for readers really. 

Personally, I don’t enjoy reading articles always on my phone. I prefer the larger screen. Pocket is a great app for a variety of articles to read – they’ll send me daily emails and I can save them for later. Great for waiting rooms or wasting time! But I keep a wide variety of news, entertainment, and sports apps on my iPad. 

My new obsession is the USA Today Crossword. 

 

Not a Laptop Replacement 

I don’t think my iPad would ever replace my laptop. I just need a little bit more size. But honestly, I think it works great for me not as the main piece. I have noticed that I am using it more than I used my iPad mini. So I’d say it was worth the money for me. If I wasn’t a writer, I don’t know how much I would use outside of streaming, and then it’s kind of an expensive screen for streaming – you could definitely get away with a tablet on a different OS at that point. 

But everything syncs together between my computer, phone (iPhone XR), and iPad. So I can’t complain. It does what I need it to, but I think everyone really needs to look at why they want to use it. I know that I’m just scratching the surface with what the iPad can do, and I hope in the future to learn how to get more out of it.

Categories
Uncategorized writing

Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

November is an exciting time for writers. For some writers, at least. November is “National Novel Writing Month” or, “NaNoWriMo.” What the heck does that? It is pretty simple – it is the goal of writing basically everyday in November to have 50,000 words written by the end, approximately the length of a novel. Their website states, “NaNoWriMo is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that believes your story matters.” A handful of successful books, like “Water for Elephants”, started as NaNowriMo drafts. It also boasts of its sociability – it brings writers together; cities across the world hold writing events and even more online groups hold virtual events. 

It is also controversial.

Some people swear by NaNoWriMo. They believe “writer’s block” is just a form of procrastination, and the set goal – 50,000 words by month’s end – is a tangible to keep you coming. Some think it is great practice. Others believe that writers must write everyday, so what is the difference? Others feel that it is a good time to reinvigorate your writing skills, which admittedly can stalemate without use, like anything else. 

What is interesting about NaNoWriMo is that only approximately 15% of writers reach the 50,000 goal each year. That isn’t a lot at all. But people get pumped for NaNoWriMo. They swear by it. 

The New York Times wrote about how to get the most out of NaNoWriMo, article found here. Author James Clear (“Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones) is one of those who believes that writer’s block is a myth and “rooted in negative emotion.” He also says that the goal of NaNoWriMo is not to write a book, but to make writing a habit, saying “The real goal is not to write a book, but to become a writer.”

Back up a minute.

I kind of really dislike this way of thinking.

I’m a writer. I’m a storyteller. I don’t have any books published; but I’m a writer. It is in my job title. I blog. I’m working on a draft of a book with ideas in the back of my mind. I’ve published magazine and website articles. I’ve written short stories, essays, poetry, fanfiction – if you can think of it, I’ve tried to write it. You don’t get to call me a writer or not. Writing success is not measured by how many words written and certainly not by how many words written in a time period. It is not measured in how many consecutive days you write. Writing is about quality, not quantity. So let’s back up on you thinking you get to decide who gets the writer label.

In a perfect world, I would write everyday for at least an hour. But it isn’t a perfect world. Right now (for me) is the perfect example. I have my day job 40 hours a week, I wake up an hour and a half earlier so I can go to the gym, I have physical therapy twice a week in the evenings which takes up between an hour and a half to two hours of my time including travel, fire department responsibilities, and I have to make time for myself, too. Sometimes my brain is too fried to write, and I can’t write for the sake of writing words. I’m not going to write crap just to reach a word count; I know that my writing is better than that. Writing for quantity and not quality just irks me. Word counts drove me nuts in college and grad school too.

Maybe this way of writing works for some people, but not me. I’ve always been in the camp of not forcing writing. There are a surprising number of people who think you have to write everyday to be a writer. I can’t force writing. I just can’t. There have been times where I’ve been pleasantly surprised how a writing session went because I thought it was for sure going to suck, and there have been times where I thought I was going to do some fantastic writing and could barely form a sentence. 

Writing isn’t a science to me, it’s an art. NaNoWriMo looks at it more from a science aspect, I think. 

I don’t even know how people think of ideas so easily. My latest book idea came to me in a very odd way – I had an idea to write about witches in Pittsburgh. I just kept that thought in the back of my head. Witches in Pittsburgh. I would just think about it and let it simmer on occasion and eventually, I got what I needed. My creative process is weird. I need a keyword and then to be able to let it grow. I don’t let it go. I let it grow. 

This blog post “Should You Do NanNoWriMo” is a really fair look at doing NaNoWriMo – it’s not for everyone. It is a lot of pressure (depending on how much pressure you put on yourself), it is a lot of time, and it is not as easy as you think. Like the post says, you try writing nonstop for forty minutes and see how simple it is to try and get the magic 1,667 daily number in the estimated shortest time amount possible. 

She also touts how supportive the NaNoWriMo community is, and I don’t doubt that at all. I really haven’t delved much into it, but it does seem quite supportive. There are numerous writing events throughout Pittsburgh (although, not really many in the North Hills – what gives?). She also says there are Twitter accounts dedicated to NaNoWriMo that are great for support (I wouldn’t know – I had to delete Twitter because people keep posting spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker. Not playing that game). So there definitely seems to be a plethora of support for writers if that is what motivates you. Some people like having a writing group, others don’t. Just like anything else. 

Another thing to consider is what you’ll end up with at that month’s end. When I started this month, I utilized a project that I had already started, my current work-in-progress “When the Demons Come.” This handy guide gives you an idea of how long your novel should be – 50,000 words is the minimum. I’m writing a horror/thriller/fantasy combo thing, and I’m guessing, if I keep on pace for how I have it outlined, I will be closer to 100,000 words. And horrors usually are between 70,000-90,000 words. I do not at all anticipate having a finished draft by the time November is over. 

The one thing I will say NaNoWriMo is good for is trying not to edit as I go along. That is a terrible habit of mine, and one of the reasons why I did decide to sign up for NaNoWriMo. I need to just write a first draft. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It won’t be perfect. Don’t edit as you go along. Just write the damn book. 

Then there is this point of view: Don’t do NaNoWriMo. Sean Munger believes that NaNoWriMo goes about the wrong way of trying to create writers and actually discourages them in the process. He emphasizes their emphasis on word count. It doesn’t matter if those words make sense or if the characters have complexity to them – just get the words on the page. It does so with the idea that you’ll go back and make it perfect later, but damn, that makes me cringe. He also claims it confuses discipline with motivation which people tend to do a lot. I could get the discipline to write everyday. That doesn’t mean my heart is in it. And I think that is why I’m so against forcing my writing. My writing is an extension of myself. 

I do disagree with him saying that you have to write everyday. Don’t get me wrong, I think about my writing everyday. I think about my book multiple times a day and how I’m going to plot or write something. I keep notebooks in all my bags just in case I have a writing idea. So I would say writing is still part of my life even if I don’t write words to a page everyday. 

What I do agree with is the vapidness of NaNoWriMo – “coffee” is the number one thing NaNoWriMo says you need in your “emergency” kit. Not an idea. Not a story to tell (although they say the world needs your story) Not motivation or passion or drive. A stimulant. Yeah, I agree, that is kind of insulting and stereotypical. 

I also agree that writers don’t need NaNowriMo. I liked the idea of it, completing my book in a month. Saying I wrote 50,000 words in a month. But I don’t think it is doing wonders for my “discipline.” Because guess what? This past week, I was so busy I didn’t have time to really dedicate to my writing, and my mood wasn’t cooperating either which kind of killed my creativity. And I knew better than to force it. I know that I’m still a writer. I still have a book in progress. Also, I am dead-set against word counts. I’ll write until my story is done. 

It does seem like something fun to compete in. There does seem to be a great sense of community and support. But those ways aren’t my ways. 

I have my own set of writing rules – but they aren’t aligned necessarily with anyone else’s. And I wouldn’t expect them to. My writing isn’t going to match anyone else’s, and it shouldn’t. I can’t define my writing by a word count or have it fit in a time period. I’m more than content with my writing growing as it does and not on any timeline. That’s what works for me. So, I’m not going to worry about NaNoWriMo or how anyone else defines “being a writer.” I’ll just write.

 

And hopefully in a few years, you’ll see “When the Demons Come” on bookshelves everywhere.

Categories
Mental and physical health Uncategorized

Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome

Chronic exertional Compartment Syndrome. Say that ten times fast. CECS. What the heck is that?

That’s the second question I get, after “what did you do?”

Let’s go back to almost a year ago, to late November 2018. I decided I was going to run the 2019 Pittsburgh Half-Marathon. This has been a goal of mine for some time. I was slowly recovering from a mental breakdown that had occurred the previous month. It was a very slow process. But, as part of my recovery, I wanted to get back to consistently working out. Running the half seemed like a great idea. It would require me to follow a schedule, build up my cardio endurance, and cross an item off my bucket list. No problem. I signed up for a running group in Pittsburgh, the Steel City Road Runners, and I bought some quality cold-weather running gear because I hate running on a treadmill. 

I decided to do a couch to 5k program before delving into the half-marathon program. My goal was to be on the half marathon program by January. I had it all planned out. Now, all I needed to do was run.

So I began, and I utilized walk-run intervals. Walk two minutes, run one. That’s how I started out. By the time I’d reach my third running interval, I’d get this terrible cramp-like feeling in my leg. I always made sure to stretch and warm up, but I would stop when it started and stretch in the middle of my run. Eventually, it got to the point where my leg was cramping so badly I couldn’t walk. I cannot explain how painful this was. It was like a sharp cramp, but it also felt compressed or like there was a build up. It was weird, and very painful.  Many people told me to run through it and that training for the half would be painful. However, the fact was I couldn’t walk once the pain got really bad. Something just wasn’t right. So I went to my PCP.

My PCP recommended I get fitted for new running shoes, and the guy at the store said maybe I wasn’t warming up enough. I took both their recommendations, and it was still happening. I couldn’t get in three minutes of running. So my PCP sent me to a sports medicine doctor.

After a few minutes of discussion, he matter-of-factly told me, “I think it’s compartment syndrome.” I knew of compartment syndrome, but the emergency kind, that could happen from injuries. He explained this was chronic exertional compartment syndrome. What’s that, I probably asked.

Chronic exertional compartment syndrome is exercise-induced, a nerve condition, and causes pain, swelling, and sometimes disability in the leg or arm, as per the Mayo Clinic. It occurs most often in young adult runners and athletes. Symptoms include aching, burning, or cramping pain, tightness, numbness/tingling, weakness, swelling, and foot drop. I had several of these. The pain would begin consistently, and end with rest. 

While the cause isn’t completely understood, basically the tissue surrounding the muscle doesn’t expand and that causes pressure to build up and then pain. It is under-diagnosed, but not considered common either. 

The testing, however, for CECS is not pleasant so the doctor decided I should make an appointment, knowing it would be a few weeks, and try physical therapy in the meantime.

My physical therapist laughed at the idea it would be CECS because of how uncommon it is. But PT did nothing. 

Now, the compartment pressure test. I’ve done it three times. Each time became increasingly unpleasant. Needles are inserted into the compartments of your muscle. It’s a freaking big needle. They numb you, thankfully, but you can feel the pressure of the needle of when it goes in, and that is really uncomfortable. 

So, here’s how it goes – numbing, then first round of pressure testing, running until symptoms appear and you can’t handle it anymore, then the second round of pressure testing. 12 injections in total. It bleeds a lot too. It’s not fun.

Forgive me, but I don’t know the unit of measurement for the pressure test, but if you measure over 30, you test positive for compartment syndrome. I was ranging from 40-70 in my compartments over 30. Two compartments in each leg before the initial surgery. So the next step was surgery, scheduled for April.

My surgeon was great. He works with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so it’s not like he doesn’t come recommended. I had never had surgery before, I was nervous for that. It really weirded me out how one minute I was awake, then not, the back in recovery. When I came to, I asked for my mom. I asked her for a donut. She said no.

It was a rough few days at first. I was using crutches but still bearing weight. And I mean, it was both of my legs. Lots of ice, lots of elevation. After two weeks, I was back to work and “normal” activities.

I started physical therapy, and it soon became apparent that there was still something wrong with my left leg. Where my right leg was getting stronger, my left leg was still in a lot of pain. It would shake significantly as I tried to do the exercise, and it was still swollen. My surgeon recommended stopping physical therapy and advised that it would take time to heal.

Time. Time. Time.

I don’t have patience to begin with, and this definitely wasn’t easy. I wasn’t getting answers. There was no reasons as to why this wouldn’t have worked, and I had gone from “you’ll be running in eight weeks,” to “we don’t know when you’ll be healed.” I was very, very frustrated. 

May went by, then June. Time was going by, but it was leaving me stuck on the couch. I couldn’t do anything. Sitting certain ways, like in the confined space of the manicure chair or a stadium seat, caused me discomfort. I soon couldn’t be on my feet for twenty minutes, then ten minutes at a time. Something as simple as going grocery shopping would make me have to stop, rest, put my leg up. It was a very lonely summer. I couldn’t do much at all. I sat on the couch with my leg elevated. 

Unfortunately, this meant I had a lot of time with my own thoughts which wasn’t very pleasant. The longer I was in pain, the more frustrated I became. It was not a good place.

Eventually, my surgeon decided that we needed to do another compartment pressure test. I had an extremely hard time running. Exercise induced asthma decided it was time to make a reappearance, most likely as I hadn’t been working out in months. We tested it, and I was still showing over 30 in one of my compartments. Another surgery was scheduled. My surgeon said that this would only be the third time he had to do the revision.

The week before I was scheduled for surgery, I had a respiratory infection and they thought I had pneumonia. My surgery was pushed back four days. I was devastated. I was so ready for this to be over. I had been using a crutch since the beginning of August, and this was getting to the middle of September. All I wanted was to be pain free and mobile again.

Surgery came soon enough. This time, my mom was there when I woke up; I asked first for Penn State’s football record and then if I was going to work after. Somehow, despite this time I only had one leg operated on, I was in a lot more pain this time around. It took me a couple days longer to be able to walk upstairs. I was using crutches longer too.

Then, oddly enough, I woke up in the middle of the night one evening to go to the bathroom. As I walked downstairs, I noticed I had no pain when just a few hours earlier, I still had pain going up the stairs. The next morning, I still had no pain. Just like that.

Here I am, three weeks out of surgery. I started physical therapy and it is already going better than before. The other day, I was out and about for about four or five hours, mainly on my feet, and while I – and my legs – were exhausted by the end, it wasn’t like before. The surgeon said he didn’t see anything different this time, but something has obviously worked and made an improvement.

It looks like I have my mobility back, but I won’t consider it a win until about a month and a half from now when I can start running again.

A year ago, I didn’t even know there was another type of compartment syndrome. Now, I have two long scars on each leg because of it. Hopefully, my legs are on their way to being back to normal. It is amazing how much my mood has improved since gaining my mobility back. I knew I wasn’t doing great, but I didn’t realize I was feeling that poorly. Not being in pain all the time has definitely had an impact on me. I can go do things again. Not doing anything was very boring, and this has been a very frustrating process. It will be some time until I can go back to firefighting because, well, basically, I’m figuring out how to walk normally again. My legs really weakened over the last few months. There is going to be a lot of working out in my future. 

Categories
lifestyle

The Trouble with Buying Plus Size

Let’s just get this out of the way first – I know I am fat. Nothing is more annoying than people trying to tell you that you aren’t plus size when you know you are. I know that I am currently at an unhealthy weight. And you know what? Shit happens. The end of 2018 saw me trying to recover from a full mental breakdown. All of 2019 has had me injured in a way that I eventually couldn’t walk without debilitating pain, three surgeries on both legs (two on one, one on the other) and a general inability to work out. As I am just starting to find out as I begin finally feeling better, being in pain all of the time has a really negative impact on your mood. So for the last year and a half, I really haven’t been in the mindset or had the opportunity to focus on my physical health and nutrition and all that. The problem with this though is, well, my weight.

So that’s how I got here, talking to you. Pretty much all of my weight gain is above the waist. My belly and my arms drive me insane; I hate how they look. But I’d be willing to argue that most of my weight gain went to my chest. Triple D’s are the most inconvenient and annoying thing in the world, for multiple reasons. 

At first, buying some new clothes wasn’t a big deal. So I gained some weight. Oh well. But – especially when my chest began holding all the weight – nothing, and I mean nothing, would fit. I basically have had to buy an entire new wardrobe which is expensive. And buying plus size is even more expensive. From some points of view, it has been kind of an interesting perspective though because there is nothing easy about this. 

The one thing I did do, which I hope works out the way I’m thinking, is that I put my smaller clothes away for now. Some of them are just barely too small, but for things like button downs (which I love for work), any bit of small shows in a big way. What I’m thinking though is that when I hopefully begin to lose weight, I’ll pull these clothes out and it will be like I have all new clothes. I know it’ll take time and there’s time where my two wardrobes may overlap. 

Here is my first thing. Why do so many stores keep their plus sizes online only or primarily online? I’m looking at you Target and Old Navy. Old Navy does get credit though for keeping some larger sizes in store, like XXL especially for my beloved button downs. Also, Old Navy is the only place I buy my jeans, thank you. But it drives me insane when I’m on the Target app and see something plus size and its either online only or not kept in my store. I have also noticed this at Kohl’s and Macy’s. Macy’s, you kill me. You have some awesome clothes in my size. That I will never find in the store. This is especially poignant for dresses or work clothes. I like to try things on. I have to try things on because something can fit every other part of me, but may be guaranteed not to fit my chest. The big boob struggle is real. 

Yes, I know that I can order online and return it. But even if I can return in store – it just seems inconvenient. Why would I buy online then go to the store to return it to only have to buy it online again and possibly repeat the process? Why can’t I just have it there, not pay shipping, and save myself time? I just don’t understand when you hear about the closing of brick and mortar stores to online shopping that these brick and mortar stores carry a subset of product specifically online. I would buy more stuff from these places if it was in store. I’m always super hesitant buying clothes from Amazon or online-only stores for this reason. I’m weird. But I just want to try the damn thing on before I commit. You test drive a car before you buy right? Except, I actually didn’t test drive my Honda Fit before I got it. 

I went to a JC Penney’s that I normally don’t go to and was very pleasantly surprised to see they had an entire plus size section that my normal Penney’s didn’t have. Definitely made some purchases that day.

And then there are stores where I’m disappointed by their lack of sizes altogether. I love New York & Company. The majority of my work wardrobe was from there. They have great basic pieces. I have multiples of the same dress in different colors because it’s the perfect summer work dress and it has pockets. Their Madison shirts, like this one, also have quite a few spots in my work wardrobe. But as I started to gain weight, I started to realize how their clothes run kind of small. It made sense, whereas in other places I’d wear a small, at NY & Co., I’d wear a medium. But I felt as if I was sized-out altogether from NY & Co., and I’m not that big. I’m a size 14, the biggest I’ve ever been. The average American woman is a size 16 or 18. For the most part, I’m at 1X. And I can’t tell you how many things I’ve tried on that would fit if not just for a little bit more room in the chest. 

Other than cardigans, I’m basically sized out of NY & Co. And let me tell you, if they carried larger sizes that could basically accommodate my chest in those Madison shirts, I probably would have bought at least five. It is definitely a disappointment that I basically can’t shop there right now because of my boobs.

The majority of my plus size wardrobe has come from Torrid. I should probably buy stock in Torrid just to maybe make back some of my money that I’ve spent there. I have spent a lot. To be honest, the price doesn’t thrill me especially when I consider that once I start working out again, these outfits may be very temporary. I have spent a lot of money there, and a good bit is out of necessity because it’s so difficult to find plus size clothes.

However, I have to say, I love the clothes so much that I am definitely considering getting some of them altered to continue to fit me. The clothes are super cute, fit me well, and are often super comfortable. I remember many places that were plus size having very “frumpy” clothes, or geared towards older woman. Torrid is not that place. They are definitely on par with today’s fashion trends and have clothes for every occasion. Everything I have bought from Torrid so far has been mainly for work or going out clothes, and I feel that each item makes me look polished and is flattering. The majority of what I have purchased hides my stomach with a flowing cut, as opposed to outlining the shape of my belly and bringing attention to that. So, thanks Torrid. 

Torrid also has something called “super soft knits,” and they are the most comfortable thing in the world. Hands down. Flattering and comfortable? It doesn’t get much better than that. And also, the sizing definitely takes into consideration those of us with a larger bust and I have never felt like my chest is being compressed. So there’s that. I’ve found dresses for work, going out, wedding showers, and weddings. I can find basically everything I need. Although Torrid, your online-only also drives me insane, although I am fairly comfortable in knowing that something with fit in a certain size for me. But I’d still rather try it on; old habits die hard.

Also, Torrid makes bra shopping much easier. Trying to find my size at a “regular” department store can be a hassle or I am limited on choices. When I do find something, it’s usually a blah design. Torrid not only has an expansive range of sizes, but they’re cute. I don’t understand the lack of design on larger bras. Just because we’re plus size doesn’t mean we don’t like cute things. There’s no correlation between being plus size and not wanting to be cute. It’s probably the opposite.

We can talk about body positivity all day, but I can say I have been trying to make a little bit more effort since gaining weight or trying to hide weight. Hell, I read a thing where this guy was saying that if you’re plus-size, you’re automatically unattractive. No ifs, ands, or buts. Unattractive. Now, I don’t believe that. The same guy would probably tell me I’m ugly because of my pixie cut, and I sure as hell am not getting rid of that. I know that my weight (or haircut) has not lowered my attractiveness to the level of troll. I might not be Gisele, but that isn’t happening at any weight, and I don’t see a problem with that. Gisele can be Gisele, I can be Victoria. But it creates an uncomfortable feeling, to be honest. I won’t lie. That’s not the type of guy I sure as hell want to be with, but I can’t imagine how many women do believe that thought process and have low self esteem and are hard on themselves. Physical attractiveness isn’t everything by any means, but low self esteem due to body image doesn’t just have an impact on the physical self. It’s not good for your mental health either. 

I just thought of this now, but I wonder if the difficulty of finding plus size clothes has a subconscious effect on people? It can be hard to find and expensive, and when you do find it, you often have a smaller selection of choices. I can totally see where that will make someone question their self worth. Why is it like that? Why am I limited by these choices, why don’t I deserve the wide range of “regular” sizes? What makes me less worthy?

Nothing does. 

Don’t we always say that size is just a number? It is. So why are we separating it in such a way? Why are we essentially targeting this group by making them outside the “normal?” Weight is impacted by so many things. I know that right now my weight is unhealthy. I also know that I had health issues that were preventing me from maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise, resulting in weight gain. I also was on a medication for a period that made me gain weight. That’s always fun. I know there are long term effects of being overweight. But I also know of many people at healthy weights that don’t work out and still eat like crap. They’re not living their most healthy life either. 

I always assumed that plus size sections were always there and readily available. That isn’t the case. I also didn’t think that the size of my bust was going to limit me in finding clothes that fit so much. And it can be frustrating as hell. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that shopping for this second wardrobe hasn’t brought me to tears before because why-am-I-fat-why-did-I-let-this-happen because absolutely nothing fits and I’m never going to look cute again. And eventually those moments go away. But it’s not easy, and it does have an impact. Nowadays, Torrid is often my first go-to if I need an outfit for a specific event. I know I’ll find something that fits, even if the stuff I really love is online only (I’m not letting that go). 

It is something I never thought of before because I didn’t have to worry about it before. Being short, I have also had similar problems with finding pants or maxi dresses. I am positive my tall friends can tell me stories of the exact opposite problems because pants are too short. It is just something that has been on my mind lately that I wanted to share.