Monday, January 29, 2018

I Went to ConFusion and Found that ConFusion Is Great!

(Check out this beautiful print by Rachel Quinlan! I bought it at ConFusion.)

Weekend before last, I was away at a speculative fiction convention I'd never attended before: ConFusion SF. It was in a suburb of Detroit. Normally, the idea of traveling from Wisconsin to Michigan in the middle of January would be a non-starter for me, but when Maurice Broaddus tells you it's a must-go convention, you must go. That's just the way it works. He was right, of course. It's a well-run event, in a good space, and I lost count of how many pro writers were there after the first couple dozen I saw.

I find it very mentally stimulating and creativity-boosting to hang around with writers and artists, and to be around books and art for sale. Even though I didn't participate in or attend a single panel, I had conversations with amazing, creative people - old friends and new - all weekend, and looked at so much artistic goodness that I came home with a whole new battery full of creative energy. And some goods. It was really hard to choose which things to buy, but in addition to the beautiful print above, I also got a lovely, embellished key pendant made by Sara Goodwin, and some awesome-looking new reading material from Apex Book Company.

I did talk business a little bit, but mostly I was there for the social time. I plan to return next year!

Oh, and I have to report an actual miracle. I can be confident in this because I've been back for a week now. You ready? I went to a large convention, in the middle of winter, and didn't catch any illness of any kind! THAT NEVER HAPPENS. I used my standard precautions, but nothing extreme. I am amazed.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Quitting Hair Dye

(Does this hair color make me look crazy?)

After three decades of constantly having dyed hair - age 15 to 45 - I'm out! I've actually tried to stop dyeing my hair a couple of times in the last few years, but I was trying to keep my hair longer at the same time, and the difference between the roots and the ends made me want to scream every day. Then last summer I felt inclined to partially shave my head, and eventually got to the point where I could do a pixie cut and get rid of all the dye. So here we are.

An interesting thing has happened pretty much every time I've mentioned this to women my age. I don't have a huge sample size because it's not like I go around telling everyone my hair goals... at least not until today... but I've mentioned it here and there. Every time so far, the woman I'm talking to has responded with "Oh, I could never stop dyeing my hair. I would hate it!"

I just want to stop right here and say that I'm not promoting this as a universal lifestyle choice. Really, do what you want with yourself. I don't have any motivation to stop you. Okay? Okay.

But I do find it interesting that you think it would be so terrible. I am really enjoying it! I might have an unusual perspective because my mom has never dyed her hair even once in her life, and hers was already much more gray than mine is now by the time she was in her 30s. I think that silver and white hair can look stunning.

One thing that pushed me toward this decision was that as my skin changed over time, the warmer red colors I used on my hair started to make me look washed out. Cool brown looked better, but then it would turn a brassy gold after a while, which was even worse than red. Having some silvery hair seems to brighten up my face. The silver strands are shinier, too, especially after being used to all the damage and dryness I had from dye chemicals. I'm looking forward to seeing how it looks as it grows out!

More importantly, I'm here to fight the widespread idea that being middle-aged and older is bad. I don't feel like a much different person on the inside than I did when I was younger, but I do have more knowledge and skills now. Wrinkles can be discouraging, but I actually feel better about most things these days. I know that I can handle what life brings. On the occasions when I feel down, I know that it will pass. What I'm saying is that it's good to see the benefits of whatever age I am. And it's good for the world to see me out there, having an excellent time as my 46-year-old self with my graying hair.

Since I'm known for changing my mind, there's a chance that I'll go back to dyeing my hair again sometime, but I've decided to at least take a break from it for the year of 2018. And I'll be posting at least a monthly photo to keep track of how quickly it grows. :)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Dealing with the Northern Winter: Some Things I Do and Products I Use

(A view from my front window this month.)

I live in a small town near Madison, Wisconsin. Intellectually, I know that it seems cold to people in the south when it's only, say, 50 degrees Fahrenheit outside. However, what I'm dealing with today is, without considering windchill, 4 degrees Fahrenheit. FOUR. And that, reader, is not actually the coldest it gets around here. 

We didn't much of a gradual progression this winter. It went from being more normally cold, in autumn (like in the 30s and even 40s) ,straight to frigid right after the winter solstice. I typically like winter better than summer. If you're cold you can put layers on, but if you're hot, you can only spend so much time submerged in a tub of ice before your life starts to fall apart. However, even I, the winter-preferring freak, can begin to struggle when it's this cold, and so very, very, constantly dry and electrosparky. In the summer, my skin is so oily that I develop sensory issues about my own face, but in the winter that completely reverses itself and I'm so dry that I lose the ability to move my mouth or blink.

Hyperbole? I don't even know that word.

Whatever! Here's a tiny list of the products that help me feel more comfortable. I'm not affiliated to any of them. Maybe you'll find them helpful.
  • For dry feet: Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Creme with Vitamin E
  • Facial Moisturizer: Garnier SkinActive Ultra-Lift Wrinkle Reducer 2-in-1 Serum + Moisturizer (they give you your money's worth in the title length alone)
  • Eye Area Moisturizer: Skyn Iceland Icelandic Relief Eye Cream
  • Lip Balm: Fresh Sugar Lip Caramel Hydrating Balm 
The latter two are a bit pricey, but you get a lot and you only need to use a little at a time. The "lip caramel" truly looks and smells like caramel.

One product that does not live up to its hype, in my opinion, is the Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm. I tried it after seeing a lot of good reviews, but it doesn't stay on as well as a basic Chapstick, I tried the most pleasant-sounding scent for my taste, Black Tea and Blackberry, and even when I diligently avoided eating the stuff I ended up with a weird taste in the back of my mouth from the scent. At least it wasn't expensive! But I can't recommend it.

So far, I haven't gotten to the point of needing hand or body moisturizer (and I honestly have no explanation for that), but I probably will get there. Please leave recommendations in the comments if you have them.

For my mental well-being in winter, I like to make sure I use a full-spectrum light for part of the day (it's good lighting for doing my makeup, it turns out), and I take extra vitamin D because we in the north cannot get enough vitamin D from sunlight between November and February. Not that we're supposed to be sunbathing the rest of the time, anyway. As always, if a medical expert tells you not to take it, then don't.

I also like to make sure I have green plants around. I grow low-maintenance, cat-safe spider plants in my house, and occasionally visit the not exactly nearby Olbrich Botanical Garden's tropical conservatory. Once or twice each winter, I find it very worthwhile to take the 40-minute drive to a place where I can hang up my coat and enter a warm, humid environment of tropical plants and flowers where there's a waterfall, koi swimming around in the pond, and birds to look at. 

And to avoid colds, I have zinc lozenges (Cold-Eeze brand; I found them at Walgreens). The instructions are to start taking them immediately after cold symptoms start. I also take one after I get home from going anywhere crowded (that's in addition to washing my hands frequently and trying not to touch my eyes or nose). The idea is that zinc fights cold germs, but it's better to have a lozenge or use a spray than to swallow zinc supplements, in order to keep the zinc in the location where you want it to rough up some viruses. It doesn't taste great, and you should eat something before you use it, because it can be unsettling to stomachs, but I think it's helpful. There's a lot of chitchat about this on that newfangled World Wide Web. (Remember when we used to call it "the web"? I rewatched an episode of Charmed last night while I was knitting, and that intrepid researcher Phoebe reminded me of olden days when she used that term.)

What are your winter tips and recommendations? 

Monday, January 1, 2018

How to Have a Good Year

(Here's Annabelle being a helper)

Sometimes, a day, month, week, or year is demonstrably bad. Plenty of objective evidence will back up your argument that it was simply and objectively a bad stretch of time full of bad events. SO MUCH is beyond a person's control. Anything you can't control is not your fault. This post is a list of ideas for the things you CAN control, because even if you can't fix everything it can often make you feel much better to improve something. I'll break my ideas down into a few categories. Please comment with your ideas, too.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: These are things to voluntarily try if you WANT to. Probably no one can do all of them. Maybe attempt one at a time, to see what works for you and what doesn't. If you find one you like, stick with that and then (if you WANT) try adding another. Perfectionism is a known way to ruin a year!

Oh, and for every single idea, mentally add the words "if possible" to the beginning. Don't do anything you can't or shouldn't do, just because I suggested it.

Physical Well-Being 

Your brain is just as much a part of your body as any other part, and it's where your thoughts and feelings come from. So I believe that a solid first step toward feeling emotionally good is to check in with what you're doing for the body you live in. Here are some things to try:

  • Drink more water.
  • Drink fewer sugary drinks (all the way down to zero, if possible).
  • Drink fewer artificially sweetened drinks.
  • Gradually reduce your caffeine intake to see if that reduces your anxiety level.
  • Try drinking tea (especially green tea) instead of coffee sometimes. It has less caffeine per cup, more health benefits, and can reduce your anxiety level if you drink it regularly... if I'm understanding my pop science articles correctly.
  • Reduce the amount of alcoholic drinks you have at a time, and/or the number of days you drink (I'm well-known to not be against drinking alcohol, but I do believe that there's such a thing as "too much.")
  • Add more servings of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans to your diet (obviously nothing to which you are allergic or that you've been advised not to eat by a qualified medical person who knows your situation). Even one more serving a day of nutritious food can make a big difference in the way you feel.
  • Take vitamins that are appropriate for you. That shouldn't replace good nutrition from healthy food, but it can fill in what's missing. Make sure you're not taking too much of any supplement, though, because that can cause problems.
  • Stand up and walk around for a couple of minutes after every hour of sitting.
  • Add more outdoor walks to each week.
  • Add more cardio workouts to your life, ideally on some sort of manageable, regular basis.
  • Take opportunities to stretch your muscles as often as you can.
  • Do some kind of regular practice to build your muscular strength.
  • Sleep on a regular schedule, ideally for 7 to 8 hours each night. You'll probably get better quality sleep if you give yourself some no-screen wind-down time for an hour or two before bedtime, in low lighting.
  • Get medical help as soon as possible for any kind of problem that's messing up your life, whether it's illness, injury, inexplicable pain, or distress. 
Emotional Well-Being

These are some ways to directly make your mind feel better. Some may work better than others for a particular person:

  • Be kind to other people as often as you can.
  • Don't set out to harm someone, even if you think they've harmed you. That will probably make you feel worse, eventually. It might lead to more negative interactions over time, too.
  • Write down three things you're grateful for each day, at a time that fits your schedule. I've often seen suggestions to do this either first thing in the morning, or just before bed. Another spin on this idea is to write down three things that went well either that day or the day before. 
  • Try to assume positive intent from other people, rather than hostile intent, at least before you know for sure. 
  • Don't expect perfection from yourself or anyone else. You're trying. They're trying. Often people have to learn from mistakes. 
  • Learn how to meditate, and try to fit in at least five minutes of meditation time each day.
  • Ask for help when you're struggling. Someone else might think of ideas you can't, or they may have resources you don't.
  • Spend time with friends and family in ways you enjoy. 
  • If you need to meet more people, join groups! You can find them online through sites like or Facebook, or you can check out places like libraries and churches to see if there are groups you can join. My local small-town library has a library volunteer organization, a book club, and free weekly movie screenings, plus activities for children. Most places will have some way to connect with like-minded people.
  • Avoid spending time with people who are draining or who cause you pain, if at all possible. Sometimes there are people you have to see at work, but maybe you can change something about that to make it easier. But in other situations, think about whether you REALLY have to spend time with someone, or you just believe that you SHOULD. Maybe you shouldn't, for your own well-being.
  • Learn something new.
  • Drop something that's a consistent waste of time.
  • Make something, whether it's a craft, a practical do-it-yourself project, a photo you can hang on your wall, or some cookies. 
  • Do or finish one project that's been on your mind.
  • Write in a private journal on a regular basis, and keep it where no one else will see it, so you can clarify your thoughts and express your feelings in a safe way. (If you believe someone's going to search through your stuff and find it, make whatever adjustments you need to free yourself from that feeling. Are you in a toxic relationship? Do you need to set better boundaries? Are you being paranoid? Any of these things might mean you need help from someone you trust).
  • Work on improving your financial situation, so that you can have more control over your life.
  • Get involved with helping others in a way that's meaningful to you. It could be volunteering, donating money or your possessions, writing blog posts to give advice, boosting signals for worthy causes, or anything else that you believe is helpful to people.
  • Make changes. If something about your life is really bothering you, seek out information and advice on how to change it (from friends, books, the internet), and then make a plan with manageable goals and steps to do.
  • Try to see the positive side of any situation, even if it's not completely ideal. "When it rains, look for rainbows. When it's dark, look for stars." (I don't know who originally wrote that, but I saw it quoted recently and I've taken it as my motto.)

Well, this became longer than I had expected it would! I guess I've absorbed a few ideas in 46 years of life. But I'm sure I don't know everything, and probably haven't remembered to write down everything I do know, so I hope you'll add your thoughts in the comment section! Just remember that we can't all do all of these things all the time (I certainly don't), and that even picking one thing to try for a while might really give you a boost. Happy New Year!