Friday, November 27, 2015

30 grams of sugar

That's how much I get to have, per day.  You know how much sugar that is?  It's one yogurt and one truffle.  It's two large bananas.  Roughly 55 M&Ms.  In short, it's the easiest thing in the world to accidentally surpass.  How did it come to this?  Well...

I've been counting calories for about three weeks now.  While my weight has fluctuated some, it's stayed about even.  This is despite making my calorie goals, and getting exercise 3-5 days a week.  In short, things aren't going well.  So I asked my doctor about what else I could be doing.  She recommended 5 days/week of exercise, even really light exercise.  But she also recommended limiting my sugar to 30 grams per day.

As it turns out, this is absurdly difficult.

I'm now weighing food based on how much sugar it has per serving, rather than calories.  It turns out that if you mainly focus on sugar, you end up having to avoid a lot of calorie-intensive stuff anyway.  Y'know, like any kind of candy, most chips, and even some "healthy" foods.  I've sent the last of the Halloween candy to work with Chris, where its sugary deliciousness can be distributed across lots of people rather than going to my thighs.

One of the doctor's recommendations was that I start replacing my breakfast with a protein shake.  She gave me a handout.  In the most basic of formats, the recipe is: plant-based protein powder (like hemp, pea, or rice), fiber (flax seeds, spinach, kale), fruit (berries, banana, etc), and liquid (almond milk, water, rice milk, etc).  Blend, and you have yourself a pretty healthy breakfast on the go.  She has two example recipes.  The first was okay, after I got the recipe right.  (Details are on Twitter and Instagram)

The second...  made the morning horrifying.  It was a kale-based smoothie, which I probably should have known better than to try.  But more tellingly, it lacked any sweetener whatsoever. Avocado is not sweet.  Healthy, maybe, but not sweet.  The cocoa powder (unsweetened) and almond extract could not hide the foul slap of kale.  Worse, the entire thing looked like green sludge.

I couldn't make myself drink more than 5 swallows of it.  I was an immensely picky eater as a child.  As an adult, I've learned to just shove stuff into my mouth, chew it, and swallow it while trying not to pay attention to it.  I got pretty good at that, and use that tactic to this day every time I go to someone's house and they serve something I know I don't like.  I couldn't manage it with this smoothie.  It was that awful.

In a fit of desperation, I doctored the unholy green sludge with a whole banana, adding a ton of sugar (albeit fructose, a natural sugar) to the mix.  It was still about the worst thing ever.  So finally, determined not to waste all the time I'd spent putting together the ingredients, measuring out and adding those ingredients to my food tracker, and the money spent buying those ingredients.... I chugged the horrific substance (20 ounces' worth, in the end).  I then waited to see if my stomach was going to reject the unholy green sludge, because my taste buds were firmly advocating for the immediate ejection of anything that tasted that hideous.

It's been about 7 hours, so I guess my stomach has decided to keep the unholy green sludge.  It's extremely healthy unholy green sludge, which is another reason I downed it rather than exiling it to the garbage disposal.

Now if only my taste buds would forget this ever happened...  I tried placating them with a chunk of (humane) steak, then a truffle from my birthday present, then (sugarless) snack crackers, but apparently the whole experience was sufficiently traumatic that even that and seven hours can't make the memory of the taste go away.

Needless to say, I'm going back to the first recipe, with the too much fructose-sugar, tomorrow.  I'll figure out how to get rid of the rest of the kale and the remaining avocado, somehow.  I'm going to try doing half kale, half spinach for tomorrow's smoothie.  If that's completely horrible, I may end up screwing up my eyes and eating the kale raw.  (Let's hope it doesn't come to that.  One traumatic experience is enough for the week, right?)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

LENS and Life, week of 11/17

One site again this week, and much of me kvetching about health-related things.  I'm not sleeping super well, and with the counting calories and other things, it's wearing on me.  Yesterday I woke up crabby and grumpy, which lasted until I flopped in bed, put an arm over my eyes to shade them from the sun, and took a two hour nap.  After which I felt better, but one of my eyeballs didn't like the pressure I'd put on it and refused to focus properly for a half hour.

So the doctor has recommended I try what basically sounds like a multivitamin for sleep.  Take two at bedtime, and they're a mixture of melatonin (the chemical that makes you sleepy), valerian, B6, and various other things.  Downside: they're expensive.  But I have birthday money, since the noise canceling earphones I'd bought didn't pan out.  So I'll get to try them out for a month and see if they help.

I also invested in a small thing of hemp protein (+fiber) powder, on her recommendation.  I'm getting to eat more meat these days, since I found a source for pork and now one for turkey, but it's still really hard to eat enough of it.  She starts each day with a protein/fiber smoothie/shake concoction that sounds like it's mainly made of vegetables, but contains a good chunk of the day's protein and fiber requirements.  I despise the sound of my blender, but I may try to make it work.  The issue is going to be making it not taste hideous, because...

Another thing I learned today was that my calorie tracking app vastly over-estimates how much sugar I can have in a day.  So I had my doctor (PhD in Nutrition, or soon to be PhD in Nutrition) manually enter sane goals for various nutrients.  She nearly halved my daily sugar allowance, which makes me very sad for any ice cream, chocolate, or other sweets.  I'm dreading looking at the pretty box of fancy truffles my friend got me, lest I find a single one of those delicious treats is my entire day's sugar.  (I really hope not, they're cherry sized...)

The final thing I learned is that the sleep trackers in smartwear, like Fitbits or Jawbones, are only useful for the broadest of information.  This is annoying, because I was rather hoping I could buy a good one and figure out why I don't sleep very soundly.  However, it does mean that I don't have to go out of my way to get a super-expensive one if I want to try it anyway.  Today on, a site that offers one deal a day, they were selling a pair of low-end activity trackers in the Fitbit/Jawbone bracelet style.  $20 for 2.  I'm not expecting much, but it will tell me (hopefully) how much my heartrate accelerates during exercise, how many steps I take in a day, how many calories burned, etc.

Any of that basic information would be helpful, honestly.  Since I'm exercising 3 days per week at the gym (possibly up to 5 days a week, with 2 days being "just go there and walk or something"), and their heartrate monitors are broken more than half the time, it'd be nice to have something that'll tell me how I'm doing.  The cheapo trackers won't be here for at least a week or two, though, so it'll have to wait.  In the meantime, I have a lot of calorie counting to do...

Friday, November 20, 2015

Explaining Sound Sensitivity and Why ANC (Active Noise Canceling) Matters

(warning: this blog entry is long.  I divided it into sections to make it easier to read.  I hope that helps.)

The Intro, or Why This Came Up At All 
I've just returned from the gym, where I've had a membership for a couple weeks now.  The place is called Planet Fitness, a line of gyms that offer $10/month memberships in exchange for a stripped down (but aggressively nonjudgmental) experience.  They have the whole line of exercise machines, for example, but no pool or tennis courts or indoor/outdoor track.  The other relevant feature about them is the decor.  Besides that the colors are purple and yellow (yes, seriously), this particular gym was built in half of an old Menards (home and garden store), and they haven't done a smidgen of soundproofing since acquiring the property, as far as I can tell.  I swear, if a single machine is clicking halfway across the massive exercise floor, I can hear it.  With at least 20 cardio machines going at any one time, and at least half as many strength training machines plus the music they pipe in...  It's really bad for concentrating on your workout.

First Attempt
For this reason, and several others, I've had noise-canceling headphones on my wishlist since my last pair broke a few years ago.  I've gotten along well enough without them, but it's been an itch in the back of my mind, and between this gym and the fact that my sound sensitivity seems to be worse some days now, I finally put my foot down and invested in a $50 pair.  Hooray for birthday money.

Sadly, despite my enthusiasm, the earbuds did not pan out.  They barely did a thing, in fact.  I might as well have been wearing normal earbuds.  Quite a difference from my last pair, where I could turn them on and the sounds of the road and the whistling of the wind went blissfully quiet with a polite "hiss" as the electronics powered up.

But Fortunately...
So I was back to square one, and disgruntled to boot.  I count as the working poor, which means I can't afford to drop several hundred bucks for the high grade headphones my doctor recommended.  (Her kids have sound sensitivity too, go figure.)  As God would have it, my anniversary with my boyfriend was coming up, and given how disappointed I was at the failure of the other earbuds, he hatched a plan.  Long story short: because my boyfriend cares about my sanity and is very sweet, I now own these:
He even got them in blue.
These are Bose (QC20), meaning they're stupidly expensive but are generally the best the consumer market can offer.  The ratings do bear that out, thankfully.  More than the ratings, though, I've tried these out for a week or so.  They bear out and exceed my memories of my old Active Noise Canceling (ANC) earphones.  They come with two modes of ANC operation: one for being able to hear people (Aware mode), and one for not (unnamed, but I snarkily call it "Unaware mode").  The latter mode is excellent for drowning out road sounds, rumbles, whirs from fans, distant slamming doors, and other annoyances.  It seems to work fairly well across all ranges of sound, from high pitched squeaks on poorly oiled hinges to the bass of the sounds of the road.

(Sidenote: I do not use Unaware mode while driving.  One of the first ways you know something is wrong with your car is by the sounds it makes.  Plus being able to hear cars coming up beside you is an excellent aid to checking your mirrors.)

Active Noise Canceling, Noise Levels, and the Gym
All that said, I've been putting those earbuds through their paces at the gym I mentioned above, with its layers upon layers of cacophony.  Impressively, Unaware mode does not, in fact, completely drown out the noise of the gym.  I went at a relatively offpeak hour, 2:30, and I could still hear people chattering behind me (though not as well as I would've otherwise).  I could still hear the annoying click click behind me and to the right, the sound of a limping machine some guy wouldn't get off.  It was all there, just much quieter. 

Having some of the best ANC available, but still being able to hear all that, got me thinking.  Prior to today, I'd always thought sound sensitivity was mainly an issue with loud noises.  The loudness of the gym, for example, necessitated headphones or earplugs.  The loudness of a movie theater always necessitates earplugs, and even then it's noisy.  I'd get headaches.  I picked up an app that tracks deciBel levels, specifically to check how sensitive I was.

My readings on that app were... underwhelming.  The world around me almost never approximates a jet engine, even though it can really feel like it.  Noise levels rarely get above 70-80 deciBels.  (80 dB, by the way, is being right next to the in-sink garbage disposals while they're running.  A comparison chart, for the curious.)  That lack of high readings bothered me.  If it wasn't the noise of a place, why did I still get headaches and want to go hide in quieter places?

Sound Sensitivity Explained
I couldn't figure it out... until I spent time in that gym today in Unaware mode.  I measured the gym's noise level out of curiosity.  Never got above 70 dB.  So it wasn't the sound level that drove me bonkers.  It was the sound complexity.  The sheer number of things going on at one time.  People walking around chattering, the clunks of weights and strength training devices, thud-thuddings from the footsteps on treadmills, high-pitched beeps as people programmed their cardio machines, music blaring from the speakers...

The world, you see, is a symphony of sound.  My brain doesn't filter all that sound as politely as most peoples' does.  At this moment in my very quiet apartment (25 dB), there are three smallish fans running, plus the hum of my computer's machinery.  Every key I hit makes a soft sound somewhere between a tap, a click, and a thud.  The mouse makes sharpish clicking sounds.  Because all of that is relatively quiet, I'm only marginally aware of it.  Most people wouldn't hear it at all, because the brain filters out extraneous and irrelevant noise.  No one really needs to hear every key they press on a keyboard.

So my brain doesn't do that very well.  Here in my very quiet apartment, it's not really overwhelming.  There isn't much loud or complexity.  Outside, though, is an entirely different experience.  From airplanes to birds to cars to dishes, all the way down the alphabet to zippers, this world has a lot of different sounds.

The vast majority of those sounds are unexpected.  If I see a car coming by, my brain will usually buffer and "quiet" the sound of it passing.  But if a car comes up behind me suddenly, there's an excellent chance I'll flinch and look around.  My brain is already bad at ignoring sounds that don't matter, but adding unpredictability into it basically ensures I won't be able to ignore it.

Stop for a minute and listen to your surroundings.  Try to note every separate sound you can hear.  Perhaps there's a coffee maker, or your refrigerator, or the clink of dishes, or your computer's fan whirs quietly.  If you're out and about, perhaps there are people talking, or machines working, or cars passing.  Try to listen to all those sounds at once.  That's what it's like for me to have sound sensitivity, but all the time. 

Instead of my brain automatically filtering out sounds that don't matter, I actively have to set them aside.  If the sound was very sudden, sharp, and/or loud, it may have made me physically jump or twitch, and then I have to calm down from the sudden spike of heartrate and adrenaline.  Even if I don't physically react, I often still suffer the heartrate spike and adrenaline. 

I do this all day. 

The Importance of Active Noise Canceling
I mentioned earlier that because my apartment is pretty quiet, I'm only marginally aware of the various noises in it.  So if I have a device that selectively quiets or eliminates sounds from my threshold of awareness, that saves me a lot of twitching, jumping, flinching, and other unpleasant reactions.  The better the strength and "intelligence" of the device, the less energy I have to spend reacting, setting aside those sounds, and refocusing on the task at hand.  It's like having a secondary filter, complementing my brain's subpar filter, leaving me more energy to deal with the rest of life.

I cannot stress enough how incredible that is.  Life is anywhere from draining to exhausting on any given day.  Having something to keep some of that lost energy, or a portable place to isolate myself from the chaos of the day, is wonderful.

I usually go through the day without using any ANC; this is my life, after all.  But knowing it's there, ready to quiet the multitudinous clamor of life if it gets overwhelming, is comforting.  I've taken to carrying them even when I don't think I'll need them.  They're nearly always at hand, and I suspect they will join the list of things I don't like to leave home without: my tablet, keys, and wallet.  (Once upon a time, "a good book" would also have been on that list, but I digitized most of my library and put it on my tablet.  I'm presently carrying around a paperback, though.)

Some Concerns
I'm a little afraid of wearing these earbuds too often and getting used to the world not being so complex, only to be caught somewhere without them and be unable to focus.  It's the same rationale I use with painkillers.  For an average day, I should be able to get through life without having to resort to external help.  If my headache isn't too bad and might be from dehydration or because I haven't exercised my neck muscles, I prefer to drink some water and exercise my neck, not pop some pills and ignore the potential causes.

There's also the potential of making my sensitivity worse, in general.  Apparently in some cases paying more attention to these sensitivities (or trying to treat them) can exacerbate them.  I definitely, definitely do not need worse brain-sound filters.  So I'm going to have to be careful with how often I reach for these earbuds.

Does anyone else think life is like a giant balancing act? 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

LENS and Life, week of 11/10

Nothing catastrophic has occurred yet as a result of missing LENS.  At least, I'm pretty sure having LENS today would not improve the quality of this webinar I'm watching.  As someone who works with microphones multiple times a month, it physically makes me squirm and twitch when people aren't properly using their microphones or aren't properly miked.

I'm going to have a headache by the time this webinar (topic: Work Transitions for Youths with Disabilities) is done.  It's building in the back of my neck.  I can't hear the presenters because they're muffled.  As far as I can tell, they've just set up a webcam in front of the presenter (among a roomful of people!), pointed it at the presenter, and went "meh, good enough."  You really need a recording microphone if your setup is that muffled.  You just do. Anyway, to make the presenters actually intelligible, I turned up the volume a ton.  My decibel tracking app declares I shouldn't be busting an eardrum anytime soon (max level has been 75 dB), but the quality of the sound varies between sharp and muffled.  So maybe that explains it.

Speaking of sound-related problems, my noise-cancelling headphones did not work out.  Despite good ratings, they did almost nothing for me, so they're on their way back to Amazon.  I'll have to figure out something else.  In the meantime, I've crabbily bought myself a bulk pack of earplugs.  My doctor recommended getting those over-ear earplug-things you see guys on riding lawnmowers wearing.  She says they're like $20.  I might try to get a pair of those, and put the foam earplugs under them.  Consumer earplugs, you see, are limited to about 30 dB of sound blockage.  You can find as high as 35 dB, sometimes, but that's about as high as it goes.  Between my oversensitive ears/brain, I don't consider that enough.  I doubt putting two kinds of earplugs together will give me additive sound blocking (30 dB foam earplugs + 32 dB over-ear eargplugs = 62 dB), but I could see getting about 50 dB blocked that way. That might be enough.

Nothing super exciting has happened this week yet, but Chris and I will be celebrating our 3 year anniversary of dating in a few days.  In brief: we dated long distance for a couple years, then last year he moved here to be with me.  The transition has been challenging, but we've been up to the task.  My parents and other family are getting a little antsy for a wedding, which... I get, but I can't exactly summon money out of nowhere.  Chris has student loans, we want to get a house (and he needs a better bed), and none of this precisely happens quickly.

In truth, 3 years seems a lot longer than it actually has been.  Long distance is kind of getting to know each other, kind of not.  While Chris and I were honest with each other, it wasn't like you could just go from knowing someone online to being sure you could spend the rest of your life with them.  Or at least I can't.  I'm not that optimistic and trusting.  Having gotten to know Chris more over the last year or so, I think we could do the lifetime thing.  But unless some of my impatient relatives would like to drum up some help towards our various costs, they're going to have to wait a bit longer.

In the meantime, we're thinking of celebrating a bit with a meal outside the house, and I'm probably going to help him get something he's wanted for awhile.  By the time this posts, he should have already chosen, so I can spoil it here.  The new Star Wars movie is coming, he loves Star Wars, and he's always wanted a lightsaber.  Not the kiddie toy plastic lightsaber, an actual sturdy one.  So I'm going to give him a choice: he can either buy one with some help from me (I'll cover about 2/3rds the cost of one), or I'll pay for him to make one at a local makerspace.  (Makerspace (n): a building and community where people can go to fabricate projects.  Usually supported and run by the community, often contains equipment you would only find in industrial settings.  In this particular space, you pay a flat fee to get help making your project, and bring the materials yourself.)

I'm kinda hoping he opts for making his own, because that's way more awesome than just buying one.  Still, he's keeping himself pretty busy, so perhaps he won't feel he has time.  Either way, it will hopefully make him happy. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Reading Recommendation: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

There's been a lot of back and forth about the effects of computers, or more specifically, the effects of the Internet, on our brains.  This 224 page (in larger, library font) book covers the history of our brains' development, starting with the advent of writing.  He declares that when the printing press made writing of all kinds accessible, our brains rewired themselves to think deeply and thoroughly, rather than what we'd done before- shallowly and quickly.  And the Internet, he says, reverting that ability.  Too much information, too fast, and not enough time to process it all.  It degrades our depth of thinking, our ability to be compassionate to others' difficulties, and, in the end, our humanity (he argues).

It also talks about brain plasticity, or the ability of adult brains to repurpose neurons.  An easy example is a study that blindfolded sighted people and started them in learning Braille.  After five days, there were notable differences in the part of the brain responsible for sight (which they were no longer using).  Specifically, that part of the brain was starting to respond to touch sensations.  In short, the brain was rewiring itself to compensate for no longer being able to see. (study here)

I don't entirely agree with the author's conclusions, but he's cited enough studies (and I've studied enough psychology) that I can safely say his concerns have merit.  I think I may personally try to straddle the line between the "thorough connected and near-mindless" modern person he decries, and the deeply thoughtful, bookish person he exalts and mourns.  I won't exile myself from modern life merely because modern life is changing us.  I love books, and a lot of my best thoughts come from thinking deeply, but I refuse to be stuck in the past.  More than that, if I want to have any chance of connecting with people in the present, I need to be able to speak their language and relate to them.  I can't do that if they can't slow down enough to read my thoughts on this blog. 

In conclusion, it was a thought-provoking read.  If you do grab this book and read it, I have a challenge for you: see how many times you get distracted and want to pick up your phone, or check your email, or just get bored because your brain wants something new to look at.  Personally, I struggled through the first 75 pages, but after that it got easier. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

LENS and Life, week of 11/3

One site today, and the knowledge that next week will be another skipped week for LENS.  So far, nothing catastrophic has happened for skipping a week.  Makes me wonder what my next map will look like.  Perhaps I'll be able to drop back to once every two weeks?  I like regularly seeing my doctor, but the visits aren't exactly a cheeseburger and fries in price.

This week I found shiny things on the Internet.  I was trying to find something to let these blog posts be automatically posted to Facebook, and someone wrote a short article about how to do that.  It included a link to, which is basically an "if this happens on [social service], do this on [other social service]."  So I got it to hook up Blogger and Facebook, and I should be set from now on.  Yay!

The ease of use inspired me to create a Twitter account (realautistic) and an Instagram (realisticautistic), so I'm almost but not quite caught up to the current generation in social media.  I think I'm missing Snapchat, and maybe haven't heard of the most recently whatsit.  I'm not sure I'm young enough to use Snapchat.  Either way, my friends are mainly on Twitter and Facebook, so unless I get a following (of any kind, really), I'll leave it alone.

In the meantime, I'm probably going to post spare links with a bit of commentary to Facebook. Links that I think are useful but I can't make an entire blog entry out of.  I have approximately five such links open as tabs on my browser at this very moment.  I'll space them out, lest I overload my readers. 

The other thing I discovered on IFTTT was that it has a button option.  You can literally program a virtual button to do things, like email you your coordinates, or a map of your location, or play a sound, or call you.  So I now have three buttons: one that plays a sound, one that calls me (because why not), and one that "clocks me in to work."  Turns out you can link these things to Google spreadsheets, and when I press the button, it records the date and time I pressed it.  It's always felt more official and job-y when I've clocked in and out of work.  And I have a really hard to time considering free time "work time" when self-employed, so having the ability to clock in and out is basically amazing.  It's really just playing with my mental switches, but it's a really effective method of doing so.

Other other thing: I have business cards coming!  I've been wanting to have some for The Realistic Autistic for awhile, and there've been several occasions where I really could've used them.  So for ~$15, I shall have 500 of them and that should be enough to hold me while I try, once again, to figure out a logo.  I worked with a graphic designer and a couple artists at one point, I know better than to just say, "make me a logo that's unique" without having any idea what that logo should look like.  It's roughly on par with saying, "read my mind and create what I don't know I want."  Not very nice to the poor art-person.

Last thing is that I've started counting calories again using an app on my tablet.  I've always been mildly overweight, but it's gotten worse since the stress of my job.  I would like to lose about 30.  In theory, that's as easy as teaching myself not to eat while stressed, counting calories regularly using the app's lookup and barcode scan features, and keeping going with the 3/week running schedule I have going with Chris (my boyfriend).

In practicality, my doctor assures me that it's more complicated than that, especially if you have gland problems or unusual biology.  I remember being in pretty good shape exactly once in my life, and that was when I exercised 6 days a week, alternating cardio and weight training, and ate my usual salad/ vegetarian etc. at the college dining hall.  I'm going to really, really hope I don't have unusual biology of any kind, because I need complicating factors in my life like I need a black widow spider in my apartment.

The results won't be very clear for several weeks yet.  I'm aiming for 1-2 pounds lost per week, which is healthy, rather than 15 pounds in a week which is really, really not.  I have yet to decide if I'm allowed to have "free days" like my friend does.  Those are days where you don't count calories, you just try not to be completely terrible to your body.  Or "cheat" days, where you're allowed to have that slice of cake, thank you, as long as it's only one and only once a week.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

Birthday Shenanigans

I am officially 27.  I will promptly be forgetting that fact, because I feel like birthdays after 22 or so stop mattering so much.  I suppose 30 will matter some, and 40, and 50.  The nice round numbers.  But I usually have to stop and think how old I am chronologically, because it's not a fact I assign much importance to.

So, technically my birthday isn't over until the last present arrives.  As I age, I find that my birthday is like a bell curve in statistics.

It's not really your birthday about a week before your birthday's date, but if you have a party that day, it's kinda your birthday.  That's one end of the bell curve.  As you get closer to the actual day, it becomes more your birthday as cards and presents arrive.  On the actual date, it's mostly your birthday (middle of the hump in the chart), because it's the correct date and maybe you saved your presents so you could open them, like I did.  And maybe, if you're very fortunate, you have a nice significant other who'll take you out for special things.  After the day passes, it becomes less and less your birthday until the last present or card arrives and is opened.  After that, your birthday is past.

There's still two presents in the mail, but I'll give a rundown of most of my birthday.

First there was the party on Sunday the 25th.  This was a joint party, and I've mentioned it in the last post.  It had cake, there was Mario Party, Chris and I made bison burgers, and good times were had.  Chris and I had to leave a little early because I got worn out by the noise and gaming, but it was a good party.  My friends snagged me copies of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Super Smash Bros.

Between that day and the 31st, a box, an envelope, and a card arrived in the mail.  Chris acquired a very fancily decorated cake, which we tucked into a little before the actual day because it'd be a shame to let the poor cake go stale.  I was also given money towards the fondue excursion by two lovely ladies I call friends.  It came in very handy, because the fondue place was very expensive, all told.

On the 31st, I opened the card, envelope, and box.  The card was a fancy popup birthday card with firework-cutouts.  Very enjoyable to see.  The box, as Chris guessed but didn't tell me, was the fancy wireless keyboard I'd been wanting.  It types very quietly, is backlit for ease of use in a dim room, and has a number of excellently useful function keys.  For instance, four of them will control your music.  There's a "open your music program" key, a "play/pause" key, and forward and backward keys for if you're using a playlist or want to skip ahead in an album.  There's also a calculator key, so if you press that it opens the Windows calculator program.  In addition, I can reprogram those keys if I so desire.  It takes some finagling, but I probably won't use the mail key, since I don't use Outlook or any mail software.  Technology is pretty neat though, right?

The envelope was part of Chris' present to me.  It contained two lab-created sapphires (it's extremely inexpensive to make gemstones, versus mining them).  I love blue, and favor deep blue sapphires most, so he found me a couple budget ones.  I might see if I can find a little treasure chest for them, or I might set them into jewelry.  Not sure yet.

After opening presents we went to get lunch.  I had received a gift card to Noodles and Co. from my very thoughtful boss, so we got our meals there and Chris picked up a copy of Monster Hunter at the Gamestop next door.  He wants to play the game with me, and the game does have that capability.

Chris basically went all out for this birthday, so after we'd gotten lunch, we went to his mysterious outing.  It turned out to be ziplining.  You put on a harness and are attached to a long line strung between two platforms.  You hop off the first platform and zoooooooooom down the line towards the second one.  These lines had brakes built into them for extra safety.  Looks like this:

The area was located at a ski lodge type place, and was new this year.  Chris and I went with a family group.  Three kids and three adults.  It was, unfortunately, raining the entire time, but we'd been warned to dress in layers and wear boots and gloves.  Just as well that we did.  Also excellent, my winter coat is highly water resistant.  It's well over 7 years old and still going strong.  So my torso stayed plenty warm and dry.  My legs didn't fare so well, but only because I don't have snow pants or anything waterproof for them.  I opted for pajama pants under jeans.  Still pretty warm, but sadly not dry after 2 hours.

It was a good time, and we amused ourselves by kicking the wet leaves off the platforms while we waited our turn to zipline.

After we got through the 10 ziplines, we thanked our guides (one of whom was dressed like a rainbow clown for Halloween), and headed home to dry off.  Shortly after that, it was time to go for fondue.  Our reservation was for 6:30, but the experience actually took 2.5 hours.  They make the fondues at the table, and bring you dippables.  We opted for the 4 course meals, since we're not likely to do this again anytime soon.  There was cheddar cheese fondue (with bread, apple bits, and vegetables), followed by salads, followed by the entree (lobster, chicken, steak, and shrimp for him, various vegetables, tofu, and edamame for me), followed by creme brulee white chocolate fondue (with fruit, brownie bits, poundcake bits, and fancy marshmallows).  The portions were not huge, but there was a lot of variety and it added up.  I left the restaurant feeling very uncomfortably full.

Our waitress, like many of the waitstaff, was dressed up for Halloween (Nintendo characters theme, she was Link).  She was a pleasant person, and apparently took a liking to us because she did sing happy birthday to me despite not really doing that for people.  We tipped well, despite the expensive cost of the food.  Pleasant people should succeed in life and not have to worry about paying their bills.

After we got home, it was basically "wind down before bedtime" time, so we broke out our copies of Monster Hunter and I got to walk Chris through some of the oddities of the game.  It's not precisely intuitive, unfortunately.  I found a good guide written for beginners online, though, so I was able to get started and be a reasonably good resource for Chris getting started.

The next day was Sunday, and I had to do sound for church.  After that, though, I got to see Grandma.  We went to Pietro's, which is a semi-fancy Italian place.  Good food, with some to take home.  But Grandma surprised me after that, and instead of handing me a bag of things, she had us come to her apartment, where she promptly presented me with two packages.  Among other things, fancy patterned paper towels, glove-mittens, and fancy chocolate.  We sat for awhile and chatted, but had to leave before too long because I had friends coming over and we needed to clean up a bit.

We mostly finished tidying up before they arrived, since they got lost trying to find my apartment.  Another reason to get out of this place and find a nice condo or house.  I'd really anticipated just having them over for an hour or two, but we started watching Gremlins, and then they wanted to get food and didn't want to go candy-shopping at Meijer (post-Halloween candy sales!  Sniff.).  So we didn't end up parting ways until 5 hours later.  I was very worn out, suffice it to say.

Which almost brings us to today, except that I checked my email and found that my brother and sister-in-law had sent me a gift card and I'd somehow missed the notification.  So there was plotting, and planning, and I finally decided to spend it on a pair of noise canceling headphones and a new wireless mouse.  I'd been wanting the former for years since my last pair broke, and I seem to go through computer mice far faster than everybody else, so it's needed.  Those will arrive tomorrow, so they're still counting as "not yet received."

Yesterday I buckled down to write thank you notes to the people I couldn't thank in person, and found to my great pleasure that I only needed to write two.  I always find writing thank you notes awkward.  I was taught that you can't just say, "oh hey, thanks for the thing."   You have to include small talk.  You have to make darned sure that you demonstrate caring about the person who sent you the thing.  If it's a gift card, you have to tell them what you spent it on, and why you appreciate what you bought. This is fine for people I can keep up with online, but difficult for family members I see maybe once a year.  Thankfully, those are done.  I was also taught that I was supposed to physically write thank you notes, but I eschewed that in favor of email.  I can't imagine anyone would really want to try to read my handwriting, anyway.

The other thing in transit is a present from my first friend, Simon.  Very mysterious, since he's never let me send him presents.  He says it's because I was having such a miserable week the last few weeks up to my birthday, and that's just not allowed.  I have absolutely no idea what it could be, but he says the shipping is super-slow, so it might keep being my birthday (ever-so-slightly) for another few days.

All in all, it's been a very nice birthday.  Probably one of the very best ever. 

Edit: Simon's mysterious present came!  A mouthwatering selection of Godiva truffles, which I am going to have to try very hard not to devour.  I just started counting calories again with an exercise/nutrition app, and these are likely to be both delicious and calorie intensive.  Lots of awesome flavors, like creme brulee, cheesecake, chocolate lava cake, and red velvet.  Yeeeee!  (<- happy sound)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

LENS and Life, week of 10/27

One site today.  I yawned extra much in the car trip home, but that might be just the fact that I'm done for the week (LENS happened Thursday instead of Tuesday) and my body will be continuing to punish me for lack of sleep for... eh... another few days or so.

This week ends my time at Hope Network. I'll go into that in another entry, but this last week hasn't been too bad.  I have the weekend to look forward to, with Chris dragging me off to some mysterious outing, and then the long-awaited fondue excursion.

Craig's birthday has come and gone.  There was a party on Sunday for him, but it turned out that it was also for me.  Which I was initially annoyed by, but given how little both Craig and I like being the center of attention, it kinda worked.  Perhaps I'll push for a repeat next year.  What I really wasn't expecting, though, was presents.  I keep an online wishlist for friends and family to reference, and make a point of keeping it up to date.  However, most people don't use it, so I was quite surprised to see that both presents I got were on that list: two video games I'd wanted to try.  Yayyy.

We (my boyfriend and I) got Craig a poker set (because this group of friends is amused by playing for fun, without money) and a really excellent thermos.  The kind that you pour hot coffee or tea into, shut, and then can open 6 hours later and the drink is still hot.  I have one, and it's basically excellent.  Since Craig loves coffee and has an annoyingly long commute to work, it seemed to fit.  He seemed happy, so I think we "successed" (succeeded).

So now I just need to get through my birthday.  There's already a present here, probably from my parents.  Something ordered online, so I can't be 100% sure it's from them.  Chris is surprised I haven't opened it already, but it seems more like a birthday if there's a small pile of presents to open.  Grandma has arranged to take me out to lunch the day after my birthday, so there's that to look forward to.  She's probably going to hand me a gift bag with a few small things in it, since that's a thing she does for occasions.  She's thoughtful like that.

Beyond those things this weekend, I'm just going to be trying to relax.  Change is hard for humans, but particularly autistic humans.  Even good change.  I'm not having crying fits or anything, but it's going to be weird trying to get used to not having a desk job with routines I need to follow.

I'll probably try to compensate some by getting a gym membership at the exceedingly low-cost gym nearby, and going to visit Calvin or various coffee shops regularly, but it's not nearly as structured, even so.  Complicating factor: I hate structuring my free time.  Absolutely hate.  So I may have to designate some time as "not free time" even though it started as free time.