Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Honeymoon: Adventures in Variety

The honeymoon is almost over, but I've attempted to get a bit more organized in my observations and musings about being in the Dominican Republic.  I found my last couple posts on the subject kind of haphazard and scattered, and wanted to do better this time.  So I've grouped some of my thoughts by subject, which is at least some kind of organization.  I'm presently fighting motion sickness, and have been for about two hours, so we'll see how well I do.


I've described some of the differences in cars and highways already, such as timers on the traffic lights, the trash everywhere along the highway, and animated walk/don't walk signs.  There's a lot more that differs, though.  For instance, there aren't all that many driving signs (like speed limit signs, curve warnings, or intersection notices).  In fact, I don't think I've seen a single stop sign.  The traffic is left to guide itself, and apparently the people are friendly enough to simply let others into traffic at intervals.  

One would think this would involve more frustration and horn use... and the latter is accurate, but not the former.  The drivers who've taken us from place to place frequently use the horn, but rather than an angry HOOOONK that one finds so often in the United States, it's almost exclusively a short "beep."  Basically, a "hey I'm here" or "heads up."  This is particularly true around the mopeds, since those riding them have the tendency to weave in and out of traffic, and are much squishier and perhaps less able to see the impending doom of an oncoming bus.  

Gas is expensive here, and in liters rather than gallons.  I've been squinting at the signs, and trying without success to take pictures of the prices.  I finally looked it up: gas is about $3.50/gallon in the Dominican Republic, which maybe explains why it's been mainly buses with lots of people ferrying us around, rather than smaller, personal vehicles.  

Two less usual-to-the-US forms of transit thrive here.  Mopeds, which are a cross between motorcycles and motorized scooters, are a very common sight.  I haven't seen any sidecars, but there are plenty of people riding two-per-moped.  And in addition to mopeds, there are hitchhikers.  Actual hitchhikers, thumb gesture and all.  Hitchhiking used to be more of a thing in the United States, some 40 years ago and before, but it faded out... I think because of safety concerns, or something.  I wonder if that speaks to the US being a much more fearful place than other parts of the world.  

I don't envy the mopeds, or any other open-air vehicle, though.  All the roads we've driven on, mainly highways and roads near the resorts, have been paved.  But on the airplane flight in, I looked down across the country and saw dirt roads in abundance.  Long, thin, and hopefully well cared for, but they were too far away to tell for sure.  My experiences with dirt roads were bumpy, pothole-y, and unpleasant experiences.  Combine that with the truly excessive amount of rain we've had, and they're likely more like mud roads...  

Even the paved roads near the resorts have been flooded in places, sometimes so badly we couldn't leave the resort.  It's rained for more than half the day, each day for the last week.  It adds up to a lot of rain, and this close to sea level, it sticks around.  Impromptu lakes form, across walkways, roads, and the garden area in the resort.  It's more than a little inconvenient, but between the tropical storm (thankfully hundreds of miles away) and climate change, there isn't much to be done.


A little different here than in the US.  For one, I don't think I've seen a single type of plant I'm familiar with.  That includes the carefully planted palm trees.  The oaks, maples, beeches, and willows I'm familiar with simply don't grow here.  Instead, there's everything from trees that look like they're made of ferns to great broad-leafed giants to shrubs choked with sprawling climbing vines.  The palms, I would guess, are mainly cultivated, since I tend to only see them around resort and public areas.  But the jungle plants are very densely packed, such that I sincerely doubt I'd be able to walk through them at all.  Mostly everything is green, but it's broken up by bits of brown.  No fall colors here, in an area that rarely, if ever, sees temperatures below 70F.  

That's just this particular area of the Dominican Republic, though.  The terrain in the country varies, from this tropical jungle and beach area to tall forested hills (maybe mountains, but I bet my uncle and aunt in Colorado would laugh at that description).  I believe the map I saw also included hotter lowlands, almost desert-like in climate.  

The first animals Chris and I had close encounters with were actually horses.  Two tall, scruffy-looking brown horses were right next to the road, ignoring the traffic to crop at the wild grasses and plants.  The driver of our ride to the resort slowed down to a crawl, so we got a good look at them, but they barely paid us any attention.  I have yet to see any roadkill here, but if I thought deer roadkill was bad, I can't imagine how smashed up a car would be after hitting a full grown horse.  Horses, thankfully, are also much smarter than deer.  So it's probably not an issue often.

In addition to the horses, wild or tame, we also spotted cows.  But not American black-and-white Holsteins.  There were brown and tan, just as big as Holsteins, I think, but long-eared.  Their ears reminded me of goat ears, honestly, but even longer and floppier.  They look, needless to say, pretty ridiculous.  

Other encounters with wildlife include the tiniest little tree frogs, none larger than my pinkie finger, but so loud that a dozen of them could keep any light sleeper awake indefinitely.  They peep all night, incessantly, unless startled by another of the inhabitants of the resort: stray cats.  

There are at least two stray cats here.  They're loud things, shying away from being petted but definitely demanding food and attention.  You can hear them from an entire building away, making meows that are part yowl and part siren.  The frogs don't mind that so much, but any angry yowls or screeching silences them for 15 seconds or so.  

Just like I don't recognize the trees here, I also don't recognize the birds.  There are some similarities, such as some type of ring-necked dove.  Very similar to the pigeons in the cities, but not the same species.  There are some odd-looking geese and ducks.  There's a seagull-like species that peeps rather than screeching like the seagulls I recognize.  And there's a crow-like species that, while much smaller, certainly fills the "dratted scavenger" niche here.  Impressively loud, black birds of a size more appropriate for a robin than the crows I'm familiar with.  They're thinner, though, and sound like someone crossed rusty hinges with the loudest peeping sound I've ever heard.  I've watched a few sneak food off deserted tables at the open air restaurants here, but somehow they don't get as fat and stupid as the pigeons and seagulls in the US.  

Finally, and most clearly to me right now, I got to hold a stingray.  We were out on a "swim with the sharks and stingrays" excursion.  I'll describe the excursion more in a later section, but I was initially assuming I'd just get to pet the ray, as I have at some aquariums.  At those aquariums, the rays swim as they please across a shallow tank, and you can pet their backs, but are severely cautioned against touching their undersides.  

Well, here they just sort of handed me the (destung) stingray, which was bigger than a serving plate, and showed me where to put my hands under it so as not to hurt it.  Stingrays are very soft, almost rubbery, but not slimy.  I have no idea how they trained it to not be bothered by the uncertainly grasping hands of tourists, but it was very quiet and still as I held it in the water.  I did what I always do in uncertain situations, which is to freeze unless something is going horribly wrong.  I was so shocked that I was allowed to hold the ray, I didn't even mind that they were hurrying me along and taking my picture to sell to us later.  I can't imagine I smiled very well, I was kind of busy being shocked about the live stingray in my arms.  

The motion sickness is winning.  I've got more to say, about food, the various outings, and possibly the culture here, but it's going to have to wait for another entry.  Perhaps tomorrow, since it seems a shame to have it wait 'til Friday.  

Friday, November 25, 2016

Book Review: Social Skills for Teenagers and Adults with Asperger Syndome

Social Skills for Teenagers and Adults with Asperger Syndrome: A Practical Guide to Day-To-Day Life by Nancy J. Patrick.  Or, perhaps better titled: "Easier Said Than Done: Social Skills For the NT World."

My snark aside, this is more or less what it says in the title, though I would definitely replace "Social Skills" with "Life Skills."  It's not a social skill to exercise regularly, nor to eat properly, but both are included in this book.  Certainly these things are vastly important, and keeping healthy patterns of exercise and diet can be very helpful in doing your best in social situations.

The book is divided into chapters, each of which addresses a specific subject autistic people may have trouble with, such as good listening, the differences between friends and acquaintances, housing, and dating.  There are sections for marriage and parenting, a very cautious section for dealing with strangers, and even sections in the beginning to identify what precisely social and communication skills are and why they're important. 

The tone is factual, logical, and brief to a fault, sounding, frankly, like it was written by someone with autism, and peppered with short stories to help demonstrate the topic or make a point.  There is a lot of "this is what you should do," and very little "this is how you could do it."  I kind of felt like I was being lectured at while reading the book.  The tone and brevity is probably at least in part due to how much information needed to be covered, and also because autistic people vary pretty widely.  What works for one person won't for another.

I did find the statistics given in the book a little bleak.  Even presuming the statistics in question were factually accurate (not a given, if you know how easily statistics can be skewed), I didn't really appreciate learning that 80% of all marriages that have an Aspie partner fail.  I'm about to be married, with the intention to do my best by Chris in the long haul, and I'm not entering into the marriage because I think it's romantic or something, so I could do with a bit less negativity over here, particularly when the world already considers me subhuman.  And really overall, that's like telling someone they're probably just going to fail, so why bother trying?  And I thought the 50% failure rate on regular marriages was bad.  Ugh.

At least I have the confidence of knowing Chris and I have done our best to assure compatibility on several levels, rather than just shared interests, or emotional compatibility, or similar political views.  Any technologically savvy readers may appreciate this description of a deep relationship.  (By the way, that's an excellent comic, though it may require some patience and open-mindedness to get through.)

I found the book to be almost entirely review until the last chapter, which deals with various tools autistic people can use to help themselves and others.  The physical ones are sorted by tech level: everything from sticky notes to computer programs.  To my great amusement, this book is 8 years old, so its suggestions are maybe a wee bit out of date.  A lot of the suggestions given in this last chapter, I could manage with a smartphone.  Err... most of them, actually.  But it's good to have lower tech ideas, because while most people have smartphones these days, not everyone does.  And not only that, smartphones break.  It's best to have redundancies built into your life.

Other tools given in the final chapter include strategies for effective listening, a second option for eye contact if trying for the 85%/15% eye contact/non eye-contact rule is too anxiety-provoking, and strategies to smooth over miscommunications.  Some of these I'd heard of, like To-Do lists.  Others were entirely new to me, like the alternative eye contact option I mentioned.

At the very end of the book, there are a series of self-evaluations, each of which is referenced in the chapter that corresponds to its subject.  I didn't do the assessments, but apparently someone prior to me did, as several of them were filled out.  Of all the parts of the book, I wonder the most about this one.  Self-assessments are only as useful as the honesty and observational skills of the person taking them.  I tend to think well of myself in those areas, but that doesn't necessarily mean every given person on the spectrum will, particularly if they also suffer from depression, anxiety, or other life-complicating disabilities.

Read This Book If:

You're on the autism spectrum, or have a teenager or young adult on the autism spectrum. This book contains a wide variety of skills and subjects, all of which you need to thrive in the neurotypical world.  Even if you already blend very well in society, consider picking up this book and seeing if there are any bits you might be missing, or new avenues of socialization or skill acquisition. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Honeymoon: Settling In

I'm presently on my honeymoon, so the regular Legwork and Life is on hold because I am doing no Legwork towards my career and this is hardly a normal mode of Life.  Instead, I'm chronicling my adventures here in Punta Cana, since the Dominican Republic is hardly the same experience as my life in the United States.

When we flew in, we noted we were flying right into an enormous storm front. So now today, we've woken up to a thunderstorm.  A very emphatic one.  The weather forecast says it'll be storming pretty much for the next week.  I'm hoping maybe it'll clear up a bit, not because of the beach, but because I was kind of hoping to go see some of the native culture.  It might be difficult to do that in the rain.  

Another observation that strikes me.  When we flew in, before the rain set in, I noted that the forest area was really not very palm-tree-y.  Here at the resort, though, they mostly specialize in that.  The native forest (jungle?) doesn't look very easy to walk through, with great creeping vines, thick foliage, etc, but I'd still like to try.  I mean, palm trees are nice, but if I'm going to be here, I really want to see more than the tourist experience...  The rain might make that hard, though.  

I've brought out Google Translate, an app for my tablet, so I can read signage while walking.  It's fancy: you can just point the camera at the sign and it'll translate the Spanish to English for you.  So I tried it out on the Emergency Exit sign, and it did a lovely job.  It uses character recognition to get the letters and spaces, then puts them through a regular Google Translate search.  Then it uses the returned words, in English, and transposes them over the picture on your device.  It's a neat bit of programming.  

I'm likely to be in this resort room a lot, given the intensity of the rain.  So a cool thing about these rooms.  They have hybrid electrical outlets.  They're simultaneously able to power standard US plugs, and power the European standard plugs, which are wider apart and often don't have a ground prong.  I'll get a picture to demonstrate.

Top: US 2 prong. Mid: European 2 prong.  Low: US 3 prong.  Right: The one outlet to rule them all. 
I just did a bit of homework.  Apparently in this country and several around it, the standard electrical outlets are the same as the ones in the US, meaning I needn't have packed my converter in the picture there.  Oops.  At least it made for a cool reference picture.

(A couple days later) The rain looks to be continuing, and there's a tropical depression brewing.  Its projected path is away from here, though, so other than being poured on, there shouldn't be any ill effects for this place.  Hope Panama will be okay, though, it's right in the projected path.  : /

I'm finding the birds (actually frogs) at night to be hard to get used to.  They're noisy little things, tree frogs rather than the ground variety I'm used to, and nearly impossible to locate.  It's kind of astonishing how loud they are, given the size, but I ought to know better.  The little fluffball sparrows near my apartment at home are at least as loud, and only slightly bigger.

The sound of the rain helps.  It's kind of odd.  The soundproofing in the room is excellent on the balcony side, and terrible on the entryway side.  I can always hear the rain from the entryway, and almost never from the balcony.  I would almost thank the tropical depression, except that I can't kill my monitor tan if it's super cloudy and raining all the time.

Chris and I did go for a walk along the beach while it was raining, though.  We just chose minimal clothes we didn't mind getting soaked, and went off.  We were going to swim, too, but the beach guards insisted we not.  The stated reason was because of the rain, but I presume it wasn't just that.  The guide in the hotel room has a system of flags denoting reasons like "jellyfish" and "riptides."  I didn't see a flag out there, but I didn't know to look for one at the time, either.

I came here with the intent to learn some Spanish and visit some of the local culture, but looking around this place and speaking to the hotel staff, I get the feeling that's not really an option.  I get better responses to saying "thank you" than I do to saying "gracias."  I've literally said "gracias" and been flatly ignored.  It's a little disheartening.

I recognize that for a place like this, the local culture is not really the point, that you're expected to just spend lots of money and be pampered.  But the English of many of these folks isn't great either, so I feel a little frustrated.

Speaking of the culture of this place... it's a cross between beach culture, American drinker culture, and party culture.  I have never seen so much free alcohol in my life.  There are literally four big bottles of alcohol sitting in our room.  If I emptied them, room service would bring me more, free of charge.  The minifridge is stocked with beer and things you mix with booze.  (And bottled water, thankfully, because you don't drink the tap water here.)

The result of mixing all those cultures is... odd.  There's little to no traces of local culture involved, beyond the special events (not even sure about those) and the main language of the staff.  It makes me feel rather out of place.

I think, to be fair, I would probably feel out of place in most any culture in this country, including any actual native cultures.  Asperger Syndrome (autism) has been compared to permanent culture shock.  I believe there was an entire website called Wrong Planet Syndrome, which was a gathering point for people on the spectrum.  The idea being that people with autism were kind of like space aliens, in our reactions and understanding of culture and society.

I certainly feel like a space alien here.  I barely drink, except with lots of company or at special occasions.  Chris isn't drinking because he doesn't really like it that much.  And we haven't gone out of our way to meet the other guests here at the hotel, which I'm guessing is what you're supposed to do, given my observations.

Mostly, Chris and I have visited the various facilities, including at least half the restaurants by now, and checked out some of the live entertainment.  The former I'll probably write about in more depth later, but the latter I can summarize briefly: loud, group-oriented, and way too enthusiastic for me.

They vary up the entertainment each day, with major events at 9:30pm every night.  Tonight's was billed as "Dominican Folklore," but turned out to be dancing.  With somewhat scantily clad ladies, because of course.  Tomorrow's is a Michael Jackson tribute/impersonator.  Another is a magic show.

During the day there are also various smaller events, like a cooking lesson, beanbag toss, and card games.  These are accompanied by loud music, which has thus far kept me far away from them.  They're optional, all of it is, so I don't really feel like I'm hurting anyone's feelings by skittering by with my Pokemon GO out.

I have gone out for a few walks, both with Chris and without.  The temperature has varied from 75 (just right) to 82 (uncomfortable), but with the sea breeze/winds from the tropical depression, it's generally been pleasant.  I've done a circuit of the outside of the hotel, as well as gone a good ways down the beach.  While I imagine it'd be even prettier in full sunlight, I've enjoyed the night air and gentler rains as well.

Plans for the next few days involve going to check out two nearby museums.  Apparently they have a Dominican Republic Culture museum, as well as a Chocolate museum.  I'm a little dubious of the authenticity of either place, but I'll take whatever introduction to this country I can get.  Plus, hey, chocolate.  I fully expect there to be tourist traps- I mean, gift shops- at the end of both museums, so I can also try to get souvenirs.

Hopefully in a couple more days the stormy weather will clear up, too.  I already managed to crisp my shoulders a bit, but the rest of me could use more sun.  I'm very pale for the lack of sun in life normally, and it'd amuse me to go through this winter with a nice, deep tan.  

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Honeymoon: Arrival in Punta Cana

I actually have a buffer/pre-written entry for today's Friday post, but since so many interesting things have happened today, and there was such a huge reaction to my Instagram photos, that I decided to chronicle the adventure a bit.

We ditched Grand Rapids bright and early this morning, relying on a friend of ours to drive our sleepy selves to the airport.  We were both kind of crabby; we'd been up late packing and tidying the place.  When Chris' brother went on his honeymoon, Chris sort've let himself into their home and tidied the place up so that when they arrived back home, it wasn't too huge of a mess.  Neither of Chris' brothers is nearby to return the favor, but I wanted to have something similar anyway.

So on three hours of sleep and with a relatively tidy home, we boarded the plane before 7am and proceeded off to Chicago.  I'd sort of written this step of the journey off as "going to be miserable, deal with it" but as it turns out, we had been sent to Midway airport, not O'Hare.  Midway is still full of people, but much less insane.  To my amusement, Midway also had a number of Pokestops for the game Pokemon GO, so once we'd gotten food and settled down for our two hour layover, I went for a walk on the moving sidewalks.

I kind of love moving sidewalks.  You can be delightfully lazy, standing still on them and still make a walking pace, or you can walk on them and make a jogging or even running pace, with a breeze blowing in your face.  As a decidedly lacking speedster in normal life, I enjoy having a 6+ MPH pace using only brisk walking.  I snagged a couple rarer Pokemon and a number of Pokestops before heading back to the terminal.

Boarding both the airplanes (one to Chicago, one to the Dominican Republic) was Southwest Airline standard.  You confirm your ticket the day before, and are given a letter and a number based on when you checked in.  When it comes time to board, you arrange yourselves by letter first (A, B, or C) and then by number (1-60).  You are then boarded, A1 at the very first, going to A60, then B1 to B60, then C1 to C60.  Once on the airplane, you choose where you want to sit.  It's open seating, so if you were quick about confirming your ticket, you'll definitely have your choice about aisle, window, or middle seats.  I snagged a window seat for both flights.  I love seeing the world from high up.  Things look so different.  You can kind of see some of human ingenuity on a grander scale.

When we landed in the Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) airport, I was in for a surprise.  Part of their airport is thatched.  I imagine it's probably thatched really well, and it's definitely thatched on a very grand scale, but yeah.  Actual, like, grass roofs.  The whole place wasn't like that, but a good chunk of it was.  Very different than US airports.

The airport was also kind of a bureaucratic annoyance, at least at the start.  There were lines, long lines, everywhere.  You needed queue (get in line) to pay for a tourist card ($10), which was basically just a little receipt that said you'd paid your $10.  Then you had to hand that to someone and get in another line for customs.  We were directly after an Eastern European couple with a young daughter, who seemed to take great pleasure in trying to run over our feet with her scooter...  All this while it was at least 82F, highly humid, and I was wearing sweat pants for comfortable traveling in the US.

Once customs were cleared, we headed for the baggage claim.  My ears were promptly assaulted by a live mariachi band (for lack of a more culturally appropriate description).  I normally don't mind the style of music, but this was earsplittingly loud.  I was not polite and didn't drop in some money.  We made our way to the baggage claim, where a local of some kind (airport staff?) promptly noted our lost and confused looks.  We retrieved our luggage, which he snagged from us.  He then proceeded to lead us to the taxi service, which would take us to the resort.  I'm... afraid he wasn't very polite about the lines, and as he had our luggage in tow, I didn't feel very good about trying to be polite and use the lines properly.

Once he'd found us our ride (politely holding a sign with our names on it), we tipped him and started on the 45 minute ride to the resort.  The driver spoke only a smidgen of English, and of course we spoke basically no Spanish, so he mostly just pointed out landmarks on the way, while we amused ourselves by noting some basic differences in the landscape and traffic management.

The pedestrian crossing signs are animated.  As the "you may walk" period comes closer to ending, the little walking person icon speeds up their strolling to a brisk trot.  Also, the traffic lights come with timers.  Actual, numerical timers.  I noted a green light timer that started at 16 seconds or longer.  Not all intersections were so equipped, but the ones that were definitely caught my attention.

There was a little fanfare on our arrival, but not much.  A lot of people had arrived at about the same time, so our luggage was lumped in with theirs and we weren't allowed to take it to our rooms ourselves.  We were each given a glass of champagne.  Then while we were getting our room keys, the concierge-type person attempted to upsell us to a fancier package for an additional $900 or so, while explaining the regular things to us.  Since I have yet to meet anyone working here that speaks fluent English, I found the whole thing rather confusing.  But fortunately they also have little paper guides, so we were able to navigate a bit and find our room.

There are a few pictures of the place on my Instagram, but suffice it to say the place is pretty big, comes with a jacuzzi-style bathtub, and was neatly decorated by two folded bathtowel swans, necks gracefully arched around a single rose, and adorned with rose petals.  We took pictures.

Chris and I both being tired, we promptly flopped on the sofa for an hour or two before our stomachs demanded we find dinner.  There are something like twelve restaurants of various types included in our stay (ie: order whatever you want, it's covered), so we poked around a bit and opted for the pan-Asian food.  We then discovered how the restaurants avoid wasting lots of food.  In the US, big portions are the order of the day.  Appetizers can serve as entrees, entrees are so big you could get three meals out of them, etc.  Here, if you order an appetizer, it's quite literally a single kebab, or a small wonton with a small spring roll and some dipping sauce.  You can order as many as you like, but the portion sizes are small.

Granted, the room has no fridge, so this was actually more of a relief than a letdown.  The entrees themselves are also small, but at least at this restaurant, the waiter will bring you more portions and offer you extra food if you clean your plate.  And I was taught to clean my plate, which is how I ended up eating 2.5 entrees...  Going to try not to make that mistake again...

On the bright side, the food was pretty good.  I'm not adhering to my vegetarianism here, either.  The Dominican Republic has its own meat industry, and it's a lot smaller time than the United States'.  I don't feel I need to fight US factory farming by abstaining from meat here in the Dominican Republic.  We strolled a bit after dinner, out to the ocean, and I snagged a couple more Pokemon in Pokemon GO.  The resort has free (and open) wifi, and a number of Pokestops.  Since Pokemon GO is a comfortable thing and a lot of this resort isn't, I don't feel too terrible about playing.  Gotta have fun how you have fun, in addition to trying new ways to have fun, right?

When we got back to the room, I proceeded to have a bath in the tub.  It's been a really long time, so it was enjoyable to flop in a tub more than large enough to stretch out in.  I set the temperature a little too high, though, so I needed a shower to de-oil myself after the bath and traveling.  That done, I have flopped in bed, and while the birds around here seem quite content to be noisy after dark, I hope to sleep well regardless.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Legwork and Life, week of 11/15/16

Just got back to the apartment after a long drive from CT.  Wedding successful!  One more party to throw/attend, then Chris and I will head off to our honeymoon.  I'll have pictures for you all later, but the photographer's pictures won't be in for a week or two yet.

This last couple weeks was an exercise in stamina.  The last week or so, I couldn't sleep more than six hours, sometimes as few as four.  Between constantly folding origami and being away from my quiet apartment, my stress level was pretty high.  I compensated by taking a couple hours every night to settle down... which meant I was up until 2am sometimes.  Combine that with the sun's magical ability to wake me up at sunrise, and the result was very little sleep.

I was pretty faithful in taking my supplements, though, which I have no doubt contributed to my relative level-headedness.  Also notable mention: LENS.  I have exactly zero doubts that if I hadn't been having that therapy for this long, I would have gotten very depressed from the backlash of being so anxious.  I wouldn't describe myself as mellow during this whole process, particularly, but there would have been many more frantic flailings otherwise.

Seems like the wedding decorations turned out pretty well.  I'm really glad, because I spent a lot of anxiety and time folding them.  Really appreciate the people that helped out with the folding.  I was a silly derp and didn't work on arranging the flowers until a couple days before we left, which meant very last minute frantic arrangements.  Chris' mother had very definite ideas of how to do things, which was sometimes helpful.  We ended up with a mixture of my ideas and hers.  I didn't really favor the big sprays of flowers on the candleabras, but once they were wired in, they looked fine.  The aisle-runners and centerpieces were more my style.  Simple, minimal, and elegant.  I did kind of go all out with the bridal and bridesmaid bouquets, though.  Those were puffy, rather than minimalist.

I've finally found a dress I don't hate.  My wedding dress was custom made for me by a friend, and so of course I was able to choose the design, color, etc.  And naturally the dress also has positive emotional attachments, since, y'know, wedding dress.  But it's also a very pragmatic dress, as dresses go.  It's not super-decorated or fanciful.  It doesn't restrict shoulder movement or leg movement.  I could go for a run wearing it, if I hiked up the lower bit slightly.  It covers my legs, making it warmer than most dresses I've had the misfortune to wear.  It's got an accessory that didn't get used at the wedding, also: a sort of mini-shirt.  So the next time I wear it, it won't look exactly the same as my wedding.

The rehearsal dinner and reception went very well, and were surprisingly low-stress.  I don't generally thrive in party environments, but we had a pretty small wedding group (less than 50, including the sound tech, pastor, etc).  So there were really only a few people I wasn't super-familiar with. The rest were family and a few friends that lived close by or were able to travel the 800+ miles to the wedding site.  I think it probably helped that part of the point of those parties is to introduce the two families to each other, and there are several members of both families that were quite interested in facilitating that.

I'm really grateful to my friends and family, though.  They were pretty okay with the small wedding, and made serious efforts to make my and Chris' lives easier in amidst the chaos.  Everything from lending me an outfit for the rehearsal dinner (I was not interested in wearing a dress twice in a week!) to frantically running back home for a video camera when it became clear that our first plan to record the wedding wasn't going to work.  If I started naming names on this blog for every person that helped, I might be here awhile... but please know from spare pairs of hands, to creative minds, to open lodgings for guests, to financial support, I appreciate all of you.  : )

Friday, November 11, 2016

Origami Flowers

My wedding is in just a few days.  Preparations are still underway, but I wanted to comment on one of the many eccentricities of this particular wedding.  I will have no live flowers as decorations for any part of the wedding.  This is partly for humanitarian reasons, but perhaps most clearly to me right now, it's because of who I am.

I am autistic.  I do not, and never will, fit well into society.  This isn't my fault.  I was born this way, and I've done my best to make things easier for everyone around me.  But it is a thing, and one I'm keenly aware of most days.  I feel, sometimes, that because of that, I am less of a person.  An alien, or subhuman.

The HBO movie Temple Grandin, based on the esteemed Dr. Grandin's childhood, posits that people like me are "different, not less."  That revelation, and my diagnosis itself, were painful realizations in my life, and ones I have struggled long and hard to make beliefs, rather than simply ideas.  Just because I am different does not mean I should automatically be less than human.  But it's really hard to believe that when you have to struggle so hard just to seem acceptable to those around you.

So it's in the name of this blog, Realistic Autistic.  I feel not quite real, not quite human.  Lifelike, realistic, but not quite true to life, not quite real.  It's also in these flowers.

I could have, I suppose, opted for fake flowers: plastic or silk recreations of the intricate blooms and plants that we so treasure.  But this wedding seems, at least to me, a way to show people who I am and what I've become.  Plastic and silk are too close to real flowers.  They can be mistaken for real flowers, if the observer isn't astute or isn't paying attention.

Origami flowers cannot be so mistaken.  Particularly these, made of foil and paper, the stems of twisted wire and floral tape.  They have their own style, grace, and delicacy.  And they are shaped, at least somewhat, like the true flowers.  Each of these origami flowers are painstakingly folded, taking time, precision, and effort.  Each flower did not simply grow, given the right conditions.  It had to be shaped, attention paid at every step, for the final result to be like a flower.

For at least one day, I'd like people to appreciate these origami flowers for what they are: very different than what they're patterned after, but possessing their own beauty.

Am I not, after all, still a worthwhile person?  Will I not be beautiful, too?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Legwork and Life, week of 11/8/16

Sorry for the lateness of this entry; I spent basically all of yesterday crafting flowers and preparing wedding stuff, because it has to be delivered to the reception hall today.  : /

My delay does give me a unique option to address the results of election day this year, though...

I've made no particular secret of my political tendencies: I favored Bernie Sanders as a rigorously moral, very unpolitician-esque candidate.  And now his complete opposite has been voted President-elect.

I have a number of LGBT friends.  Developmentally disabled friends.  Women friends.  Islamic neighbors.  Mexican and other immigrant or immigrant-descended acquaintances.  We, all of us together, will suffer under Trump.  The man invites depressingly accurate comparisons to Hitler.

I can't imagine what people must be thinking right now.  Trump doesn't keep his promises, he pretends they didn't happen, and until recently, he's had enough money and influence to sue anyone who protests into oblivion.  The man can't run a business without vast amounts of abuse, fraud, and corruption, as we can all read from his business history, but they think he'll be able to run the country?

We're all in for a very hard lesson in "talk is cheap, and celebrities are just people," I think.  With a Republican-majority Congress to back his verbal diarrhea and predictable ego, he may actually get a lot of law pushed through.  Thus setting back social progress at least 50 years.  My only hope rests on the Republican party fracturing itself further by rejecting Trump, but desperate as they are for a win, I kind of doubt that will happen.

When I get home from my honeymoon, I'm going to knock on my neighbors' door and tell them that if they have any problems with Islamophobia, to let me know and I'll see if I can't organize my church to help them.  Michigan, to my complete and utter disgust, is likely to finish counting the votes and side with Trump.

At this point, my neighbors need all the support they can get.  And so do I.  Trump likes me no better than he likes them.  Or anyone else that isn't useful to inflating his ego, making him money, or submitting to his abuse.

I have never really enjoyed future planning.  Now I have to look at it and try to keep from screaming and crying.  I will have to avoid public televisions, because I can't stand to hear Trump talk.  I will have to look at other Americans, and know that about half of them voted for injustice, for the stripping of personhood from minorities, for a spray-tanned, orange bigoted talk show host with an ego that could crush New York City.  For a spoiled manchild with a heart of stone.

Truly, the time for advocacy is now.  And truly, all I really want to do is tell half of America to jump off a bridge.  They've basically just told me that I, my neighbors, my friends, we're all not people. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Book Review: Knowing Yourself, Knowing Others

Knowing Yourself, Knowing Others: A Workbook for Children with Asperger's Disorder, Nonverbal Learning Disorder, & Other Social-Skill Problems, by Barbara Cooper and Nancy Widdows

First of all, this is a workbook.  It has lots of places where you're supposed to fill in your own answers or draw pictures.  I never got libraries having workbooks, because the rule is pretty strict with those: you do not draw in or mark up library books.  The simultaneous urgings to do and don't draw in the workbook annoyed me, and left me feeling uncomfortable as I read through this book.  I suppose a solution would be to photocopy every page in the book, then give the child the copies to work on.  Or perhaps one could say that this is a copy for adults to review, before buying a copy for a kid on the spectrum.  In any case, not the traditional use of a workbook. Also not really the book's fault.

The focus of the book appears to be getting young kids to think about emotions and social rules, as well as giving them basic guidelines (people like to talk about things they're interested in, taking turns in conversation, etc).  I liked some of the tools they presented, including mental constructs for calming oneself down, understanding the types of friendships you have, etc. 

The book includes various activities, including handicraft projects.  The first one caught my attention: a keychain with various colors on it to represent emotions, such that you can use it to say how you're feeling, including multiple colors for complicated emotions.  When I was little, I tried to use jewelry to do kind of the same thing, but the system was forgettable and not very portable, let alone useful to any adults I happened to be near.  It was really just meant to help me feel more in control of myself, and to sort out my emotions.  But it wasn't very successful. 

I was interested in the section that deals with competition, winners, and losers.  I feel like that's an area I never completely progressed in, and in truth, I don't really enjoy competitive things.  So Chris, my fiancee, and I mainly play cooperative games together, where it's us versus the game.  I'm unsure if that counts as giving up on having fun with competitive games, or simply not bothering because I know it won't be fun.  My father very much enjoys competitive games, and we learned to play Monopoly (and lost regularly to him), but my brother and I both seem to prefer cooperative games. 

In any case, having good ways to win and lose spelled out to you is probably a good thing.  Almost all of what was in this book, I've learned by myself, but I somehow think it wouldn't have hurt to have had it spelled out in front of me.  The same goes for the friendship levels (best friend, friend, acquaintance).  I got along without these things, but they make it easier, I think. 

Read/Use This Book If: 

You or your child is early middle school or younger, and is having difficulty understanding social rules, having conversations, expressing or identifying emotions, etc.  The word level and concepts addressed do not strike me as high school age appropriate, but since people on the spectrum progress slowly at times, some exceptions might still find the book useful.  I doubt I personally would have appreciated being handed this book in high school, but then, I did manage to avoid detection as an autistic person until college.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Legwork and Life, week of 11/1/16

Rather predictably, given all the stress I'm under, I have fallen ill.  Seems to be just a simple cold, or maybe even shorter than that- a bug of some kind.  I've been forgetting to take my supplements, too, and had a couple emotionally kicks to the gut, so it doesn't even slightly surprise me that my immune system dropped the ball.

The weekend was pretty nice, though.  I got sick on Sunday, but on Saturday Chris took me to the zoo.  We only walked around for a couple hours, because we had a late start and he had other things planned, but I did enjoy seeing all the critters.  Particularly the ones I'm happy not to meet anywhere else.  They have an adult male lion and at least one tiger there, in addition to the bears, chimpanzees, monkeys, birds of all kinds, and various insects and reptiles.

I was vaguely troubled over the chimpanzee exhibit.  Chimps, you know, are 99% identical, genetically, to humans.  You can guess, by that figure, that the remaining 1% accounts for a lot.  Chimpanzees, for instance, don't make enormous buildings filled with recorded history and cover them with artwork.  Nor do they plant and tend gardens of entirely useless but beautiful flowers.  Apparently, 1% of genetics plus a lot of time, accounts for culture, history, and advancements.  It still bothers me some, though, that we keep creatures so similar to us in enclosed spaces.

Though if we're being fair, this is a pretty big enclosed space.  They all are.   The zoo doesn't stint on space for its bigger animals.  The tiger exhibit had three different areas, with reinforced metal tunnelways between them.  Some days, if it pleased, the tiger could walk between those areas.  One of them was mainly water, since tigers swim.  Another was grass and trees.  I don't think we saw the last area, but hopefully it was also quite large.

Each exhibit was a game of "Spot the Animal."  Because the critters weren't crowded in, it was sometimes challenging to find the inhabitants.  Chris was better at that game than I was.  But we did get a lot of exercise going up and down stairs, which was good because we'd brought lunch, but Chris also snagged some funnelcake fries.  Complete with cream cheese icing.  They were delicious.  Unfortunately, a yellow jacket and a wasp thought so too, so I ate mine quickly.

After the zoo, Chris had a surprise for me.  He drove us off into downtown GR, where we stopped a a little shop called the Cheese Lady.  Turns out it's a hidden gem; the place specializes in cheeses of all kinds and has over 100 varieties at any given time.  Cow milk cheese, goat cheese, even sheep cheese.  I still wince a bit at the strongness of goat cheese, but we picked up three kinds of cheeses, one of which was an Iowa-made cheddar with some crunch in it.  The cheese contains "protein crystals" which don't taste like much, but do add texture.  And of course the rest of it is wonderfully delicious cheddar.  It's strong cheddar, but also creamy to my taste buds.

The final stop was a jerky store we'd run into a few weeks back.  I love jerky.  In most cases, I can't have jerky.  It's almost invariably beef, and if it's not beef, it's turkey.  Both industries are large and riddled with animal abuse in the name of efficient production.  This place, however, has bison.  It also has pheasant, wild boar, alligator, kangaroo, venison, ostrich, and others. So we got a bundle of various meats, that I might satisfy my craving for jerky.  It'll make good road food, too.

Sunday I got sick, as I mentioned, but we also went to church as usual.  Then we came home and chopped up a bunch of AWA beef we'd found at the farmer's market, along with tons of farmer's market fresh vegetables, for beef stew.  I love beef stew, and Chris knows it.  So while it's a pain for him to put everything together (even if I help), he makes it sometimes when we can find the ingredients.  This time he made a triple batch, so there is a lot of beef stew waiting for us in the freezer now.  We had it with sourdough bread and some of the fancy cheddar cheese I mentioned above.

So that was very nice.  It was a most pleasant break from folding tons of origami flowers, fiddling with messy wedding details, and stressing about all the things yet to do.  At this point I've had my last chiropractic appointment for over a month, which I can only hope won't shoot me in the foot too badly.  Same with LENS.  I won't be back for appointments until December 1st, so that is unfortunately plenty of time for my brain to try to regress in LENS.  I have more than enough supplements to keep them going the whole way through, though, so at least that won't fall by the wayside unless I let it.

This weekend we drive for Connecticut!  Wish me luck!