J Is Away…

Song: N/A

Mood: 6

Nightmares: 0

I didn’t get much sleep last night – not because of nightmares or the other usual reasons, but because the alarm went off at 3:45 this morning. We had originally thought to set it for 4:15 but it’s good we changed it because the cab we booked arrived at 4:07. One last hug and J was out the door and on her way to the airport.

Like the last business trip she took a couple of months ago, everything worked out great. She had no troubles at the airport, was at the gates with plenty of time to spare, and the same co-worker who picked her up at the airport last time met her today. I wasn’t as nervous about her this time as I was last time, but it was still very good to get a text saying she had made it to the hotel and everything was fine. A while later we did a video chat, which was great – it was wonderful to see her face and hear her voice.

So what did I do today? Well, for a while I tried to take a nap but I didn’t have any luck. I kept hitting that weird boundary where I’d be drifting… drifting… drifting… and then boop – I’m wide awake again. I tried grounding, listening to beach and thunderstorm sounds, and progressive relaxation, but just couldn’t get past that weird threshold. About the fourth or fifth time I got out of bed to chase ghosts, I just gave up and stayed awake, waiting to hear how J was doing.

I hopped onto STO and did some banking and crafting. That took about 15 minutes.

I wandered around on YouTube for a little while and ate leftover pizza. That burned up another… hour? Something like that.

While watching a video of NHL goalies doing stupid things, something occurred to me: my wife is away for a couple of days – more than enough time to make a huge mess and clean it up before she gets home. I have a credit card that’s burning a hole in my wallet. And while I have a couple of appointments this week, most of my time is mine. There was only one thing to do.

I pulled the cover off my sewing machine, sat down, and played with it for HOURS. Ran the bobble empty so I had to go through the instructions again to fill it back up. I’m happy to say that I both filled the bobble and rethreaded the machine properly on my first effort. I spent a lot of time sewing stitches in pieces of rags, kind of like practicing running beads with a welder. Trying to keep the stitches straight and constant and keeping a consistent pressure on the fabric so it wouldn’t bunch up.

Then I played around with stitch length and made myself a piece of reference cloth where the stitches went from 1 on the length dial to 4. Did another reference where I ran 15 different stitches (with the width set at… aw, crap – I changed it back before I wrote it down. Guess I know what I’m going to be doing again tomorrow) just to see how they look. A couple of them I am quite interested in, and I have at least one stretch stitch so it turns out I will be able to make myself that spandex superhero costume. Here are the stitches:

15 Different StitchesI’m particularly fond of the straight stitch (which isn’t in the picture), the thick stitches 2,3, and 4, the zigzag of 15, and the pattern 5 makes. The machine has another 17 stitches I haven’t (intentionally) tried yet. I might go through them tomorrow… maybe try making a button hole.

I also made my first real “thing” – a beanbag:

My First BeanbagYep, two pieces of black denim, held together with black thread, and filled with black beans. Edges cut with a pinking shear with black handles, while I’m wearing a black t-shirt and black pants. Not too bad for a first try. One of the nice things about sewing is that when I hear or smell or see or feel something strange, I can just take my foot off the pedal and stop, then go wandering around the house or look outside to make sure everything is okay. Then it’s just a matter of sitting back down and continuing right where I left off. It’s good.

Which reminds me – J had a fantastic idea for a YouTube channel that I may actually be capable of doing. Yeah, I’ve got to think about that.

Anyway, so my day went pretty well. I miss J terribly already and how her hugs feel and how she leans on me when we watch our shows in the evening. But she’s safe, she’s looking forward to tomorrow, and tomorrow is another day closer to when she gets back. 🙂

Oh, and one last thing – J convinced me last night that I didn’t need to keep all of the pictures that I’ve taken during my rounds of the house over the last few months. I dumped 1473 hot water tank, washer, doors, alarm, locks, keys… pictures for all kinds of things. Felt good to get rid of them, too.

Stay safe.

Up Too Late Already

Song: N/A

Mood: 6.5

Nightmares: 3?

Despite last night going much better than I’d expected, I didn’t sleep very well at all. More nightmares (lifejackets) and I woke up worrying about things a lot. Despite the lack of sleep and being tired all day, I am still awake and it’s almost 1AM. So, I need to keep this post short so I can get to bed.

Today was alright. I only did one lap around the block today but I spent my time out in the driveway in the truck again. I’m really glad we have that battery tender – I can start the truck up and run the radio for an hour and not need to worry that I’m going to run the battery flat. Of course, I have to remember to hook it back up (and, for that matter, unhook it before I back out of the garage).

I spent a lot of time playing around with the sewing machine today. I tried to follow the instructions on the quick-start sheet and in the manual and I started to get pretty frustrated with everything. So, I gave up on the instructions and went to the Internet and watched some videos. Turns out, the things I was trying (and failing) to thread at impossible angles for over half an hour were actually hooks that, had I known (or been able to see) they weren’t loops of metal, I would’ve been done in less than a minute.

The machine is also very persnickety about where you leave your extra thread. Oh, and when I’m facing a dial that is perpendicular to my line of sight, do not use the phrase “turn the knob toward you”. When I read that, I couldn’t stop wondering whether I was supposed to turn the knob so the top side spun toward me or the bottom side spun toward me.

I’m still getting used to the foot pedal. I don’t want to press it too hard and wreck stuff, but I started out with some of this:

Bad SewingAnd this:

Bad SewingAnd it took a while for me to fish this out of the machine:

Clump Of ThreadI took all of the thread out of the machine and re-threaded it and gave it another try. I ended up with this:

Straight StitchesAnd a nice, strong seam that I couldn’t pull apart by hand:

First Seam!So yes, some progress. I also cut up an old pair of jeans and sewed some denim – even with the regular needle and thread, the machine doesn’t even labour a bit when sewing through four layers of material. I think that’s a good sign.

J and I watched some more Parks and Recreation this evening. J is getting a little nervous about heading out on her trip in a couple of days. I’m sure everything is going to be fine – she was nervous about it last time and it turned out way better than any of us expected!

Got a text from FA this evening – she’s going to be near-ish here tomorrow and was wondering if I wanted to do lunch. I thought that sounded great, but I have a Dr C appointment at 2PM. Still, as long as it’s not inconvenient for FA, a short visit would be great!

Okay, that’s already 400 words more than I was going to type. I’m going to bed. Goodnight.

Stay safe.

Getting Samples Ready

Song: “I Am The Fly” by Wire

Mood: 6.5

Nightmares: 0

I spent far too much time awake last night. A ghost would wake me up and I’d be there, worrying while I stared at the wall or ceiling. I’d get back to sleep eventually, but the interruptions are doing a good job of interrupting my sleep. Add to that that it’s very difficult (if even possible) for me to get some sleep after I get up in the morning, and I’m running a ways behind in my sleep right now.

My exercises went okay this morning. Not as good as they did on the weekend – being by myself makes it much harder for me to ignore things and my stuff gets interrupted as I repeatedly get up and go make sure that things are okay. Still, I felt better after my exercises were done, and that’s exactly why I do them.

It was a pleasant outside again today. Pretty warm but not oppressive. They were calling for rain in the afternoon but it didn’t show up. That’s okay, maybe it’ll show up overnight.

My walk went reasonably well. I tried walking towards the creek but I got too uncomfortable and ended up stopping and waiting for a minute to see if I could calm down a bit but it didn’t work and I headed back home. It would’ve been nice to get down to the creek, but what happened today is about what I expected.

I sent out my texts again today. It took me a lot longer than usual to pick the little video I attached to the texts but that’s okay. I’m starting to run out – looks like I’ll have to dig up some more soon!

I’m putting in an effort to not check my text history for everyone I text. It took a lot of time in the past, and now that I’m texting more people than I used to (and texting them 5-6 days a week), the amount of time I spend going through my text history has grown to be pretty ridiculous. It takes me the better part of an hour to send the texts out, and anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours to check the histories. It’s been trending down since I’ve been working on this but it’s still way too much time to be scrutinizing something that will (at worst) require a couple of texts or a phone call to clear up. Still, I’m making progress.

I spent a couple of hours today working on setting up samples for the microtome prototype that FA built. I had three samples soaking – one in methanol, one in isopropanol, and one in car antifreeze. I let them go all night, and I think that was a big mistake. The sample in the methanol looks kind of bleached out but is still about the same size. The one in the isporopanol is the right colour but shrunk and is now a thin little brittle stick. The one in the antifreeze looks about the same and feels about the same. I only have space for two samples right now so I worked on putting the two from the alcohols into a paraffin bath.

The paraffin bath I made by putting a tea candle on a couple of sticks in a saucepan and then added some water to the saucepan, turned the stove element on low, and waited for the water to warm up and, in turn, melt the wax. I wanted to keep the temperature as low as possible so I didn’t end up cooking the samples, so I fiddled with the stove dial to keep the temperature around 50-55C.

After the bath, I took them out and let them cool, then put them into the microtome sleeves and filled up the remaining space with more paraffin. They’re sitting in the freezer right now, and that’s where they’re staying all night. If everything goes well, the alcohols displaced all of the water in the samples, and then the paraffin displaced the alcohols, leaving a paraffin-filled sample held tightly inside a paraffin block. Tomorrow, they go onto the micrometer and slowly get dialed out and I will try to get a very, VERY thin slice of something to look at under the microscope.

I played some more Star Trek Online today. Finally made it to Admiral, and with that, a whole bunch of other things that I don’t understand became available for me to play around with. Sending crew on missions? Putting my old ships like the Bursitis and Halitosis to work solving problems all over the galaxy? Doing research and development to get the Pinkeye better equipment so that it spends more time fighting and less time fleeing while various parts of it are on fire? Lots of new stuff to do.

Well, I should probably be getting to bed. Tonight’s probably going to be a short night again. Fingers crossed, though!

Stay safe.

Lots Of Enjoyable And Interesting Experiments Today

Song: “Skylab” by The Monks

Mood: 6.5

Nightmares: 3+

This is going to be a pretty short post because I’m already late starting this post and I don’t want to be up midnight.

I didn’t sleep well again last night due to nightmares and waking up worrying about things. I’m still unable to get back to sleep after J leaves for work, too, and that doesn’t help either. No panic attacks last night, and I was able to deal with everything without getting out of bed – both good things. I always feel terrible if I move around or make noise and wake J up.

So I’m beat again today.

My exercises didn’t work out at all today. I didn’t drift off or anything, but my mind kept switching what it was worrying about, so even during the worry part of my exercises, I was so all over the place I didn’t get anything constructive done. It was like someone kept spinning the wheel from Wheel of Fortune, but instead of dollar value and bankrupt sections printed on the board, things that I worry or feel guilty about are printed on the wheel. RATATATATATATA-TA-TA…TA. Time to worry about whether the screen in the kitchen window is secured and nothing’s coming in. RATATATATATATA-TA-TA…TA. How is the old clock in the living room doing? RATATATATATATA-TA-TA…TA. Should you apologize to your mom for breaking her heirloom plant sprayer? RATATATATATATA-TA-TA…TA. Have I given J enough hugs lately? RATATATATATATA-TA-TA…TA. Is the gate closed?

You get the idea.

FA came over this afternoon and brought a whole box full of goodies. Just before she arrived, I took a PRN just to ease the flop sweat and jitters a bit.

We had been talking about making a microtome. FA took the lead on it and ordered some micrometers from the hardware store. They came in yesterday and, in short order, she had a prototype made out of the micrometer, a spare screw, and some creative use of the plastic barrel from a pen. We ate lunch (delicious, delicious burritos) and then got sorted and started.

We put tape on the bottom of the pen barrel, set it tape-side down, put a sample into the centre of it, and filled the barrel with liquid wax from a candle. Then we put it in the freezer to firm up. After it had sat for a little while, we took it out of the freezer, screwed it to the micrometer, and gave it a try. Here’s how it looked:

Microtome PrototypeNotice the thin cylinder of wax protruding from the plastic? It’s only about a millimetre high but it’s there!

Because I wasn’t able to dry the samples first (don’t have any ethanol), they still had a lot of water left in them, which kept the wax out and made it difficult to get thin slices. I think, though, that I managed to get a slice that only had about two layers of cells, and that is much thinner than I can do it by hand. With some more thinking, I really think this will work (and work well). Nice job, FA!

FA also brought along material to make diffusing and polarizing filters for the microscope. I think I can get a somewhat better depth of focus with the diffusing filter, but putting a polarizing filter below the sample and another one at 90 degrees to it above the sample, something very interesting happens. With only the polarizing filter below the stage, the sample looks like this:

Dandelion Cells - Brightfield… but with the second one above the sample at 90 degrees, the sample looks like this:

Dandelion Cells - PolarizedAll of those little “spears” are calcium oxalate crystals. They get everywhere and stick into everything. But they look so cool lit up like that!

After that, we tried the old cheek cells with methylene blue experiment and it turned out pretty well too:

Cheek Cells w/ Methylene BlueThen we prepared a sample of the petiole from a Pothos plant (looks just like a Philodendron) and tried to get a thin slice of that. We ran into the same problems with the water again, but there aren’t many layers here, and the chloroplasts are very visible:

Microtome Test - Pothos PlantThat was by far the thinnest slice of material I’ve ever been able to get, AND that’s still with a squishy, watery sample being cut by a scalpel. I am pretty sure there is a lot of gains to find with the prototype and method.

And then I grabbed a few strands of algae and we put it between the polarizing filters:

Algae Cells - Polarized Light (100x)The cell walls light right up! At least, I think it’s the cell walls. Looks thick enough to be.

We were so busy that I kind of lost track of the time and before I knew it, FA had to hit the road. I had a very good time hanging out with her. She always has really neat ideas and can engineer a solution to pretty much any problem. Plus, the conversation is always great – lots of good stories and tidbits and laughs!

After FA left, I spent some time cleaning up and then checked my texts and email. I didn’t send out my daily funny picture text to anyone today but I didn’t hear from anyone, either, so they must all be off doing their own thing. That’s cool – just because I send out a text doesn’t mean I expect one back. I don’t always text back as soon as I receive one (and sometimes I don’t text back at all).

J got home a little while later and we hung out and talked about our days, then had a real easy supper (yogurt and granola). Neither of us were really up to thinking about what kind of fancy meal to have. And yogurt is good eats, too!

This evening, I played a couple more rounds of Fortnite. That fellow I was teaming up with was online but our games never ended up meeting up. I played the 50-vs-50 battle royale and did not too bad. Knocked a couple of enemies over and killed three today? Yeah, I think it was three. I’m also jumping out of the battle bus pretty early to get to places with equipment and weapons that nobody else stops at. The downside to that, though, is that there’s not much time to dawdle before the storm closes in and kills. The storm got me three times today, which is a little embarrassing but that’s okay. Live and learn.

Then, J and I went downstairs to watch another episode of Boston Legal. I really treasure the time we spend together, leaning against each other and watching shows or movies. Sometimes we won’t talk much, sometimes we’ll try to guess what’s going to happen or make fun of the show, while other times we talk about stuff completely unrelated to what we’re watching. It’s my favourite part of the day, hands down.

No Dr W appointment tomorrow. FA also brought over some nuts that fit the quadcopter motor so I may see if I can get that flying (and crashing) again. I’d also like to get out to the strip mall and into the grocery store to buy something. But I think there’s more microscope time in my near future.

But first I would really like a good night’s sleep.

Stay safe.

Experimenting On More Dandelions

Song: “Dean Town” by Vulfpeck

Mood: 6

Nightmares: 0

Quick post tonight – I’m well past my “best before” time and need to get to bed, pronto.

I didn’t sleep as well last night as I did the night before but that’s fine – I still felt like I got some sleep. Looks like I’m in a nightmare drought again. That is really, really good.

I had breakfast and went downstairs to do my prep and exercises and they went pretty well today. Not as well as yesterday, but I had no trouble getting through them and feeling the benefits. Those beach and thunderstorm tracks are very helpful when trying to ignore everything that’s going on around me.

My mom called this morning right after I finished my exercises and we had a nice chat. She’s over at my sister’s place helping out while my brother-in-law is out of the country. It sounds like everything is going well and she doesn’t sound nearly as exhausted as I had expected.

It was raining this morning but just after lunch the road was dry so I went out for my walk. I had to wear pants AND a jacket today – it was chilly and damp. I didn’t get into any of the stores but that’s my plan for next week.

Did a lot of texting again today. My exposure this week is to keep myself from looking through all of my text history to make sure I haven’t offended anyone, said something stupid, or sent a text to the wrong person. So far, it seems to be going okay. It’s bothering me quite a bit but I wouldn’t be trying to fix it if it wasn’t bothering me. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.

In particular, I spent a lot of time texting with DA. He rented a huge truck and is helping his mom move 2500km across the country. He’s making good time so far, and the rental truck didn’t break down or start on fire when he was lumbering through the mountain passes, so that’s good. I have no idea when he’ll be done helping his mom or when he’ll be back home. At least he’s out of the mountains so the roads should be a little less curvy and steep.

I spent a lot of the afternoon listening to music and looking at some dandelion leaf cells. They were pretty interesting. There are too many cell layers in the leaf for my microscope to be able to make much sense of, so I took a razor blade and gently scraped it across the leaf to slowly remove a couple of layers of cells. I don’t have anything fancy like a microtome so if I want to see a single layer of cells I need to play around a bit. Some plants have leaves that are very easy to score and then break and peel a layer off, while some can be cut with a scalpel or razor at a very small angle, and others have multiple layers of cells, yet are flimsy and can’t be peeled apart and are too thin to cut on an angle (dandelions would be a good example of this). In most cases, though, I have some luck with scraping layers off of the leaf or stalk with a razor or scalpel and then depositing the scrapings onto a fresh slide.

Check this out – these are scraped dandelion cells at 40x:

Dandelion cellsIt’s very easy to see the cell walls. Here’s the same sample, just at 100x:

Dandelion Cells at 100xNow things are getting interesting… the cell walls almost look like 3D structures towards the top right of the image. The chloroplasts are also distinguishable inside some of the cells.

And now we go to 400x:

Dandelion Cells at 400xCell walls are still visible, and the clusters of chloroplasts are easy to pick up.

And the last thing for tonight is a short video:

I washed the leaves before I brought them into my room but even so, there were TONS of bacteria on them. I know plants and bacteria have mutually beneficial as well as parasitical and adversarial relationships but I just wasn’t prepared for how much stuff was wriggling around, particularly in the water after with a bit of scrapings.

Well, that’s about it for me. J is spending the weekend studying for a midterm on Monday. I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet but I’ve heard that the weather is supposed to be not great for outdoor activities. We’ll see what happens!

Stay safe.

More Microscope Fun

Song: “Mit Lille Sorte Æg” by Gorilla Angreb

Mood: 6.5

Nightmares: 0

I was tired from not sleeping all that well again, but otherwise today went pretty well. It took me quite a while to get moving in the morning – I tried for a while to go back to sleep but even though I was tired, I couldn’t keep my eyes closed.

I did the same preparations again today to prepare myself for doing my exercises. A bit of light, leisurely stretching, and doing breathing exercises seems to be really helping. Listening to nature sounds to help block out the world around me is helping a lot, too. My exercises went pretty well today – I’m glad I tried some things to see if I could get them working again.

It was quite pleasant out this morning so I did my walk before it started to heat up. I got out to the parking lot at the mini-mall and walked the perimeter of the parking lot four times before I turned around and hustled home. I’m still very uncomfortable with not being able to see the house, but I REALLY want to get to the point where I can pick up a couple of groceries every so often. My plan is to actually enter a store (probably the grocery store) and walk around in it for a minute or two before heading home. Wish me luck…

I sent out a whole bunch of texts today and had quite a few good conversations. I try to send out an amusing picture or little video each day during the work week and say hello. I like to think that some of the recipients of might see my texts and smile a bit during their day. Plus, I enjoy sending them. One of the people I text with the most is a good friend who used to be my supervisor at work ten or so years ago. She’s since retired and moved far away but we’ve been keeping in touch. She is the best supervisor I’ve ever had. I told J a couple of times that if the phone rang in the middle of the night and that particular supervisor was yelling to offer me a job over the sounds of gunshots, explosions, and screaming, I would wake J up and ask her if I could go.

My mom called today and we had a good talk. My sister’s new cats have been fascinated with her and haven’t left her alone since she arrived, but everything seems to be going well. My nephews are growing like crazy. Mom also sent me a text with the email address for that cousin I met for the first time on Saturday. I think it would be interesting to keep in touch.

I spent a while looking at the DVD stuff again. The novelty has worn off.

Most of the dandelions out on the lawn have gone from the yellow flowers to the floaty-blowy seeds. I plucked one and decided to see what it looked like under the microscope. I also took some time and set up my microscope camera so I could get better pictures than just holding up my phone to the eyepiece.

So here’s the dandelion with most of its fluff still attached. The brown parts in the middle are the actual seeds – the fuzzy white parts catch the breeze and float to another location:

DandelionHere’s a photo of the part where all of the fuzziness emanates from, and some of the filaments that make up the fuzziness.

Dandelion Fuzzy Part ZoomHere’s a 100x view of the ends of some of the filaments. They almost look like they have serrated edges.

Dandelion filamentsHere’s part of the seed pod (the brown part). It amazes me that these organisms evolved the ridges, hooks, and little spikes over hundreds of thousands to millions of years.

Dandelion Seed PodAnd here’s the same shot, illuminated from the top. The colour and texture of the pod is pretty interesting. It almost looks like some kind of insect.

Dandelion Seed PodAnd the part of the seed pod that’s farthest from the fuzzy end. Again, the texture and colour are easy to make out, and I wasn’t expecting that the seed pod ended in two protuberances like that.

Dandelion Seed PodPlaying around with the microscope is both interesting and enjoyable. There’s no shortage of things outside (or inside, for that matter) to look at, and nature never ceases to amaze me at how incredible (and, occasionally, disgusting) it can be. There’s a creek nearby – once summer is here and the water is moving pretty slowly, I think I’m going to see if J wants to walk there with me to collect some plant and water samples. Seeing the cells stacked together like bricks in a plant is amazing, but there’s something special about watching little protists bumbling around inside a drop of water and going about their business.

J has tomorrow off but she has some paperwork stuff she wants to get done so I’m not sure yet what we’re going to be doing. Black Panther showed up in the mail today so maybe we’ll have time to give that a watch.

Stay safe.

Hello From The Dark Ages

Song: “Combine Harvester” by The Wurzels

Mood: 6

Nightmares: 0

The power went out this afternoon and stayed off for a couple of hours. The power is on here now but a bunch of other areas still don’t have power, including the local offices that hold our ISP’s DSL kit.

So I’m reduced to using my phone to do a (very) short post. Our house has what’s basically a Faraday cage around it too, so getting a good enough signal to do this data stuff is a little dicey.

I only woke up a couple of times last night and had no nightmares so it was a pretty good night.

I tried doing the same prep I used yesterday before I did my exercises and it helped again. Im glad I tried that.

My walk went okay today. I still really dislike it but I got to the mall parking lot again and walked around it a bit before heading home.

There was a lot of construction going on a couple of houses down and they had heavy equipment and made all kinds of sound. I went outside and walked around a bit (outside twice today!) but while I could hear the equipment working, I couldn’t see where it was.

A large envelope came from the insurance company today. I figured it was probably related to the previous letter so I put it on J’s desk and tried to not think about it.

I went outside and plucked a dandelion from the front lawn. They have almost completely finished overrunning the lawn so there were plenty to pick from. I broke out the microscope and tools and went to work:

Dandelion

The are quite interesting. I plucked one of the yellow petals and looked at it at 100x. The curls and spikes are interesting:

Dandelion 100x

I never noticed it before but dandelions have purple stems. I cut a very small and thin piece to see what the cells looked like:

Dandelion stem

Its pretty easy to see the cells and their purpleness.

The last thing I did was look at some “hair” hanging off one of the pieces I cut:

Dandelion hair

I was surprised to see that it was all discreet strands and that they have hooks too. I wonder if all the spikes/hooks are to help the seeds get caught in fur to help spread them. Maybe they anchor the seeds in the grass so they don’t blow away.

Ok… I have lots more to talk about but I have already gone on for WAAY too long.

Tomorrow is my Dr W appointment and I’m not looking forward to it at all. Not at all. I have an appointment with Dr P on Thursday, which I expect will be difficult again.

On Saturday, my parents, uncle, aunt, and cousin are stopping by on their way to the airport. They are good people and family but I’m nervous about seeing them.

Stay safe.

Hobby Focus: Journalling

Hobby: Journalling

Cost: Zero if you’ve got a pen and some paper or an empty book lying around

Time Required: Completely up to you

I never used to keep a journal. It always seemed like a lot of effort to write down things that I’d probably never read again. Some people are really into it, though, and buy special books and paper and keep meticulous records of their days. There are entire books and websites dedicated to the art of journalling and how to keep track of your day. Some of the journal sites out there have pictures of amazingly decorated and very precise lettered books, but don’t feel pressured to do that. Make your journal your own.

J bought me a very nice lined book just after I started therapy, and I decided to try writing about my day. I was surprised by what it did for me.

Firstly, I found it to be a good mental exercise to jot down my experiences and thoughts from the day. I first felt a little bit of pressure to fill a whole page every day, but after a little while I realized that it was perfectly fine to have entries that were just a few lines long. It was also fine to have entries that spanned two or more pages, depending on the day, how I felt, and what was going on.

I also found that thinking about and writing down how my day went is helpful to wind down and get ready for bed. I sometimes put on some music while I’m writing and the whole process is quite relaxing. I don’t care about writing something amazing, I’m just writing for me. I don’t fret about spelling, grammar, or punctuation.

On bad days, it seems like every task is insurmountable and I can’t possibly accomplish anything. Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be able to relax or be happy again. Right now I’m having trouble with my OCD again and I sometimes feel like I’m never going to be able to beat it. Reading my past journal entries from when I’ve had good days proves to me that I have had days where my anxiety, depression, and OCD aren’t trying to push me around, and I can have them again.

It also helps me keep track of anything new I’ve learned. Things like techniques and tools, what works and what doesn’t, that sort of thing. I know that some therapies work for me for some things but not for others. I can always go back and see which one’s helped me the most and when so I can put the things I’ve learned to the best use.

Even something as simple as keeping track of events can be useful. Everything from the dates of all of my hospital admissions, when things have gone really well or really badly, and when and how my medications have changed is good information to know. Sometimes there will be a pattern that emerges that can help predict how I’m going to feel in a particular situation.

Since J got me that first book, I’ve kept journalling. It’s been almost two years now. While I was in the hospital, I filled up two more books. When I started this blog, I decided that I would switch to writing about my days online. It’s still a relaxing and useful activity.

Nobody’s telling me how much I have to write, what I’m supposed to write about, what format or medium I should be writing in, or that I need to write every day. I can write about my day on a legal pad, on a computer, or even buy and decorate a special book. I can show other people my journal or keep it completely private. It’s all up to me.

Journalling has helped me feel better about myself and is a great way to keep track of my recovery (and prove to myself that I am getting better). If you’ve never tried it, I recommend giving it a shot. It doesn’t take much time, you can do it whenever you want, and you can use it to help yourself in many different ways.

Stay safe.

Hobby Focus: Baking

Hobby: Baking

Cost: A few dollars and up

Time Required: Depends on what you’re baking, but otherwise completely up to you

The last time I was at my parents’ house, my mom showed me how to make bread from scratch. No bread machine or anything like that – everything was done by hand. I’ve made bread myself a couple of times since then and have found the process relaxing.

While I was in the hospital, the recreational therapist would sometimes run a cooking/baking group. She’d bring in the ingredients, utensils, bowls, and baking sheets, and those of us in the group would all help measure, mix, and get everything ready, then she’d take it to the kitchen down the hall and put it in the oven. Sometimes – particularly if the group was large – we’d make more than one recipe at the same time. I really enjoyed these groups, and it was nice to have a treat once in a while.

I’m not particularly good at baking, but I enjoy doing it as long as the recipes are simple. I don’t know if I just need practice, but if the recipe is too complicated I can get overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are a lot of simple recipes out there. Here’s one of my favourites that I got from the hospital:

Lemonade Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 container (295mL) of frozen lemonade concentrate (thawed)
  • 2 tbsp white sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Grease a cookie sheet.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together margarine and 1 cup of sugar. Blend in eggs. In a medium bowl, stir together flour and baking soda. Gradually beat into margarine/sugar/egg mixture. Add 1/2 cup of lemonade concentrate. Roll into balls.
  3. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly brown. Brush lightly with remaining lemonade concentrate and sprinkle with 2 tbsp of sugar.

I’ve found that this makes about 16 decently-sized cookies.

Whenever I make this recipe, the cookies always turn out like little mutant lumps, but they taste great. I guess anything with a cup of margarine and a cup of sugar in it is going to end up being tasty. You can also easily change the recipe by using a different flavour of frozen concentrate (I usually use pink lemonade).

A quick search on the internet or trip to your local library can provide the recipe for anything you could possibly want. If you’re making things for yourself and don’t want to end up with a large quantity, there are many small-batch recipes out there that make enough for one or two people.

I find baking to be an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. There’s also that sense of accomplishment when I open the oven and take out a tray of delicious mutant cookies and share them with J.

Stay safe.

Hobby Focus: Biology

Hobby: Biology

Cost: $0 to very expensive

Time required: Completely up to you

I spent so much of my life working with electronics and computers that I didn’t really think much about the natural world around me. About six years ago, I started taking university classes with the hope of getting a degree in microbiology. It didn’t work out, but after looking through a microscope in one of the labs and seeing things swirling and dancing around in a drop of water, I was hooked.

You don’t even need a microscope to examine and enjoy the world around you. My favourite example to support this is the humble leaf. Here’s a leaf from an office building near my house:

Office Building LeafAnd here’s one from the philodendron plant in the living room:

Philodendron LeafLook at the shape, the colours, and the structure. Think of all the processes that need to work perfectly to keep these leaves alive – water has to move around inside, the little chloroplasts inside the cells need to convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugar, wastes have to be expelled from the cells… all kinds of things are going on. One of the leaves happens to have hairs around it. Why does it need hairs? Why doesn’t the other leaf have hairs on it? Why are leaves from different plants different colours and shapes? Why do different trees have different kinds of bark?

And that’s just looking at a leaf with your eye – no microscopes or magnifying glasses needed!

Some people really like bird watching. Set up a little bird feeder or bird bath where you can easily see it and watch the different birds find it and argue about who gets to eat.

Moths and butterflies can be beautiful to look at, and getting a good picture of one is a treat.

Go down to a creek or slow-moving river and use a clear jar to get a bunch of water. Watch the tiny little animals in there go bumbling about their daily lives.

If you have a magnifying glass, then a whole new world opens up. Watch ants, spiders, or other bugs as they go about their business. The little critters in the creek water jar change from tiny little dots to things with legs or tails or weird mouth parts.

If you have a microscope – even at 30x to 100x, things become amazing. If you’re interested in cells, do an online search to see how to properly look at onion cells (if you’re interested in plant cells) or cheek cells (if you’re interested in animal cells). You can always take a spoonful of dirt from one of your houseplants (or from outside), put it in water, let it sit overnight, and see if you can catch anything wandering around:

Even in the middle of a city, there is so much vibrant natural life around. From little protists living in the dirt, to the different kinds of dogs and cats, to the largest tree on the street, there’s life everywhere that’s just waiting to be explored!

Stay safe.