I may have mentioned somewhere along the line that I enjoy writing fiction. Just as much as I love to read it, in fact, though in recent years I’ve slacked in both areas because of school. Recently, though, I began hashing out a new story and it’s really revitalized my love of fiction in general.

The story itself centers on what some might call a VERY controversial topic: faith in God and questioning that faith in the face of adversity. Some might call it a “good” theme to center a fictional story on, but I’ve added a twist that will make some fundamentalists go a little… berserk.

You see, the story centers on a young Christian woman (tentatively named Faith Doubtit) born and raised in a Christian family. She is accidentally transported to Glasgloria, a world where the gods reign directly over various groups of people. I’m basing Glasgloria heavily on Wiccan ideals because there is some magic involved. The question really is, can this girl’s faith in her one, supreme God, who she has never seen or heard, remain intact when there are real, touchable gods right in front of her?

Now you see the controversy.

The world itself has five “visible” gods, who reside over various parts of the land, and a sixth whose actual whereabouts are unknown. The five gods represent earth, wind, fire, water, and heaven, and each one controls various aspects of the world. The fire god, for instance, is in charge of “lighting” the world, and the heaven god in charge of keeping it high to let everyone have light in the day. Since this “world” is technically underground, there is no sun, no stars, and no moon; everything is based on what these semi-powerful gods are capable of doing. Part of what keeps Faith skeptical of them is the fact that they have limitations.

Part of what I am basing this on is scientific research into the human psychology, which has found that human “belief” is part of what makes the universe “bend” around us. It’s what makes the placebo effect (a medicine working because a person believes it will work); what makes a short Buddhist man capable of taking a bamboo staff in the gut without flinching, claiming not to feel pain. The sheer belief that a thing will work, and the stronger held that belief by a larger number of people, the more real it is in the real world.

It does bring up the interesting question of if God even really does exist. I choose to believe He does, though, not because I’ve seen him or heard him, but because I believe on faith alone. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

But now you have a relative understanding of my most recent undertaking.


I Hate Mood Swings

Some things in life are inevitable. Trying to convince my mind of that, however, tends to be a little bit difficult. I suffer from some form of ongoing depression, but because I had little access to medical care outside of what I could afford out-of-pocket, it remains undiagnosed. Prior to my pregnancy, I’d been on two medications: one for depression and one for severe, blinding migraines. However, the moment we found out, I was taken off of both.

The mood swings that occurred early in my pregnancy should truly have been the warning sign, but since I was already prone to bouts of tears or unexplainable irritability, I didn’t question it. They cleared up around mid-April and then began again in earnest in late June (a month after I’d discovered my pregnancy).

Admittedly, I have a lot to be depressed about. I live at home with my parents at age 24; I’ve failed to receive the degree I financially ruined myself for; my financial situation is worsening; my health and my mother’s health are both growing worse; I have failed to keep my mother’s house clean in spite of all attempts. The list goes on and on and on.

But I also have a lot to be very happy about. I’m about to be a mom, something I never believed I’d be able to achieve; I’m engaged to the most sensible, sensitive, gentle, and generous man I have ever met; I am finally in the home stretch for a bachelor’s degree and well on my way to achieving the dream I’d started college with.

I am not necessarily unhappy. It’s just that, on any given day, the conflicting ups and downs of my life are causing the hormonal mood swings to rise and fall to a degree where I’d even call it Bipolar-ish. Today was definitely, for the most part, a “down” day, though.

I was woken up from what was possibly the deepest sleep I’ve had in over a week because one of my fiance’s mother’s dogs was throwing up/vomiting. Perhaps what makes me feel worse is that I assumed it was merely a bacterial infection and gave him some leftover antibiotics that the cat never took (don’t worry, I looked it up — perfectly safe for dogs!). I was half right — there was a bacterial infection, caused by an obstruction somewhere in his digestive tract. I still haven’t heard back to know if he’ll be all right or not.

The “up” portion of today was a meeting with Healthy Babies, a Wichita-based free parenting group. By going to the group, and several other methods, I may be able to “earn” my baby’s car seat in time for her birth. If not, there is plenty of time to earn something else from the list — like a Pack n’ Play or just some diapers or wipes. Plus, I’ll have access to a group of women that are all due around the same time, some of whom have had kids before (more recently than my mom and Brian’s mom), with different OBs.

Other pluses to the program include a 75% discount to the local hospital’s baby-related classes. DEFINITELY taking the baby/toddler CPR course. The program continues on till the baby turns two, which will be great when I start trying to figure out when I’m supposed to start something new.

I came home right after and fell right to sleep. I wanted to go with mom to her ENT appointment and now I really wish I had. I HATE doctors who don’t listen. She was sent to the specialist for extra tests. Instead he looks at her, goes “you don’t have an infection” and tells her to take Allegra for allergies. Um, DUH, she doesn’t have an infection. She’s been treated acutely for no less than FIVE sinus infections this year, the most recent with a month-long course of antibiotics that she only just completed. I wanted to throttle him, but noooo, I was asleep.

I was supposed to make supper for the night, but the meat didn’t thaw all the way (even though I took it out last night). So that was another major disappointment and there’s no other meat in the house. My iron is STILL low and I’m being ordered to eat more red meat. So, off to the store we go. My system crashes yet again when we get home because I, like the stupid person I am, had not eaten anything more substantial since 9am this morning. Then I start just bawling when I wake up because my appetite is completely gone again and I just can’t stand the smell of the meat that’s been cooked.

Brian goes to make me a plate and NOW I convince myself that I’m being ridiculous and follow him. I manage about half the steak he got out for me, and wolf down the mixed veggies, and glare at the rest of the meat. I give myself a pep talk in my head: I need more protein. I need calcium (I don’t drink milk, so I get all I can from other sources).  I need to give this baby food.

Well, that seems to motivate me, so I fight with the can opener (so much so that my mom actually asks if I need help with it, when normally our roles are reversed) and open up a can of refried beans (believe it or not, an excellent source of iron and protein). I make a bean burrito with lots of cheese and settled here to write this journal.

In summation, I’ve been a royal train wreck all day, and yet I still have managed to not snap at anyone yet. Though I did keep moving the stupid dog off of my stomach. Am I ever glad she doesn’t weigh much. The larger dog has tried climbing on me a few times and I think I’m finally beginning to get through to her. I’m not sure how much, though, because she still tries to jump on me when she’s excited.

And yes, the mood swings are daily.

Boxed Brownies and Other Food Memories

After completing my homework for the rest of the week today, I noticed that there was a box of brownie mix on the counter. My mom mentioned sometime in the last few days that today was her blind friend Jesse’s birthday. She cooks for him and usually makes him something special for his birthday every year. But this time, she has a migraine and I imagine that she was going to bake the brownies for him before that.

So, I looked to see that we had enough oil and eggs and started mixing them up. As much as I hate to admit it, I love boxed brownie mixes because they’re simple, they taste good, and it doesn’t require a lot of waiting to have warm brownies ready for some vanilla ice cream. So I found a second box.

The first box is already out of the oven and cooling off, soon to head over to the birthday man’s apartment if I can rouse someone to deliver it.

The very first time I made boxed brownies was with my paternal grandma. She couldn’t have sugar (I actually didn’t find that out until I was around twelve) but the simple joy of mixing something was what made it special. I probably wasn’t even old enough for school yet. Grandma let me lick the spoon, but when I made brownies with my Aunt Nancy and cousin Whitney, we weren’t allowed. My memories of those times are special to me because I haven’t seen my aunt and cousin since I was around twelve; as a matter of fact, it was also the last time I saw my grandmother, who passed away a few years ago now.

I remember best, though, making grandma’s potato bread. I was the only grandkid there, a big deal when you think about how many children and grandchildren she had! Best, I remember squishing the potatoes up with my hands, and folding them into the dough, rolling it out on the counter in flour. Baking isn’t really something my mother enjoys doing, aside from the occasional chocolate chip cookie batch.

Grandma visited us as often as she could, but with us living in Virginia (or Tennessee) and her in Michigan, it was difficult for her to do so. I never once visited my paternal grandmother in Michigan. With so few visits and so long ago when they occurred, it’s no small wonder that I don’t remember many details about her. She was very small and her hair was cut short. She had really pretty eyes. I remember that, but I don’t remember what color her hair was, and I’ve only been told that I inherited her eye color. I don’t remember it.

But I remember baking brownies from a box with her and baking bread from boiled potatoes. I remember stuffed risotto cheese in a big pasta seashell. I remember gluten-free pancakes, which were surprising delicious in a time when I knew it didn’t have sugar in it. I remember beach sandwiches with wonderful new flavors in them — like apple pieces in chicken salad.

I remember very little of what my grandmother looked like, but I remember her cooking well. I remember that she had a beautiful smile, even though I couldn’t tell you how thick or thin her lips were, or even if she wore dentures or not. She had a wonderful laugh, too; but I couldn’t describe its sound.

So instead I remember her every time I open up a box of brownie mix to make for someone else, hoping that maybe it will be a trigger for their memory too.

Drama of the Due Date

As I also mentioned in my first post, I’m currently pregnant with my first baby, a little girl. Unfortunately, I had approximately ZERO signs or symptoms of being pregnant until about mid-May, which is when I broke down and went to Planned Pregnancy to check for certain. I’d been told previously that I was barren (though I question that particular doctor’s credentials for saying such.) My fiance was told he was sterile from taking Ritalin as a boy. But, SURPRISE! You’re as pregnant as you can get! Since my cycle is completely broken, and was only just beginning to get into a state of repair when I got pregnant, I have no idea when I actually got pregnant.

I informed my OB-GYN of this on my first visit in June. We tentatively based my due date (September 26) on my last known cycle (December), which was more like spotting. I skipped completely in November, which isn’t unusual for me. I’m known to skip three or four months at a time. I went in for my first sonogram and so the entire Drama of the Due Date began. The sono tech told me that we were going to probably move the date to August 28, based on the baby’s weight and her development.

I went back to the OB doc, who told me we were going to stick to the September date until we could get a second sono to look at the development over time. Gre-e-eat.

In  early July, I ended up going into the ER because the baby wasn’t moving (scary!) but it turns out I was just being a paranoid new mama. I’d also gone in because of severe dipping dizzy spells, which they said might be caused by sleeping on my back or right side, or may be a warning sign for early labor in some overweight women (I’m 244 as of today, thank you!). Still, they gave me a corticosteroid for a variety of reasons.

The dizziness stopped, I got used to sleeping only on my left side, and I could feel baby moving again. Turns out that I was watching for the wrong thing (I was used to acrobatics). She’d decided to move into the “pushing out” stage, where she runs out of room and starts pushing at the walls of my tummy to get more. By the way: she’s been face-down since at least June 18, which was the first sono.

In late July, I got the terror of my life: Contractions. Close together (7 mins), painful, clenching contractions, right in the middle of work. I tried sitting down – nothing. No change. I asked to go home, called my fiance, and we headed to the Birthing Rooms (pregnancy ER). I knew I wasn’t crazy when I saw the large lumps on the screen, exactly as I’d timed them at work. Seven minutes apart, lasting fifteen seconds. Lying down seemed to help, though, and the OB monitored the baby and me. The contractions never got worse but it took two hours of lying there in the hospital bed, them poking me with a clickie noise-making thing to check dilation (none), for them to finally stop being so painful. They’d expanded out to about ten minutes apart and the humps on the screen weren’t as big any more.

After four hours, they were fifteen minutes apart and bearable again. Doctors sent me home and told me to lay down until they stopped. They didn’t stop at all until ten days after that first visit. They still start up again after I’ve been on my feet fifteen minutes, so obviously I had to take my leave from work. Luckily, I’m a planner and I had enough money to pay my finances through the end of October, plus buy my fiance and his brother birthday presents (Aug 30 and 31st). And then some.

Today, and the reason I’m posting, was the second sonogram. The technician was unkind and downright rude, so I didn’t even ask any of the questions I wanted to, like what she thought about the baby’s progress and how the lungs were forming up. I explained that to my OB, who said he’ll look at the photos himself and talk to me about those questions next time (the 16th). He said that either the baby was underweight and due at the end of this month like the first sono suggested or she is overweight and due at the end of September.

I’m starting to feel really heavy, particularly if I stand or sit up straight for long periods. He has imposed a new rule – lie down every 2-4 hours on my left side. The good news is, other than the weight/due date issues, she is very healthy. She doesn’t move around quite as much as she did even a couple weeks ago, but you can literally see her every movement under my skin. I’m even able to tell when she has the hiccups, which makes me laugh.

Either due date, I’m okay with. I’ll just be happy when I can finally hold this little one in my arms, hold her out to my fiance, and know that we did what doctors told us both we couldn’t do.

First Day of Class

I will have to admit, the first day of class in an online classroom is much different from that of a brick-and-mortar. For one thing, you have to talk to other people. Some brick-and-mortar classes do require a stand-up introduction, but most of them limit it to name, major, and why you’re in the class. (The answers to the last are usually: I have to.) In both classes, one of which is an introduction-to-being-online class, there was a mandatory introductory post. Some people kept it short, but others… let me just say that for once I didn’t feel like the long-winded buffoon I usually do in an online situation. Most other posts were roughly the same length as mine. My classmates include everything from an awesome karate guy who wants to teach self-defense, to a woman I’m guessing around my mother’s age who’s been in the military for fifteen years. With five kids.

People from all walks of life, for most of whom this definitely wasn’t their first university. I was glad to find out that there ARE other people out there who’ve attended others. One person had attended five — makes my three look pitiful, actually.

I had been so excited for classes to start that I had sort of read two chapters of one of my books (the online college introductory course). It turns out that my reading for that class is well up-to-date and I am actually finished with the work for the week. There are two large-ish assignments due next week, though, that I’m going to go ahead and work on — once I’m finished with this week’s work for the other class, of course.

The other class I’m taking is World Literature through the Renaissance. To tell you the truth even an English major like me has to use a convention to spell that word correctly. (I say REN-NAI-Dubba-SS-ANCE in my head.) This is the only class through January (the furthest out that I can register) that is sixteen weeks. The reading assignments for this week are “Gilgamesh,” the oldest written epic poem discovered to date, and cherry-picked pieces of Homer’s “Odyssey.” Each week, I am required to write a journal entry on a chosen topic (I have six different prompts to choose from), based on the reading.

And I think I’ll write again later today on my OB-GYN appointment and second sonogram, since that is why I am up a four o’clock in the morning writing this for ya’ll. =)

Drowning in Cats and Dogs

I mentioned in my first post that I was fending off a grand total of 16 cats and dogs. Bouncing between my parents’ and my fiance’s parents’ house, I actually fend off a grand total of seventeen cats and ten dogs. My mother’s house contains seven dogs (three girls and four boys), all small breeds. The largest of these dogs is the Jack Russel mix and the terrier mix, who are roughly the same size. There are four male cats and four female cats. Also at my mother’s house are two birds (cockatiel and budgie), a chinchilla,  a rabbit, and a single fish.

At my fiance’s parents’ house are nine cats and in spite of the fact that I’ve lived there off and on for a year now I still can’t remember how many boys and girls there are, though I do remember their names if I sit and think long enough. They also have two large-breed Husky mixes and a medium-sized boxer mix. They also have an aquarium, and I’ve never sat down and counted all the fish.

How on God’s splendid planet did we end up with quite so many critters? Well, my mother is easily explained. She can’t let a critter go without a home and she gets attached so quickly and so easily that it’s impossible to tell her she can’t afford another critter. Admittedly, I love them all as well, but I could (relatively) easily give up all but the legal limit (four cats and dogs) if it came down to that. My mother, on the other hand…

In spite of the fact that my mother is stay-at-home, she is in a wheelchair and has major back problems, so she can’t always take care of the critters’ needs. In order to care for seven dogs and eight cats, we must keep a full cat food bowl (the dogs won’t eat dog food, even though I keep telling mom that it’s bad for their liver), and a five-gallon jug water bowl filled at all times. The litter boxes must be cleaned twice a day, no exceptions. The dogs must be let out every hour or two, round the clock. And each one must have their attention, daily.

Some of the critters are perfectly happy being left alone to their own devices. Two of the girl cats are bordering on feral even within the house, so much so that I must point out that they are still there when we count them. These two make appearances so rarely that I must wonder where they could possibly hide. One cat requires a lap to sit in. One will scratch you from head to toe if you try to pick him up at all.

Four of the dogs follow my mother without exception, crowding underneath her wheelchair with unfathomable agility. It takes a lot of effort, strangely, to not get ran over by one of her four tires. Yet these dogs do it, miraculously, on an hourly basis. One dog, the eldest, remains in my younger brother’s room. The only neutered male prefers my dad’s lap, and usually goes with him on trips around Kansas. Only when dad is gone does he join the Chair Crew under the wheelchair. The final dog is actually supposed to be mine, a little Yorkshire Terrier mix who I groom fairly short for her breed. She prefers my fiance, and when he isn’t around, she joins the Chair Crew.

Yes, I consider three of these critters mine. I’m not entirely certain that, when we finally do have the money to go out on our own again, the Yorkie will be going with us. My mother is far too attached. My two cats, however, are truly mine and prefer me. One is black and I’ve had him since he was born in 05. His name is Skylar. The other, Min-Min, is a brown tabby cat who comes to me when I call for him. He is actually Skylar’s son, born from one of my mother’s female cats. He is three years old.

I say we are drowning in cats and dogs, and truth told, we are. We sometimes slip up; the litter boxes don’t get clean; there are accidents every single night to be cleaned up come morning. I believe that giving up some of the critters would help, because there are only so many people willing to actually do this work. With me being pregnant, it’s taken a toll on the cleanliness of the house. (Can’t clean litter boxes.) But who among the dogs would I ask my mother to give up? The newest ones? The two puppies are better behaved than the older boys are. The misbehaving ones? We’ve had Chance and Junior since they were puppies.

As for the cats? If I knew it would help, I’d give up my own. As much as it would break my heart, I would. But going from eight cats to six really isn’t going to help, especially considering Sky and Min have both been better behaved than say, Shadow or Domino. But ask her to give up those two? Domino was a shelter cat on the way to euthanasia row. Shadow’s ear has curled and he has a nasty temperament. Who would take such a cat? And the feral girls? Who would want to spend the time coaxing them into a more pet-like existence? Cleo was already tossed out onto the street by her previous owner and she’s so old. Sassy is well-behaved.

If a police officer came up and told me we had to get rid of all but four cats and dogs… If I had to be brutally honest, I’d say one of the puppies (Bella), Rico (my dad’s dog), Domino the cat, and Odie the dog. And knowing the fact that the police would take them to the shelter would be the worst of all, because I know most of the dogs would be euthanized, and so would half the cats. The two ferals, Cleo (age), and probably Shadow (aggressive). The dogs… Chance and Furby would be killed.

Junior and Scruffy may have a chance, and so would Min, Sky, and Sassy. If mom wouldn’t protest so loudly, I would try to find them homes myself now.

But now you know why I put up with drowning in cats and dogs.

Six Years, Four Colleges

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve attended four different colleges over the past six years. I began right out of high school in fall of 04. So, how did all of these schools stack up against one another? Were any of them better or worse, than the others? What were the advantages of attending one over another?

I’ll attempt to answer these questions.

All four schools had this in common: First you applied, usually online. Then you would receive either an acceptance or rejection letter, of which I’ve never received the latter. They would then begin the financial aid process, which always includes filling out a FAFSA form. This is where similarity ceased.

The first school I attended was a private, two-year community college. Most brick-and-mortar schools these days require first-year students to live on campus unless they live with a parent. This school was no exception and they went far out of their way to make incoming freshman feel welcome. When I attended, this school charged 18 grand per year. Why did I choose such an expensive school? Well, to be perfectly honest, I’d earned a scholarship to this particular one that allowed me only to owe roughly five grand, which was the exact same amount that the local university would have taken.

I wanted to live on campus because I wanted that experience. However, my parents had nicely agreed to pay for my first two years of school and my mother preferred me home.

So how easy was it to get into this school? It was simple. The application for admissions was mail-only at the time, but has since been adjusted for online too. There was a small fee (15 dollars), plus you had to send your High School transcript, ACT or SAT scores, and two references unrelated to you (I used HS teachers).

The financial aid process was routine: FAFSA, entrance quiz (about financial aid), and signing a MPN (Master Promissary Note). At that time, you chose a lender, but as of this year the gov’t does direct loans themselves.

Then you were required to do a freshman orientation, which all colleges require in some form or fashion for entering freshman with no transfer credits. At this school, I had a private tour of campus, a visit to the dorms (which were posh and highly organized), and a free meal in the cafeteria. I will say that this school by far had the best food. I then spoke to an advisor, who took care of everything from helping me choose my classes to administering the entrance quiz for financial aid.

This school was absolutely perfect, except for the price tag. If you can afford it, I highly recommend using a private, two-year college before heading off anywhere else. You’ll get a great experience and the classes are much more relaxed and small. Plus, you’ll have that AA or AS to show for it.

My younger brother actually attended a traditional local community college, the kind that cost less. If you don’t want the price tag of the private two-year college, go the public route. You’ll get a similar experience, but with some loss of quality. You won’t find it in your education, though. His school costs: three grand per year.

The second college I attended was a local state university, Wichita State University. The cost was still down for a resident Kansan (roughly 5000 a year with books and materials), but I found so was the quality of the education. Several of my classes had 300-500 students crammed into an amphitheatre. So how hard was it to get in? Apparently more than I thought, because my brother received a rejection because he hadn’t taken specific classes in high school.

For me, though, it was a very similar process to the previous school: FAFSA, orientation (I didn’t need to attend because I had 24 credit hours to transfer), and advisor meetings. However, enrolling at WSU was a bit more of a pain in the neck. There was a very long paper trail and obtaining each piece required going to specific buildings. WSU’s campus is pretty big and finding the Financial Aid office (Jardine Hall) alone for a new student was aggravating. They’ve streamlined some of the process since, but there is still a lot of paperwork to go through that a new student may find at the least annoying. I know this because I recently assisted Brian’s brother with enrollment at this school.

For WSU, I did not require references, though they still needed my ACT score, and that seemed to be the same with Brian’s brother. There are certain courses that you need to have taken either at a previous institution or in high school to get in.

The local four-year university is great for the veteran student who’s already taken classes like Psychology 111 at a previous school, but not so much for someone to go straight into. It is still relatively inexpensive (if you consider fully paying for your education out-of-pocket at roughly 20 grand inexpensive) and there are a lot of grants and scholarships available for in-state students.

The third school I attended was possibly the most ridiculous of all the schools I’ve attended. It was an art school geared toward getting you straight onto a specific career path post-graduation. In order to get in, you must have a portfolio of work to present, reference letters, and an interview. They are actually very strict about accepting only students who have the skills and the drive to get through the program; they were a little bit wishy-washy about helping those students pay off a 60 grand debt (or more) after graduation.

Obviously I had the skills, motivation, and drive to go there or I never would have been accepted. Unfortunately, no one anticipated the Great Recession beginning in 08, which prevented me from obtaining the horrendously large sums of money from private lenders that would have allowed me to complete that education.

So what else was there to the process? I will say it was much easier to go through their process of financial aid and their classes were straightforward, with the attitude that the assignments were actually your job. With a required internship at an approved location, you were at least guaranteed three months of actual work experience on top of your degree. Some of the places that internships were held at — Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, Blue Sky, Blizzard — were extremely good and most students who did graduate had jobs within a few months of graduation. I believe those numbers were in the 90 percent range.

Unfortunately, you either have to be very rich or your parents have to be very good with their credit score to complete that education.

So now I’m attending an online college. Thus far, everything has been very simple — 50 dollar transfer documents, and a walkthrough of every single detail. They have an advisor who will get back to you with any questions you have within 24 hours (unless it’s the weekend, of course). Everything else? Simple. The price for each 3-credit-hour class is 750 dollars (250 per credit hour) and the academic plan is set before you ever start, so there is no confusion over what classes you need to take or what qualifies. I will keep everyone posted.

Oh, and with American Public University Systems? The books are free for undergraduates. So it really is just 250 per credit hour. I like that. Now let’s see what the classes are going to be like and I’ll revisit this subject then.

The bottom line still comes down to cost and how well you can keep up with the courseload. None of the schools were really “better” than the others, though the art school probably should never have come under my lower-middle-class radar without decent scholarships. If you need more attention, go the two-year school route first, then complete at a four-year college. Don’t go to a trade school unless you know for certain that’s what you want to be paying off for the next ten to thirty years.

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