Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This is Halloween!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Yeeear!

I love Halloween.  I hate to ever pick favorites and, you know, Christmas/NYE are pretty awesome, but seriously dudes – Halloween!!

There’s magic in the air on Halloween.

You can dress as someone completely different and embrace an aspect of yourself that you keep hidden the other 358 days a year (because Halloween is a week-long celebration, obviously). 

I actually lost a friend once because she ragged so hard on Halloween (we made up eventually and now we’re friends again).  I’m not pointing that out to say “Don’t you dare criticize Halloween in front of me”.  I’m pointing it out to say “Don’t you dare criticize Halloween in front of me unless you want to get stabbed in the kidneys and in the face.”  I don’t take Halloween haters lightly.  You’ve been warned.

*ahem* Sorry about that.  I’m a little too murder for my own good some times. *Back to the post*

Since I love Halloween so much, I usually go all out on my costumes. 

This year, I planned to be a phoenix.  Like Dumbledore’s bird, Fawkes, not Jean Grey’s alter-ego.

At the beginning of October, I went on Amazon and purchased roughly $70 worth of ostrich feathers in black, red and orange.  I went to the fabric store and bought more feathers and eight yards of organza and sequined fabric in varying fiery hues.  I made a pretty skirt out of some of the fabric:

The edge of which still needs to be hemmed...

The intent was to make the rest of the costume out of the same fabric and then put feathers everywhere, paint my face to look fiery and have wild hair.

Then I tried sewing the feathers.

Then I said Fuck. That.

Sewing feathers is super hard, time-consuming, and just all around awful.

So I returned everything I could (which was everything other than the fabric I’d already cut up) and last Monday I began to panic about what my Halloween costume would be.

For work, my department is dressing up like the characters from Clue.  It was my idea because even though I don’t know if other people think of it that way, I always feel like Clue is a great Halloween movie.  I’m going as Mrs. White.

I thought I had the appropriate black tube dress in my closet but when I went to put it on, I realized 1.) It was way too short for work and 2.) I looked like a stuffed sausage when I was wearing it.  So once again, I was up a creek without a paddle.

Luckily, the crafting gods were smiling on me and within one of my many boxes of crafting and sewing supplies (I like making things, don’t judge me) I found roughly four yards of a beautiful black fabric that I’ve had around for over a year and had forgotten about entirely. 

I immediately set about making myself a simple tube dress in the most complicated way possible.  Since I didn’t have a zipper on hand I thought, “Eh, I’ll just get creative with buttons and hook-and-eye closures.”  Yeah, that didn’t work out well.  By Friday night at 7:30, I was at my wit’s end so I decided I had to set it aside, resolving to work on it this week instead when I wasn’t in such a rush.

That’s when I dug out my box of Halloween costumes and found my Mother Nature costume from five years ago.  I also had some lovely green fabric I’d been intending to use for throw pillows but decided to turn into a quick cape instead.  By Friday night at 10:00 I had a fun costume – and it was good!

Saturday, I spent the day cleaning and decorating my apartment for the Halloween party I had that night.  Around 5, I went over to Natalia’s and she did my makeup, which turned out amazingly!

The Halloween party went off well and I don’t think I pissed off my neighbors too much. 

I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all.

I barely remember taking this picture of me and Quail Man
Now I just need to finish my costume for our work contest tomorrow!  I haven’t touched it since Friday. Luckily I work best under pressure ;-p

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An Apartment Tour and a Startling (to me) Announcement

I’ve been increasingly hermity lately.  But unlike the past when times like this came from a pretty negative place (depression, social anxiety, general hate-the-worldiness) I’m thinking this time it’s more for positive reasons. 

1 – I really love my apartment.  It’s beautiful and makes me feel grown-up and I can do whatever the fuck I want there.  And I don’t have to wear pants.  Or shirts.  Or anything.  And it’s pretty darn awesome. All of the entertainment I want is readily available to me.  I have my books, my writing, my paints, my Netflix, my apt’s gym, my keyboard… and on and on.

And oh - hey, I never took you on a tour of my apartment.  Please see the below pictures. I took these a few months ago on my crappy cellphone that takes crappy pictures and that I can rarely hold steady.  My bedroom and bathroom are still rather boring looking so they're not pictured here.

Someday the keyboard will get a proper chair.

Backless bookshelf born out of "Oh shit, the bookshelf got
broken in the move!" and my brother's ingenuity.

The fun things on the windowsills get rearranged every time the windows
are opened. They look nothing like this anymore.

The scary wood thingie on the wall that Mom and Dad keep suggesting I
cover up.  Dad suggests an American Flag.  Jokingly... I hope.

Couch courtesy of Grandma and Granpa's old house.

Sadly, those stools still don't have cushions on them.

Clearly, this place is not lit for photography.
So yes, that's my little hodge-podge home :-)  Now, back to the post - 

2 – I feel like the things I do at home are better for my personal growth than the things I do outside of my home.  I go out, I have some laughs, I have copious amounts of alcohol, I make questionable choices and I… that’s about it.  But if I stay in, I have some laughs, I learn some things, I edge closer to being the person I want to be.

3 – I’m using my money more effectively.  AKA – I’m paying my bills and buying decent food instead of putting off my bills, feeling like I’m drowning in debt and eating takeout all the time.  I’m living more frugally and it feels freaking fantastic.

Now, I’m not saying I never leave my house except to go to work.  But Sunday-Thursday, you’re most likely to catch me at home than anywhere else.  Friday and Saturday I do try to get out of the house to socialize with my friends, but I’m also trying to make these events more likely to be events where I’ll meet someone new instead of just visiting the same old dive-bars we went to when we were 21. 

Because, really, I’m tired of the same old same old, and if that’s the alternative I’d much rather stay at home where I feel like I’m doing things that cause me to grow, than sitting around having the same conversations in the same tired places. 

Maybe I’m just becoming an old fuddy-duddy?  


In other, sort of unrelated, news, I’m still writing my story. 

It’s weird.  This is the first time I’ve put this much thought into anything I’ve ever written.  I’m planning the storyline, creating the world (because it’s very Sci-fi/Fantasy), and trying to create believable but highly differentiated characters.

And so here’s the part where I decide I’m going to stop saying “I’m writing my story” and just finally admit (to myself as much as anything) that -

I’m writing a book.

Well great jumping jackalopes, that’s a little scary to look at.

But the fact of the matter is, the storyline that’s developed in my head is so incredibly massive it seems unfair to continue to just refer to it as “my story” as if it’s some kind of trifle.  Ever since I was 10 years old and began writing for fun, I’ve been writing “my stories”.

But this thing, it has taken on a life of its own and to call it anything less than a book feels like I’m insulting its integrity.  So it is, with great fear, anxiety, pretense and many vomity feelings, that I’m going to start saying –

I’m writing a book.

*Whew* Well, now that that’s out there in the universe…

I’m not going to share much of the plot because it still feels a little silly.  When you’re a rational adult, trying to explain a story about space travel and magical abilities is very blush-and-giggle-inducing.  So far I’ve only talked to my family and Han about the actual plotline and the physics of the world I’m creating.  Han’s gotten a chance to read the first ten pages and has helped me over a couple of the hurdles I was initially facing.

But here are a couple of questions you can all help me with:
  • Do you prefer to know a character’s back-story all at once at the beginning or in little pieces throughout?
  • What are some tired plot devices or character types that you never want to see in another book?

I’d love some input :-)

Much love,
Annie Jay

Friday, September 6, 2013

Deliciousness Born Out of Necessity

Someday I'll be brave enough to try the hot peppers...
I've been pretty broke the last few weeks and you know what I've discovered?  Apparently the best way to get me to eat healthier is to be broke enough that all I can afford is to pay my bills and buy fresh food.

It also helps that the Saturday Farmer's Market is only a few blocks from my apartment.

Since I've been broke and not able to go out to eat or order take-out as often, I've been forcing myself to use my food budget for good instead of evil.  I've been making myself buy fresh veggies, which in turn means I need to cook the veggies within a few days before they go bad.

This method is working pretty well so far.  (Note to self: Whenever I need to do something, make desperation be a factor.  Oh my god I hope it doesn't take me getting fired to finally finish writing a book.)

I've also been expanding my palate in the mean time.  For one thing, I've learned that I love tomatoes.  I mean, I'm still a ways away from eating a tomato like an apple, or eating a bowl full of chopped tomatoes for lunch (I saw my coworker do this a few weeks ago - do other people do this??) but where I used to be like "Oh crap, there's a chunk of tomato in this tomato sauce GET IT OUT!!"  I'm now like "Ohhhh yeeeeeeaaaaahhhh, I tots want that thick slice of juicy red tom on my turkey sandwich!"

One problem I've always had with veggies is storing them properly so they don't go bad before I get a chance to use them.  The internet has 5,000 different ways to store millions of kinds veggies.  Some are extremely crazy and perfectly impossible to do unless you have five kitchens and at least ten root cellars.

But I have found that this website has an awesome, practical list of how to store most common fruits and vegetables that we have here in North America.  So far, all of the tips have worked very well for me and I've tried about 50% or more of the tips on the page.  One great thing I learned?  Don't keep your onions and potatoes next to each other - they ripen faster when they're together!  And there are other fruits and veggies that should be kept separate as well.

So I mentioned in my post yesterday that I was going to make coconut oil refried beans.  They were delicious!  I started out following this recipe but because I'm broke and had to make-do with what I had in my cupboard I like to experiment, I did a little improvisation.  Here's my take on the recipe:

Coconut Oil Refried Beans

3 Tablespoons coconut oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 can black beans, drained
1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained


  1. Add garlic and coconut oil in a medium sauce pan over medium/high heat.
  2. Heat until coconut oil is melted, stirring constantly.
  3. Add onions and heat until onions have turned translucent.
  4. Add in beans and heat until very warm, but not boiling.
  5. Turn off burner.
  6. Mix and mash beans in the pot with a potato masher (or a fork if you don't have a masher).  Since this recipe uses chickpeas, which are a little "tougher" than the black or pinto beans, you'll need to mash for a while to obtain the desired consistency.
  7. Beans should have retained enough heat that you don't need to reheat them, but if you do, turn the burner to low and stir frequently.
  8. Sprinkle with cheese if desired, but I felt like they were flavorful enough that I didn't need it.

I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures - I was just starving by the time my meal was prepared!  These beans will look different than your usual refried beans because of the chickpeas, but I thought that the chickpeas lent the perfect texture, color and flavor to the mix.  I also grilled chicken and made Mexican rice using the peach/jalapeno salsa I made.

Sometimes being broke can be delicious!  It definitely causes me to cook more and experiment with what I have around more often.

Have you ever created a culinary masterpiece from what you happened to have sitting around?

Happy Feasting,
Annie Jay

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Kayaking the Galena River in Illinois

I hope everyone had a wonderful Labor Day weekend! I took Friday off work as well so I ended up having a nice 4-day weekend.

My brother, Clockwork, came to town, which was very awesome.  Friday night we hung out at my apartment, watched Star Trek: The Next Generation and Red Dwarf.  So, basically, we occupied our Friday night exactly the way we occupied it when we were little kids.

Saturday, I went to Farmer's Market with my girlfriends first thing in the morning and got some delicious fresh produce.

And from some of the above items, delicious peach-jalapeno salsa was made.  Tonight I'll be grilling up that corn because there is SO MUCH of it.  I'm also going to be cooking chicken and Mexican rice with the salsa and I'm going to try making coconut oil refried beans.  I'll let you know how it turns out!  (Or, if you're in town, you should probably just call me and come over for dinner.  You bring the beer.)

After Farmer's Market, I headed out to my parents house to make plans with Clockwork for the kayaking trip we planned to take that day.  Our parents let us use their kayaks and even shuttled us to Galena, IL where we met our uncle who was our guide on the Galena River.

Ok, so here's the point where I need to say the internet knows next to nothing about kayaking on the Galena River.  So I'm going to do a little instructional for people who want to know:

Put-ins on the Galena River:
Buckhill Bridge: Go to downtown Galena, drive all the way down the tourist section of Main Street until it becomes Dewey Ave.  Stay on Dewey Ave. until it becomes Buckhill Rd.  Stay on that until you come to a bridge that goes over what looks like a creek.  That is the Galena River.  On the far side of the bridge, there's a fiftyish-foot-long driveway that has a path that leads to a very primitive put-in.  (aka a couple of pallets tied together and anchored to the shore)
Galena Boat Landing: Alright, this one's pretty easy to get to since it's right in downtown Galena.  I'm not going to provide many details about this, but if you go to Depot park, you can drive under the bridge and get to the parking lot and put-in.
Ferry's Landing: This one's also harder to find.  From HWY 20, you'll turn onto Gear St (this is near McDonald's).  Take Gear St. all the way to S West St. and turn right.  S West St. becomes N Ferry Crossing Landing Rd. which you'll take all the way to the end.  The public put-in is pretty obvious once you're down there.

When we were planning the trip, we knew we had several trips to choose from.  From Buckhill to Galena takes about 2 hours.  From Galena to Ferry's Landing it takes about 2.5-3 hours.  From Buckhill to Ferry's Landing it's 10.5 miles and takes 4-5 hours.

Of course, we opted for the 10.5 mile trek.

One of the coolest things about the Galena River in Illinois is that it goes through historic downtown Galena, IL.  If you don't know much about Galena, you should definitely look at these pictures.  And plan a visit.  Then visit me.  It'll be fun.

The first 3.5 hours of the trip were great.  

Because the water was low, we didn't have much of a current to push us along, but we were content to paddle lazily.  We stopped just a couple of times so Clockwork could get out and investigate some ruined buildings along the river.  Uncle and I stayed in the kayaks and made friends with the ducks.

Quack quack!

Then we floated through downtown Galena.

Luckily I did not get a tan-line from my Vibrams.
We enjoyed the water and the quiet offered by the rural river.

Clocky and I talked about the writing we're both working on and the fun mythic worlds we're creating.

After that, it was all downhill.  

And by downhill I mean "Holy fuckballs why did we decide to paddle 10.5 miles on a river with little shade on a day that was easily 90+ degrees?"

Because of my allergies and asthma, I hate to be without water.  So I made sure to fill 6 water bottles for Clocky and I before we left home.  And since we'd be paddling throughout the afternoon, I also packed a shopping bag full of granola bars to take with us.

Luckily, the water bottles made it into the kayaks.  Unluckily, the granola bars stayed in the van we'd taken to the put-in.  Along with my sun hat.

So, three hours in, Clocky was hungry and I was baking in the sun.  But happily, our uncle, who is consistently in a good mood and is not easily shaken, kept us going.  As we got further down the river and came to a fork, I figured "We can't possibly be that much further from home."  That's when Uncle informed us we had at least another half hour to go.  

As Clocky brought up that he was hoping the end would be "just around the river bend" I of course (all concerns of being obnoxious having been completely cooked out of my brain by the heat) burst into my own spirited rendition of the song from Pocahontas.  And since I didn't have a drum to keep me rowing, I kept singing.

Finally, as we were rowing through buggy, marshy, log-ridden backwaters, I spied buildings up ahead and let out a cheer.  We had finally arrived.  The last 1000 feet of the trip were definitely the hardest of the whole thing because the end was in sight.

But in the end, I felt accomplished and happy that we'd done it :-)

Anyone else have fun misadventures on your Labor Day Weekend?

Much Love,
Annie Jay

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Swimming Pools, Ghosts, and Little Victories

It was a Wednesday in mid-July and the weather was a brutal 90 degrees with humidity that made the Weather Channel’s “Feels Like” temperature show 5,000 degrees.

Around noon, Francesca texted me, “That’s it.  We need to go water-walking tonight.”

It would be our first time joining the blue-hairs for water-walking at the public pool.  They say your late 20’s is the time to plan for your future – we were just looking 35 years ahead.

After work, I forged the river that was the atmosphere en route to my car.  I rushed home, visions of beautiful, blue, chlorine-filled coolness dancing in my mind.  After I put on my swimsuit, I readied my pool-going accessories and ran out of my apartment building.  I jumped back into the car and drove to pick up Francesca.  We arrived at the public swimming pool, found a parking spot, organized our towels and sunblock, and began the walk to the pool entrance.

That’s when an unexpected wave of panic hit me.

“Whoa.”  I said to Francesca as I stopped walking.  “I’m dealing with some issues right now.”  I felt my stomach contract and my chest tighten.  Francesca, who had been complaining about the heat all day, looked at me in a tone that made it clear ten-years of friendship was nothing compared to her need to be immersed in cool, chemically treated water.

“I’m sorry.” I said, swallowing the dense oxygen and trying to regain control of my body’s senses.  “It’s been over fifteen years since I’ve been here and there’s a lot of emotional shit I have to deal with, apparently.”

When I was a kid, the pool was awesome.  I loved swimming.  I felt like I could do anything as long as I was in the swimming pool.  I could swim faster, hold my breath longer, and swim deeper than anyone else.  The pool was my arena.  The other kids had soccer and basketball and football – the pool was mine.

But outside of the water - amongst the rows of sun-bathing teenagers with their judgmental scowls, around the boys I had crushes on who refused to acknowledge my existence, and in the locker rooms where my elementary school nemeses lurked – those places were my hell at the public pool.  How I longed for the weekend camping trips my parents would make to Devil’s Lake where I could finally feel safe at a swimming area without fearing the repercussions of being slightly chubbier than my peers. 

All of those little hurts from so long ago that I hadn’t even thought about for fifteen years came rushing back to me as we walked to the pool’s entrance.  To make matters worse I didn’t have my swimming shorts with me.  I was going to have to drop my towel and walk to the edge of the pool, bare, cellulite-ridden thighs and all. 

“This is ridiculous! I’m an adult now!” I practically shouted it as Francesca glowered at me, sweat beading on her brow.  I took a few deep breaths and tried to channel as much positivity as I could muster as we arrived at the entrance.  “I can do this.”

I kept my eyes directed at the ground the entire time I walked through the locker room, fearing the ghosts of past tormenters that might jump out at me.  We picked a place to set our things and Francesca easily dropped her towel and stood confidently as she waited for me to quit dawdling. 

Finally, I took one last deep breath and dropped my towel.  We quickly walked to the pool’s edge and slipped into the water.

And oh the relief!

The panic washed away as soon as I got into the pool, just as it always did when I was a kid. 
Francesca, finally being cooled, also lightened up as soon as we got into the heavenly water.  I’m pretty sure we stood there giggling for five minutes before we actually started walking.

Natalia and Prudence joined us after a few minutes and we all walked.  Then we discovered that perhaps we’re just a bit too young to do something like water-walking.  We still enjoy splashing and playing a bit too much for the Adult Swim, but perhaps we can fake it well enough on those hot summer days that we’ll be able to go back.

As the time for water-walking came to an end my mood had lightened to the point of giddiness at being with my girlfriends.  The water had washed away enough of the ghosts of my childhood pain that I jumped out of the pool and thought:

Fuck it.  Let those bitches see my thighs.

I think it’s safe to say that childhood Annie won a little victory that day.  That one's for you, kid.

Annie Jay

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It's Back-to-School Time!

This month is back-to-school time all across the good ol’ USA.

Teachers across the country are groaning as they prepare to take on an entirely new load of students. 

My mother is a high school English teacher (hmmm… why do I enjoy writing so much?) and this semester she has about 140 new students.  That means she has 140 new names to memorize in the next couple of weeks.  That means that each time she assigns homework she has 140 assignments to correct.  When she assigns essays she has 140 essays to correct.  When she gives tests she has 140 tests to correct.  When she gives essay tests… well, you get my point.

And it’s all done outside of work.  And that’s in addition to any school activities or clubs she helps with.  And in addition to notifying parents when their children are falling behind.  And in addition to assisting students who need extra help with their work.  And in addition to dealing with the interpersonal issues that students are having.  I won’t even get into the effects on the teachers’ emotions as they watch and listen and provide counsel to students as they go through high times and hard times.

Yeah, teachers are soo overpaid.  They are soo lazy.  Let’s cut more funding to education. 

Sorry, that’s my rant, not hers.  My mother is mostly quiet on the subject of teachers being overworked and on government budget cuts.  I got to witness the challenges teachers and school employees face first-hand a couple of years ago when I worked in one of our area high schools as a study-hall monitor for a semester. 

And Dubuque, Iowa has it pretty good as far as education spending goes compared to the rest of the country.  We recently built a new middle school and a couple of new elementary schools.  The district did have some layoffs a couple of years ago but as far as I understand most of those teachers have been rehired in one way or another.

But across the country our nation’s school system is struggling.  Think Madison, Chicago, New York and countless other cities across the country that have made headlines in recent years because of cuts to spending and community support.

Just listen to this episode of This American Life from June 14, 2013.  Start at 38:00 (better yet, listen to the whole thing because it talks about some amazing things - including at  27:30 an eye-opening interview with an old schoolmate of mine who is a reporter for Rolling Stone and was at Guantanamo Bay) where Ira Glass is talking to Jason Pitman, a 38-year old teacher who won an award for teacher of the year in the 2012/2013 school year.  It was also Jason’s last year as a teacher.   Here you have an incredibly dedicated young teacher who’s helping to teach science – a subject which our country is severely falling behind in – and he is quitting because he has to fundraise to keep his program going every year.

The US school system is in desperate need of a makeover. 

I was never a good student. 

A couple of weeks ago my mom asked me to go to their house and look through some old school papers she’d found in a filing cabinet.  Among the many adorable things we found (like a letter telling Patrick Swayze that he’s just the most awesomest actor ever and a tattle-letter I left on the kitchen counter one morning before school to let my mom my brother had been picking on me) was a First Grade report card.  In the category of Completes Work on Time it had a comment “Annie has trouble completing her homework on time and seems more interested in the work that her classmates are doing.” Sigh

Even in First Grade I couldn’t sit down and do my homework.  That trend continued into high school and then into college. 

It was never learning that I had a problem with – I love to learn and continue to educate myself in topics that I feel uneducated about.  What I always I had a problem with was doing required readings and being taught subjects that I had no interest in learning.  It was like being force-fed vegetables without being told the health benefits.  I was never told why I needed to learn these things.  I was never told why I needed to be actively focusing in school instead of daydreaming of a story I wanted to write.

I absolutely understand the importance of students learning a wide variety of subjects, and even though I didn't have an interest in learning certain things in school, doesn't mean I don't think it was right to try to teach me those things.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like our school system does little to get students excited about learning. 

And you know what I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older? 

Learning is pretty. damn. exciting.

I’m not blaming the teachers because they are merely the tools that our government uses to convey its highly-standardized curriculum and they have to do what they have to do to keep their jobs and some teachers do an amazing job of getting their students involved even with the limitations the system places on them. 

But this system of standardized testing, and metrics, and basing school funding off of student performance on standardized testing… well, I’m sure that people far more knowledgeable on the subject than I have written copious articles about the problems with this system and ways we can fix the system**. 

But plain and simple – it’s not working. 

We’re leaving behind a large number of our students by failing to take into account that not everyone learns in the same manner.   

I have to adjust to this in my career as a Trainer.  My training program has to encompass a wide variety of learning styles in order for it to work for my staff.  I’m always revising and tailoring it to fit individual trainees. 

It’s sometimes exhausting and the most “students” I’ve ever had at one time is 3.  Imagine doing that with 140 students.

I recently learned about the Swiss education system when my family visited a couple of weeks ago.  I have to say, when I heard about it, claiming dual citizenship with the mother-country sounded like a damn good idea.

I’m interested in what my international friends think of the school system in your countries – do you think it works for your youth?  How does the school system work in your country?  Is university pretty much compulsory in order to get a good job?  Do you do apprenticeships?

Anyone else in the US think that our system is flawed, or did it work for you?

Let’s talk about it!

Much love,
Annie Jay

**To start, here are some awesome TED Talks on education:

Ken Robinson - How to Escape Education's Death Valley
Geoffrey Canada - Our failing schools. Enough is enough!
And for even more - TED Talks About Education

And this interesting interview with Mike Rowe from Real Time with Bill Maher 

Friday, August 2, 2013

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

 Wow.  It’s been over a month since I last wrote something here!

I’d like to say that the reason that I haven’t posted anything new is just because I’ve been so ridiculously busy having fun and making waves in my life that I haven’t had time to think about this blog.

But that would be a lie.  I have mainly been unable to write anything that I thought was worth sharing.  I could write about being broke, I could write about how I feel like I'm going through some sort of transition in my personal behaviour, I could write about the potential love affair I almost had but that then turned awkward and weird... but all of those things just never felt right to write about or I couldn't wrap my head around them enough to explain what was going on.

Finally, I'm at a point where I have other stuff I want to write about - like sharing with you some of my plans and some of the things I've been ruminating on for the last few weeks.  But first, I just want to play a little game of catch-up.  

Because it is summer - and I have been having lots of fun.  Here are some picture highlights and quick captions from my last month:

June 22-24: Was a weekend of River!  The water was high as hell so we didn't get to go to some of my favorite places on the boat (because they were underwater) but we did an all-day/all-night river excursion on Saturday and spent Sunday floating above an island.

We were traveling super fast in this picture so it's all
kinds of blurry, but you get the idea!

Oh the muddy, muddy Mississippi

June 29-30:  A group of my friends went camping.  They were only about an hour away, so The Boss and I went up to visit them during the day.  As soon as we all arrived and as soon as everyone got their tents set up in poured rain.  After the rain stopped, we got to go tubing (some people call it "floating") on a flooded campground that had a river running through it.  We played on flooded playground equipment and even though I got a huge gash in my foot, I managed to not get dysentery.  And no one fried by the electrical transformers which were also flooded.

The campsite after we'd all been drenched with rain.

July 3-7: I had an awesome long holiday weekend.  Watched the fireworks on the 3rd.  Spent the 4th recovering from a night of drinking out of my "magic cup" that never held the same beverage twice and never went empty.  The 5th we went out on the river again and then we went out on the town that night. The 6th and 7th I spent recovering from the madness.

Definitely one of the best pictures ever taken of our rag-tag group (plus, we were right in front of where they
were doing the July 4th air show, so there's a pretty sweet airplane in the background)
My favorite group of party girls
When he's not busy carrying whole trees on his shoulders,
this boy likes to party with the girls (who can blame him,
did you see those hotties up there?)
July 12-14: A huge group of my friends went camping.  We drank something like three bottles of whisky/whiskey, 2 bottles of vodka and roughly 390 beers.  We went tubing on a nice, non-flooded river and I got to use my solo tent.  The weather was perfect so I didn't have to use my rain fly and was able to stare up at the stars all night long.  

Some of my favorite moments of the trip - 
  • The first night was just a huge party where we were all happy to be there and to be with each other.  
  • After roughly a million hours of drinking, our entire crew took a walk to the river where we stomped around in our non-swimming clothes and giggled a LOT.
  • Falling asleep in my tent while admiring the endless stars above me.
  • Tubing the next day - water, sunshine (well... a little bit of sunshine), beer and best friends, ahhh nice.
  • The second night, sitting by the river at midnight, for hours, talking with some of my closest friends about some intense subjects and counting shooting stars.
And some of my favorite pictures...

My baby tent.  All screen = Soo many stars!

Playing in the river - beer in hand - backpack cooler - flashlight - giggles

This is what happens when I steal The Boss's camera

Those are some pasty, highly attractive SOBs

July 19-21:  We went to Chicago to celebrate Han's birthday.  We actually stayed in Rosemont on the outskirts of the city, so sadly I didn't actually get to go into the city - but we had a great time!  We went to an arcade filled with old school arcade games that were all set to free-play.  We played for hours.  We swam, went to the zoo and got heat exhaustion, but also saw some dinosaurs, and had a nice dinner at his aunt's house.

July 26-29:  One of my favorite coworkers/honorary little sisters got married Friday night.  It was a beautiful outdoor reception in the countryside.  She looked absolutely gorgeous and the weather was perfect.  Saturday, Sunday and Monday I spent time with my Swiss cousins who came to town!  More on this in a future post! It was the first time I'd met one of them and only the second time I'd met the other.  We had a great time together and enjoyed making jokes about weird things - like ice cream trucks driven by child molesters.

Aaaaand - that's about it!  So it's been a fun month.  I hope you're all having a great summer.

Much love,
Annie Jay

Thursday, June 20, 2013

No Longer a Landlubber

Oh hi!

Remember how I wrote about that interview I was going to have?  Well, I got the promotion!

Big smiles :-D

*whew* So glad that is over.


In other news - it's 86 degrees outside and I'm working when all I really really want to do is be here:

Either at Devil's Lake State Park in Baraboo, WI, or in a kayak, or both.
Or here:
Chillin' in the bow of Dixie on the Mighty Mississippi.
Even on a cloudy day, there's nowhere better to be.
(and yes, feet are gross, but this picture makes me happy anyway)
Or here:
Once again... Dixie with three of my favorite men after an all-day regata.

I've lived in a river town my entire life and I've always felt a connection to bodies of water - breathing is just easier when I'm near the river or my favorite lake.  As soon as I learned to drive I would often spend days sitting by the river and writing or reading.   Plus, I love to swim and play in the water.

But I never used to like actually going on the river in boats.  I actually used to have a terrible fear of being in any watercraft smaller than a yacht (not that I'd ever been in many of those).  I'm not kidding - I'd have full-blown panic attacks - hyperventillation, crying - all that jazz.

Like I said, I love to swim, and I'm actually quite good at it.  So the fear wasn't really about drowning or of the water itself.  The fear was about being thrown overboard, or capsizing and getting sucked under, or hurt somehow on my way into the water - I was afraid of something happening to make it so I'd be unable to swim myself to safety.

My mother, who had been witness to my fear on many occasions and who didn't want her water-loving daughter to live with such a handicap (bless her) thought it would be a great idea if we took mother/daughter canoeing lessons when I was 16 or 17 years old.

I was skeptical, but she invited her best friend and her daughters who were my best friends to join in the lessons with us.  I'm sure there must have been some other threats or bribes going on that made me agree to participate in the lessons - or it was simply a matter of pride for me since the other girls were joining us - but I agreed nonetheless.

Our first day, we met our instructor in the parking lot of a local marina.  He explained that we would just be paddling around the marina that day and wouldn't go into the actual river.  That didn't sound too bad to me because although the marina was deep, there would be a dock or shore near enough if my worst fears came true.

After we spent some time standing next to our canoes and learning how to paddle, it was time to get in and give it a try.  Mom and I lugged our canoe to the water.  She held the canoe in place while I tentatively stepped in.  I took my seat and did my best to stabilize the canoe with my paddle as Mom took her seat.

My heart raced and my breath started coming out in short gasps as we paddled into the middle of the marina.

"Keep calm, Ann." Mom said from her seat behind me.

"Shut up, Mom!" I yelled back at her, trying and failing to keep the panic at bay.  (This was at a tenuous time in our relationship, what with me being a teenager and all.)

We paddled some more.  I looked back and we were about 100 feet from the shore.

The next thing I knew, something was very wrong.  My hands were still on the paddle, but something was definitely very wrong.  My legs felt too free and my oxygen tasted too fishy.

I was in the water.

Of course I was in the water.

After what felt like three hours, I fought my way back to the surface.  I checked to make sure my mom wasn't drowning - she wasn't.  In fact, she had her head above water, an arm over the canoe and was simultaneously cussing and laughing.  I glared at her before I started swimming back to shore.  She laughed at me and I continued to swim on even though she was asking me to help her lug the canoe back to shore.

But at that point, I knew that I was right and she was wrong - watercraft were the devil and that class was stupid.  For the rest of the course (3-5 more sessions) I would be forced to go along with my mother but refused to get back in a canoe.  I would instead sit and read - and glare anytime she'd try to show me how much fun it was.

To this day, we disagree over who ended up tipping the canoe.  I blame her for paddling too hard, she blames me for being too fidgety.  But once again, I'm sure I'm right.

A couple of summers later, I ended up going camping with some friends.  That was when I was finally able to get into a canoe and actually enjoy myself.

Then, several years ago, my friend Mac started taking us out on the river in his dad's boat.  It still took all of the courage I had to get into the boat, but I started going and I started enjoying myself.  Then, a few years ago, Mac bought his own boat.

Mac and I have been friends for many years, so he knows two things about me:
1.) I get panicky in boats
2.) I'm a control freak.

So he took those two things and put them together.  The conclusion he came to was that I needed to learn how to drive the boat.

I'm not going to say that it totally fixed the fear - I still have to huddle in the back of the boat with my head buried in my lap if we're going to be going very fast - but it definitely helped!  Now that I understand exactly how the boat is supposed to move through the water and cut through the waves, I can understand what motions are normal and I'm able to recognize when there might be actual danger.

Thank the gods that I've learned to love going out on boats.  Now I can really enjoy the water I love so much. With kayaks I can explore hidden areas on the lakes I love so much, and with Dixie (Mac's boat) I can see areas of the river I never would have dreamed of before.

And this weekend I shall get to go out on the river for the first time this year!

Dixie's callin' my name!

I hope you all have your own amazing summer fun to look forward to this weekend!

Annie Jay

Friday, June 14, 2013

Not All Tornadoes Go to Oz

First things first – I had the most lack-luster make-out dream ever last night.  No, no, not a sex dream - just a good ol’ make-out dream. 

A boy (will I still be calling them boys when I’m 60 years old?) I have a crush on was hanging out with me, then we started making out and it was… well… blah.  Even in the dream world, my internal dialogue was all clinical and “Ahh, yes, there is a tongue in my mouth and scratchy man-face against mine.  That’s what is happening.  I guess I can allow this to continue and study the effects of this tongue and man-face for a little longer.” 

So I woke up about as far from hot and bothered as it gets.  And really, I guess that’s not such a terrible thing.  But really, Mr. Dream?  Let’s work on the fantasy a bit, mmmk?

In other news - We had tornado warnings allll over the place Wednesday night.  I think the sirens sounded off four times between 5pm-9pm.  When the sirens go off it means that either a tornado has been sighted, or a thunderstorm severe enough to cause a tornado with some swirly clouds (that’s the technical term, btw) has been spotted nearby.  You are supposed to take cover.

Iowa as a whole mostly looks just like this.

Flat.  Flat.  Flat.

Prime tornado country.

But Dubuque – Ahh, good ol’ Dubuque.  With our Mighty Mississippi barrier to the East and rolling river-valley hills to the West, Dubuquers tend to feel impenetrable when it comes to tornadoes.  For most of my life tornado sirens have been met by the locals with an uncontrollable urge to go stand outside and dare the bastardly tornado to even just try to fuck with our city.

But then I started living alone.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but living alone leaves me with this fear of dying alone and my family not being able to find my body and well… let’s just say it causes me to be a tidbit overreaction-y.

The first time the sirens went off Wednesday night, I was home alone.  I was sitting on my couch reading Insurgent (which is good and you should read the first book Divergent if you haven’t) so I was already tense with adrenaline and kind of living in a post-apocalyptic world in my head.   Then the sirens started blaring outside of my windows and rain came pouring down.

Of course, I stayed calm.

Calm like a dragon in a straw-hut village.

I quickly changed out of my work clothes into jeans, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt and hiking shoes.  Then I put all of this stuff in my Camelbak:

No, I have no idea how I got it all in there along with three liters of water.  Decades of playing Tetris, perhaps? 

Yes, I might have been a bit over-prepared for a tornado.  Because even if a tornado were to strike, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be like the apocalypse so most some of those things might not have been absolutely necessary.

But I think it’s safe to say I’ve got fire covered. 

And gigantic sword-y-knife-y-thingies that are completely impractical but are also kind of my security blanket.  So SUCK IT.

Then I walked downstairs to go chill out in my building’s basement just like every other overly (and impractically) prepared person would do.  But when I got there, I saw that a lot of my neighbors were sitting around in the basement, looking bored and playing on their cellphones.  When I walked in, completely geared up, they all looked at me with more than a little bit of fear in their eyes.
It didn’t help that my allergies were so bad that I was completely makeup-free and hair-product-free so I looked like… well… like this –

I wouldn't say this is the LEAST attractive picture ever taken of me, but it's right up there.

And that’s when my fear of rejection won out over my fear of death.  So I decided to do what every good Dubuquer does –

I went and stood outside to look for tornadoes.

And as usual, we were protected from the tornadoes once again. 

Han came over after the first tornado scare and we hung out watching Game of Thrones (OMFG SEASON 3!!).  His addition to my party of one emboldened me and every time the sirens went off for the rest of the night, we just simply walked outside to check out the weather.  Doing so ended up being the right choice because once the torrential downpours stopped, t was damn pretty outside.  We stood outside and watched the lightning exploding in the sky for a half hour and I took some pictures.

You'd think he was posing for the picture

I dare you to use that water-logged walkway

At least now I know that I have the mental capacity even when panicked to pick up at least some stuff that might help me survive if the situation should arise. 

Zombie Apocalypse?  Come at me bro!

I hope you’re all surviving your own spring weather!

Much Love,

Annie Jay