Sunday, 28 February 2016

Caffeine, Coping and Cosplay

The word of the week is composed.

Feb 22 – Working Out Write

Exercise of all kinds is most assuredly in the cards for me for 2016.

I've become far less active in my current job, so much so that physical things I used to take for granted are no longer at the same level of performance, which stuns me. For example, my right shoulder still hurts from playing video games for a few hours weeks ago, all from having the angle slightly off why was using the mouse. While I'm careful with my wrists, this shoulder pain comes as a complete surprise and indicates to me that my level of physical ability has dropped severely from several years ago when I was moving office supplies around on a daily basis. Not to mention biking to and from work, which was its own cardio workout in and of itself.

I have taken the first steps in purchasing and using my exercise bicycle. As of last week, I've been cycling a steady 15 minutes a day at a moderate tension setting, not pushing things as I'm keeping an eye on my heart rate - it has been holding at around 100 BPM , which is excellent for a light workout of that order.

A few more weeks and I should be up to a higher tension setting for longer, building up a sweat in the process. I'll also be doing some basic lifting exercises at home with light weights, in order to tone my arms back up to where they were; playing video games and working around the apartment shouldn't cause me pain, and once I'm done with these preliminary exercises over the coming month I'll consider the next step to take, which may involve the local gym.

In the evening, I attended my girlfriend's Craft Of Writing presentation, the 12th in her ongoing series this year as part of our local Victoria writing group. I was able to stay out of the limelight while still contributing to the group, which eased my anxiety greatly as did the uncrowded and softly-lit meeting venue at the Atrium downtown.

We talked about the process of creating a first draft of a novel or other similar works, to which I was able to contribute a fair bit of working knowledge from my own experience in the process. It was gratifying to be able to share my own information with others who found it useful and meeting went quite well while still finishing early enough for us to spend time having a late dinner at a nearby sushi spot. The Japanese art of preparing raw fish has been growing on me since last year and I am pleased to say that there's quite a few good sushi spots now in downtown Victoria, enough to give a pleasant variety to one's dining choices.

There's nothing fishy about good sushi, you know.

Feb 23 – No Tea, Less Stress?

Caffeine is not something in my diet right now.

Given that I'm still suffering from anxiety, it only makes sense to cut out anything food-wise that can contribute to stress levels. That includes caffeine, which is well known as a stimulant that can increase a person's heart rate, which is exactly the opposite of what I need right now.

As of last week, I've gone from having cut back to a half a pot of tea a day to only a single cup of tea in the late afternoon before heading home from work.

It seems to be working. I have been naturally waking up around 7 AM for the last few months for work anyway, usually without any real grogginess unless the cats been keeping us awake( which he has this week - last night I got four hours of sleep total )so that's an indicator that I don't need caffeine in the morning unless absolutely necessary.

This also has the benefit of not contributing to an acidic stomach, which I've been known to suffer from if I have too much tea to drink in a day. Even a full pot of tea, made with just one teabag, is too acidic for me, though I have been known to let the teabag steep for too long sometimes when I'm getting ready for work in the morning.

Keeping an eye on this sort of thing is necessary, as I want to be able to fall asleep naturally and wake up in the morning feeling rested without any sort of stimulants taking too much of a role in my daily life. We all drank coffee or tea and have a lot of sugar in our diets, so cutting all those out of mine should make a big difference in the near future.

For now, I just have to get used to feeling out of sorts - until I don't anymore.

Feb 24 – STRESS

Today did not end well.

My parents insisted on picking me up from work today, so that I could help them configure their new Samsung S6 phones that they'd just spent the afternoon purchasing. I had advised them on the purchase a few days ago and they did a little research before committing to another contract today, upgrading from their older HTC M7 phones to the slick new Samsung models - a good choice, and my eyes.

What wasn't a good choice was to have me work on them tonight.

The process of setting up their phones was not done by Telus, unfortunately, so I had to do things like configure there are Wi-Fi settings, install a few favorite apps and get other things working with their Google account.

These things by themselves would have been stressful, but technology isn't a strong suit of my parents and their frustration with the need for remembering passwords or configuring other apps began to show itself in their behavior. It wasn't their fault and I did the best I could, but it's always been this way with them - hence the need for me to assist with new technology as needed.

Within an hour, I was a nervous, frustrated wreck and I barely got them out the door before I had to sit down to get a hold of myself before a full-blown panic attack could manifest. I spent the rest of the evening practicing breathing and meditation techniques as well as taking calming herbs( and herbal tea )to try and calm myself.

While I succeeded, it was a complete waste of an evening that I had planned to use for other things, including writing. I ended up sending a polite but firm e-mail to my parents explaining the situation and I don't believe this sort of thing will ever happen again; they're wonderful people and wouldn't intentionally upset me.

The silliest part was that I realized I hadn't really got to play with the new phones all that much, which was a shame.

Feb 25 – Show N'Tell

I hosted my first writing group evening tonight in many months.

Heading out to the meeting tonight, I was somewhat anxious, as I'd be in a busy place with mostly strangers at the table and given how stressed I was yesterday, I wasn't sure how things would go. Would I need to step away from the table in order to calm myself?

I needn't have worried.

Experience is a lovely thing. A AI was in charge of the evening, the role took over and evening proceeded apace. There were about eight people in total, myself included and tonight was all about sharing one's written work, a short 500-word piece per person( except for me, as I was the host ).

We had six new people, including one lady who has sold quite a few of the nearly 2 dozen self-published novels that she's written to date; impressive! There were a few nervous people among them, but surprisingly I found it quite easy to keep everyone on the level despite my own worries about stressing out, which turned out to be unfounded.

It was an excellent evening overall, where everyone who shared their written pieces received excellent feedback and there were smiles all around. In fact, the same woman who had published so many books of her own wrote me after the meeting, to thank me for providing such excellent feedback on her current story piece that she was working on. It was extremely gratifying to know that I was able to be so constructively critical despite my current personal imbalances and to assist another writer so ably with making their work better.

What a great night~!

Feb 26 – Bee Aware

What's going on with the bees lately?

For over a decade now, scientists have been aware of declining bee populations globally, but little progress has been made in determining how to reverse this deadly trend. Bees are necessary for pollination in over 75% of the world's crops, so the loss loss of their population will be keenly felt by humans quite quickly. Several different man-made causes of population decline have been pinpointed recently, which is vital to discovering the next step to take to save the bees.

What can we really do about it though?

New strategies are being tried all around the world, including a few old ones. Diversity is the key in many places where 'monocropping' has eliminated far too many of the wildflowers and other plants that bees used to use as staging areas: giant fields of the same crop are like deserts to them if there aren't places to stop along the way.

This fascinating article talks about how farmers are going back to the old ways of doing things in India, Mexico and Tanzania. Ancient hive management practices are being revived in order to nurture declining bee populations and ensure that local farmers are all plugged into the need to protect this vital biological resource.

In Toronto, bees are high on the everyone's priority list. There is a healthy community of urban beekeepers in the city, helping to keep a thriving pollinator population alive and well:

I think what scares me about bee loss is that too few people are where the problem and even fewer are aware of how critical they are to life on our planet.

Feb 27 – The Skinny on Cable

I've not had cable for six months, and I'm really enjoying it.

To be honest, I have a ton of movies and TV on DVD and Blu-ray( not to mention NetFlix, AmazonTV and other streaming sites online ) so I'm not hurting for entertainment, that's for sure.

But for those folks who haven't cut the cable yet, good news is in the pipe coming next month: skinny cable.

The CRTC has mandated that all cable providers in Canada must have basic cable TV channel grouping packages at 'reasonable cost'as of March 1, 2016. This grouping must have all the channels on the CRTC's mandatory distribution list, which includes CBC, Global and CTV, as well as public interest stations like APTN and minority French or English language channels.

All for $25 - or less.

Considering I couldn't get my combination cable TV / Internet bill to total less than $100 before I pulled the plug, that's really interesting news and wallets across the country will welcome it with open arms.

The cable companies, less so.

Skinny cable still won't entice me to head back to cable TV land, not when I'm paying $45/month for Internet service that gives me all the access to the world that I need. Though I still do get several broadcast TV channels over the air, I've missed out on watching favorites like the new X-files or New Girl, simply because I don't have the time or even the means of recording them.

I'll get around to seeing them eventually, which is part of the beauty of modern entertainment: you can buy, rent or record whatever you want, whenever you want and right now, that's reserved for when I have the time to spare.

Feb 28 – ARMeY and Prep

Slowly but surely, my Aliens Colonial Marine costume is coming together.

It's been a real challenge to both figure out what parts I need and how to source them cheaply; my budget is minimal, both monetarily and timewise. I have about a month left to pull it all together, including fabrication and painting, which is going to be cutting it close - but I think I can do it, even with the delay caused by the last few weeks of my emotional yo-yo state.

I've been relying on online forums for ideas on what materials to use, as well as to get the proper patterns and other resources I need to create the costume. The original armor props were created by Terry English out of aluminum, and he still making them today, though a fully-painted costume will set you back around $5000 Canadian – way, way out of my budget. This is what I'm trying to achieve, or at least an 80%-level copy:

The materials I'll be using include EVA foam mats, the kind that you stand on for comfort for long hours at a time. I did also managed to locate a Canadian source online for webbing and the buckles to make the armour straps, which was a great find as shipping items from the states is costly given the current crappy exchange rate. At  least I can find paints that will be a close match to the on-screen colours locally, and I can make everything myself in my apartment for the most part: I've put together two sheets of plywood to convert my bed into a makeshift workbench as needed. Taking over the bathroom for prop-making in a shared apartment isn't really in the cards.

This week I also scored a huge find: a mannequin! It's most impressive:

I've named him ARMeY, for obvious reasons and he was real find for a mere $50 from a local seller - her last one! He looks like he's never been used and is in perfect condition, complete with an adjustable stand and he's exactly my size, torso-wise! So I'll be able to use ARMeY o help me fit all the armour pieces together properly from all angles, far more easily than I would be able to if I had to work on them without a display mannequin.

Given my lack of costuming skills, I need all the advantages I can get this coming month.

I think the worst of the anxiety is behind me. Barring this week's unexpected evening episode born of frustration, I think I've been doing fairly well in being able to keep an even keel both at work and at home. I've been able to concentrate on my tasks and not feel trapped in mental loops on any particular topic, which is a change from the previous week. Slow but steady improvement is the order of the day, I think, for the coming weeks.