Thursday, May 18, 2017

Wicked Stepmothers Day

Is there such a thing as Wicked Stepmother's Day?  Because I think there should be.

I know, in theory, that Mother's Day is supposed to encompass mothers of all kinds: birth, step, adoptive, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, aunts, godmothers, etc.  And so, according to that theory, this past Sunday was my first Mother's Day (outside of the one year when one of my foster dogs "gave" me a hand mixer).

I even got a free meal and free cheesecake at Pasta House out of the deal.

But, honestly?  I felt like some kind of imposter.

I'm not a mom.  Not really.  I happened to marry the love of my life, who happened to have a kid.  That doesn't make me a mom.

I joined this kid's life like some people join the army midway through the war.  I haven't been down in the trenches since the beginning, slogging through the muck and dirty diapers.  No, I joined up once the tides had turned and potty training battles had already been won.  I got here just in time for games and adventures and crafts.  (And the occasional meltdown.)

I'm not the first line of defense.  I'm not even the second.  I'm back there in the reserves, just in case backup is needed.

But, you say, you're there, Ashley.  You took on a role that no one forced you to take.  You Google mom questions like, "how do you a get a kid to stop sucking their thumb?"  You stand in the middle of the living room while drinking a glass of wine with a kid wrapped around your leg.  You wake up to tiny feet against your back.  You eat Fazoli's even though you loathe it.  You play Chutes and Ladders ten times in a row.

And that's true.

It is.

All of it.

But, I don't know.  I still don't know if I feel like a "stepmom."  Maybe it's that I've already been around for a few years, just as "Ashley" and nothing more.  The transition into living in the same house on the weekends even happened before I was officially her stepmom.  So there's been very little major shifting of roles or expectations.  I'm still Ashley.  I just also happen to now be legally bound to her dad.

I want her to be happy.  I want her to enjoy our time together, and to like me, and to make good choices.  I want her to be as well-adjusted as humanly possible.  I want to figure out the best way to make all that happen (hence the Googling).

I also love that she writes notes for "Daddy Ashley," and draws us pictures, and wants to hang out with me and play games and read books.  I love that she loves when we match.  I love that she picks out what pin I'm wearing on the weekends.

I guess that's the important part.  It's not the name that matters, it's the intention and the actions.  I would tell anyone else that, except when it comes to myself.

So, I guess I am a stepmom.  If you insist.

And maybe, just maybe, I'm not that wicked of one.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Come On and Feel the Illinoise

It's completely official: I'm once again an Illinoisian.  An Illinioisan?  An Illinosan?

(Fun fact: all of those terms are technically correct, though I think my preference is Illinoisian, for the sheer fact that there are a ridiculous number of I's involved.)

To be fair, my citizenship transfer was mostly official a few weeks ago, when I got my new driver's license.  But now it's really really official, since my car is now an Illinoisian as well.

All this after a very unfortunate incident on Tuesday involving my getting pulled over in East St Louis, discovering my Missouri plates were actually expired, getting a ticket, and the police officer then driving off while still in possession of my drivers license and insurance card.

Yeah.  It was a great day.

... Not really.

So.  Yesterday I left early, went to the DMV, and got new Illinois license plates (for the low low cost of $200 plus that pesky expired plates ticket).  I even put them on my car myself.

I admit, it was a weird feeling.  After all, it's been ten years since I had Illinois plates.  The drivers license was one thing, but the license plates seem somehow more official.  I don't know if it's because I had to physically remove the very old and very battered plates and replace them with ones so new they practically sparkle.  The whole car looks different and unfamiliar with them on.

For years, I called myself an Illinois ex-pat.  Even though I was born in Germany, Illinois had always been my home.  I grew up in Collinsville (notable only for the World's Largest Catsup Bottle and a remarkable absence of anything interesting to do besides hang out at Denny's).  I went to college in Chicago.

I didn't grow up with dreams of leaving home for the great unknown.  I'm a solidly Midwestern girl.  I like the slower pace.  I like the smaller towns.  I like that traffic isn't a complete nightmare (at least... not all the time?).

Even though I've been all over the country, I've never once wanted to move outside of the Midwest.  I don't even want to move outside the St Louis area, which is, thus far, as far as I've wandered from home.

A lot of people seem to have a lot of disdain for St. Louis.  I've never understood that.  It's a great town, not too big and not too small, filled with tons of things to do.  It's not quite bustling, but certainly not pokey.  There are a multitude of different neighborhoods, ethnic food galore, and we even have an IKEA now (like anything else matters?).  There's a free zoo, free museums, festivals, great parks, an awesome baseball team, and highways that are continually under construction (and often all at the same time!).

Okay, maybe that last one isn't exactly a plus, but it is strangely endearing all the same.

It's all so very Midwestern-y, isn't it?  There's gooey butter cake and toasted ravioli (which I actually despise).  There's the World's Largest Catsup Bottle.  There's farmland and county fairs and random French names that no one pronounces correctly.  You can have every single season all in the same week.

It is, in a word, home.  For all it's quirks and annoyances (Why are there no left turns on Gravois?  Why are Illinois drivers so terrible?  When will Kingshighway reopen?), I've never wanted to be anywhere else for very long.

They say home is where the heart is, and if I'm being honest, mine has always been here.  It is most definitely here now, as the main reason why I moved back across the river to join the other Illinoisians in our ridiculously corrupt and broke state.

And so the ex-pat has come home.  It wasn't a long way to travel, even though it took me 10 years to get here.

Not surprised?  Neither am I.

After all, there's no place like home.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Pretty Vintage Nerd

I've been a nerd for most of my life.

I'm not sure if I could have helped it if I tried.  I grew up watching Star Trek and Star Wars with my dad (an equal-opportunity nerd, like myself).  We watched X-Files.  I read the Star Wars books that my dad owned and dragged home countless more from the library.  I had a Star Wars birthday party when Episode I came out.  I also wore a Padawan braid for part of that same year as well.  (I know, I know, it's positively shocking that I was single for so long.)  I wrote fanfiction.

Honestly, I think I was part of the last generation of kids where being a nerd wasn't cool.  And really, even if it had been cool, I probably still wouldn't have qualified.  Because... well, you read that last paragraph, right?

Along with being an introvert, being a fairly obsessive and fangirlish nerd is part of my very being.  It's practically in my blood.  When I like something, I really, really like it.  I write about it.  I watch it repeatedly.  I collect items from it.  I learn trivia about it.  

And I really like Star Wars.  I love everything about it, with the notable exceptions of Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christiansen, Jar Jar Binks, and most of George Lucas' poor decisions.  I love the lore of it.  I love the improbability of it.  I love the music and the characters (see above exceptions).  I love the books.  I love the (up-to-now) strictly maintained canon.  I love the pure nerdiness of it, and of all my fellow Star Wars nerds.  I love that rare fellowship when you recognize a fellow (probably equally awkward) nerd out in the wild.

I do appreciate that that being a nerd is "cool" now.  I'm not jealous of all the young nerds out there who essentially get a free pass to skip the uncool label.  I love that it's perfectly acceptable for us all to come out, blinking, into the sun (for short, well-sunscreened, periods of time) and to shyly complement each other's badges of nerd-dom.  It doesn't actually make me cool, by any means, but it's nice to have the nerdy company.

And lately, I've been more in touch with my nerdy roots.  I read a Star Wars book for the first time since high school.  And I haven't been content with merely buying geeky T-shirts for my equally geeky husband.  Instead, I've been incorporating my nerdiness into my vintage style.

As it turns out, "nerd" and "vintage" are not mutually exclusive.  And why should they be?  After all, many sub- and counter-cultures tend to find each other and band together for warmth.  As I've learned, dressing vintage is a way of expressing myself.  Expressing what I love with what what I wear is really just the next step.

My pin/jewelry obsession is to blame thank, really.  It's such a subtle, stylish way to declare to the world that yes, I am a huge geek because yes, that is an AT-AT necklace.  Thanks for noticing.

I also have a few nerdy T-shirts of my own when I really can't resist.

It's not just Star Wars, of course.  It's Harry Potter and Firefly and Doctor Who and Game of Thrones and Pirate of the Caribbean, and... I could go on, but I think you get the point.

The point is: it's a whole new world for nerds now.  We're popular.  We're cool.  We're stylish.  We're even (gasp!) attractive.  We're fetishized and idolized.

There are burlesque shows specifically catered to geeks. There are dresses covered in the TARDIS, or in Daleks.   There are conventions all over the country, for every imaginable fandom.

Yes, we geeks and nerds are still awkward as hell and can bore you in no time with obscure facts and fan theories, but gosh darn it, we can look good while we do it.

It's safe to say that I've grown up quite a bit from being the teenage girl skulking through the hallways with a Padawan braid.  I'm the slightly-self-proclaimed Pretty Vintage Girl, after all, and hopefully will be for the foreseeable future.

But fandoms were my first love, and you never forget your first love.

And because of that love I know I will always be a nerd, be it pretty, vintage, or otherwise.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Morning Owl

I've never liked mornings.

In fact, my parents continue, to this day, to tell me (and everyone else) that they had to wake me up on Christmas morning to open my presents.  When we went to Disneyworld, I was entirely unimpressed with the fact that Mickey was calling me to wake up in the morning and just wanted to go back to sleep.  I am basically a lifelong expert at hitting the snooze button and of knowing exactly how long it takes to get ready so I can fly out the door at the last minute.  Up until a few years ago, I could easily sleep for 12 solid hours, then take a nap later.

That's changed recently.

Well, not all of it.  I still love sleeping, but I've also grown accustomed to the face of pre-dawn.

This is all the fault of my husband.  Or, at least, of his job.  Mark wakes up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 every weekday, since he has to be at work by the equally ungodly hour of 6.  For the past few years we've been together, I had a pretty solid routine going.  His alarm would go off, we'd snuggle for a minute or two, and then I'd roll over and go back to sleep until my own alarm went off 2 hours later.  Then I would groggily drag myself out of bed (after hitting snooze a few times, naturally) and get ready for work.  I was the quintessential permanently exhausted pigeon.

Shortly before we moved, however, I made a decision.  I was tired all the time, and tired of being tired all the time.  And I had finally figured out that, by going back to sleep for two hours after Mark left, I was waking up directly in the middle of my sleep cycle and effectively making myself miserably exhausted.

So... I started waking up when Mark did.  And actually stayed up, in spite of the fact that the sun itself wasn't even up yet.  Mark now brings me coffee before he leaves for work (unless I have the day off and he thinks I should sleep in), and then I get up and get ready for the day.

It's nice, really.  I usually have about 3 and a half hours before I need to leave for work, including quality time spent lying in bed looking at Facebook.

So I get to take my time.  I get to be alone, and quiet.  The sun comes up.  The birds chirp outside the window (now that I have birds to listen to instead of traffic).  I drink my coffee, and reheat it, and drink some more.  Sometimes I make dinner for that night, or I bake.  I cross-stitch, or knit, or crochet, or read.  I do laundry.  I've even taken a nap.

It's not exactly ideal, obviously, but it strangely works.  I'm (usually) less exhausted than I used to be.  I fall asleep faster at night and sleep better.  Plus, I have that precious time to myself in the morning to introvert and to do whatever I want.  And I actually do enjoy it.

This hearkens back to last week's blog about my actively working on being happier.  After all, I've been reading for years about the benefits of waking up early.  Successful people wake up earlier.  Happy people wake up earlier.  Morning people are the unacknowledged gods among us mere mortal night owls. Blah blah blah.

And I tried to get up earlier.  I did.  I tried the suggested and oh-so-sneaky method of setting your alarm five minutes earlier every day.  This didn't work at all, because I already knew full well exactly how long I could sleep in without being late.  My body wasn't about to be fooled that easily, and so I only succeeded in hitting the snooze button more.

As it turns out, the cold-turkey method works best for me.   And I honestly don't know why I'm surprised by that.  I've never been a girl to do something gradually.  I'm either all-in or all-out.

So now?  I wake up really fucking early four or five days out of the week.

And, believe it or not (and for God's sake, don't tell my parents), I think it does make me happier.

While I may be a natural-born night owl, I have to admit that the stupid early bird might actually be onto something.

Or maybe he just drinks a hell of a lot of coffee.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Happy and You Know It

I like to think that I'm a happy person these days.

Why shouldn't I be?  I have a good job, a wonderful husband, a sweet stepkid, a house of my own, still-married parents, and an amazing circle of friends.  I have money in the bank and all my basic needs are met.  Sure, I go through my sometimes-monthly moodiness and have moments of melancholy (and always adore alliteration), not to mention recent wedding-and-house-buying stress, but for the most part I would say that I'm definitely happy.  At the very least I'm content, and I think that's pretty awesome as well.

It's not that I expect to be happy all the time.  That would actually be boring, not to mention unrealistic.  And obviously, even though I have every reason to be thrilled with life, I'm not always.  It happens.

But I do very much enjoy my happiness.

And, quite frankly, I think I could improve on it.

Mainly, I struggle with the fact that I often let myself get overly upset by the little things.  More specifically, I let myself get overly upset by the little things that I can't control: by the guy who doesn't have his turn signal on but turns anyway, by the client who misses a question that I asked, or by someone not acting exactly how I think they should act.

Coincidentally (or not), I recently read The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, a stunt book (do something slightly crazy for a year and then write about it in a very clever manner) in which Gretchen spends a year trying every means possible to be happier and more invested in her own (already very pleasant) life.

I recognize that this kind of book is not for everyone.  But I find that I'm actually a sucker for the stunt genre.  I adored The Year of Living Biblically, The Know-It-All, and (of course) Julie and Julia, the book/movie that forever changed my attitude about cooking.  I'm unashamed of my love for the year-long-commitment genre of books.  Maybe it's because I do my own yearly commitment to reading at least 50 books.  Maybe it's because I've always subscribed to the mantra of "you can do anything for a year."  Maybe I just like the fact that I'm not the only person who writes excessively about their daily life, and the fact that some people actually become famous by doing so.

Whatever the case, I completely loved The Happiness Project.  Gretchen dealt with a lot of the same issues I have (or have had).  She's a bit of a control freak.  She's messy.  She's a slight hoarder.  She judges herself for the things she enjoys, and struggles with an innate sense of "I can totally make do without this necessary item."

In her book, Gretchen works her way through 12 months of happiness improvement, focusing each month on a different aspect of her life (kids, friends, husband, work, creativity, money, etc).

While I certainly don't intend to undertake a similar project right now, I do feel like I can improve my own happiness in baby steps, mostly by chilling the fuck out and recognizing that I do not have to (and, quite frankly, should not be allowed to) run the whole world.

So far, it's (kindof) working.

I'm trying very hard not to immediately rant when someone doesn't answer my entire e-mail.  I'm trying not to swan dive into automatic road rage (curse words and middle fingers blazing) when other drivers fail to follow common sense road rules.  I'm trying not to think that I know best about what other people should be doing.  Just because I'm multi-tasking doesn't mean everyone else needs to be.

I'm trying, ultimately, to cut other people some slack.

Is venting fun?  Is feeling superior to the idiotic drivers on the road enjoyable?  Hell yes.  Why else would we do it?  But what I'm wondering is if it is actually worthwhile.  I'm starting to think that, instead of innocently blowing off steam, I'm more likely blowing things out of proportion and giving myself a reason to be upset.  Negativity breeds more negativity, at least for me.  Once I start looking for the bad, I can always find more.  And more.

I'd rather focus on the good.  I'd rather focus on and remember Kaylee's joy of waking up and looking for Easter eggs and of opening her Easter basket rather than fixating on her stubbornness the night before.

Life isn't always going to be good.  There are going to be times when I'm going to be sad, or anxious, or sick, or heart-broken, or any number of negative emotions.  I'm going to be criticized, or be frustrated, or furious.  But while I'm happy, and while I can be happy, I don't see the point in blatantly spoiling it for myself for no good reason.

Definitely a happy day.

I can't tell you I'm going to stop being snarky and sarcastic.  Because I'm not.  And if you consider that to be a character flaw or negative trait, then so be it.  But I consider it to be an inherent part of my personality, and I actually do find happiness in a perfectly-crafted snarky comment, particularly when it makes other people laugh.  My favorite relationships (both fictional and my own) are based on the snarky, witty repartee of two people generally giving each other a hard time.

So, I'm not going to turn into Little Miss Sunshine, but I am going to try to stop bitching quite so much about things that don't really matter in the grand scheme.

And I don't care what Yoda says, because "try" is truly the operative word here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What's in a Name?

The great debate has been raging: whatever will Ashley do about her last name?

People have asked.  People have told me that they changed my last name in their phones without asking.  People even made out wedding checks to Mark and Ashley Wood, which added an extra step when we deposited them in the bank.  My mom thought I forgot to write "Wood" when I signed the church register this past weekend.  Even my e-mails from Michaels have, over the past few months, gone from "Ashley Jones" to "Ashley Wood" to "Mark Wood" to "Mark Jones" out of either sheer flailing and confused desperation or some strange way of letting me temporarily try out all my available options.

The fact is that I haven't changed it yet.  I couldn't even do so until after we closed on the house (which happened Monday morning, making us officially, terrifyingly, homeowners).

And honestly?  I'm torn.

I changed my name without question the last time around (I don't think my ex would have allowed me to keep my maiden name anyway), and very much regretted it when we eventually divorced and I had to go through the entire process of changing it back to my maiden name (with his "permission," because apparently we still all live in the dark ages of chauvinism where even an ex-husband can continue to dictate a woman's choices).  I changed my driver's license, I changed the name on the car title, I changed my passport, and I changed nearly every single damn thing that had my name on it.  Bank account, apartment lease, e-mails, Facebook account, etc, etc, etc.

It's definitely not that I forsee having to change it back a second time, but the fact remains that I essentially fought to get my maiden name back two years ago when it would have just been easier to keep my married name (as much as I hated it).  Changing it to my new married name feels, strangely, like a betrayal of all that work.  Plus, I like being a Jones.  It took me years to appreciate my incredibly common name, and now I find I'm rather attached to it (and not just literally).

On the other hand, I very much want the acknowledgement that I married the love of my life.  I want to share that extra bit of life that comes from sharing a name.  I want to be a Wood.  It would make most things much easier to simply change my name.  I wouldn't have to be annoyed with the people who assumed I changed my name and address things to "Ashley Wood."  We wouldn't have to explain that yes, we are married even though my last name is different.  Signing cards, etc, would be that much quicker.

But... I still don't want to get rid of Jones.

This would probably be easier if I didn't hate the concept of hyphenated names (for me personally; I don't care what other people choose to do with their names).  Then I could have my name and change it too.

I also wish it didn't matter.  I wish that I didn't feel like keeping my name or changing my name were both somehow a political and/or social statement, in spite of the decision being neither of those things for me.  I wish neither were the "expected" option.  I don't know if that would make my current decision easier, but I might feel less guilty about whatever choice I make.

This also might be the very definition of a first-world problem.

In slightly related news, being referred to as Mark's "wife" remains an incredibly jarring experience.  As does calling him my husband.  It was hard enough getting used to "boyfriend/girlfriend," then "fiance'," but "wife"?  So weird.  It makes me feel instantly old (says the girl who spends most of her free time knitting and crocheting and goes to bed around 9) and very formal.

Names are so strange.  They are deeply personal.  They define, they separate, and they group together.  We attach so much meaning to titles and names and change both according to life changes, how we want to be perceived, and, sometimes, at whim.  I don't know why "wife" sounds so strange to me now, almost ten years after I became a wife for the first time, but it does.  Honestly, it's probably related to the feeling that changing my maiden name again would be a weird betrayal of the work I did to stop being a wife.

In spite of these strange hangups, I love being married.  I love looking at pictures from our wedding day.  I love seeing a ring on Mark's finger, and looking at my own ring.

It's just the words, and the names, that I have a problem with.

It's not even a problem in a bad way.  It's more a problem in that I have to figure out what the words, what the name, means.

What's in a name?  Everything, and nothing, all at once.  In the grand scheme of things, does it matter if I change my name or keep it?  No.  But right now it seems like a bigger decision than buying a house.  In a way, I worked harder for my name and "title" than I did for a house.

What does your name mean to you?  What about your title?

Is the hangup just with me?  This is entirely possible.  But as someone who worked hard to become who I am and to define myself (as well as someone who continually turns over the meaning and intent of words), the threat of any change gives me pause.

The reality is that changing my name, or being a wife, do not change who I essentially am as a person.  They don't change my past.  They don't change my personality.  They don't make me any less of an introvert, or any more of a morning person.  If anything, they add to who I am, never subtracting.  I'm a wife.  I'm a stepmother.  I'm a homeowner.  I'm a project manager.  I'm The Pretty Vintage Girl.  I'm either Jones or Wood or whatever I choose to be.

I'm still me.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Pretty Vintage Wedding

Well, it happened.

We got married!

It was not an elaborate April Fool's prank.  It was not a joke.  It was 100% real and 110% stressful and even, just maybe, 100% worth it.

It's been a long time coming and a very short time planned for.  Even though we got engaged back in July, we really didn't plan any of the actual wedding until the last three months.  While moving.  And buying a house.

No sweat, right?

But it came off beautifully.

The weather (which I had stressed about for weeks) was perfect.  The decorations were set.  The cupcakes (and slightly crooked cake) were made.  My bouquet (which I crocheted myself, because why not?) was finally finished and arranged rearranged to my perfectionist likings.  I had delegated away all the tasks I couldn't handle myself and scheduled my friends to arrive early to keep me calm.

I lost track of how many times I'd said or wished that we'd just eloped.

And yet, at just about 11:00 on Saturday morning, I stood (in full hair, makeup, and wedding dress) holding hands with Mark, and we walked down the "aisle" in my parents' front yard to "Have You Met Miss Jones?".

Now, I can't quite say that the ceremony went off without a hitch.  Because as soon as we got up to the podium and Terry started the ceremony, I had a terrible realization.

... I had forgotten the rings inside.

But, after a brief pause where Mark ran off to fetch the rings and everyone enjoyed a good laugh, we got back underway and the rest proceeded exactly as planned, up to and including us walking out to the Imperial March.

Really, in a wedding where I had put in the extra effort to be sure it was personalized just for us (the crochet bouquet, my custom "Happily Ever After" book pin, the music, and the readings (Pablo Neruda, Neil Gaiman, and a quote from "Serenity"), the fact that I forgot something so important was actually entirely fitting.  I am horrendously forgetful (usually at all the worst times), so I'm far from shocked that in such a carefully planned-out event I forgot something as important as wedding rings.

And now we're married.

And I'm so very happy.

It's not that anything is different.  Our lives haven't suddenly changed.  We're not different (even though we both find it very strange to use the words "husband" and "wife."  We're still the same people, just a bit more legally bound than before.

But I finally had a wedding that I enjoyed, a wedding that I truly wanted to a man who I truly love and who truly loves me.

And that is very nice indeed.  It even makes all the stress and worry and work worth it.

Because I never, ever have to do this again.