The elephant in the room is not even my elephant: Misconceptions about what it’s like to have a sibling with a mental disability.

My brother has a mental disability. I mean it doesn’t have a name, like autism, or Down’s syndrome, it’s just “mental delay” meaning he looks normal, and doesn’t have any particularly diagnosable symptoms besides what I can only describe is that he has the mentality of a person of anywhere from six to twelve years of age depending on what category you are looking at.

I see many articles and blog posts of “What not to say to a parent of a special needs child” or “How to act around a parent/person with special needs…” “What it’s like to be a parent/person…” “What to eat and drink around a parent/person…” “How to blink around a parent/person…”

There is TONS of literature aimed at the parents of special needs kids and persons with special needs and rightly so! They have to deal with a lot of stereotypes, negativity, stress, paperwork, researching new medications, new therapies, new exercises, specialized care. It is enough to make your head spin and they deserve all the respect, help, and support they can get, or want. But you know what? I have never seen anything about how to help, support, or treat a sibling of a special needs person. There’s nothing out there that tells you what it’s like to have a brother or sister with special needs. You want to see someone get really uncomfortable really fast? Tell them you have a sibling with a mental disability after they say the word ‘retarded’ and then just stare at them with a fixed smile and anger in your eyes until they can’t look at you anymore, mutter an apology, pay for your meals for life, buy you a car and so on and so forth. What’s funny to me is that nowadays most people seem to accept my brother right away but you can tell they have questions they don’t know how to ask. They don’t want to offend anyone, but I have found that at when we worry so much about offending someone we also miss out on the opportunity to understand them by avoiding the topic altogether. Whether they mean to or not, people have some stereotype of how a disability works and what a family with kids with disabilities must be like. This silent politeness keeps them from knowing what is true and what is false. So I figured I would address some of the stereotypes and misconceptions that I have experienced most often in my lifetime as a sibling of someone with a disability.

Please note: these are things that I personally have experienced and would like to address as well as some stuff friends of mine who also have siblings with mental disabilities. I did not take a census or do scientific research, so please don’t use these points as a ‘How to’ guide, just take it as a perspective you might not have experienced yourself. Also, if I say something that sounds kind of funny or sarcastic, it’s ok to laugh at it, I’m just trying to keep it light.

Misconception #1: Sibling with disability = Requiring all the parents’ time, attention, and resources, leaving any other children abandoned and without love.

Here’s something that always seems to shock people; I was not neglected as a child. Sometimes people look at me like I’m grievously wounded after I tell them I have a brother with special needs. They often have a misconception that I must have had to fend for myself because my brother was so needy that my parents had absolutely no time for me or my older sister. That’s bogus. My parents made time for all of us. Sure there were times when my brother needed more attention than the average kid but there were plenty of times when it was the complete opposite. My brother was just as content to look at books or watch TV as any kid and babysitters LOVED him because he was so low maintenance. Seriously, childhood (mine, my sister’s AND my brother’s) was normal, probably more normal than most.

Misconception #2: Having a sibling with a disability instantly makes me a saint.

I am not someone to look up to or expect inspiration from just because of whom I’m related to. One time I was at the park with my brother and after watching us play for about five minutes, this woman came up to me and said “you are SO brave!” and just walked away. I have never been more confused in my life. Brave? Brave for what? Did I rescue someone from a burning building without realizing it? No, this random stranger just saw me playing with my brother and assumed I was doing something noble. I’ve got news for that lady, it doesn’t work like that. Call me brave for donating blood even though I hate needles, call me brave for attempting to drive and then parallel park a suburban in downtown Portland on a Friday evening. Don’t call me brave for playing. You want inspiration? Talk to my friend who runs a home for impoverished children in Kenya, or my friends who are doctors, nurses, social workers, or wildlife conservationists. To that lady in the park: I’m not judging you or saying your standards for inspiration should be a lot higher than me. Just understand that I was simply playing with my brother. This does not mean I never contemplated pushing my brother down a well, or locking him in a trunk and shipping him to Timbuktu the first chance I got (I thought about doing this fairly often actually, for reasons that will be explained in the next bullet point).

Misconception #3: Having a sibling with a disability is difficult because they have a disability.

Growing up, having a disabled sibling was difficult not because of his disability most of the time, but because he was my sibling. Siblings love each other (hopefully), but they also hate each other at times. This is true for any sibling relationship. We get in each other’s space, we fight over the remote, we fight over doing chores, we fight over the last slice of pizza, we fight because sometimes that’s the only thing keeping us from dying of boredom. Yes we are both adults now, but we still fight about stuff, just like 99% of siblings out there. On the flipside of that we have some of the best times ever! We watch movies together, we play games, we joke, we laugh, and we read together, we look out for each other, we take care of each other (yes my brother takes care of me sometimes), and we make each other better people. Because that is what siblings do, lovingly hit each other until something good comes out.

Misconception #4: Because I grew up with it, I’m so used to my brother’s disability that it doesn’t bother me.

Most days are good days, but it can really suck sometimes. My brother can’t do a lot of things that a regular guy his age can do. One of the things that is the hardest for me is his inability to handle a break in routine. If we tell him we are going camping for a weekend he will fixate on it, not out of excitement but out of major anxiety. We were in Disney World a few years ago (the happiest place on earth, right?) and all my brother wanted to know was when we were going home. He obsesses over food and when his next meal will be and that only gets worse when there is a break in routine. It is a constant battle to try to get him to understand that change can be a good thing. It is hard to see how much it stresses him out. When going to Hawaii feels like the end of the world to him, that’s hard. When he doesn’t understand that the experiences that we fight to give him are to show him we love him and want him to be with us as a family, that’s hard. A day trip to the beach means endless promises and reiterating the point that we WILL come home and we WILL have food at some point, that’s hard. The stress, the anxiety, the obsessing over change that you can’t explain to him in terms he understands is constant. There is no way to stop it, there is no magical way to change it, and it’s just the way he thinks. That’s hard.

Misconception #5: My brother’s disability is a burden all the time.

There are always two sides to a coin. Dealing with a disability isn’t always fun, but honestly, sometimes my brother’s disability can be really great! My brother’s disability gives him a great capacity to love life and others. My brother can experience joy more fully than anyone I know. He has the best laugh on the planet, take him to the movies and his big guffaw will have the entire audience laughing simply because he’s laughing. He is kind to everyone, and I mean everyone. He loves kids, and animals and they love him back (unless you are talking to our cat who hates all human contact). He hates to see people or animals hurt or in trouble. He likes to be helpful, mowing the lawn is his favorite. When he is excited about something it is contagious and you can’t help but get excited too (even if it is just because it’s pizza night). He can be so gentle, he doesn’t have a mean bone in him. He always wants the good guys to come out on top and he always cheers for the underdog. He loves sports, batman (the old school Adam West version), nachos, and peanuts on the beach. He is a GREAT basketball player, I’ve seen him make at least six half court shots. My brother is hilariously funny, always ready to make you laugh. He is quick to forgive and holds very few grudges (he is human after all). His disability is not his whole identity, but it can sometimes show us the purest form of his identity.

Misconception #6: I would give anything for my brother to be normal.

Excuse me *Climbs onto philosophical soapbox*

I will be honest, it’s really easy to think about the negatives. It is really easy to think about the ‘what if’s. It is really easy to get in the mindset that to be ‘normal’ is to be better. For years all I could think about was what having a ‘normal’ brother would look like. But then I realized, there is absolutely no good definition of normal. Everyone has something, some kind of quirk that makes them a little off the mark of normal. In that sense, my brother is no different, I am no different, and you are no different from any other person, just our quirks are different. My brother is healthy, happy, and he loves his life and those in it with more love and sincerity than most people could imagine. Why would I want to change that?

*clambers off of philosophical soapbox*

Is having a sibling with a disability easy? No, but how many things in life are easy? I have learned that trying to be positive helps me when it feels especially difficult, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. I am very involved in my brother’s life and vice versa so sometimes it can be a daily, if not hourly challenge to see the big picture. Sometimes you just want to talk about anything besides your sibling, sometimes you have to talk about them or you’ll go crazy. Every person who has a sibling with a disability has a different story. Some have it harder than others (I readily admit I have it pretty easy with my brother). Some dedicate their lives to their siblings, others try to be completely separate, even breaking all contact. Please do not judge those siblings who leave or think they have only selfish intent that is often not the case. It took me a long time to realize that my identity was not bound to my brother and there was a lot of anger and frustration tied up in figuring that out.

This post is probably way too long and rambling, but it is difficult to narrow down what to say and how to say it. There are a lot of questions that I have left unanswered and if you have any that you are dying to ask go for it. Most people in the disabled community (parents, siblings, the actual person of subject) are willing to answer legitimate questions, if they are asked with respect. Understanding is an amazing tool for gaining acceptance and most people with mentally disabled family members just want you to understand and have their family member accepted for who they are. I felt the most at ease as a kid when I knew people understood my brother and knew where I was coming from. So ask questions! Just be sure to ask about favorite restaurants, movies, what they think of the current weather etc. as well, because discussing the same topic all the time can get tedious for any person…unless that person is my brother and the topic is Batman or sharks.

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Best ways to avoid a shark attack.

There have been reports of some pretty nasty shark attacks recently in the news. I have to be honest, ever since I saw thirty seconds of Jaws as a youngster, I’ve always been extremely wary of going in the ocean. Here’s the thing kids, you can’t just think that because you live in a colder climate, or you’ve never seen a shark where you swim all the time, that they aren’t there. My family frequents the Oregon coast and this one time, a guy showed us a four foot shark in the bed of his truck in the parking lot of a favorite beach. He was just walking on the beach and found a four foot SHARK washed up on the tide line. It looked like a baby White shark, turns out it was a Mako (we think). There it was, big teeth, black doll’s eyes, and shaped like a torpedo of fishy death.  It was on that day that I decided to do everything I could to make sure I never EVER encountered a live shark in the wild. Thankfully I’ve gotten a lot less scared of sharks over the years. The fear has turned into respect as I do more and more research on the animals and I feel like the one in three hundred million odds of getting bit seem to be in my favor. Nevertheless there is always that haunting score from Jaws by John Williams that plays in my head every time I set foot in the Pacific. So in order to make sure the odds of getting killed by a shark are ZERO in three hundred million, this is the most effective suggestion I have found for making sure you don’t get attacked by the toothy varmints.

Stay away from every possible water source.

You must make sure that you are as far away from any water source, especially salty ones. This includes the ocean, the Great Salt Lake, salt water pools, and places where people cry a lot (so don’t even think about coming to my house when I’m watching Toy Story 3). Sharks love salt water, they believe it does great things for their skin and gives them a healthy glow without foundation or cover up. Don’t think that you are safe from being away from salt water though, freshwater poses some risks too. Certain species of shark have been known to swim miles upriver in freshwater regardless of how good their skin is. The only solution for this is to find the absolute center of the landmass that you live on and move there. Since I live in the U.S. that’s Lebanon, Kansas. The great thing about good ol’ Lebanon KA is that there are also no rivers within several miles so sharks can’t even try to get there (sharks hate taking the bus or train, they get car sick pretty easily).

Now you may be thinking “Sylvia, I’ve been to Lebanon Kansas, it’s pretty boring. Also, I don’t think I could handle living away from my first love which is the sea, or never watching a sad movie ever again.” To that I say, fine! You asked for it. Sharks are way more likely to get you if you don’t follow my advice. I understand though, the ocean is pretty great. So, if you really, really, really can’t stand the thought of never going in the beach ever again or moving to Kansas, here are my other suggestions for avoiding a shark attack.

1. Do NOT slather your body in bacon grease before you go swimming.

Bacon grease is beneficial for many things, including lubricating a stubborn door hinge, making vegetables edible, and restoring leather furniture, but it should not be your main form of sunblock if you are going to be swimming in the ocean. Sharks are attracted to the smell as they have an affinity for breakfast meats. If they discover you do not actually have any bacon to give them, they get angry and lash out. So no bacon grease at the beach this summer.

2. Do NOT wear your favorite sea lion costume while swimming.

I know it’s tempting. You just got it back from the cleaners and you are dying to try it out again. Well you’ll be dying of a shark bite if you do! (get it?) That’s because sharks and sea lions belong to rival gangs. They hate each other almost as much as Star Wars and Star Trek super fans hate each other. So if a shark sees you in a sea lion costume, he might just try to take you out to earn street credit.

3.NEVER insult a shark’s mom.

Fat jokes, gossip, bad manners, none of that. You offend a shark’s mom, heaven help you. Sharks are very protective of their moms, so if they hear you talking trash they will not hesitate to take you down a peg…or a leg. Be nice about their mom and don’t mention how bad her cooking is if you want to keep your limbs.

Again, I am no expert in sharks, but I’ve been following these tips my entire life and I’ve never been attacked by a shark. I would say that’s some pretty solid evidence that my methods are well worth following. Or you know, you could just not swim at dawn or dusk, avoid wearing flashy jewelry, swim in groups instead of solo, and never swim in an area where fishermen are fishing…that would probably work too.

My War with Traffic

Sorry I haven’t written in so long.
Now that I’m a full-fledged adult with a full time job I have been spending my time doing adulty things, mainly siting in traffic.
Being a Vancouver resident working in Portland, I’m pretty sure I spend more time in traffic than actually working. If you live in or near a large city (like LA, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Miami, or all of China) you understand. In fact you are probably scoffing at my statement that Portland has bad traffic, “psh, who does she think she is? Unless you have slept in your car on the freeway to make sure you get to work on time the next morning, you have never experienced real traffic.” To that end you may be right, but I do believe that the grievance of traffic is a universal experience. Maybe the hours on the road have turned my brain to mush and I don’t actually have any concept of how people live their lives outside of traffic.
Being stuck in traffic is a really good way to learn a lot of things about yourself. For instance, my day can be made awesome if traffic is light enough that it takes just ten minutes less than it usually does for me to get home. Or if it takes five minutes more, then my day is a complete wash. I could win the lottery and if traffic makes it take an hour for me to get home I can’t help but feel like the world has ended and I am in the bowels of hades.
I have found that I will make complete and absolute judgments on another driver’s character based on what they do in traffic. If they let me in when I’m trying to merge, then they are a saint. If they cut me off then I curse their name and any possible offspring they might have.
It is my highly objective opinion as a scientist that traffic is the root of all violence and evil. Hitler must have thought up WWII while he was sitting in traffic (that’s why he invented the Autobahn at least). When I see someone using the carpool lane without anyone else in their car, I actually contemplate throwing a rabid squirrel in through their window and let nature do justice, but then I remember I don’t have any squirrels at my immediate disposal (especially rabid ones, not after that last court case..) so I just breath through my nose and try really hard not to commit vehicular homicide.
The problem with traffic is that there is no way to get used to it. You can kind of get desensitized to other stresses you might have at home or at work, but traffic is so variable that you can’t get totally desensitized to it (read that in an article…somewhere…). I’ve gotten to the point where I leave my home for work in the morning to allow for an hour commute, even though it should technically only take me 20 minutes to get there if there is no traffic. I never check on traffic reports before I take off from the office. I have learned that it only causes me deep despair because, let’s face it, traffic reports are about as accurate as a dog doing calligraphy. It doesn’t matter how good or bad they say traffic is, you should add at least a half hour to the time, then you have a more accurate estimate of what you’ll be dealing with.
I am aware that if I let the stress of something as trivial as traffic get to me, I will send myself to an early grave, so I have searched for different things that could help ease the pain of the daily battle.
Here are the things that I have found to help me through the hours in gridlock:
1. Drinking Heavily
You would be AMAZED at how much a couple drinks can help you relax and enjoy the ride. I usually keep a few bottles of wine in my trunk and a bendy straw handy in the glove box, that way I can keep my eyes on the road but still enjoy my bottle. I’ve never actually looked at the serving size for the wine, but it seems like a bottle a trip is sufficient. Note: In order to not die or harm other persons outside your vehicle, this method only works if you are not the one actually driving…and you live in the state of Texas where open containers in a vehicle are permitted…maybe this one isn’t a good suggestion…yeah don’t ever do this, it would be a terrible idea…
Moving on to something not illegal!
2. Eating copious amounts of food
Like a dozen donuts, buckets of KFC, whole watermelons, burgers, pizzas (remember, any pizza is a personal pizza if you just try hard enough) and whole boxes of sugary cereal are some of my favorites.
3. Crying
Studies have shown good cry can relieve stress. Sometimes when I’m stuck in traffic I just like to cry, and cry, and cry, and cry, and cry some more until I’m dehydrated from loss of fluids.
4.Smoking
Nothing says ‘relax’ like lighting up! I think I saw that on a poster from the 50s once, that’s still relevant right?
Note: If you pair this one with crying, be sure not to cry too vigorously otherwise you might put out your cigarette.
5. Secretly live at your office
I found a nice closet that hardly ever gets used. Sometimes if I know traffic is going to be bad, I just grab a pillow from my car and hunker down in there for the night, it gets good wifi so what else would I need?
Whether these things help you through traffic or not, remember, the boredom and frustration of having hours of your life robbed from you is not a unique experience, I’m right there with you, and so are thousands of other people…hence the traffic.

What if my bully came to church?

This is a serious one you guys, sorry if you were looking for something funny today.

Today as I was getting ready for church I felt the Holy Spirit calling me to pray. I didn’t know what it was I was supposed to pray for, so I just prayed “God, let me be open to what it is you want me to learn today. Let my heart be receptive to your words and guide me to your truth. Amen.”

That was it. No fancy words, no long drawn out sentences, no ritual. Just simple words exchanged between me and my heavenly father.

Twenty minutes later I walked with my family into our church, greeted friends, said hello to new faces, and sat down for the worship and message.

Today’s message was on walking in faith, like it is mentioned several times in Colossians, and the meaning of such a metaphor.

Our pastor went on to talk about why the gospel is the key to a walk with Jesus. The gospel is God’s invitation to stop doing life without him. The gospel comes from God and it must be heard (Matthew 24:14). The gospel is grace and truth (Romans 8:1). I’ve heard all this before, it’s good to hear it again, but it was nothing new. Then he dropped this bombshell on me:

The gospel is for everyone.

Now you might be thinking, “Sylvia, surely you’ve heard this before. It’s kind of the main reason you, a white, female gentile, living thousands and thousands of miles and years apart from this man named Jesus, have any right to call yourself a Christ-follower.” and you would be right. I’ve heard this phrase many times, but this is when the Holy Spirit decided to let me know why I was asking God to open my heart to what he wanted me to hear this morning. Right after my pastor got done saying the gospel is for everyone, God gently whispered in my ear.

Even her.

I knew exactly who He was talking about, but I had not thought of her in years. I had not given her the benefit of being in my thoughts because to me, she wasn’t worth thinking about, she wasn’t worth my time or emotion. She was my high school bully. The gospel wasn’t for her.

You may be thinking that I should suck it up, almost everyone is bullied at some point in their life. This is true, I’m not saying that I had the worst experience on the planet; far from it. There are people who deal with much greater injustices than I ever will, but it is amazing how when someone makes a conscious effort to be covertly cruel to you every day that they can, it can make your situation feel one hundred times worse than it actually is.

When someone slowly takes away your confidence by making cutting remarks about your clothing choices being prudish, how much you eat, or how you don’t know how to have fun because you refuse to drink when you’re fifteen. When they somehow turn almost all of your friends into your enemies and you have no idea what you have done to offend them. When they smile and talk nicely to you when adults are around but look at you like you are not worthy to breath the air they breath, they are not a bully anymore, they are a master at psychological warfare. My relationship with God, my family, and the few friends who still liked me were the only reasons I did not fall so deep into my depression that I did not experience all of the horrible side effects of being bullied, the self harm, suicidal thoughts etc. By the grace of God I was spared that and only by his grace. One of the things that stuck with me while I was going through this was the hymn It is Well With my Soul. When we sang that in church it was the one song that brought me any measure of peace, when I was singing that, it felt like I was talking to God face to face, telling Him of my pains and He was listening intently, giving me His strength.  Obviously I was not immune though, just being around this person would put my stomach into knots and make me pray constantly, “please God, PLEASE make this stop”.

Then one day it did. She left suddenly after about year of this and I have not seen her since. When she left it was like someone turned on a light. Those people who bowed so easily to her manipulation seemed to wake up from a trance and became my friends again, whatever I had done to offend them was forgiven and I was back in their good graces. No one talked about my lack of fashion sense, no one commented on the fact that I played sports with guys and no one seemed to care when I declined a drink or a joint. I had peace for the first time in what seemed like the longest year of my life.

So why in the world was God bringing her to mind almost eight years later?

It was my fault really, I had asked Him to make my heart open to what He wanted me to learn. I allowed Him in to inspect my deepest hidden scars, my hurts, my self-victimization and rip the off the tiny band-aid I had put on them to try and make myself feel better. It got my attention. (Here’s a tip from a long time Christian; if you don’t want to grow in your faith, don’t ask God to grow your faith and DEFINITELY don’t ask Him to make you open to what He wants to teach you.)

I went into church this morning thinking I already knew what the gospel was, I already knew I am a sinner saved by grace because of what Jesus did for me on the cross, for the wretched things I have done (believe me, there are plenty). I already knew the gospel was for everyone. I already knew it was the perfect balance of grace and truth…but I refused to acknowledge her in the phrase “everyone”, I refused to acknowledge that the gospel was the perfect balance of grace and truth for her, I refused to put myself if the same category of sinner as her.

If she had walked into church this morning, several things would have happened in my heart, my anger would have snarled “what is SHE doing here?!”. My anxiety would have quailed “just leave, you should just leave before she sees you and you have to talk to her”. Worst of all, my pride would have scoffed “she shouldn’t be here, she isn’t good enough.” Then I would have spent the rest of the sermon not paying attention to God, but thinking about how much better I am than her, which goes to show that given the opportunity, I have just as much capability of seeing someone else as worthless, as she saw me.

So there in that moment, probably not more than a few minutes of actual thinking and processing all of these thoughts that I have just expressed in this already way too long post, I prayed that God would forgive me of my pride and my anger, and help me to forgive her for everything that had happened so long ago. I didn’t ask God to make it so that if I saw her tomorrow I would embrace her like an old friend and that I would have all these warm and fuzzy feelings inside. I asked him to make it so that if I saw her tomorrow, he give me the humility and compassion to remember that gospel is for everyone and she has the right to hear it from someone who has experienced the power of it firsthand.

So the sermon ended, my prayer ended, but I wasn’t sure if that was what God wanted me to hear, if that’s what He wanted me to get out of this message. Then the worship band goes back on stage and starts to play their next song, and wouldn’t you know it? They played It is Well.

Texas in all its Texas glory

Apparently I am really bad at communicating things, like the fact that I was in Texas for six weeks. So here is how I even got there in the first place:

On August 1st I was able to check a very major milestone off of my list. After four years, two cars, three jobs, countless papers written, debates, discussions, presentations, hours of online homework, blood, sweat, and tears, and threats of just selling my organs off to make a living instead of going through all this crap, I did it. I finally graduated from college. I got my degree, took a sigh of relief, and immediately started looking for jobs at all of the prestigious institutions including the federal government, state government, local government, Target, Petsmart, and Starbucks. Here is the great thing about having a degree kids, it either makes you way over or under-qualified for every single job you want. To be clear, I had a paid internship that was awesome, I loved my coworkers, my boss was cool, the work was great, but it was only a year-long position and it was over by the time I graduated. So it was basically like starting all over again. Even though I was applying for four to eight jobs a day, I was not getting any phone calls or interest in my applications. The despair was creeping in, the light was fading, employment seemed like a fairy tale that adults tell children about in order to give them hope for the future until one day I stumbled upon a position that seemed right up my alley. “Outdoor Educator/Naturalist” said the job posting, “Room and board plus salary” always a positive, “must enjoy working with kids of all ages, teaching them outdoor skills and science topics and getting them excited about nature” well sign me up! So I sent in all the pertinent information, did my phone interview, and within two weeks of being hired I was on a plane to Texas. I guess I just really wanted to see if the things you hear about the state and the culture on the news are true.

Here are the things I loved about Texas: My job, the people, the food, the nature.

Here are the things I thought were not so awesome about Texas: The heat, the humidity, and all the things that were trying their hardest to kill me (everything from the snakes, to the scorpions and spiders, to the mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus).

Let me expand on the positive things first. My job was awesome, I got to work with kids in the outdoors teaching them cool things like geology, ecology, orienteering, archery, ornithology, and so many other great subjects. I was the cool teacher that let them explore a dry creek bed for fossils, pretend to be foxes hunting rabbits, and show them swallows nests underneath bridges while on a kayak trip. There were several times where I was probably having way more fun than the kids, but that’s the great thing about working at an outdoor school, you get to have those moments where you happily ask yourself, am I really getting paid for this?

There is a huge difference in the ecology of Eastern Texas compared to the Pacific Northwest. I would be hiking through the forest thinking to myself that things were not all that different from home, but that thought would quickly leave my head when I would almost impale my foot on a prickly pear cactus. There was also a time when I went for a night hike and a baby copperhead was just chilling on the side of the path. I loved all the different birds I could see around camp (there was a barred owl that would sit in a tree outside my bedroom and call “Who cooks-who cooks-who cooks for you all?”). There was a herd of about fifteen deer that lived on site (not by the camp’s choice, the deer figured out that people could not shoot at them if they were on camp property, much to the chagrin of the local hunters). An animal that I had to get used to, not by sight, but by smell was the skunk. There were several that lived on camp and would come out at night to roam around. One night a skunk walked past the house my coworkers and I lived in. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had not been 90 degrees and we had all the windows shut except for the one with the AC unit in it. Well that skunk must have plopped itself down right in front of our AC unit which pumped the stink right into the house. The smell was so bad that our eyes watered and we all started coughing and sneezing and couldn’t stop for ten minutes. We did not dare open another window or door for fear that the skunk was still there and would spook and spray us so we just had to sit there in the stink until it went away. But enough about the wonderful wildlife, let’s move on.

The people of Texas are fascinating. Never have I been around such warm and inviting people who can compliment or insult you with the exact same loving smile on their face. In Texas, if you want to gossip about someone or point out their flaws, all you have to do to absolve yourself of any sin or guilt is to use the phrase “Bless his/her heart” at the beginning of your sentence:

“Bless his heart, I can’t beLIEVE he ate that entire cake by himself.”

“Bless her heart, she has the worst singing voice.”

“Bless his heart, he has an alcohol problem.”

If you really meant what you said, it would come as an afterthought:

“She is the worst human being on the planet, next to Hitler…bless her heart.”

This may seem a little two-faced, but honestly, if they have a real problem with you most of the time they will come right out and say it and you can settle your disagreement in opinion civilly without too much bloodshed. (Now before you think I am playing favorites for how people handle conflict in the Northwest, we are the worst at handling conflict, if we don’t like you, we just glare at you from across the room and if we have the guts, bump into you and not say sorry afterwards.)

I’m not getting down about Texans, I’m not a Texan hater by any means. All the Texans I encountered would give you the shirt off their back if they saw you needed it, no questions asked, no payback expected…just don’t insult the Cowboys or the Alamo or they will run you over with their gigantic trucks and smile at you like they are doing you a favor.

The one thing I truly missed about the Northwest while I was in Texas was the rain. True I missed my family a little, and my dogs, but the fact that the area where I was had been experiencing a drought for two years was evident everywhere you looked. It was always hot. I’m talking you-go-outside-at-7am-and-your-face-melts-off hot. It was extremely humid too. I think that combination made Texas like a modern day Jurassic Park, except with insects, not dinosaurs. Locusts and cicadas were easily 4 inches long, so were all the wasps and spiders. (The mosquitoes were like velociraptors, they could figure out how to get past all of your defenses and eat you alive, they knew how to open doors, they knew the exact second when the bug spray had worn off.)

Yes it is true, everything is bigger in Texas, the insects, the personalities, the love of football, even the sky. I greatly enjoyed my time and learned way more than I expected I would. Would I ever live there permanently? No, it’s not my cup of tea. Does it hold a very special place in my heart? Yes. Will I visit again? Most definitely and you should too.

New Zealand Part 2, the nerdiest day of my life

This blog post is hereby dedicated to the nerdiest, most fantastic day of my life.

When I tell people I went to New Zealand I get one of two reactions. I either get the “Oh, that’s cool” with the usual followup questions about the landscape, the animal life, the culture, and the people. That’s the normal person reaction. The nerd reaction is “YOU’VE BEEN TO NEW ZEALAND?! I’M SO JEALOUS! Did you know that’s where they filmed the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies?” To which I casually wipe off the excitement spittle that has landed on my face and say “Why yes, I did know that, in fact…I went to the Shire…” at which time the person lets out a gasp and looks at me with awe, then I play my trump card “and…I have traveled through the lands of Mordor, to the foot of Mount Doom.” Then the person either faints, or grovels at my feet because they acknowledge that I am the superior nerd in that instant.

Ok, maybe they don’t go that far, but I do know that I have definitely earned their respect.

As I feel I have earned rightfully. I don’t know if it was mine or my sister’s idea to go to where they filmed the shire scenes for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies, it might have been suggested to us by friends who have been to New Zealand before. While it would be one of the more expensive options for our adventure, we felt it would be worth it just to say that we had been there. Let’s face it, every person who has ever enjoyed any of the writings of Tolkien and their movie renditions directed by Peter Jackson would be very disappointed in us if we did not go. The conversations might go a little more like this;

Nerd friend: “That’s so cool that you’ve been to New Zealand, did you visit the places where they filmed the Lord of the Rings?”

Me: “Well, no, we didn’t, it didn’t seem like it would be the money.”

Nerd friend: “Oh yeah, that makes sense…” Cue the silent and irrevocable judgement that will last for all eternity.

To be honest, I do not consider myself a nerd. Sure, I have nerd tendencies, I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy like Star Wars (episodes, 4, 5, and 6 only please), Harry Potter, Disney and the like, but I would not consider myself a full-on nerd, I am amateur at best, a friend of the nerds if you will. But for whatever reason, when I put my head down to sleep the night before our scheduled tour of Hobbiton, my mind was buzzing with excitement, maybe it was the thought of going to an actual movie set where actual famous people have spent time at, but looking back on this anticipation, maybe there was something a little more magical involved. In the middle of the night I woke up from a horrible dream that I had lost my gold ring that I was wearing on this trip. I became increasingly worried that I would not be able to find it and take it with me to the Shire. Seriously, that was my thought process, the ring had been lost and I became almost panicked as I searched for it in the dark of our room. Twenty minutes of frantic searching and I found the ring, put it on and felt so relieved that I slept soundly the rest of the night. It did not occur to me until the next morning that that ring held no real value to me other than being a piece of jewelry, but for those twenty minutes, I don’t know, for whatever reason, the ring was…precious to me.

So the next morning, ring on my hand, excitement in my heart, we set off for Hobbiton and after some skilled navigating, by yours truly, got incredibly lost. Just so you know, there are very few informational road signs in New Zealand, maybe it’s just an American thing to have signs every 300 feet (or roughly 100 meters for you metric folk) telling you where to go to find the next big attraction (“hey kids! Only 214 miles to Yellowstone!” “YAAAaaaaay!!” *one minute of silence* “Hey kids! Only 213 miles to Yellowstone!” “Yaaaaaaaay!!” *one minute of silence* “Hey kids!” *sounds of mom promptly exiting the moving vehicle*) but no way, not in New Zealand. They seem to prefer to keep all of their really cool things secret, especially their nerdy cool things.

Turns out, when Peter Jackson was scoping out places to film parts of the Lord of the Rings, he was flying over the area of Matamata in a small plane and decided that one specific sheep farm several miles outside of town was the perfect place to build the Shire. So, after offering this sheep farmer quite a lot of money and passing a law that no other aircraft would fly over that specific spot at a low altitude (this is totally true, look it up), the filming of all of the Shire scenes for the Lord of the Rings began, it was not until later that the structures (the hobbit holes, and the Green Dragon  tavern) were made permanent for the filming of the Hobbit movies and tours were started. All this to say, the Shire is not easily accessed from a main road, you have to really know where you are going in order to find it because in reality it is just a sheep farm (because if there is anything that is going to stay constant in New Zealand, it is sheep) in the country with a few extra buildings in one of the fields.

But let me tell you, those extra buildings in that field really add to the scenery. If you consider yourself a LOTR nerd in any way, you have to make a pilgrimage to Hobbiton (and New Zealand in general) because it will blow your ever-loving mind. I’m not going to give away all of the magic of the tour because it really is something you have to experience yourself, my feeble attempts at writing will not do it justice. I will say this though, it will inspire, entrance, and captivate you and your imagination and make you really wish that you were actually a hobbit and that you could live there forever (no joke, if someone told me I could live there, I would pack my bags and be gone faster than a tankard of beer at Bilbo’s 111th birthday party).

After we toured Hobbiton (yes, we actually had other plans besides being in the Shire all day, but trust me, they were just as nerdy) we drove through the foothills to a place called the Waitomo Caves which are underground caves carved by the Waitomo River that winds its way through the countryside. They have everything you could ever want to do in a cave, black water rafting, zip lining, there is even one cavern big enough to hold concerts in (ok, small ones, but still, that’s impressive) but they also have one other attraction that can be found in very few places in the entire world, Arachnocampa luminosa or as they are more commonly known as, glowworms.

***WARNING I AM ABOUT TO GET REALLY SCIENCE NERDY***

***IF YOU ALREADY THINK THIS BLOG POST IS TOO LONG THIS IS PROBABLY WHERE YOU SHOULD STOP READING***

***THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME AND HAVE A GOOD DAY***

Glowworms are technically not worms in the strict sense of how we understand worms as slimy, limbless creatures who spend their time eating detritus in soil. They are actually the pupa of a type of gnat that is endemic to New Zealand. What makes glowworms glow is a chemical reaction that occurs within the pupa’s abdomen creating an effect called bio-luminescence. What is so special about this bio-luminescence you ask? First of all, it’s bright blue and really cool looking (this is a correct science term, I believe Einstein used it regularly). Second of all, it is with this glowing property that glowworms catch their food. They will spin a thread of silk and deposit globules of a sticky substance on it and then dangle the thread from their mouth like a fishing line as they cling to the ceiling of a cave. Then they light up their little blue abdomens, which mimics starlight, and this attracts flying insects in the cave such as mayflies and cadisflies. When their prey gets stuck on the fishing line, the glowworm will reel in the silk (aka eat it) and eat the insect stuck to the line…IS THIS NOT THE ABSOLUTE COOLEST THING YOU HAVE EVER HEARD OF???

It blew my mind, that’s for sure. Call me crazy, but nature is pretty dang awesome (also a scientific term, Da Vinci used it often).

I learned a lot of cool facts and trivia that day but when I look back on it, the biggest lesson I learned was a life lesson, sometimes you put your trust in someone, and they will let you down in the most painful way possible. Here is how I learned that lesson:

After our tour of the caves, we made our way to the town of Rotorua where we were to spend the night. It was getting late and we had not eaten dinner yet and since our hostel had a kitchen available for use, my sister and I decided we should go to the store and get some salad makings for dinner, including some steak for added protein. So I’m chopping the salad and I leave Steph in charge of cooking the steak as I have trusted her with cooking ever since we were kids. Steph starts pulling spices out of the cupboard and we discover that there is no salt but there are other spices for use like cayenne pepper, paprika, chili powder etc so Steph makes due and starts seasoning the steak as she cooks it. Whether the top falls off of the cayenne pepper bottle or she measured out too large of an amount as she dumps the pepper on the steak, I don’t remember, all I remember is that we finish cooking the steak, chop it up, and mix it in the salad and Steph warns me that “it might be a little on the spicy side”. She takes a bite and sits there is silence as she chews…and chews…and chews…finally she takes a long sip of her water, coughs a few times and tells me “yeah, it’s spicy, but it’s not too bad”.

I’ve should have known from the tears welling in her eyes and the redness creeping into her cheeks that she was lying to me, but I was both hungry and prideful that if she could handle it, then so could I. So I took a large bite of salad and steak and almost immediately regretted my decision. People don’t tell you that after the first effects of pain from chewing cayenne pepper steak that there is a lasting burning that not only lingers in your mouth but everywhere the pepper touches including your lips, esophagus, and basically everything else after that. Heaven forbid you take a breath while you are chewing because then the pepper turns into an aerosol and fills your lungs making you gasp for air which causes you to cough which causes the pepper to go up your nose which means it is now impossible to breathe in any way, shape, or form. Now you (the outside observer) might be thinking at this point, “why doesn’t the idiot take a drink of milk, or eat something like bread to neutralize the pepper?” well that would have been a great idea except this idiot did not have either of those things available for consumption, all the idiot had was death salad and water to eat and guess what? The idiot was very hungry so despite the pain of what felt like chewing on 1000 angry wasps, the idiot ate as much of the salad as she could complaining the entire time to her sister that she would never trust her to make a salad ever again.

Of course we both survived and ate Cadbury chocolate afterwards to reward ourselves for our daring cooking adventure and even though it felt like my lips were going to melt off my face, they somehow stayed attached and I lived to eat another day.

So that was the nerdiest day of my life, it had all the right quantities of fantasy and science, I got to have a drink in the Green Dragon pub and imagine myself as a hobbit and I sat in a boat in an underground river and got to witness some of the most unique animals in all of creation in action. All parts of my inner nerd were satisfied and I got to enjoy such a day with my sister, who could ask for anything more? I certainly could not. (Even if she did try to kill me with salad).

Helpful hint: if you are looking for Hobbiton, just find the town of Matamata, there is an informational hut in the middle of town, yes, literally a hut, you can’t miss it, that can give you way better directions to get there than Google maps or any other website.

New Zealand, it’s not just for hobbits part 1

New Zealand was always on my radar of countries to visit, but it was not in my top five (The UK, Germany, The Galapagos, Italy, and Australia in case you were wondering). It was only because my father, knowing my sister and I were planning a trip to Australia, suggested we extend our trip and visit one of the last places our grandmother and grandfather had visited before our grandma died of breast cancer. I could tell he was really serious about us going and with a few changes to the schedule and some emails to friends about suggestions of where to go and what to do, our trip was extended by a week and a half to give us ample time to explore the northern island of New Zealand. Little did we know how much of an impact this trip would have on us (don’t worry, this isn’t foreshadowing anything dire, just expressing emotion and trying to draw the reader in, is it working? Ok, good.).

Our first few days were spent in Auckland, where we experienced yachts, the Skytower, and a whole lot of historic buildings that have been turned into high-end shops. The yachts were impressive, as we walked to the fish market we would pass the harbor where they were docked and made guesses as to how much they were worth “that one looks to be about fifty gajillion. Look! That one is for sale, probably only cost you what you would make in your lifetime and your firstborn! (the sad thing is, that was fairly accurate). Auckland was very pretty, it reminded us a lot of Seattle, except for the palm trees, and the fish market there is nowhere near as cool as the Pike’s Place market (they don’t even throw the fish in Auckland).

The Auckland Clock Tower

Auckland Skyline

After a few days we went back to the airport to pick up our rental car and head north to Paihia. This was my first time experiencing driving on the wrong side – excuse me – left side of the road and while Steph had driven on the left while she was in Ireland, we still had minor panic attacks (clarification, major screaming events) whenever we would turn on a major road for fear of choosing the wrong side and getting in an accident. There were also times we would be walking down the sidewalk and freak out because we thought that a person was driving a vehicle and reading a book at the same time only to realize we were looking at the passenger in the car. All in all we drove out of Auckland alive and once we got on the highway it really did not matter that we were on the wrong -excuse me again- left side of the road, because everyone was going the same direction.

Our drive up to Paihia from Auckland on the eastern coastline was only supposed to take us about four hours total but it ended up taking us close to six or seven because we kept stopping to take pictures of the FLIPPIN’ GORGEOUS coastline. Seriously, it was all rolling hills, beautiful beaches, teal waters, and awesome rock formations. Being adventuresome in spirit, we went down this long, winding dirt road (“We drive on the left, we drive on the LEFT!! IIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEok we’re good.”)  to a place called Tawharanui Regional Park. When we got out of the car and stepped onto the beach it felt like we were in Narnia. I have never been on such a peaceful, more beautiful beach in my life. The only sound was the lapping waves on the sand, and the gentle baa-ing of sheep on the hillsides.

Driving the northwest coast of New Zealand

Oh yeah, that’s the funny thing about New Zealand there are more sheep than people, it’s a 4:1 ratio according to my friends who live there, and you notice it the second you get outside of a large city. Sheep and wool products are a huge part of New Zealand’s economy. There is even a theme park for sheep (well, not for sheep, it’s really difficult to make roller coasters with the right safety features for such a short animal) where people can go and learn about sheep, and shearing wool, and sheep herding, andzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz whoa! Sorry! It’s called Sheep World and it sounds super exciting, but we did not get to go there this round unfortunately, maybe the next time we visit.

Anywho, back to what we actually did. After spending the night in Paihia we went west to travel along the west coast down south to Hamilton which was our next sleeping destination. If the northeast coast was beautiful for its serenity, then the northwest coast was beautiful for the exact opposite reason. The coastline has many high cliffs and hills of sand that have been windswept and battered by waves and frequent storms. Everything about the northwest coast reminded me of the Oregon coast in wintertime except for the gigantic dead puffer fish, and man-of-war jellies we found strewn across the sand while we were taking a stroll on the beach. I take back what I said in a previous blog post about there not being wildlife that could kill you in New Zealand, walking on that beach was like playing Death Twister it had so many jellies on it (ok, it’s highly unlikely to get killed by a man-of-war jelly, but if you step on one you’ll want to chop off your foot).

Regardless of this new threat to our lives, we pressed on and enjoyed many more great sights and sounds on our way to Hamilton and when we got to our hostel we enjoyed watching a game of Australian rules football on tv before bed. If you are thinking it’s like American football, you are wrong. If you are thinking it’s like soccer, you are even more wrong. Look it up, you will be amused, I especially enjoy the enthusiastic referee hand signals.

That’s all I have to say about the first four days, tune in next time to hear about one of the all-time most nerdiest days of my life. I’ll give you a sneak peak, it involves this picture:

The hobbit hole

New Zealand Days 1 and 3

I have ADD, so rather than write about my trip in one long post, I will do it in small spurts so as to keep it fresh and interesting for all parties involved including myself. Plus, this way I don’t use up all of my material in one go.

Where would we be without modern conveniences and technology? It blows my mind to think that there was a time when people could go for months/years without seeing their relatives who lived in different states because there were no cars, or they had to keep food in root cellars because they had no refrigerator, or they had to brush their teeth with a squirrel tail because there were no electric toothbrushes. Arguably one of the biggest and most influential inventions in technology was the airplane and along with it, the airport.
That is where our (mine and my sister’s) journey began, in the airport. The Portland International Airport to be exact. Call me biased, call me weird, but I believe that as far as airports go, PDX is one of the best airports out there. Maybe I feel that way because we never had cable when I was a kid and my parents would take us to the Portland airport to play and explore on days when they had no idea what else to do to entertain us for a couple hours (this was before they put all those security checkpoints in place, if you take your kid to the airport now, they make you put them in a crate so they don’t run around and shed and pee on everything). Maybe I love PDX because it is great for people watching, I saw two men with substantial facial hair give each other something I can only describe as a Beard Nod while walking past one another in the PDX airport. It was like watching two silverback gorillas size each other up and grunt their mutual respect. Maybe I like the PDX airport the most because the next leg of my trip meant a layover in the worst airport ever…LAX. Now some of you might be saying “Wait a minute, I have been to LAX and it wasn’t that bad” and I’m sure you are right and I will most definitely not try to compare LAX to an airport in rural China for instance…but it was just like going through an airport in rural China. It was crowded, noisy, and very confusing to navigate. At one point we were riding at the speed of light on the back of a golf cart down an underground tunnel and when we stopped the driver told us to go down a hallway and through a door that was covered in “DO NOT ENTER” signs with two security guards on duty. Eventually after talking to those security people and making our way through several groups of Asian tourists waiting for their bus (See? I told you it was like China) we made it to the international terminal and after going through security once more and sacrificing an item to the TSA gods (a nalgene water bottle that had not been emptied) we were granted access to our gate and one step closer to being in New Zealand.
You may have noticed that the title of this post is Days 1 ‘and’ 3 the reason it is not Days 1 ‘through’ 3 is because we never had a Day 2. Because we crossed over the international dateline during our flight, we took off from LA on Monday and landed 14 hours later in Sydney on Wednesday so we completely missed Tuesday. If you are getting really confused, don’t worry about it, I was just trying to be clever with the title, if it is the actual international dateline concept that is confusing you, ask someone smart to explain it, like Google.
Anyways, back to my boring story about airports. Seriously, this last part is going to be pretty boring so if you want to stop reading now, I won’t be offended.
So fourteen hours filled with airplane food, some light sleep and three in flight movies later (the Lego Movie, Saving Mr. Banks, and 1/2 of Monuments Men) we flew in to the Sydney airport. Unfortunately we got off the plane little too late and missed our connecting flight to Auckland, thankfully we were able to get on another flight only two hours later.
This gave us a chance to walk around the Sydney Airport for a little while which brought me a few new realizations about Australia. 1. They really like their UGG boots and wool products. 2. Everything is really expensive. 3. Cadbury is king and Hersheys is just its lackey. 4. People actually like going to McDonald’s. and 5. Holy crap, everything is REALLY EXPENSIVE.

Alright enough about airports and airplanes, this is getting tedious. I’ll wrap up by saying the rest of our flying experience was uneventful (except for the part where I was held up and interrogated by customs officials, but I’m not allowed to say any more than that because of the ongoing investigation) and when we got into the city of Auckland we took a bus straight to downtown where we dropped off our luggage at our hostel, and went off to experience the nightlife of a buzzing metropolis. Unfortunately is started raining and it was a Wednesday night (who wants to party on a Wednesday night?), so we went back to the hostel and were asleep by 8.

That’s all we have for today folks, tune in next time to hear more about the actual trip (I promise it gets more exciting).

I’m going on an adventure!

I just finished a skype session with some friends who live in New Zealand and are being gracious enough to let me and my sister stay with them while we are there and man, am I excited!
I am so excited that I at first I didn’t know what to do with my excitement, “hmmm ” I though to myself, “if only there was some way I could express my excitement in a way that I can show it off to tens, if not TWENTIES of people who might have the slightest inkling of interest in my day to day life…..” and thus this blog post was born.
In just over three weeks, my sister and I will be embarking on another Dost Sister Adventure (DSA) where we will spend ten days in New Zealand and ten days in Australia. The closer I get to this DSA the more distracted I get in my classes and getting homework done. I keep thinking about all of the crazy cool things we are going to get to do and motivation to finish school is about as low as my grandma’s dog’s belly hair (she’s a 13 year old mini dachshund, so you can imagine how low to the ground that hair is).
Nonetheless, I am aware of how important it is that I finish my classes strong so I am keeping this trip in the front of my mind strictly for motivational purposes, but a girl can do a little bit of daydreaming right?
One of the things I look forward to the most is seeing my friends who I met at Camp Tadmor over the three summers I worked there. Even before this plan to visit was set in place, they did an excellent job of getting me ready to go down under. They taught me about their native language and foods. Those of you who think they speak English, you are wrong, they have all kinds of silly words for things, like “serviette” for napkin, and “torch” for flashlight and “vegemite” which means curdled soy sauce that’s been chewed up by a lobster and made into toothpaste. I jest, vegemite to Australians is probably like hot dogs to Americans, all the other countries probably look at it and go “ew gross, why would you put something like that in your mouth?” and we just yell “SHUT UP IT’S DELICIOUS” (well, Americans would yell, the Australians would probably just shrug politely) and go right on eating it while the other countries gag and look away.
I also can’t wait to experience all of the amazing animals, 90% of which could probably kill me just by looking at me. I was watching a documentary with my parents about a month ago and it was all about the most poisonous animal venom in the world and probably eight out of the ten animals they showcased were from Australia. Not just snakes, oh no, we’re talking lizards, spiders, jellyfish, and snails (yes, snails) that all pack a punch in their venom so big that it would send you to heaven so fast that your soul would break the sound barrier as it went up. Keep in mind, these all live in Australia, New Zealand doesn’t seem to have nearly the vast array of deadly critters. Fun fact, did you know that New Zealand has no native mammals? In fact I’m not too worried about any of the animals in New Zealand seeing as their national animal is the Kiwi, a football sized bird with wings the size of postage stamps (but not quite as formidable). I suppose I should be worried about the orcs though seeing as New Zealand is their native habitat, but as long as we befriend the elves we should be safe.

Orcs and snails and joking aside, it seems like an understatement to say I am really looking forward to this trip however true of a statement it may be. While the sights and experiences are going to be amazing, it’s really the people I will be seeing and the person I’m going with that make me the most excited. My sister is the best travel companion I could ask for. We balance each other out very well. She makes sure I don’t just sit in the hotel room watching tv, and I make sure she does things like eat and sleep. She provides the boldness to venture forth and the drive to try new things and I provide the safety and nurturing to keep us alive. It’s a winning combination.

So here’s to adventures, reunions, to trying new things, making new memories that will last a life time, and another DSA for the books. Probably the next time I write will be after our trip so until then, stay classy Vancouver and yes, I will do my best to try not to be an ignorant American abroad and also yes, if at all possible procure a pet platypus.

The most recent DSA, Oahu HI

The most recent DSA, Oahu HI

Redhead

My name is Sylvia and I am a redhead. There I said it. Now everyone knows. Now it is out in the open and we can all be honest about how we feel about it, deal with it, and move on.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my hair. It makes me unique, it means I can find myself in pictures much faster than other people, it means I would have higher value as a Roman slave, and it gives me a good way of identifying myself over the phone to people “Hey, this is Sylvia!” *pause* “The redhead you met last Tuesday.” “Oh Hi Sylvia! Yes, it was very nice to meet you!”

The problem is that there are a lot of stupid stereotypes, and nasty nicknames that can make having red hair a bit of a bother.

I was teased about my hair on and off as a kid, never really to the extent of being seriously hurt by it (I usually ended the dispute by punching the bully until they stopped), enough that it was noticeable but things were pretty kosher until high school. That’s when the whole “Gingers have no souls” episode of Southpark came out (or are least when I started hearing about it)  That made for interesting comments about my hair, most of them along the lines of:

“Hahaaaa! You don’t have a soul!”

or

“Don’t get too close I don’t want you to steal my soul.” High school kids are SO creative it blows my mind sometimes.

or

“Can you see yourself in the mirror, or does it just look like your clothes are floating there?” This one came up frequently from one of the popular girls in the school, I’m assuming she was mixing up vampire traits with redheaded soullessness. This comment didn’t hurt that much because it came from the same girl who also believed that people who spoke Norwegian were from “Norwegia” and thought the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were the same document (go ahead and look it up just to be sure, I’ll wait).

The other thing that made high school interesting was my sophomore or junior year when that scientific research was published about redheads going extinct in one hundred years.

“When are you and <insert redheaded boy’s name here> going to start that breeding program? We don’t want all of you dying off too soon.” This was said because one of my best friends in high school actually created a flow chart of all the possible combinations of the different redheads in the school. It was designed to see how we could pair up and have kids and then our kids could have kids and so on and so forth without there being “too much” inbreeding. That was her plan for saving our species, but seeing as there were five legitimate redheads in the entire school, the “too much” inbreeding became a factor pretty early on, so that plan was scrapped in its infancy much to my relief.

Another thing is that I really envy people who are redheads and Irish because then a person can say “oh you have red hair, are you Irish?” and the redhead can say “yes I am” and the other person can say “cool” and that’s it. That’s the entire conversation and people just drop it. Not so easy if you are like me, a red head and not Irish. St. Patrick’s day is always a fun time because I get asked the same sequence of questions by at least four people every year, some of them drunk, some of them perfectly sober. This was a conversation I had with an intoxicated guy a couple years ago.

“This must be a big day for you!” said the guy.

“Why do you say that?” I asked politely.

“Well because it’s your people’s national holiday!” he said.

“My people?” I said, perplexed.

“The Irish!” he exclaimed spreading his arms wide and smiling at me like he’s thinking I’m one of those people who must be a little slow on the uptake.

“I’m not Irish.” (I should have just lied and said that I was, that would make things so much easier)

“Of course you are! You have the hair!” he gestures vaguely at the stuff growing out of my head.

“No, I’m not Irish.”

“…really?”

“Really.”

“Not even a little bit?”

“Not a bit. There are a lot of redheads out there who are not Irish.”

<Long pause with an awkward silence as I could see the gears turning in his head>

“Then why are you wearing green?” he asked (I think the beer was finally kicking in).

“The same reason you’re wearing green. It’s St. Patrick’s Day.”

“…But you’re not Irish.”

“Now you’re catching on.”

I walked away at that point because I knew that a couple more minutes of that conversation would have led to the questions of “is it real?” and “can I touch it?” and then the touching of my hair without me actually giving permission.

That’s another thing. Why do people just automatically assume they can touch my hair? It’s not magical. It will not heal your sickness, it will not give you good luck, and yet people want to touch it ALL THE TIME. Or they do that thing where they grab my hair, put it on their head and ask the people around us, “how do I look with red hair?” and then laugh and laugh and all I can think is “how do I look with your lice?” Seriously people, you don’t go up to a bearded individual and pull their face to your face and ask, “how do I look with facial hair?” do you? No you don’t. Why? Because you don’t want to get stabbed with the knife that the bearded person probably carries with them for just such purposes as to fend of beard grabbers. I may not carry a knife with me, but I will not hesitate to pull a Mike Tyson and bite your ear off if you try the red wig approach. Consider yourself warned.

There are many more things I could write about that are both pros and cons to being a redhead but I think I will save those thoughts for a later date. I will say this though since it is a question I get often, no I don’t really mind if you call me ginger or red, as long as you are ok with me calling you by your hair color in return.