#115: Stress

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Stress. We all experience it, one way or another. Stress over work, stress over school, stress over relationships. It’s normal to be stressed, unfortunately, despite it being so toxic and corrosive to our mental health. There’s always been talk about how stress and challenges are essential to learning, that in order to be truly engaged or challenged in a task, there has to be some degree of urgency associated with it.

In some ways, I agree completely. How can I ever expect to learn how to handle stress, for example, without having experienced it in a more constructive, educational way in school? School is and has always been a reflection of life after school, but with handlebars and the bumpers up. Teachers are dictators, at least according to kids, and counselors are helpful, guiding friends. School has the makings of a microcosm of life itself, and the lessons learned in school help students in that they can apply those lessons when they reach adulthood. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. I don’t claim that this is what everyone’s school experience was like, or even mine for that matter, but I hope I can convey a sense of idealism, not realism, in this.

So, looping back to stress and the factors that go into it. I am somehow who gets stressed easily, and the second a student says one thing that’s slightly disrespectful, I am taken aback and reeling all the way home. My mind absorbs all the emotions and energy of the room around me, internalizing it all. That’s the life of an anxious mind. But in order to overcome stress, I like to think some advil and World of Warcraft does the trick. (That’s partially a joke; I do play WoW to unwind, though.)

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#106: The Dog Bed

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Time to update on the status of the bed!

We bought Angus a dog bed, or dog mattress, however you want to call it, when we first adopted him. It was one of our first purchases, not knowing at the time how it would go over and how we would train him to get used to the bed. We didn’t plan much for him, which was probably an issue at the start of our training, as we didn’t know exactly what to do with him. But we were prepared in the sense that we had enough money to give him what he needed when he needed it. We weren’t going to let our dog live in anything less than total luxury in our apartment.

The dog bed became kind of a running joke, as it was only in the crate, which we only used and put him in a few times after Angus misbehaved greatly and majorly (which I have covered in other posts on here.) We ended up bringing the bed into the bedroom after an incident late at night involving Angus’s big, dopey body taking up too much space in our bed. We used to sleep together, until Angus barked in the middle of the night at me because I was trying to push him over for space reasons. When we started organizing the bed for Angus to sleep on, it took some time for him not to jump onto the bed in the morning. But we fixed that by opening the door at night, so Angus can sleep in the living room if he feels like it. We make sure that there’s nothing in the room that he can mess with, just as we do during the day when we leave for work, and he usually wanders in there rather than sleep on the bed. It’s a work in progress for all of us.

#102: The MOBA

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MOBA stands for multiplayer online battle arena. It’s a genre of video game, typically played on computers, with its most popular entry being League of Legends, probably the most popular game in the world right now. League has had that title for well over the past few years, leading into 2012 most likely. MOBAs feature chosen heroes or champions battling it out on a map with repeatable, respawnable minions or creeps sieging the opposing team’s fortress. The goal is to completely take down the other team’s fortress, ultimately laying siege to their core, the most important structure in their fortress. If the core goes down, so to does the team. These are all features that pretty much all MOBAs share, regardless of who’s playing them or what game is being played.

Now, the reason I’ll be discussing MOBAs today is because of a certain game within the genre that’s of particular importance to myself and my friends. This game is called Heroes of the Storm, known as the third most popular MOBA on the market, behind both League and Dota 2. Heroes is a fantastic game with lots of gameplay diversity and options, despite its lower popularity. Characters like The Lost Vikings offer micro-based experiences, while newer characters like Imperius and Blaze are heavyweight, front line bruisers who tank damage and dish it out as well. They tend to be some of my favorite to play when I join a team with friends. The game itself allows me to play how I want to play by choosing my hero in advance, through the game’s quick match mode.

In continuing the trend of talking about my sleepover experiences, Heroes comes to mind because it’s frequently one of the best options we have. Being a team of three players usually, we have enough team chemistry and cooperative skills to win most of our games. And we do, and winning is pretty fun! Late at night, after some time spent horsing around on other games and devices, we end up on Heroes as a way to pass the time before bed. I can’t separate my appreciation for this game from its usual place in our sleepover schedule, as it fills such a hole in our time. Games usually go about 20 minutes or so, which is short enough for us to spam games, gain experience for each of our heroes, and win in glorious fashion. The games are much shorter than the average League or Dota game, which I’ve learned to appreciate as a way for me to not have to commit super hard to a game when I press the queue button. I know that, even if the game sucks and we lose, it only goes about fifteen minutes so I shouldn’t be too bothered by it.

#100: The Snow Day

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Yes, it’s blog #100! Isn’t this special? It sure feels that way. Knowing I’ve kept up writing 300 words a day for about 100 days in a row now, the feeling fills me with determination! Not to mention that I’ve skipped a few days here and there, but for the most part, it’s been a consistent streak.

The snow day I had on Tuesday was so necessary, after a long, dry winter season without much snow. Although I had only just started following a school-based schedule again a few weeks ago, the snow day felt like the perfect stress relief after some time of hard work. It leads directly into February break, which I’m super looking forward to. February break lasts only a couple extra days (it includes Thursday, Friday, and Monday off) but even those extra days will be cherished and appreciated for what they are. Needless to say, bring it on!

Snow has always been associated with school for me. It’s hard to separate them in my head, considering I’ve always been operating under the typical school-based schedule of life. Summers are off, winters are variable, and fall and spring are work time. After graduating high school, I went to college for five years, earned my undergrad and graduate degrees, and then went to work in a school system. The only break I’ve had from the school schedule was in 2018, during the few months I spent unemployed. So, when I hear snow, my mind always thinks about whether or not it will result in a snow day, a day off of work. Is it any surprise that, as soon as I return to working in a school, the year’s supply of snow finally begins to drop down from the sky?

Snow days are special.

#97: The Keurig

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Again, let’s talk about coffee. I’ve talked about this subject enough times on my blog that I think it’s gotten repetitive at this point, but this is centering on a different facet of coffee-drinking: the coffee-making machine. When I am waking up in the morning, the fresh, hot coffee Alex brewed from our fancy Keurig machine lifts me up and keeps me going throughout the long early morning of the work day. Shout out to Alex and her exceptional brewing skills, especially at 4:30am!

The Keurig we have now is fantastic. We got it for Christmas, thanks to Alex’s mom, and its variety of options still blows me away. It has options for literally all kinds of mug sizes, and a screen that changes color and design with the push of a button. As you can probably imagine, I’m easily pleased by these things! But honestly, after looking at the Keurigs at various work environments and offices, this Keurig blows the other ones completely out of the water. It feels like a 21st century invention, if you catch my drift. Like a hoverboard, except for coffee. I use it to prepare coffee at night for Alex and I, and I use it to prepare tea when I’m going to bed, so that I can relax with some nice chamomile sleepytime tea. It prepares every kind of hot or cold beverage you could ever need!

At work, I bring k-cups with me so I can refill my coffee in the office Keurig machine whenever it goes down. Another great resource.

I wish I knew the exact model of this Keurig so I could plug it here. Maybe I’ll go home, look it up, and update this post when I find out the model. Otherwise, just know that this is great!

#89: The Adventure Zone

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Welcome to… the adventure zone! (Cue techno music)

The Adventure Zone, or TAZ as it’s abbreviated sometimes, is a fantasy RPG podcast produced and performed by the McElroy family: Clint, Griffin, Justin, and Travis. The four of them are actual family, and you can tell through their interactions in the game that they care for each other and have a storied history, like all family members do. Their interactions are genuine and easy to get attached to, after a long period of binge listening to the podcast. I can’t say I have a favorite character in the podcast, because they’re all just so likable, diverse, and creative. The characterization is mostly improv-based, but that allows for the people behind the characters to really play however they want and flesh out their individual character in whatever way they please.

I remember listening to episodes of the Rockport and Crystal Kingdom chapters in the car on the way to Boston with Alex, or to visit Alex, while she was doing her internship there. It holds special meaning because of that, as it was years ago and we weren’t nearly as familiar with the larger McElroy-verse of podcasts as we are now. Even going up to Syracuse, I remember putting on TAZ to make sure the drives weren’t so boring.

It’s become almost a yearly tradition for Alex and I to re-listen to the amazing Balance arc, a story and song with so much meaning to both of us. I haven’t even considered starting my re-listen yet, but I’m sure by the end of the year I’ll have a third round under my belt. We are a bit too busy with other listening interests right now.

I actually need to catch up on my TAZ listening sometime soon, but that’s besides the point. Maybe some day I’ll get it all done. We listened a bit in the car this weekend, and then stopped before the end. Also, a quick shout out to my friend Hallie for introducing me to this great podcast in the first place. Considering how much it’s changed my life, I owe you a big one. I’m hoping to convert my other friend Jimmy to the same side!

#80: The Toilet

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The toilet is important. The toilet is a sanctuary. When the toilet is destroyed, for the third time in a row, the bathroom is tarnished, and our lives are temporarily halted in place, having to make do with what we have. There’s a public toilet down the hallway, but we have to pass by the large bay windows peering into the gym, where rough and tough bodybuilders observe us walking in our pajamas back and forth. It’s not a pleasant sight, to say the least. When it comes to walking in my pajamas, doing it in front of bodybuilders is definitely my least favorite part of the whole process.

If there’s one constant about this apartment, it’s the toilet and waterworks problems. One day it’s the dishwasher (which we don’t use), another day it’s the toilet flooding over its head. Some days it’s the washing machine’s turn to act up. Either way, something is almost always acting up in this apartment. It feels like we call maintenance at least once a month for something to be fixed.

An update: As I’m writing this, the toilet has been fixed. Hooray!

Unfortunately, this still means that Angus, our illustrious dog, is still locked up in the bedroom with his water, sloth, and bone. I wish I could’ve told the guy who came to fix the toilet to let him out, but that’s against the whole point of locking Angus up in the first place. We need to protect one person from the vicious, happy-go-lucky pet we have. If only the maintenance people had come during the other three days that were available, then maybe we wouldn’t need to trick Angus into entering the bedroom before I leave for work. It’s disheartening to do, and I hate hearing his moans and worries.

#79: Reading

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Reading, it turns out, isn’t for everyone. And that’s okay. But harder than it looks, motivating a bunch of students to read when they don’t want to. It doesn’t come simply.

When I began my most recent job as an instructional aide (or literacy interventionist) at a local charter school, I knew from the beginning that I’d be taking over a reading group and leading them through grammar, comprehension, and language studies. I knew that the students would have low motivation, that they’d need a helping hand to guide them from start to finish. That’s where I come in. My job is to motivate, to excite, to instill a passion for reading that pushes them through the rest of their Humanities courses and into a lifetime of literature loving.

But how possible is that?

In anticipating the reading group, I thought to plan some fun activities, games with prizes, and worksheets. I adapted Taboo, a classic adult card game, into a more school-friendly version and printed out the cards for us to use. I also adapted Would You Rather? and wrote up an interest inventory, so that I would better understand where students were coming from, where their interests lie, and if they like reading but just don’t get how to read. I modeled Taboo for them, which helped them figure out how to describe the words in front of them.

When it comes to reading, not everyone is interested. Not everyone becomes a lifelong reader after exposure to an excitable teacher. More often than not, reading becomes a part of someone’s life when they make the choice to read. When choice is hung over someone’s head and denied from them, it’s no wonder reading tends to have a reputation for being boring and solitary.

#78: Card Games

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Instead of talking directly about Hearthstone again in another blog post, I decided to talk about card games in general, considering Hearthstone is indeed a card game.

I love playing card games, of all shapes and sizes: collectible card games, trading card games, battle card games, card games with boards. Poker, blackjack, uno, crazy eights, war, solitaire, Hearthstone, Artifact, Yugioh, Pokemon, Magic: the Gathering, Duel Masters. No matter what kind of card game I’m playing, I’m interested in it.

I spent a lot of time (and money) on Magic: the Gathering back in high school and college, as it became a common hobby among our group of gamers. We built Standard-format decks first, then moved into Modern and EDH (Elder dragon highlander) formats. EDH is still my favorite, offering players decks of a hundred totally unique cards. There’s so much room for creativity in the deck-building process, but inconsistency in the playing of the game; because the deck is composed of totally unique cards, the odds of you drawing the exact card you want at any given time is around 1-100. My friend Joe probably still plays Magic to this day, as he invested much more money into it than I ever did; however, Joe is smart and knows how to make money back by selling his old cards on eBay. He even helped me when I decided to sell my stock of cards away.

Oddly enough, despite my interest in card games, I’ve never learned successfully how to shuffle cards. I still smash two titanic halves of the deck into each other, mushing them together until it looks as if they have disappeared into one deck. Then I repeat it, again and again, until I’m somewhat confident that there won’t be any major repeats of cards when we start drawing through the deck. Every time I have the responsibility of shuffling the deck, that’s my biggest fear: that the deck wasn’t shuffled well enough, that there are repeats and errors throughout, and that we have to go back and shuffle it all again, prolonging the beginning of our game.

#77: The Anniversary

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Two years. Two full years. Wow.

Think about something you’ve done for two years straight. No interruptions. Does anything fit the bill? Is it tough to think of an idea?

I hope to, one day, have written daily blogs for two years straight. Reaching the illustrious #728 would be a great achievement to tout, though I’ll need to work hard in generating new ideas to write about! I feel sometimes that I run out of ideas from doing basic things around the house, because it gets so repetitive, but one day I’ll reach #728, and it will be glorious.

But that’s not the topic of today’s blog post. Today is about a different kind of anniversary. Two years to the day, I messaged a certain person after we matched on a mutual dating app called CoffeeMeetsBagel. Two days later, we met at the Starbucks on Dixwell Avenue in Hamden and the rest has been history. Whether it’s going to the grocery store, to Target, or to the mall together, there’s no one else I’d rather run around through life with. Whether it’s taking a short weekend vacation to Providence, journeying up for five hours to Syracuse, or moving into a new apartment together in Stamford, there’s no one else I’d rather travel and experience the world with. Suffice to say, this person has had an incredible impact on my life, and these past two years have allowed me to transition into being an adult more than ever before. I wouldn’t have made as much progress as I have, both mentally and personally, without this person’s helping hand leading the way. Being in a long-term relationship is like having an eternal companion to go on trips and errands with. It’s never being bored, always having company when you need it. You’re never alone, even when you are physically alone. The guiding spirit of your partner travels with you and accompanies your journey. When you’re stressed, your partner’s words remind you of what it’s like to be relieved and refreshed. When you’re anxious, your partner is there for a comforting, warming hug.

My partner is brilliant, thoughtful, loving, sympathetic, charming, witty, pleasant, silly, adorable, likable, eager, and kind in all ways. They are considerate, even when they don’t think they are, even when they worry about it. They have changed my life more than they will ever be able to fully comprehend. It’s shocking to look back two years ago at where I was, in comparison to now; what I know and don’t know, where I was and what that meant for me. Every day I’m grateful to have met this person, grateful that our paths crossed so coincidentally and then stuck together like inseparable glue afterwards. It’s been a life-saving miracle ever since.