Asthmatic Jedi For Life

In January, I got a cough. This week, I got a diagnosis: asthma.

Asthma makes me think of two things. First, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Remember that scene? Or any part of that movie? I do, because I was too young to be watching it, and my mind will forever associate “asthma” with “psychotic nannies.”

Second, and more prominently, I think of awkward, nerdy children with huge glasses, usually portrayed on TV by the likes of Martin Starr and Josh Saviano.  And then I think, “wait, that was me as a child. That’s sort of me now. Of course I have asthma.”

Sweet Yellow Cardigan

Tell me that kid doesn’t have an inhaler.

But I didn’t have asthma in junior high or high school or college. The nerds let me hang with them anyway, presumably because of the glasses. And the braces. And the love of sci fi and hatred for physical activity and the inability to talk to boys and…who are we kidding. Asthma or not, I was the queen of the nerds.

My doctor actually suggested asthma about a month ago, after my fourth visit to her and second request for codeine.  She referred me to a specialist, who was finally able to see me this week and confirm the diagnosis – kind of. “I really want to say you have asthma, but let’s do some tests first,” he said. “Because once I give you this diagnosis you will have it for life.”

Yeah, well. I also have poor vision for life. I’m left handed for life. I’m a bit freckly for life but especially in the summer. I get why the specialist was cautious, but I also get that it’ll be okay. Still, I agreed to do the test.

“Have you had any coffee, pop, or chocolate today?” he asked. “We can’t do the test if so.”

I’d had all three within the last hour.  We scheduled the test for first thing Monday morning.

So this is how I came to wake up an hour and a half early to drive across the cities in rush hour traffic on zero caffeine and zero allergy meds. This is also how I came to be in the worst mood of my life. I am not the type who can wake up with boundless energy, spend a long time in a car, not eat chocolate, and then happily interact with strangers. Only golden retrievers and my friend Mike do that. No, I’ve purposely plotted my life so I can sleep until the latest possible moment before “commuting” to work by walking half a block, stopping at one of two coffee shops on the way, and sitting at my desk and avoiding human interaction for at least an hour.

So, unshowered and wearing what I’d found at the top of the laundry pile (pink dress and oversized hoodie), the crabbiest, coughiest, but least coffee’d version of myself checked in for her methacholine challenge. Or at least she was supposed to. What I actually said was, “I’m here for a midi-chlorian test.

It was unintentional. Nerd for life.

The premise of the methacholine challenge is to test for asthma by inducing asthma, because it only works in people who already are susceptible to asthma (or something). This strikes me as a little insane. Do we test for other things like this? “We think you have a broken leg, but we can’t be sure until we smash your knee cap with a hammer to make sure your leg is susceptible to breaking.”

Anyway.

I spent an hour slowly finding it harder and harder to breathe, which counts as a “positive” test. Then I was given a huge, fast dose of meds to bring me back to “normal.” And because I’d been complaining (imagine that!), I was brought a black coffee to sip while I waited for everything to take effect. And like every time I mix coffee and medicine, I wound up shaking and talking nonsense and basically tweaking out.

And then I was declared “normal.”

“I should go back to work,” I thought as I walked out. “Or to a movie! Or maybe a quick car nap. Or a shoe store. Or maybe I’ll take a nap in my car in front of a shoe store. COMIC BOOKS! I want a sandwich. Or an Icee! I’m going to have an Icee for lunch! Where are my keys? Did I park in this lot? I need to download Return of the Mack right now. Where’s my car? How do I get home? Wow, I feel amazing! I love having asthma!”

Needless to say, I crashed pretty quickly. I almost couldn’t finish my Icee.  And to think, my Adventures With Asthma are only just beginning. Please feel free to buy me this shirt as I make this adjustment.

Then I can finally be cool, like this guy.

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A ridiculous amount of birthday love.

Was it ridiculous to turn my birthday into a month-long event/campaign/fundraiser/whatever? Yes. I am, as they say, pushing thirty. Women of This Certain Age are not supposed to wear Burger King crowns as “tiaras” and demand an ungodly amount of attention and/or ice cream. I should be embarrassed.

Does this look like the face/outfit of someone who is easily embarrassed?

Does this look like the face/outfit of someone who is easily embarrassed?

Ahem.

First and foremost, I need to thank everyone who donated to my charity:water campaign and helped me exceed my goal of saving 28 lives. To date, we’ve raised over $600! By far the most successful fundraiser I’ve ever had – even better than the time I offered personalized limericks as an incentive (And what an incentive it was – I rhymed “schadenfreude” with “does it annoy ya?” Poetry.).

I also had a lot of fun and some good response with the social media experiment portion of my birthday project – the 28 for 28 Facebook page. I like sharing things I care about, and I care about my birthday! No, I mean, I care about ways to make the world better. Thanks to those of you who got involved with that, too.

I was determined to spend my actual birthday committing 28 Random And Not So Random Acts Of Kindness. I made lists, I set a budget, I made timetables. But because I was excited, I started two days early. And because the birthday weekend involved several Unscheduled Naps, I finished two days late. That’s me all over.

I got the idea to do this by searching online, so I’m presenting this list in no particular order to maybe inspire another internet stranger one day:

Birthday (Weekend) Acts Of Kindness

1. Bought my boss tulips. They immediately folded in half and looked incredibly pathetic. But luckily I revived them (aka cut the stems) before she saw them

2. Stuck a coffee gift card on the door of a very deserving friend

3. Drew something for a friend who needs a pick-me-up

4. Donated my hair to Locks of Love.  The entire ponytail you see up above is now on its way to Florida. Factoid: the first time I did this, I was 14, and it made the front page of my hometown newspaper. I’m just trying to get to that level of fame again.

5. Tipped the stylist of my new ‘do 28%

6. Helped a stranger move a desk (or helped a stranger rob another stranger – either way, helping!)

7. Bought a friend lunch

8. Bought a different friend a beer

9. Helped yet another friend (I don’t want to brag but I have more than two) set up a blog – check it out, especially if you’re a beer fan! Also, I would like to note I agreed to do this before I knew there was going to be a paragraph of nice things about me in it. That just made me more eager to help.

10. Bought a bunch of children’s books to donate to a program I care about

11. Bought a friend tea (I was going to buy coffee for the person in line behind us, but he turned out to be a very cantankerous man, and my friend is nicer)

12. Bought a thank-you gift for someone who was nice to me recently

13. Helped the same cantankerous old man from #11 exit a “confusing” building at the St. Paul Art Crawl

14. Recycled plastic bags and donated food at a grocery store

15. Left money at a Redbox rental machine, along with a note

16. Left a 110% tip at Caribou Coffee. I did the math so that I, like every pro athlete, can say I “gave 110%”

17. Donated books to a Little Free Library (I love those things!)

18. Left money at Nice Ride MN station. I don’t want to talk about the poorly-worded note I also left there.

19. Dropped about thirty online coupons in a basket at Target

20. Donated clothes to Goodwill

21. Gave my neighbor’s dog a treat

22. Recovered a friend’s lost phone

23. Volunteered for Feed My Starving Children at Summit Brewery  (Worlds colliding!)

24. Picked up Target gift cards for The Bridge For Youth

25. Wrote thank-you notes

26. Left money at a vending machine

27. Bid on silent auction items for local fundraisers at BiddingForGood.com

28. Left quarters in laundry room for my neighbors

*************************************

So there you go. Twenty-eight mostly small, mostly deliberate acts of kindness to celebrate twenty-eight mostly great years. Thank you, everyone, for making them worth celebrating.

28 for 28: A birthday celebration, a social media experiment

Last year, my friend Al gave me a birthday card that said, “I love those people who are like ‘It’s my birthday week’ or ‘It’s my birthday month.’ Even Martin Luther King Jr. only gets a day. Calm down people.

I’ve had it displayed in my apartment for the past year because I enjoy missing the point. And I really enjoy my birthday/week/month.

This one is particularly IMPORTANT, however, as it’s my golden birthday. The one I’ve spent my whole life waiting for. On April 28th, I will be 28.

I think the first time I went to a golden birthday party, I was 8. So was the birthday girl. I remember balloons and a serious amount of envy as I realized I’d have to wait 20 years for my extra-special birthday party. Now that it’s here, what do I want?

Last year I had friends over for mimosas, went out for breakfast, took a bus to the Twins game (which was unfortunately rained out), took a nap, grabbed a beer at my favorite local bar, and celebrated at a bonfire with a bunch of other friends lucky enough to be born at the end of April. I got a crown; I wore a crown. I woke up the next day still wearing said crown. It was pretty great.

That’s not what I want to do this year.

I’m actually giving myself the best birthday present ever – I’m taking my mom to Ireland for 10 days in April. That’s all the gift I need. But I still want to do something more.  To quote Wayne Campbell, “What I’d really like to do is something extraordinary. Something big. Something mega. Something copious. Something capacious. Something cajunga!”

I want to do something GOOD. And I want you to do something good, too.

So taking inspiration from the Birthday Project, the #26Acts of Kindness movement, GOOD.is and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, I’m starting something. Something fun, short-term, and (hopefully) Good.

28logo

My main undertaking this month will be trying to raise enough money to save 28 lives through Charity:Water. But even if you can’t donate, I hope you’ll join me in the 28 For 28 project.

I’m aiming to do 28 Good Things in April. All I’d really like you to do – is pick one.

Join with me as I celebrate 28 good years over 28 days.

#26Acts Completed. What’s Next?

Well, it’s taken me almost three months, but I’ve ‘finished’ my #26Acts of kindness. I hope I’ve been nice other times in between then and now, or at least not outright mean…Don’t answer that.

Things like this remind me that a lot can change in three months. Important things can be forgotten, and promises can be broken. I started following the #26Acts challenge to consciously do, in very broad terms, Good Things; they weren’t always the biggest things, and they weren’t always ‘random,’ but they were always done with good intent. It’s my choice to remember those 26 victims through positive actions; they should not be forgotten.

Anyway. The theme of this section is “free,” because I’m saving for a vacation (and kindness doesn’t have to cost a thing).

19. Helped two gentlemen across a parking lot and into Bruegger’s (which is where they were headed, not just, like, where I decided to put them)

This was maybe my first totally random act of kindness, and it was perfect for me, because a man after a sandwich is a man after my own heart. In this case, two older men. With walkers. Even better!

20. Did the dreaded unclaimed dishes

Every shared kitchen has unclaimed dirty dishes in the sink at almost any time. It can cause wars. So for a few days, I did other people’s dishes without writing a passive-aggressive note or acting like a martyr. Just blogging about it!

21. Tucked handmade bookmarks into books at the library (I AM VERY NORMAL)

I love finding things in books.  Hopefully I’m not alone in that.

isthisakissingbook

All the bookmarks I made had a quote from the movie version of my favorite book, The Princess Bride, and several of them wound up in romance novels, which just amuses me to no end.

22. Volunteered at Operation Glass Slipper

Operation Glass Slipper outfits around 1,000 girls for prom at no cost. Lacy and I helped out in the shoe section. Mainly we tried to keep the shelves stocked, but we also got to help a few girls find the perfect shoe. This is as close to being a Fairy Godmother as I will get in real life.

23. Proofread homework assignments for a friend

I may not know what your grad school paper is about, but I can tell you if you’ve misspelled “occurrence.”

24. Visited a home-bound friend on St. Patrick’s Day

A meaningful visit on a meaningful day, for both of us.

25. Brought leftover St. Patrick’s day goodies (not whiskey) into work to share

The shamrock cookies went immediately – but the Irish flag veggie tray was a little slower. What does that tell us?

irishflagveggietray

26. Finally bought my coworker a coffee. Then she bought me one back. This will go on forever so at some point the thought just has to count.

There you have it; 26 Acts of Kindness, some random, some not. But just because I’ve met my initial goal does not mean I’m done with kindness and going to turn into a Disney Villain. Although…I am plotting something. Scheming, if you would. Stay tuned.

This is my lucky day.

Today means many things to me.

Today means I’m Irish. It means I’m dancing, adding whiskey to my coffee, laughing with friends and family. I’m baking soda bread and thinking about the last time I saw Sister Nora. I’m calling my mom and talking about pirate queens and planning a dream vacation. It means I’m never going to stop wanting to know more about the people who came before me.

I’ve learned a little bit more about my Irish family in the year since I wrote this. In three weeks, I’ll be in the town where my grandfather was born 101 years ago today. I’ll visit the tiny island my ancestors called home, and find the grave of my great-great grandfather John, about whom this was written:

“He might be truly described as one of ‘nature’s gentlemen,’ for he was mild of manner, of genial disposition, and most benevolent. Those traits of character came to him down through the centuries, as he was descended from a renowned family, who gave their all to the aid of Grace O’Malley, the remains of whose castles stand stiff and stout along the Western seaboard. A good neighbour, a practical Catholic and a true Irishman, he will be missed by all who knew him, but none more than the people of Clare Island, of which he was a native, and all will join in praying earnestly that the Almighty may give him the reward of an absolutely blameless life.”

Today means so many, many things.

But mainly it means I’m lucky.

I was not prepared.

When I first started working at my current job, I shared an office with Sister Nora. She was 78 when I met her and did not clear five feet – not by a long shot. But she was a nun, and I was intimidated by her. That is, until one day I turned to ask her something and saw her reading a romance novel at her desk. And I mean a real romance novel, with Fabio on the cover.

I silently turned back around, blinked, and thought, “…I was not prepared for that.”

It was a true moment of surprise, and how many of those do we get as adults?

I immediately warmed to Nora. I learned how much she loved romance novels, horror movies, hot tamales, and soap operas. We spent one Mardi Gras eating cupcakes and watching “The Bold and the Beautiful” in our office. I started picking up romance novels at Goodwill and bringing them in for her. For her eightieth birthday, I made her a card featuring her favorite things.

Nora's heart

Nora got sick in early 2012. Or, sicker. This time she went to the hospital, so I went to visit her. She wasn’t expecting me and when I walked in, she was on the phone with another coworker of ours.

Nora looked at me. It took a second, then said into the phone: “Oh! It’s…it’s the girl who gives me all the dirty books!”

Yes, she knew my name. But maybe she knew me a little bit better.

This St. Patrick’s Day, it will be one year since I last saw Sister Nora. It was her birthday. She was wearing a paper party hat and opening cards with her friend; it was a good last memory.

Now I sit at her old desk. I read more romance novels than I used to. And I remember how the nun who read all the dirty books became my friend, and how much I miss her. I was not prepared for that.

Deliberately Random Kindness

I haven’t forgotten my pledge to complete 26 Acts of Kindness.  I did kind of take a break to have the flu/never-ending cough, but after working my way through several thousand naps and most of my DVD collection I’m more or less back in action. Aside from continually trying to buy my coworker a coffee or lunch (she keeps insisting on paying me back to the point where I now owe her a sandwich), here’s what I’ve been up to since the last time:

12: Volunteered with kids (on a day other than my usual day)

I hang out with some small people on a weekly basis, and I love it. After a long winter break, I jumped at the chance to pick up an extra “shift” of baby-holding, toddler-talking, kindergartner-laughing goodness (obviously, not while I was sick. That would not be great).

13: Donated cards to St. Jude’s Ranch

While fighting The Sickness, and also The Boredom, I cleaned out my desk and came to terms with one of my personal shames: I’m a craft supply pack rat. I keep every magazine, bit of ribbon, pretty old greeting card and sticker in case I might “need them.”

I don’t need them. So I finally went through the cards, kept only the most sentimental (like the Christmas card my pops signed “Peter (Dad)” because he forgot what he was doing), and popped the rest in the mail for the recycled card program at St. Jude’s Ranch. A few weeks later, they announced they have enough cards to keep them busy through June – coincidence?

14 – 16: Cleaned the closet for good

Continuing with my housebound cleaning theme, I established an “outbox” and divided my donations into three categories: Winter gear for Joseph’s Coat of St. Paul, old glasses to the Lion’s Club, and all other mostly useful things/ridiculous high heels I’ll never wear to Goodwill. (Full disclosure: the Joseph’s Coat bag is still sitting in my car due to the limited donation hours, but I swear it’s going to get there.)

17: Shared some Valentine’s Day love

I made a donation to the Jeremiah Program, which then sent a Valentine’s e-card to my mama and this bit of cuteness to me (CDC = Child Development Center):

jeremiahcard

18: Donated to ChiveCharities

Step one, read this horrible story. Step two, made a tiny donation. Step three, applauded as the entire project was funded in record time. I love it when the internet is used for good rather than evil.

‘Til next time, here is a nice song covered by one of my favorite YouTube musicians. I’m going to go try to do something nice for my coworker again and this time she’s just going to have to deal with it.

#Winterfest Dos and Don’ts (From Me to Future Me)

I am a lucky girl. I love great beer – and I happen to live in the Twin Cities, where the craft brew culture is booming. I also love great events – and this past weekend, I got to go to one of the year’s best: Winterfest.

This was actually my second year at the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild event, and both years have been great. And, well, learning experiences. I am already hoping to go again next year, so this is basically a list for Future Rachel. Still, you may as well reap the benefits of my beer-tasting wisdom, internet strangers.

So it begins.

So it begins.

Do obsessively hit “page refresh” for ten minutes before the tickets go on sale. The event is capped at 750 people, and sells out in seconds. I’ve managed to get tickets for two years in a row using this highly scientific method, and also dark magic.

Do eat before you go. Yes, they have food at the event, and it’s included in the price. I bet it’s pretty great, too. Last year I think I ate some cheese; this year I completely missed out on all of it. Whatever you do, don’t go to a 3-hour all-you-can-drink craft beer event on an empty stomach. Rookie mistake (that you only make once).

Do gloat about this event taking place in St. Paul, the right side of the river.

Do your research. Look through the program and have a top ten list of brews you do not want to miss, and find those first. Things do run out, plus you want to try the snobbiest stuff (technical term) before your tongue goes numb. Also, if I hadn’t looked over the program, I might have totally missed the Sugar Shack Maple Stout from Third Street Brewhouse. It’s made with Saint John’s Maple Syrup from the Arboretum where I used to work. I really like it, but with a pedigree like that, how could I not?

This has nothing to do with beer, but any time I bring up my time at the Arb I like to remind people I did this once.

Look, I know this has nothing to do with beer, but this is the most badass picture of me in existence and it was taken at the Arboretum, so I’m sharing it again.

Do bring your ID, a pen, and your tallest friend. The ID is obvious. The pen is for taking notes and/or writing your phone number on strangers’ hands. And the tall friend is easy to find in a crowd, and can also find you if/when you wander off.

Do dress appropriately. For some that means warm boots and gloves. For others an outfit you can easily sleep in on your friend’s couch. For me that means both.

Do find the Excelsior Brewing Company booth and take pictures of the staff; when you find them on your camera the next morning, understand that you will be left with more questions than answers:

They just posed like this, without any direction. Naturals.

Probably this was towards the end of the night.

Don’t be embarrassed when you spot someone you met and talked to for half an hour at a past a beer event and you can’t remember her name. She doesn’t remember your name, either.

Don’t force yourself to finish anything you don’t like. Give it to your tall friend who seems to like all the things you don’t (another reason you brought him), and find something you like better.

Don’t be afraid to not love the things everyone else loves. There may be a time and a place for me to drink Barley John’s award-winning Dark Knight Returns; that time was not two hours into the event, after an uncertain number of other pours, when I knew it was a really heavy hitter. Some other night, DKR.

Don’t live-tweet the event.

livetweet

MNBeer.com knows what I’m talking about, or wants me to shut up.

Do make an active effort to find and drink water.

Don’t get upset when one of your brewer friends makes fun of you for drinking water. He’s working and therefore sober, and definitely laughing at your slightly slurry, indignant response.

Do make friends. It’s fine if you don’t pay attention to her last name. You’ll think of something.

Legit beer friends.

The truest form of friendship.

Do have a safe drive lined up. Even if you cancel on your original safe drive to catch a ride with your new friend, Stephanie Beer and her boyfriend, Sober Dan.

Don’t go to the Onion afterwards. Just don’t. You hate that place. It never ends well for you there.

....Best laid plans...

….Best laid plans…

Do expect your best friend to text back: “UGH, RACHEL, you hate that place!” because she knows you.

Don’t be surprised if you wake up the next morning and think, “I’ve felt better.” But since you remembered to eat before the event, and drank plenty of water, you’re actually in pretty good shape and will be up as soon as you have some coffee.

So there you have it. That’s how you semi-sensibly enjoy one of the best beer events in the Twin Cities.

(But seriously, don’t go to the Onion next year.)

#26Acts of Kindness: It’s a Start

Two weeks ago, I was wondering what I could do to help. Most of the world was. There are still so many more questions than answers (although I can think of many things that are certainly not the answer), but one positive movement has come about: Ann Curry started the idea of doing 20 (now 26) acts of kindness in honor of the victims, no matter where you are. It’s gone viral and I’m so happy – relieved, even – to be taking part.

Let’s spread the word: We are better than this. This is a good world after all.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

1: Sponsored a package through Project Night Night, which will provide a book, stuffed animal and security blanket to a homeless child. I actually heard about this through The Bloggess a while ago; this provided the extra push I needed to make the donation.

2. Donated canned goods to a food drive (hosted at my friend’s Cookie Swap Party, so really a win-win for everyone).

3. Bought coffee for all of my coworkers. This was not an act of kindness for the poor trainee behind the counter at Caribou, however. “I need one medium northern lite hazelnut latte, one large white berry sugar free raspberry mocha with no whip, one regular latte with an extra shot…” She did great.

4. Bought a coffee for the man behind me in line. He was…startled. But agreed that karma is a good thing.

5 – 8. This one is my favorite so far. I went to my favorite children’s bookstore in all the world, the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, and picked out four of my favorite children’s books in all the world: “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney (for obvious reasons), “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech (who I also met at the Red Balloon once), “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery, and “Matilda” by Roald Dahl.

Four children's books

I immediately donated them to the Red Balloon’s book-donation program. It felt awesome. I could have spent all of my time and money in this store (er, which is why at least the next few of my Acts of Kindness will be on the free side).

9. Gave out candy canes and cards to everyone in my building. Well, almost everyone. I was shy one candy cane, so…

Have a VERY merry Christmas.

Special moments made…specialer.

10. Helped serve ice cream at the nursing home with my mom. And did not eat all of the ice cream myself. That’s not exactly a good deed, but I still feel like I deserve some sort of medal. I really like ice cream.

11. Made lunch for my family one day over Christmas weekend – nacho bar! At one point I had to stir some sort of meat in a pan and two (2) of my four (4) immediate family members were compelled to take pictures. Yeah, yeah. Laugh at the vegetarian. See if I offer to be nice to you ever again.

The rest of the weekend/early week was spent hanging out with my family, and it’s hard to count any time spent together as an “act of kindness” when I enjoy it as much as they do (probably more, because I only cooked that one (1) meal in four days. Thanks for feeding me, mom).

Back to looking for random acts and random recipients. Any suggestions?

Fashionista Flashback: The Ninth Day of Christmas Edition

Uh, hello. Have you seen eight other ladies dressed exactly like me, maybe dancing around a pear tree? I got distracted by some lords a-leaping.

Rachel as a dancer

My friend Ben calls this my “Palestinian Ambassador of Dance” look.

This Christmas, laugh, be merry, give thanks for all that is good in your life, and make sure your jaunty cap coordinates with your sash.

And dance.