2012 in Review: Community

Screen shot 2012-12-26 at 12.56.15 PMWell, yesterday was Christmas, and it’s amazing how much difference a year can make. Christmas 2011 was unofficially the date that I started to make big life changes. After spending last Christmas Eve at the bar, nursing a broken heart, I woke up on Christmas alone and disgusted with myself. I started thinking then about ways to be a better person, and the changes I’ve made since helped make this season a little brighter even though my little dog and I were still on our own. I know many others are also thinking of making life changes at this time of year, so over the next few days I’m going to highlight some of the best things I’ve done for my well-being this year.

Being involved in my community has been one of those positive changes. When I was at my most depressed, my family and my therapist always recommended volunteering as a way to get myself out of the house, interact with others, and feel better about myself. But I resisted because of anxiety and because I just felt useless, like my contributions couldn’t matter to anyone. In fact, it was only about halfway through the year that I found the energy to make a real difference. In May I was offered the opportunity to teach at a summer leadership program for young women. I enjoyed it so much that I started looking for other ways to help young people, eventually getting involved as an assistant coach in a running program this fall. Coaching became something I looked forward to every week, and seeing my young runners gain confidence helped me feel more worthwhile in return.

Christmas Day at the park near the animal shelter.

Christmas Day at the park near the animal shelter.

Aside from that, I also got involved in other causes. In October I helped at a local diabetes walk, and this holiday season I gave to a local toy drive and spent part of my Christmas Day walking dogs at a local animal shelter. In 2013, I hope to be able to coach again (though I’m still waiting to hear on the schedule), and I’m already planning to spend time with the dogs again on New Year’s. Most exciting, I’m planning to go with a group of students in March to Honduras where we will assist with a health clinic and provide basic health education to rural populations.

Honduras: Courtesy of the U.S. State Department

If you want to become more involved in your community but feel you are held back, I understand. Depression and anxiety can make it hard to motivate yourself. You may find you need to start taking care of yourself before you feel “worthy” of taking care of others, but once you do it the rewards are great. And the opportunities are out there: Start with a one-time event if you’re timid, or look for activities focusing on animals or where there is less direct interaction if you are shy. If you feel like you can’t contribute, think about what you’re good at. I don’t think a soup kitchen will ever be the place for me, but I’m good at teaching and running and that was enough to get me started. I still get a little bit nervous when I go out to do something new, but consider this as well: An activity is only “new” the first time you do it. After that it only gets easier.


Adventures in Ikea-land

Let me start off by saying that I have come to despise Black Friday/Post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping about as much as I dislike everything else about the holiday season. Given that I’m probably the poorest person I know (OK, slight exaggeration, but I’m definitely bottom-five), the idea of semi-mandatory spending on gifts for people who already own seven times as much junk as me just breeds resentment. On the other hand, when my roommate tells me that he’s moving out immediately after the new year and I realized that I own exactly one piece of furniture in my living and dining rooms combined, hitting up the sales became mandatory.

This weekend, my father and I went to Ikea in Tempe to buy cheap, reasonably presentable stuff. I wanted to go to Ikea not only because they have everything, but because I’ve never left an Ikea feeling sad. I don’t know what it is about the place. Maybe it’s because they can help you to imagine a fabulous life…

…Or help you, um, open a beauty salon?

…Is it because they can find you a new friend….

…Or because any heart can be warmed by a set of plasticy-shiny Stråla…

…Or because any stomach can be warmed by a satisfying lunch at the Ikea cafe?

And this? I don’t know… Sure.

The magic of Ikea is hard to define; it just is. I can tell you my father was enthralled with everything. Even a retired technician, it seems, can appreciate good design, easy assembly, and volume. I left with several new items, which we spent most of the weekend assembling. I didn’t get all of the deals that I wanted, and I have yet to replace all the items I’m losing when roommate leaves, but it feels good to sit down at the end of the day in a room of things that are mine, that aren’t hand-me-downs, and that I acquired on a memorable, fun day with someone I love.






Thanksgiving Cross-Country Classic 5K

Yesterday turned out to be a decent Thanksgiving. I ran the Thanksgiving Cross Country Classic 5K, organized by the Southern Arizona Roadrunners Club. The SAR puts on a lot of great events which I am rarely able to attend, but the registration fees were reasonable at under $20 and, at the time I registered, it seemed like a good way to force myself out of the house on Thanksgiving. It was also hard to resist the appeal of a cross-country race that boasted hay bales and water jumps.


I hope to have some pics from this race as soon as my father is able to download them from his camera. The end results:

  1. I got a time right around 28 minutes, which is not too shabby on a tough course like this. Loads of hills, obstacles, and uneven terrain.
  2. I had a great time and did something fun and interesting on Thanksgiving.
  3. I saw a handful of people I knew, and promptly tried to hide from them all.
  4. I fell in a ditch and twisted my ankle. Again. This brings me to the point that people with recurring ankle problems perhaps should probably not be running x-country races through ditches.

So… my ankle is several colors and all kinds of swollen today. Walkable, but no good for running and my hopes of getting any significant mileage this week are shot. A couple of days’ rest might not be a bad idea, given that I am still trying to catch up on work and to deal with entertaining my unexpected houseguest. Dad and I had a great Thanksgiving meal at Pastiche here in Tucson; he went with a traditional Thanksgiving meal and I got something more friendly to my dietary needs. However, the task of finding things to do with him, finding things to feed him, and getting my own work done is still sapping my energy a bit. My parents are so settled in to their lives in small-town NY that everything here is overwhelming to my Dad, and everything at home seems to overwhelm my Mom when she’s alone. More on that later, I’m sure. Some big doings are planned for tomorrow…

Olive, The Other Reindeer

In response to another recent, insightful posting at Bitch Flicks, Anika Guldstrand’s piece on women (or the lack thereof) in Christmas movies, I wanted to give a shout-out to a Christmas special I recently saw featuring a female protagonist, Olive, the Other Reindeer. Evidently, this one is over 10 years old, so I’m a little behind in my review, but I thought it was worth a mention.

The protagonist here is a girl dog named Olive (voiced by Drew Barrymore). Olive is not only a female, she is a nonconformist. Much to the exasperation of her owner, Tim, Olive shows little to no inclination to act like a dog. She shows little interest in digging up flower beds, likes fleas so much that she has one for a pet, and is actually quite nice to the mailman until he turns out to be a villain. While the Christmas misfit thing has arguably been done, I saw some important differences between Olive and, for example, the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. While the toys spend much of Rudolph lamenting their difference and wanting to be like “real” toys, Olive is very accepting of herself. She doesn’t want to chase cars, and she thinks that’s OK. What she laments is not the fact of her difference, but that her owner is not accepting of it. (Comments could be made here about the patriarchal nature of the master/dog relationship and Olive’s desire to please him, but as I’m sure anyone with a dog in their life will agree, it’s hard not to incorporate that into a dog story!)


Olive, the Other Reindeer

Olive is inspired to leave town and head to the North Pole to save Christmas after a series of misunderstandings where she becomes convinced that Tim is replacing her and Santa is requesting her help to replace an ailing reindeer. (“Olive, the other reindeer” vs. “All of the other reindeer,” get it?) In helping Santa, Olive sees an opportunity to use her difference to help others. When she does save Christmas, it’s partly because she turns out to have some dog-like skills after all (namely super smell), but partly because she distinguishes herself through her brains, her can-do attitude, and other abilities above and beyond that of a normal dog.

This special does fall short in several ways. Olive’s penguin sidekick Martini is a bit of a grifter, possibly playing on some unfavorable stereotypes. The Picasso-eque animation grated on me at times, though Olive herself was adorable down to the perfectly-placed tail wags. The music is also a bit uninspired, which is disappointing since no less of a figure than Michael Stipe voices one of the supporting characters and sings a song. In fact, this is probably the only animated Christmas special with a musical number set in a trucker bar, and watching the (male) bar-goers menace and rough-up Olive upon her arrival is a bit disturbing and possibly scary for younger viewers. However, these misfits turn out to have hearts of gold as well, demonstrating another thing I loved about this special: Diversity. The folks behind this special seemed to go out of their way to ensure that every crowd scene includes folks of different skin tones. We also see African-American characters in supporting roles, as a police officer and as a bus driver who goes out of his way to help Olive. The inclusion of explicitly working-class characters is also a bit refreshing. I haven’t read the original book this was based on, so perhaps these elements appear in the original story as well, but nonetheless they are things too seldom seen in holiday tales. Olive, the Other Reindeer may never crack the list of top holiday specials, but for those looking for a more inclusive holiday story, it does the job in a way that is decently entertaining.