Holidays and families

I love my family. We’re a great big mess of extended people with all sorts of strange traditions. For a long time, it didn’t matter that I didn’t have great friends at school because I always had cousins and sisters that I could talk to and be weird with and not be lonely. And now that we’ve all moved out to college and don’t live within 2 hours of each other, Christmas is often the only time that we can actually all be together at once. 
But holidays are still loud and crowded and not always sensory-friendly. But they also have some other great things going for them. 
Tradition.

AKA mega-routines

I love holiday traditions and our family has buckets of holiday traditions. The same foods every year, the same seating, the same place. We have the same time frames for everything. 
And admittedly, sometimes they got a bit people-busy. There are always a few random relatives and you always have to hug them. (But luckily a lot of them were from different countries where they air-kiss you on the cheeks instead, which is much less space-invasive if you have to interact with strangers/people who have maybe met you when you were a small child but aren’t positive because there were a lot of us and babies are all pretty similar.) And remember their names. And remember their faces (now that’s the tricky part). And it can get loud. 
But there was also always so many food options that I didn’t have to eat the ones I didn’t want. (And then a couple hours later, there was an entire table of desserts!) There were people to talk to and play with that didn’t require much difficulty. With cousins you didn’t really have to worry about social rules. You could be as delightfully weird as you wanted and spend the whole night talking only in quotes and not be alone. Because they would be quoting right along.
And also there were always rooms or places outside that were quiet. You could sit and read (and there always new books to read at Christmas) or just sit somewhere alone if you needed to*. You could go away from the main crowd to have small conversations if large conversations were too big.

And even the conversations… Very very very little small talk. We talked about new laws and current events and discussions on the death penalty. They were all conversations about SOMETHING. Something logical.

(Or sometimes they were stories, but they were all interesting stories about my grandparents’ lives (they are very interesting people). And I love stories.)

(Or horses. We talk about horses a lot. I am good at talking about horses. So are several of our other cousins. Sometimes we would just name horse breeds at each other. Although, now we tend towards quoting LOTR at each other instead.)

And this is why I love my family and I love holidays so much.

So have a wonderful holiday season, everyone! (and all and any holidays, or if you don’t celebrate any in particular, I hope you are just having a generally lovely day.) (I hope you are happy and enjoying yourself wherever you are, whoever you are with (or enjoying the nice quietness of being by yourself), and eating delicious food.)

Be happy!

*and it really is perfectly normal. Like I said my family definitely has autistic tendencies so it actually took me a while to realize that taking a break somewhere delightfully quiet is not something that is acceptable in general society… For years and years I probably had read at least one book during any party I went to and didn’t understand why people thought it was unusual that I brought a book with me. (It was for when I took my break!)
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Some conversational strengths I have

Tonight, I had a choice. Study for midterms or write a long, random, rambling blog post. I am pretty sure from the presence of this post that you can infer all the good life decisions I am making right now. Good prioritizing… Also, I don’t know how people can do work all day from 8 or 9 to 6 or 7 and then come home and study more. I studied some in lab today during incubations and stuff so I am going to tell myself that counted instead. Anyway, grad school is all curved, right? So I just have to hope everyone else isn’t studying either… 

Small talk may not be my thing, usually. It often involves talking to strangers, which is difficult. And frequently it isn’t about all that interesting of stuff, once you get past the formulaic exchanges of general information and questions.

Except it does include talking about the weather, often. And boy, can I talk about the weather. I love talking about the weather. I can compare different weather patterns. Discuss different climates (and I’ve been hopping around universities the last four or five years, so most people have been a couple of places, so they have got things to share.) And also on how amazing lightning is. BECAUSE IT IS LIKE MAGIC NATURAL FIREWORKS. After a while, though, most people seem to get tired of discussing the weather, and the conversation will sometimes die off.

So I thought I would come up with a list of the other things that I can talk your ear off EASILY about, even if you are a stranger.

Animals. Especially farm animals. I have an unusually large knowledge of agricultural practices and different breeds of animals used for various things. Do I know all the breeds of goats in the American Dairy Goat Association? Why yes I do (admittedly, there are not that many.) (And I have strong opinions on the different breeds, too.) I used to have my Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds memorized. Chickens, too. I love talking about chickens. I gave a speech on them once for my high school speech class. It was the only speech I was not traumatized by. I think it probably helped that I have had boatloads of pets throughout the years.

These are my goat’s first batch of babies. Aren’t they cute? They were NOT eaten because these are NOT meat animals. They are dairy goats/pets and we love them all. I miss having animals.

This is an ok conversational topic. People like talking about their pets. They are usually interested in the fact that I have goats and chickens. They do not like the part of the conversation where I get into the meat part, which is why I try to avoid mentioning we had pigs and sheep, at one point, because then I tend to get into my meat-animal-explanation, which leads to interesting places.

Like this pig dressed up for a costume contest. (AKA this pig that we dressed up for a costume contest. In this case, we means my sister, admittedly. She always had much better ideas for things like this. Although, I generally had better methods for getting it to stay on the pig.)
Although, I am not talking about dressing up pigs like bikers/punk rockers/I don’t really exactly remember what my sister was going for here, I must admit. I am talking about the whole “where does food come from” especially meat thing, which can make people uncomfortable.
And then a special subset of my animal/agricultural discussion topics is prion diseases. I can talk for a VERY long time on prion diseases. Prions are so cool! I almost won our Knowledge Bowl at the county fair with my explanation of scrapies and prion diseases (they didn’t give us a time limit… they got to hear a lovely, 10-minute-plus-explanation on the science behind prion diseases and different research mechanisms and the Scrapies ID program and different molecular theories behind prions and the effect it has had on agriculture and even more… I think they may have rethought the wisdom of giving me a microphone.) (Scrapies is basically the sheep/goat version of Mad Cow Disease, btw.)
People are seldom interested in hearing about scrapies, though. And the people who are, have usually heard all of my information on it already.

Water rights. I know a lot about water rights and water regulations and drought management and irrigation to cities that don’t have their own proper local water source suitable for the number of people that live there (AKA the Southwest/Southern California).

I treated one fellow grad student to a very long monologue on this during orientation week, and he was very nice about it and acted interested and even asked questions. And maybe he even found it interesting, because people here seem to be interested in everything, which is awesome.

I also like to talk about droughts and weather patterns and water usage in different parts of the country.

Cheese. I really like cheese. I really like to eat it. I really like to talk about it. I like to discuss different types of cheese and different types of food that you can put cheese on. My friends in undergrad talked about cheese a lot, too, so it seemed like a normal thing. But maybe not.

But actually, it is probably more food in general. I like to list food that I like to eat. And things that I like to bake.

Stories.  I have lots of stories that I like to retell. Most of them aren’t my stories. They are family stories. I like to tell people how my grandparents met, how my parents met. About my mom and the quicksand. We have a lot of random stories that can come up surprisingly frequently in early-meeting-people conversation. I also have stories I’ve heard from my friends or stories boyfriend has told me and even sometimes one or two things that I’ve seen.

I have a set of stories. I don’t like to come up with new ones. I like to reuse the ones I have. They can usually be applicable, at least one.

Problems with this: I don’t remember who I have already told the story to. I also don’t always remember who the story came from. So sometimes I end up telling people stories that they told me. My friends are just amused by this, but more casual acquaintances might get upset. Also, people might not really be interested in hearing all my family history (but we have exciting stories! there’s a bank robber in there! people blow things up! someone gets stuck in quicksand!)

Dr. Seuss. I like to quote Dr. Seuss a lot. I tend to try to avoid this in small talk conversations, though because it can get weird really quickly.

Grocery shopping. I do this a lot, recently I have found. Where I start describing my grocery store routines to people. And figure out how they grocery shop. And compare grocery stores and grocery store techniques.

Or talk about different grocery store names. It’s so strange how they have such different names in different regions of the country. I’m used to Ralph’s and Vons and then all of a sudden I’m in the Midwest and I don’t even know what half of the stores people go to are called, they are just throwing out random words and how can I even tell if they are going to a store? But that amuses me, too. So I do like to discuss that.

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Anyway, that’s a little random rambling from me for today.

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P.S. I gave boyfriend a tour of the area I lived in, and basically it was me pointing out the bookstores and the houses that had pretty dogs. Because those were the landmarks I thought were important. (I’ve always learned the names of all the dogs I’ve walked past regularly, even if I’ve never even met their people. Over time, you tend to hear the people calling the name of the dog. And then you know.)

Reading

I didn’t learn to read particularly early in life (nor particularly late).

It was probably around kindergarten.

I wasn’t especially good at reading when I first started.

In kindergarten, I had a copy of Black Beauty. And I was obsessed with horses. So I wanted to read it. My mother didn’t discourage me, but she was convinced I wouldn’t finish it. Because I wasn’t a particularly stellar reader by any means. She offered it to be a bedtime story, where she read a chapter aloud to me every night. But I wanted to read Black Beauty. And I wanted to read it by myself. It took months. But I finished.

And once I started reading, well, I never stopped.

It got to the point where we had to have rules about reading, or I would never get anything done.

Reading was the only time I would sit still. And I would sit still for hours. Because I was reading.

We* weren’t allowed to read before breakfast (or else we would never get ready for school on time.) We weren’t allowed to read when guests were over for a playdate (because then we would ignore them). We weren’t allowed to read more than a chapter after we were tucked in at night (because then we would read for hours and hours and never get any sleep).

When I read, I read in blocks down the page. When I read, I don’t see the words. I just see stories in my head. (There are several circumstances where I think I have seen the movie-version of a book, but really I’m just watching it in my head).

I’ve read classics and Tamora Pierce and Harry Potter and Terry Pratchett (currently obsessed with him) and silly books and books on the Civil War and every textbook my cousin had when I visited them as my freshman year of college.

Words words words.

I will read anything with words.

One time my older cousins wanted to play “School” (which I thought was a silly game). So they gave me a dictionary thinking that would make me play instead of just reading the book. That was the day I realized how fun it can be to read dictionaries and look at all the organized, beautiful, alphabetical lists of words.

I read ridiculously fast as well. Something like reading the sixth Harry Potter book twice between 1:30am when I got home and 6 am when I went to sleep. (Because once you’ve read through a book once, it’s fun to reread it with the knowledge of the ending, to look for hints along the way.)

Reading quickly has helped me so much in school. Because I read so much faster than average, it gives me more time on the actual work/writing the answers. It adds up over multi-page tests. And it helped me with reading comprehension.

(Especially standardized tests.)

E. from The Third Glance talks about reading comprehension here.

I survived “reading comprehension” by reading and thinking about the questions FIRST, before reading the text. I would try to understand what it was they were asking in my own words. I would rephrase things I perceived as “important” parts of the question multiple different ways, so it was in my brain. Why? Because then I knew exactly what I had to look for in the text. I could then read, looking for the keywords I knew would be relevant, and answer the questions as they came up. I hated doing this, because it meant that I was missing most of the point of the text. I could understand a sentence, maybe two at a time, tops. I would be able to process almost nothing. Yet I could answer most (but not all) of the questions. Those questions of “what was the author feeling when s/he wrote this passage?” and “what value is the author trying to portray in line 12?” will always be a mystery to me. Sometimes I can guess right, but seriously, I have NO IDEA if the author was trying to tell me something or not. My absolute “favorite” of this type of question is “would the author of passage 9 agree with the author of passage 12 on some topic that is only vaguely related to either topic addressed in passages 9 and 12?” 

And these questions are frustrating. And they are ALWAYS on standardized tests. I think the only reason I did so well on these was that I was good enough at reading that I could read the passage through every time multiple times during the test, and still finish before everyone else, because I was just lucky enough to read that fast. And we had some of these during class and everything I got wrong in school, my mom would go over with me at home and explain WHY it was wrong and have me do sample problems sometimes until I knew how to do things correctly. So I learned the tricks for these problems and got much better at guessing. (But I still feel like I’m lying on things like this and still feel like I’m lying when I write English essays on topics like this, so I suppose I should be glad that I am probably done with this FOREVER). Because I LOVE stories and I LOVE facts but I do not like the essay version of interpreting them at all.

And I always read all the assigned readings for class. And I never understood why they would say to study from notes instead of the book, because it would take me less time to reread the chapter instead of my mostly illegible notes. (And even now, I still remember all the diagrams from my AP Biology textbook.)

Also, when you read you don’t have to talk to people.

And that is quite nice as well.
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* I use we because this applies to both me and Medium Sister.

Something cool about horses

Horses originally evolved in the Americas. They then migrated to Europe and became extinct in the Americas. However, when they were brought over by settlers, some then escaped and adapted quite well to life as wild horses again, which is where mustangs come from. I think this is especially awesome, because although I knew horses were introduced to the US from European settlers, I never knew before that they ORIGINALLY EVOLVED HERE! They fit in so well in the West and with all those cowboy tales because they were supposed to be here.  (Although, admittedly, they went extinct, so obviously a problem happened somewhere along the line).