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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween 2018

Today is Halloween. This isn't a holiday that I get too excited about. I don't like horror movies and navigating the logistics of trick-or-treating spikes my anxiety every year.

What I do love about this time of year focuses more on the change of energy and seasons. Halloween was traditionally known as Samhain by Celtic traditions and Pagans. I identify much more with this name, which means "summer's end."

October 31 leading into November 1 marks the halfway point in the autumn season. This is known as a cross-quarter day, the midway mark between the autumn equinox and winter solstice. This is a day of balance, also of transition from the warm days of summer and the end of the harvest season to the cooler, shorter days of the winter season.

According to the Pagan "Wheel of the Year," Samhain marks the beginning of the spiritual year. Though it is a day that celebrates death, it also gives us a fresh opportunity to start over. This is an important time to contemplate what you need to let go of to make yourself better.

For me, that is to get rid of my insecurities. I don't know what has led to this continued bout of self-doubt, but I'm about tired of feeling so tentative and lethargic. I'm ready to cultivate some energy and courage.

Nature has an essential cycle of growth and death. We must not be afraid to grow, but also not afraid to let go of those things, especially habits, that no longer serve us so that we may enter into a new beginning. It is within our power to manifest our desires. It takes dedication, daily intention, and perseverance. It is not easy, but it is worth it to find your Highest Self.

Blessed be to you on this day full of magic and chance for new beginnings.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

No More Braces !!!

After two years of expanders and braces, I'm finally free! Well, mostly free. I still have a retainer that I have to wear everyday, but that is a small price to be gone of the wires that irritated my mouth and restricted my eating.

Here's my brand new smile!

I have had a fear of my teeth falling out most of my life. Chipping my front tooth on the side of a pool in high school didn't help this phobia at all. Neither did the brusk manner of the dentist who fixed my tooth then.

Life went on, as it tends to do, until we moved to Seattle four years ago. While I was unpacking spices, one of the glass bottles fell out and tapped my tooth causing the final straw for the adhesive barely still holding my chipped tooth together. With an old incident becoming a new problem, I took my neighbor's recommendation and went to an progressive, enthusiastic dentist downtown. It was a great decision. Not only did she fix my chipped tooth better and stronger than the previous dentist, over the next year or so, she would go through my entire mouth cleaning and filling anywhere that needed it.

Before Braces...

In a way, braces were an inevitability for me. I needed them, anyone could see that. I began the journey in December of 2016. I had no idea what journey laid before me, but I was strapped in and ready to go.

There were many difficult stages of this progress, expanding my upper jaw was the first. It was uncomfortable and I got terrible headaches, but in the end I began to see a lot of improvement too. I could breath a little easier. I could take deeper breaths and had noticeably less trouble with my sinuses.

We tried to put braces on my bottom teeth to start the straightening process, but they were wedged in tight. This is also when we realized I had a nickel allergy. That means that I would not be able to wear traditional metal braces because they were more or less burning a hold into my lips and gums. It was not a pleasant experience and thankfully they took them off fairly quickly. Instead, we began with a removable expander on my bottom jaw as well.

This part of the process took the entire first year and a little more. The real challenge with this was food getting caught around my upper expander. Thankfully, I could take the bottom one out to eat, but the top one was on all the time. I remember once getting a hot pepper seed stuck in there, I thought my mouth was on fire. In hindsight, I should have gotten a water flosser much sooner, it would have really helped me keep my teeth clean. I have one now, but it is a great tool in general, but perfect for working around appliances.

The progress was slow, but you can already 
notice the expander at work...
July 2017 - I would get my first brackets on during the next month
Finally, I began to get brackets put on my upper teeth, just in the front. I appreciate how my dentist did this in stages so my mouth was not overwhelmed at once. Once I had all of my upper brackets on, the upper expander came out. That was a wonderful day. It was so nice to be able to touch the top of my mouth again. It did it's job though and my teeth were already looking better now that they had more room to live.

Next, the brackets began to go on the bottom. This didn't seem like such a big of deal, but just the next part of the journey. I had to wear ceramic brackets for the entire time because of the nickel allergy. The dentist warned that these were a little more fragile. I took that to heart and made sure I didn't bite directly into almost anything. So much so that I realized my bottom teeth were not getting the work out they needed and were feeling really sensitive.

A good shot of how far my bottom teeth had to move...

It was also at this point that we realized my bottom jaw does not have enough gums to cover the roots of all my teeth. We were concerned for a moment that we would have to pull at least one tooth even with the expander because it was precariously placed. However, with some patience, gentleness and extra cleaning on my part, we were able to keep the tooth. For now it is strong and steady.

This part all took forever, it felt like. For the next year, I dreaded my dentist appointment because of the pain I felt from them tightening my brackets. Thanks to some patient dental assistants and generous use of laughing gas, I made it through. The brackets stretched along my lips and my gums constantly had this dull ache where my teeth were constantly moving. I got used to this, as much as one can, but it was tough and even I got sick of my own complaints. In a way, I just learned to grin and bear it.

One of my last weekends with braces...
It was interesting, many people wouldn't even notice my braces until they looked closely. I never forgot they were there, but with the clear ceramics, they do sort of blend in with my teeth.

The day I got my braces off felt overwhelming. My friend was in town from South Carolina visiting and I got home after a four hour dentist visit wiped out. It felt good, but also hurt because of the pressure of taking everything off and then making molds for a retainer. I recovered fairly quickly (the wine helped) and the next day we were off to Vancouver, B.C.

From our trip to Vancouvor, no braces and feeling good!

Over the next week, I praised my ability to bite into a sandwich. The first time I felt a full mouth of a juicy burger I had a mini orgasm right there. It felt so good to be able to confidently take a full bite of something and chew it without pain. I could eat harder chips and chew jerky with no problem. I also didn't have to worry about teeth stains as much because the ceramic brackets previously would show color easily until I cleaned them.

Even now, a couple weeks later, I am so thankful I can eat again. Several people asked me what I ate first. To be honest, it took me a full day before I felt better, but then I purchased some sour gummy worms. That is my favorite candy snack and I hadn't really eaten any for almost two years. That was a delicious snack. Actually anything sweet is nice, with my braces it was more problematic to clean than it was enjoyable to taste. I hardly ate any sweets while I went through my braces process. Now I have to be careful to keep it curbed since I can eat it again. I think the lack of sugar really helped my body feel more balanced.

A good picture of how far I've come...

I am wearing a retainer once a day. It is a tight fit and makes me feel sore, not in the way the appliances and braces did before, but it does make it hard to think. I have to wear it when I'm not trying to focus on anything. Nonetheless, I can tell the retainer is helping because I can almost feel the teeth shift when the retainer lines them back up again. Still, it is so nice to let my jaws rest and my gums firm back up. I'm excited to see how they stand up over time. I may still have to get some graphing done at some point to add fullness to my bottom jaw, but that is a problem for another time. Right now, I'm just enjoying the look and feel of my new teeth alignment.

This has not been an easy journey, but I have learned so much along the way. I have gained a healthy habit to constantly clean my teeth. I have built up self-confidence as I've had to overcome so many obstacles on this journey. I am more willing to stand up for myself and listen to my body for what I need. I am stronger than I was because I faced my fear of my teeth falling out head on and came out victorious. Before, if anything touched my teeth I would freak out a little. Now, it's not such a big deal. My front tooth in particular was really sensitive and it was mostly in my head. I know it is strong now and my dentist did a great job putting it together and working with my insecurities through the braces process.

A confident smile...

I am confident in my smile and part of that is the work it took for me to get there. Since getting braces, I also have fewer headaches and jaw soreness, better breathing ability, my teeth are easier to clean and feel overall less sensitive. I can actually close my lips now. It seems strange that I couldn't before but because of how my jaw was trapped and my overbite, I couldn't seal my lips making winters a misery for my chapped lips. Now I have a relaxed rest state where my jaws can rest and my lips close to offer protection for my gums. Even my face shape has subtly changed with the expansions, a great improvement overall.

It was not an easy journey, but very much worth it. Getting braces as an adult was one of my best decisions to improve myself and my health. I am glad I persevered.


Monday, October 29, 2018


I started October by doing a drawing challenge called "inktober." Instagram artist @jakeparker began this practice 9 years ago. I heard of it last year and decided to try it this year. The idea is to fill the 31 days of October with 31 ink drawings.

Here are the official rules and prompt list...

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Here's the official rules for Inktober. Tag someone who is new to the challenge! 〰 The Inktober was created in 2009 by illustrator @jakeparker as a way to get better at inking. It's since grown into a worldwide art event every October. It's a month long celebration of drawing, creativity, and self-improvement. 〰 You can modify the challenge to suit your needs and abilities. If doing 31 drawings in a month isn't realistic for your schedule, set a goal for 15 drawings in the month and do one every other day. Or do one a week. Or just do one on the first day. 〰 People who push themselves just outside their comfort zone get the most out of the challenge. Figure out what that is for you, set a goal, and work your hardest to reach it. 〰 Use whatever inking tools you have available to you. Whether it's a bic pen, sharpie marker, or the latest Japanese brush pen, we've seen great art with all of those tools. 〰 Initially, the challenge of Inktober was focused on traditional inking. Although learning how to ink digitally is a skill separate from traditional inking it is no less valid. If you want to improve your digital inking skills then doing Inktober digitally is a great way to challenge yourself. 〰 The prompt list is provided to spark your imagination. Its fun to see how different artists interpret the same word. But you do not have to use the prompts. If something else is inspiring you, let that fuel your creativity for inktober! 〰 There's also inktober contests and giveaways put on by many art supply companies for people who participate in Inktober. Keep an eye out on our posts because we will be announcing those contests here. 〰 There's more more info about Inktober on out offical website: inktober.com 〰 Lastly, HAVE FUN! If Inktober is stressing you out, or making your life too hard, dial it back a bit do what you've got to do to make it fun. 〰 That's all. Now go make something beautiful! 〰 #inktober #inktober2018
A post shared by Inktober (@inktober) on

I was really excited to start. I would take some time to draw everyday and no matter what it looked like, I would post it with the appropriate tags for the day. It did this very consistently for ten days. Some days I loved what I drew and others, I didn't even want to post it online. However, I was really enjoying the challenge and my own quest to become a better artist. 

I found that on the days I really sat down and thought about the theme and what I wanted to express, it came out a lot better. There were some days that I just couldn't connect with the theme. That is something I need more creative time to figure out. I am not very confident in my ability to draw, so anything I put on paper triggered a little bit of anxiety. I tried to overcome it though and just draw, like a child would with no abandon and no fear of judgment. 

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A post shared by Amanda McCusker (@ladyanda) on

This one above almost did me in. I wanted to draw an up close photo of a baby drooling. I think you may be able to tell it was a baby, but I don't think I did the picture justice. I still need some work on facial features and the proportions to go with it. 

Then I drew this one (above), just on notebook paper because I was writing at the time. I think it came out really well. I even fixed some of the proportions as I drew. This is one of my favorites from all of my creations. 

Life got really busy in these last couple of days. I didn't really spend very much time on #inktober. You can tell from the quality of the pictures. But I was still taking part and moving forward.

Then my friend came to visit from South Carolina. We were enthusiastically expecting her arrival and when she got here, we had a great time hanging out and exploring Seattle. We even took a trip up to Vancouver Canada for the weekend. All of this did not leave much time, or energy, for drawing, so I let it slide for a day, then two, then before I knew it I was almost a week behind. 

I tried to catch up by posting four at once...

A couple of them came out great and the others were fun to draw. But after that, I was pretty much done. I was too busy enjoying the extra activities and spending time with my friend to stop and draw. Especially since it takes me so long to plan and follow through on even the most simple of pieces. 

I did one more piece that I just realized I never posted ...

I completed a total of 15 drawings during the month of October. I keep thinking I should look back and try to do a couple more, but I am overwhelmed with other obligations, so I just haven't done it. I also realized, I really like drawing in small areas better. I like when I make a frame so I can focus on the details instead of feeling like I must cover the page, like the picture above.

The weather has gotten to us a little and I'm behind on writing, which makes me feel anxious, so I am focusing on that. In many ways, these are just excuses, but it is what it is and I am ready to let October go. Besides, November is Nanowrimo and writing naturally keeps my focus a little more. Inktober has helped me practice balancing priority when it comes to projects like this. I need all the help I can get since we have another visitor coming in November.  

I've really enjoyed #inktober. I found out that I can draw if I really focus on what I am trying to share. That is a great feeling. I am kind of sad I didn't finish this challenge, but in the end, I did something that I wasn't sure I could do at all. In that, I am proud of myself.

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