Saturday, August 22, 2015

Miss V goes to college

Once upon a time there was a Little Miss V. And after a while she grew up to be a Big Miss V and was ready for some solo adventures. So she and I and about 300 pounds of V's Stuff got into the Small Silver Car of Errand-Running and went merrily driving across four states (all of which were in various states of smogginess, due to lots of wildfires across the American West *koff koff*). I had warned V about the general scariness of Utah drivers; after observing them up close in their native habitat today, she's a believer.

But eventually we got to where we were going...

...namely, the dormitories of her new university.

After going through check-in, V wasted no time unloading her gobs o' Stuff.

Dorm sweet dorm!

She brought lots of decorations with her (not pictured here) which she will be putting up to make this room more homelike. Her roomie (also not pictured here) hasn't moved in yet.

Please wish Miss V the best of luck as she embarks on her next big adventure!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Beauty Party Weekend

As I write, the annual Geocaching Block Party is proceeding apace over in Seattle. Many quests to be achieved, many caches to be found, many funtimes to be had, no doubt.

And for the first time since I started geocaching as a hobby, I won't be there.

< Tevye voice >You may ask... why won't you be there, Soozcat?
I'll tell you.< /Tevye voice >

Because today Miss V and I are going to go get manicures together.

When it comes to beauty and fashion, I'm low-maintenance. I wear minimal makeup, I get cheap haircuts, I don't read beauty mags or follow fashion trends, and the last time I got a professional manicure was 22 years ago, in preparation for marriage.

So why am I blowing off the Block Party to participate in a beauty ritual I have shown no interest in for more than two decades?

See this girl here?

She's bound for college next week. Although I expect that she will come to visit us on occasion, this is her official fly-the-coop experience. This Saturday is one of the last days I'll get to spend time with her before she goes. And what she wants today is the shared pampering of a beauty experience.

I have no interest in manicures. But I have plenty of interest in this girl.

There will be other Block Parties. (Or maybe there won't.) But there's only one Miss V.

We'll take pix of our nails later.

Saturday, August 08, 2015


IME to admit what some of you have already guessed: I have not been taking care of myself.

I haven't been sticking to my eating plan or exercising at all. My weight, although not at the all-time-high watermark, has been creeping up. I haven't used my blood glucose monitor in more than a month, because I know it won't have good news for me. I didn't go to the doctor when we had no insurance, but I haven't made the effort to find an endocrinologist now that we're insured again.

So why am I telling you this? Because I've realized that I'm the kind of person whose behavior improves more consistently when I'm held to account for my actions. Putting this information out there, even if -- no, scratch that -- especially if it's embarrassing to admit, forces me to confront and act upon the problem, because if I don't, I know someone else will. And I'd rather take the initiative to care for myself than be pressured into doing it by someone else.

I also have a family who depend on me for a number of things, not the least of which is emotional support. If they're constantly worrying about me and how I don't take care of myself, that's a drag on their emotional health. I can't do that to Captain Midnight and Miss V, especially when they're already stressed from starting a new job and freshman year at college, respectively. So even if I don't feel the need to do this for my own sake, I should be doing it for them.

While I could wait to make changes on some particular future day, I think that's probably just the procrastination talking. So today I'm counting carbohydrates, paying attention to portion sizes and what's in them, cracking open the low-carb cookbooks and planning future grocery purchases, and re-activating my YMCA membership.

Also: any recommendations for a good endocrinologist in the greater Seattle area?

Monday, August 03, 2015

The modern pillory

In the public square of nearly every small town and village throughout medieval Europe, there was an odd device. They called it a pillory. Made of wood or metal, with holes to secure a human head and hands, it was created for a single purpose: public humiliation. If you were a heavy drinker, had stolen a horse, cheated your brother, seduced your neighbor's wife, or had otherwise been accused of an act deemed worthy of public scorn, you would be dragged to the pillory, bent over, forced into its confines and latched down for a period of time lasting from hours to days. During this time you would be subjected to the elements: rain, snow, sleet, hail, wind, or blistering sun. The kinder of your neighbors might merely point and laugh at you. Those with more of a mean streak were free to berate you publicly for your misdeeds, or they could opt to throw old food, mud, feces, rotten fish, dead animals, shoes, stones or bricks at you. You could have your hair shaved off, you could be beaten, you could even be branded. While in the pillory, you were completely at the mercy of your peers. In some cases, when the pilloried person had been accused of a heinous act or when the villagers were feeling especially spiteful, the pillory could become a death sentence.

The worst thing about the pillory was that you couldn't do much to escape it, even if you hadn't actually committed the crime that put you there. A public accusation or two was usually enough to establish your guilt. And most medieval peasants, whether by law or custom, didn't have the option of escape. They were suspicious and fearful of the world outside their village, or they were vassals of a local lord who wouldn't allow them to travel. So whatever the local villagers chose to dish out, you were pretty much going to have to take it -- and to keep taking a social snubbing from them for years to come.

Over generations, however, things began to change. As European explorers discovered a larger world and as more people gained the right to freedom of movement, it became possible for a socially ostracized person to seize a second chance in life. Whether you were in trouble with your neighbors, the law, the Pope or the Queen, you had the option to move away, change your name, set yourself up in a different profession and find a modicum of peace in your new identity. Personal reinvention as a way to escape past misdeeds became relatively commonplace in this era. In the former British colonies of North America, people continued to forge new lives for themselves right into the 20th century.

And then, just as public humiliation as a form of punishment seemed on the verge of dying out entirely, we had to go and invent the modern, electronic pillory: social media.

How does the pillory work in the 21st century? In a word, horribly:
  • Justine Sacco, former Director of Corporate Communications at media company IAC, made what she later claimed was a poorly-worded joke via her Twitter account. Shortly after, she boarded a plane, and while she was in the air her tweet went massively viral. Strangers, who parsed her tweet as callous and deeply racist, started contacting IAC and demanding that she be fired. Sacco was let go from the company, and her public and private life were effectively destroyed because of one ill-advised public comment.
  • On June 17, 2015, a nasty little white-supremacist scorpion of a male walked into a prayer service in an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina and, in an attempt to start a race war, shot and killed nine parishioners. Even before he was taken into police custody, thousands of people started looking for the suspect in social media. It didn't take long for them to find the Facebook profile of one Dylan Roof, and they promptly began sending him hate mail. But the man accused of the shooting was Dylann Roof (with two Ns). Poor Dylan-with-one-N Roof had to issue a public statement on Facebook indicating he was not the subject of the day's Two Minute Hate.
  • If you're not already aware of the doxxing, death and rape threats, and other forms of online and offline orchestrated harassment associated with the Gamergate controversy... well, suffice to say it's a regular dog's breakfast at this point, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.
  • In early July 2015, a lion named Cecil was shot and killed by an American dentist on safari in Zimbabwe. Cecil was a featured attraction at Hwange National Park, and was also the subject of a larger study by the University of Oxford. When the news media released the dentist's name and location, he became the focus of intense hatred by anti-hunting groups and individuals who believed he deserved death for killing a member of an endangered species. The dentist was forced to close his practice after people sent him online and offline death threats, publicly trashed his business on Yelp, posted "Rot in Hell" on his office door, and left stuffed lions on the front stoop. As of this writing, his neighborhood is getting an extra police patrol in case his neighbors are attacked; the dentist himself has gone into hiding.

Even if you believe that the targets of these attacks got what they deserved, the methods by which such "justice" was doled out should make you very nervous. Because the ubiquitous nature of social media has turned every location on Earth with Internet access into a virtual version of the same small medieval village, and because any accusation which goes viral -- whether accurate or baseless -- could lead any of you to the electronic pillory to be destroyed by millions of your fellow "villagers," you now live in a very dangerous world.

Think about what it means to be massively publicly shamed online. Anything shameful you did in your past which subsequently comes to light, any stupid joke you make which could be incorrectly parsed by strangers, any public decision you take which has its share of vitriolic detractors -- any of these, and much more, could be what drags you to the modern pillory. The anonymous vigilantism of social media has nothing to do with jurisprudence, leniency or measured response; the kangaroo court of public opinion will viciously, relentlessly strip your life to the bone and gnaw on your defeated remains. And it will not be confined to the Internet. People intent on punishing you will come to your place of business, to your church, to your neighbors, to your extended family members, to your home. You will have no sanctuary and no peace of mind. And, unlike the time preceding the advent of social media, you don't have the option to cut your losses and reinvent yourself. The Internet remembers forever, and it does not forgive easily, if at all. It won't matter that you're sorry, that you "made a regrettable choice" in the words of so many who make public statements during or after a shaming. Your youthful mistakes, words, sins, errors, will follow you to the ends of the earth. To anyone who has even a jot of compassion for others, this fate should be horrifying.

Pillories and other forms of public humiliation gradually died out as people began to realize how inhumanely their fellow humans were being treated. But at least a prisoner who had been latched into the old-style pillory could comfort herself with the thought that her torture would eventually come to an end. That comfort has gone cold in our era of unending social media "justice." I wonder how long it will be before we realize that the modern form of public humiliation, the monster we create anew each time we jump on a social media bandwagon of hatred, is becoming more like a different kind of European public punishment. One a little sharper, a bit more capable of silencing the shamed, a lot more permanent, and hugely popular with the insensate mobs of yesteryear.

They called it a guillotine.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Kung-fu household management! HYAH!

[If posts about housekeeping bore you to tears, feel free to skip this one.]

O, one of the problems with making the leap back to employment is bridging the financial gap -- that critical span of two to three weeks where you no longer qualify for unemployment, but you haven't received your first paycheck yet. After making sure tithing/rent/bills/etc. are paid, I've noted we don't have much left over in our bank account. I choose to see this as an opportunity to sharpen up my slightly-dulled skills in frugality and home management.

How does this work? I'ma tell ya how!

Cooked homemade pancakes for Miss V this morning. The standard pancake batter recipe makes more than she can eat (unless she's ravenous), and ordinarily I just tip the rest of the batter down the sink. But today I discovered you can freeze pancakes and reheat them later... so I made pancakes until the batter was gone, let them cool, stacked them up with waxed paper in between, wrapped and froze them. When Miss V wants pancakes again (and she will), we'll be set up to provide an instant gratification breakfast.

I have this bad habit of buying a whole lot of fresh basil, using individual leaves in a caprese salad and then forgetting the rest of it until eventually I unearth a pile of green slime in the back of the fridge. Not this time. All the rest of the basil has been stripped of its leaves, and now I've got two cups of packed fresh basil to make some pesto. Because you can make all kinds of stuff when you have pesto.

As you might have discerned from the basil story above, my fridge, freezer and pantry are not very well organized at the mo. I'm going through them to find and use up all the languishing (but still useful) food items that have been hiding in forgotten nooks. (Some of these will be more of a challenge than others -- how do I transmogrify a single serving of frozen white fish into a meal for three people? Dunno, but I suspect pesto WILL be involved.)

Spices. Lots of spices. Spices turn plain-Jane food into gourmet fare. And I already have a hefty stock of them on hand, so there are no additional costs.

I pay my bills with an online bill-payer set up through my bank. (Many banks and credit unions offer these free for the use of their members; check with your bank to see what it offers.) I haven't had to remember to write a check to my landlord in years; the bill-payer does it for me automatically. For bills where the total amount varies from month to month, when I receive a bill in the mail, I go into the bill-payer, indicate how much I want to pay and when I want it paid, make a note of it in Quicken and file the bill. Saves on stamps and eliminates late fees.

I'm working to get on top of household chores. Getting laundry and dishes done quickly isn't just efficient, it's also frugal -- if I leave a clean load of laundry sitting in the washer too long, it will start smelling sour and I'll have to wash it again. $$. Putting it into the dryer immediately after the load is finished saves water and electricity. (Yes, I could line-dry my laundry and save even more, but I live in the Land of Rain, folks. Plus my landlord has been doing a lot of earth-moving on the property lately. Dusty sheets and towels are not my idea of fun.)

Bookstores. Mmmm, delicious books. But they're not really in the budget, so I'm going to a) dig into the Teetering Pile and b) spend more quality time with the county library system. The same goes for movies. I want to see the documentary I Am Big Bird, but the closest theatrical showing will be in Tacoma, a month from now. Fortunately I can rent it from Amazon for a price far less than the cost of gas and theater tickets. Also, I can exercise a little patience and wait until money starts coming in again.

Cleaning up. If I have a whatsit but I can't find it in all the flotsam scattered around the house, I end up buying another whatsit, and then losing it in the flotsam... yeah, you get the idea. Cleaning house is frugal; it helps you find and make use of what you already have. (Small example: I just cleaned out the car and discovered we had three bottles of hand cream in there. THREE? WHY EVEN)

There are probably all sorts of frugalistic things I'm forgetting, but at least this is a start.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Want to do some good?

OK, I'm angry about this. For many reasons.

I'm angry because the abusive boors who poured beer on kids' heads and told them to "go back to the Rez" probably live on parcels of land stolen from those same kids' ancestors.

I'm angry because Miss V, while not specifically Oglala Lakota, is part Native American -- and imagining some idiot yelling at her or spattering beer on her at a hockey game just makes me want to bust some heads open.

I'm angry because there have been almost no consequences for the freaking pinheads who did this.

Most of all, I'm angry at the long-term psychological damage done to the kids, who are now very likely to retreat rather than gaining the courage to enter into and participate in a greater world. I quote American Horse School principal Gloria Kitsopolous:
Immediately after [the hockey game] I brought them in and talked to them. These were my top students, rewarded for their academics. The first thing they said to me [was], 'you said that we could go anywhere and be anything, and we can't.' That made me the angriest -- that they took that away from them: that hope.
I can't fix what Trace O'Connell and his drunken racist buddies did. I can't even keep them from getting away with it. But I can do something positive to try to offset it, and if you have the means I warmly encourage you to help too.

The Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation serve the people -- particularly the children -- of Pine Ridge Reservation. They have numerous ongoing donation drives, but the one that spoke right to my heart was the request to buy student backpacks and fill them with school supplies for the Oglala Lakota CASA children and teenagers, who have gone through horrific abuse and neglect.

Stores are starting to run back-to-school sales already, so the school items aren't that expensive. Care to join me? I'd love to see all those slots filled before school starts.


If you're coming late to this post and you'd still like to help, click here to review the other current donation drives -- there are plenty to choose from.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Choosing to believe

Shall I tell you about a time when I almost died?

All right then.

This would have been during a summer in the mid-'80s, when I was about 15. Our church youth group had planned a camping trip which involved hiking up into a remote section of the high Uintas for a few days, and we were all pushing along at varying speeds. As usual, I was taking up the rear, just ambling along, captivated by the sight of evergreens and boulders and listening to birds and breathing in big draughts of crisp mountain air. So I was one of the very last people to reach the log.

The fallen log was the only nearby bridge spanning the thirty-foot-wide river we needed to cross to get to our campsite. Ordinarily the log would have been more than sufficient for our group's needs, but local conditions had changed a bit since the youth leaders had gone up to check the trail a few weeks before. Acres of melting snow from the mountains had swelled the river, and it was both deeper and faster-moving than expected, with white plumes of water dashing against the river rocks and gushing right over the log's midpoint. Every member of the party lined up to cross the log bridge, slowly, going single-file. I wasn't really concerned about it. After all, I knew I could handle water well enough.

And then, the moment I put my foot up on the log, I got one of those feelings.

I guess you could call them premonitions. I don't get them very often, but I've learned to pay attention to them, because they're always important. Sometimes the feeling is positive, as when I look around a potential house for rent and I have a sudden, deep, comforting conviction that I've found the right place to live. Or when I first meet someone and instantly know that person is going to be a friend. I had a similar sense of rightness when Captain Midnight and I were dating. But sometimes... well, sometimes it's a tense, dreadful, don't-go-down-that-alley feeling welling up like dark water in the pit of my stomach. I don't always know what's going down, but I know it's going to be bad.

This time I knew what was going to happen. At some point during the crossing, I was going to lose my balance, fall off the log and into the river. The sensation was so strong that I could almost see it. I balked and backed away from the log, but one of the youth leaders chided me -- there were other people behind me waiting their turn to cross, she said; if I went slowly and carefully, I'd get to the other side just fine.

So I did the dumb thing, ignored the feeling and got up onto the log. I turned and faced upstream, fighting the part of my brain that was still clamoring to abort the mission, and slowly began inching my way across, crablike -- right foot first, then left foot sliding up beside it. And I was actually getting to the point where the logical part of my brain was taking the lead, telling me it would be just fine, when I tried spanning the spot where water was coming up and over the log. I misjudged the distance, put my foot down in a slippery place, and as if on cue, lost my footing and fell forward and upstream into the river. The current immediately dragged me underneath the log, where my backpack snagged on a bit of broken branch. I was pinned underwater.

My head was maybe a foot below the surface -- close enough to be able to see blurry outlines of the other hikers staring down at me in mute shock -- but I couldn't pull myself back up against the strength of the current. I panicked and thrashed around, trying to get free, but the backpack was still firmly attached to the log. I clawed at my backpack's front clasp, trying to open it, but I couldn't get it loose. I could feel my lungs running out of air. For just a moment I had a brief flash of irony -- here I was, a member of the high school swim team, about to drown.

So this is how I'm going to die.

I didn't expect it -- the realization of impending death -- to be so mundanely calm and factual, as in Oh, it's 10:15 already or We're all out of milk or Here's the bus. There was nothing else I could do. I was still pinned. My air was almost gone. No one above me seemed to be making any attempt at rescue. My lungs would fill with water, my heart would come to a stop, and the part that was me would flicker and go out.

But I wanted to live. And out of that desire to live came -- not exactly a prayer, because that would suggest I was still capable of ordering my thoughts while moments from death, but a sudden spasm of desire: PLEASEdontletmedie

And a surge of water came beneath the log and twisted my body around in such a way that my backpack finally came unstuck, and I was pushed under the log and went shooting downstream, gasping and flailing in the current and being dashed against the rocks. Somehow I dog-paddled my way to the other side of the river, hauled myself out on the bank and lay there panting for a while.

The youth leaders rushed over to check on me. After assuring them I was all right, and after a quick change behind a boulder (from wet dirty clothes into equally wet clean clothes), I finished the hike. Later that night a would-be good-deed-doer built a roaring fire, rigged up a clothesline and hung my brand-new sopping wet jeans directly over the blaze. The next morning, the best adjective to describe the waistband of my jeans was "crispy;" I tried using my belt loops to hike up my Levis, and they promptly snapped off in my fingers. But I reasoned that a dead pair of jeans was a small price to pay for being alive.

* * *

Depending on what you believe, you could parse my brush with death a number of ways. You could say that realization of my coming death impelled me to move in strange ways I later attributed to a freak surge in the current. You could say that the broken branch finally gave way at an opportune moment. You could say that even if the surge in the current came through to free me from my spot pinned under the log, it was one of those happenstance things, and that I just happened to be fortunate that it occurred when it did. There are probably dozens of ways to explain away the confluence of my mind's desperate request for life and the arrival of something that preserved it.

This is why I say that faith is a matter of choosing to believe. I can't prove that there is a God, or that we are His children, or that He hears and answers our prayers. I can't even prove that the feelings I sometimes have come from anywhere other than my own mind -- although I've come to realize that I ignore them at my own peril. I can't prove any of these things. But I choose to believe in them, and I choose to make decisions based on these beliefs. And although I constantly go through experiences that push my belief in different directions -- sometimes toward faith, sometimes away from it -- the general current bears me toward a continuing, strengthening belief that God exists, is aware of me, loves me and wants to help me become a better person.

Everyone dies. There will probably come a day in the future when I stare death down again, and say another prayer for deliverance, and the answer comes back: Sorry, kiddo, but this is your time to go. But until then, I have reason to be grateful for every day I get to be alive, even the days when crappy things happen. And I choose to believe that I am alive at all thanks to the being who has created me from the beginning, and is preserving me from day to day by lending me breath. I choose to believe because it gives my body strength, it gives my life purpose, and it gives my soul joy.