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Victory Garden [May. 6th, 2017|03:31 pm]
I think the instructions on seed packets for early spring, cool weather crops are incomplete. They generally say, "Plant as soon as the ground can be worked. When seedlings are approximately 2" high, thin plants to ___ inches apart."

They completely leave off the rest of the instructions:

"Watch over your garden beds as your little seed babies make their green appearance. Reflect on the miracle of life. When plants are approximately three inches high, witness them all freeze to death in a late spring snow. Any plants that survive will be shocked into stunted growth and bitter harvest. Reflect now upon how Mother Earth is a harsh mistress. Replant sometime in early May. Watch as the tender new growth is scorched when the temperatures suddenly climb into the 90s. Note: early spring crops can be replanted with more success in September, but by that time you'll be completely burnt out on this gardening thing."
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CALL YOUR CONGRESSMAN NOW!!!! [May. 4th, 2017|09:33 am]

Healthcare is on the chopping block again today. If you think this isn't your issue because you have insurance through your work, you are wrong! Insurance companies will be allowed to offer far worse policies to employers, not cover pre-existing conditions, not cap your annual contribution, just not cover things. This is EVERYONE'S issue.

16 Republicans have stated that they plan to vote no on the appalling new version of the AHCA--remember, folks, this one is worse than the last time, and that's why it's getting support; the most conservative congressmen who voted against the last bill have fallen in line behind this one because it's finally Machiavellian enough for them.

Call your congressional representative and urge them to listen to the American people instead of the Koch Brothers.

Last time around, these were the members who were on the fence. I can't even find a list for this time, because the news isn't covering this like it did before:

Rep. Mark Amodei (NV)
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA)
Rep. Andy Biggs (AZ)
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (OK)
Rep. Ken Buck (CO)
Rep. Ryan Costello (PA)
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (FL)
Rep. Charlie Dent (PA)
Rep. Scott DesJarlais (TN)
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL)
Rep. Daniel Donovan (NY)
Rep. Jeff Duncan (SC)
Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX)
Rep. Paul A. Gosar (AZ)
Rep. Walter B. Jones (NC)
Rep. Steve King (IA)
Rep. Darrin LaHood (IL)
Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ)
Rep. Patrick Meehan (PA)
Rep. Steve Pearce (NM)
Rep. Scott Perry (PA)
Rep. Peter J. Roskam (IL)
Rep. Dan Webster (FL)
Rep. Ted Yoho (FL)
Rep. David Young (IA)

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What a drag it is getting old.... [Apr. 25th, 2017|01:50 am]
I've wrapped up the last birthday I'll ever have for an age that begins with a 5. A year from now, I move on into the 6s.

That's not weird AT ALL.

Age is an odd thing. I think it was Jim Gaffigan (if not, excuse my senility) who recently said that a generation ago when someone approached 60, people solicitously guided them to a rocking chair; now, they are given a mountain bike and told to get going.

For the most part, I'm all for that mountain bike (crap, I own three bikes; I'd better be enthusiastic). But there are days when I long, a bit, for the solicitous guidance, the gentle pat on the back of my--so far unmarred by age spots--hand, and the voice to tell me to slow the hell down.

It's not that I want to get old--hell, you line me up a dozen random virgins with the promise that drinking their blood will restore me to my thirties and those bitches are going *down*--but there is a lot of balance to be sought in the reality of this point of life. I spent an hour gardening today. I went to the gym. I am fighting the good fight against the ravages of time and reality.

In the end, ravaging reality will win. Maybe not for another 20, 30 years. But we haven't found a cure for age yet.

So here I am, dancing on the balance. I can't get 30 back (for the record, no, I don't want 20--those years were still WAY too hormonal). I can't get 40. I can't even get 58.

What I've got is 59, and how to use it best. How to use it smartest. One of the most humbling decisions I ever made was buying myself a walker for Star Wars Celebration. Did I need the walker for support? Not at all. But degenerative disc disease and the inability to stand for long periods of time means that I *did* need that flip-down seat and the ability to plant my ass for the long hours we had to wait in some lines.

As a woman with a walker, I could have cruised right up to the Medical Disability station, gotten myself a special sticker for my badge, and had some advantages as far was getting into lines. I did not do this. I had a walker because I needed a doggone chair whenever I needed a chair. Not because I am disabled. I felt like taking advantage of a visible piece of equipment to get special treatment would have been dishonest.

By Celebration 2019? I might not feel that way. One of the things I did today, my birthday, was take time to get to the gym. It wasn't a great workout. But I did show up. And it means something to me. Not that I will ever be thin--because I fought for that for decades and fuck it, I end up fatter every damned time--but that I can stay mobile. I can stay able. I can keep walking, and moving, and lifting. And planting, and pulling up the goddamn weeds that will just keep growing no matter how much I loathe them. And harvesting. And reaching for the stars, howling at the moon, bursting warm, ripe tomatoes with my teeth, scrounging the dirt for carrots and onions, swinging a lightsaber in the moonlight, juggling balls my dog can't believe aren't for her, swinging on my porch swing, riding my bike through the park, dyeing and sewing fabric into new treasures for the future and just existing. On a thousand levels.

Tomorrow morning, it's editing books. In the evening, it may be plunging cotton fabric into purples and greens it never knew could exist. Or spying for that first curling sprout that promises a pound of snap peas. Or riding to the river to just listen to it sing. I have a thousand miles of everything, calling to me. Let's see whose song is sweetest.
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A short lesson in US goverment [Jan. 30th, 2017|09:49 am]
I see far too much sanguine trust that, somehow, the bedrock that is America will survive Trump. Do not fall into this trap. Our system of checks and balances is not a law of nature like gravity or thermodynamics. It is a gentleman's agreement, one of long standing, but not unbreakable.

Let me tell you a story. Back when the USA was a wee babe, and our Founding Fathers were still a bunch of idealistic but extemely argumentative men, defeated President John Adams appointed a bunch of people to positions on his way out the door. But those appointments were not official until the appointees actually received the physical order. And when Thomas Jefferson took office, he instructed Secretary of State James Madison not to deliver those appointments.

One of the disappointed appointees, William Marbury, decided not to take this lying down. He sued James Madison, claiming that as the valid appointment had been made the new president had the obligation to carry it out. This case ended up in the Supreme Court: Marbury v. Madison.

No one going into this case had any idea that a petty, pissing match between Adams and Jefferson would end up shaping our entire government.

You see, Justice John Marshall delivered a decision that basically proclaimed the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of the constitutionality of laws and orders. He wrote Article III of the Constitution gives the court the authority to determine who wins when there is a constitutional question. He wrote that Marbury *did* have a right to the commission, and that the laws of the country did provide him with legal recourse.

And then, Marshall did a very canny thing. He said that Marbury's method of asking for relief was improper, and that therefore Madison (and, by extension, Jefferson) won the day. This legal jujitsu meant that Jefferson had no reason to say, "Well, I don't have to do what you say!" and create a Constitutional crisis right there in 1803. Instead, he was forced to accept the decision. And he was *pissed* about it. Wrote that it was the creation of an oligarchy, that it gave the courts too much power. But the path was laid: the courts were to be the interpreters of constitutionality.

For 200+ years, the courts have carried out this role. Our system of checks and balances has meant that the will of the majority did not overrun the rights of the minority (Benjamin Franklin famously called straight democracy "A lamb and two wolves deciding what's for dinner). Presidents have--sometimes reluctantly and resentfully--respected the rulings of the court. Where states have refused, such as Brown v. Board of Education, presidents have sent in the National Guard to enforce the law of the land.

We have convinced ourselves that this is a strong and stable system. But it is a system built on cooperation. The federal court system does not have an army; it has some marshalls, and a history of being respected.

This weekend, we came close to the edge of the administrative branch of government looking at the court system and saying, "naw, we don't have to obey you." We balanced at the edge of constitutional crisis. Through narrow obedience--interpreting the judge's ruling as local and following it in Boston--we avoided facing the question of whether this administration is going to respect the judiciary. Unless the pace of confrontation decelerates soon, that question is pretty much inevitable.

The question then will become, what will Congress do about it? How far will it allow the executive branch to go in ignoring Constitutional rights before it acts? If the court tells President Trump, "You cannot Constitutionally do this thing," and the president says, "Too bad, I'm doing it anyway," we have only Congress to check him, to legislate against whatever unconstitutional act he is taking. If he thumbs his nose at them, they are left with the power to impeach him.

Will they have the fortitude to do so? I hope they do. If they don't, the government of the United States as we have known it, is over. Whatever emerges may still look the same, but it will be a very different creature.
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Star Wars: The new book canon [Dec. 2nd, 2016|07:54 pm]
Hi LJ! Been a while. I keep meaning to get back here, but mostly I've been posting political rants on Facebook, and sharing articles is so much easier over there.

But my old Star Wars buddies from a long time ago on a service far, far away (Compuserve) have been reuniting over on Facebook. We got to talking about the new book canon, and I seem to be the only one who has done any serious reading in it, I volunteered to write up a brief synopsis of what's out there and what's worth reading.

I failed on the brief part.

So, what do you do when you've prattled on for three full pages on Word? You put it on LJ! So here is my guide to the new Star Wars canon:

Wow, there are already a lot of books. A LOT of books. Like, here’s a link to the books that are already canon: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline_of_canon_books.
But a ton of them are children’s books/picture books. And I’m not going to drag you through those.

Before we get to the books, however, you should know what’s considered canon in visual media. Of course, all seven movies. But also:

The Clone Wars the movie—it’s awful. But it’s better if you’ve watched The Clone Wars TV series. Not really necessary.

The Clone Wars TV series—five seasons of Anakin Skywalker. Believe it or not, you will like him a lot better if you watch it. I have now sat through the whole thing three times (with Ferrett, with Erin, and then with Amy), and there is a lot of really good stuff here. I genuinely recommend making the time to see it. Like all kid’s cartoon shows that grow into more, it starts kind of simplistic and picks up way more depth over time. It introduces a lot of really great characters into the Star Wars Galaxy—or, as we know it, Fred—and gets you rooting for them.

Star Wars Rebels—The new, and ongoing, cartoon series on Disney XD. This series starts about 5 years before A New Hope, and as it gets closer to that date is beginning to rub elbows with familiar characters from the movies. And it’s going to get closer to Rogue One events after the movie comes out, so it’s getting darker. Some really good stuff here, too.

And now, on to the books:

Dark Disciple, by Christie Golden: Occurs before Order 66. Based on a screenplay for one of the Clone Wars episodes that didn’t get made when Disney cancelled the series, it involves two characters from Clone Wars, Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos. Ventress was apprentice to Darth Tyranus, Vos was a Jedi. A book I enjoyed, but don’t bother reading unless you’re a Clone Wars fan.

Rogue One: Catalyst, by James Luceno: Starts shortly after the Empire is formed, this is the lead-in story to Rogue One. It tells how Galen Urso ends up helping with the building of the Death Star, why it takes 19 years to build the thing, and the political machinations of Krennic and Tarkin. I’m just about finished with it, and I think it’s a really good read. I like books that introduce us to new characters; Fred is a big galaxy, with lots of stories to tell.

Ahsoka, by E. K. Johnston: Story of Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice (yes, he was never a master; I have no idea why they gave him an apprentice, but she is a major part of Clone Wars, so deal with it). Again, not a book to read unless you are a Clone Wars fan. This one is on my Paperwhite, waiting to be read.

Lords of the Sith, by Paul S. Kemp: okay *now* we’re getting into the good stuff. Set about 5 years into the era of the Empire. Rebels take a chance on taking out Vader and the Emperor, managing to damage the ship they are in to cause a crash landing. The Emperor and Vader must get out of their predicament. Good stuff about their master/apprentice relationship, the psychological games Palpatine is playing with Vader, and some Vader being just frelling scary. Recommended as a pleasure read, particularly for you Emperor fans.

Tarkin, by James Luceno: A look at Tarkin’s rise to power, lots of flashbacks to his childhood. Imperial fans love it; I was kind of, meh.

A New Dawn, by John Jackson Miller: This is the origin story for Star Wars Rebels, how the two leaders of our little Rebel cell meet. Not well-regarded, though I thought it was all right. Read only if you are interested in Rebels.

Lost Stars, by Claudia Gray: OH MY DOG, THIS IS SO GOOD!!! This book came out with the first group of new canon books, was pitched as YA, got almost no publicity, but was *by far* the best of the books released. It starts about 10 years before ANH and ends at the Battle of Jakku. The characters are two kids growing up on a planet with the ambition to go to the Imperial Academy. They both get in, but once there, their paths diverge as one drinks the Imperial Kool-Aid and the other begins having doubts. Princess Leia makes a minor appearance, but otherwise there is really no one we know from the movies, but WOW can Claudia Gray write Star Wars. She has a terrific feel for the universe, the characters are incredibly engaging, and the insight into how people develop their worldviews is awesome. If you came to me and said, “I am only going to read one new canon novel ever,” I would thrust this one into your hands.

Battlefront: Twilight Company, by Alexander Freed: This book surprised the heck out of me. Starting in the pre-ANH timeframe and continuing through to the ongoing struggle after the Battle of Yavin, it’s a book based loosely on the videogame, and I wasn’t excited about reading it. But I borrowed the audiobook from the library and was really surprised at how engaging I found the characters. Again, none of our main characters plays much of a role in it, but a good story in the universe. And worth reading for the straight-up terrifying badassery of Vader as seen by ground troups fleeing during the battle on Hoth.

Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn: TIMOTHY ZAHN IS WRITING A NEW THRAWN BOOK! Why? Oh, did I forget to mention that Season Three of Rebels features Thrawn?! Yes, it does, and he’s dead-on Thrawn. They haven’t used him as much as I’d like yet, but he’s there and he’s great, and when they announced it at Star Wars Celebration in London I screamed, then I called Erin and she screamed. The book is coming out in April.

Heir to the Jedi, by Kevin Hearne: This is the book with Luke Skywalker on the cover with Justin Beiber hair. It’s set right after the Battle of Yavin. It’s terrible. Luke is sent off on some lame mission to fetch some supplies—a mission he is clearly unqualified for and a bad use of a budding Jedi—tries to learn the Force, eats some noodles, meets a girl, gets her killed. Y’all know what a Luke fan I am, and this book is dreadful.

The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure, by Jason Fry: This, on the other hand, is pretty good. One of a trio of YA novels about our fearless heroes, it paints a much more interesting picture of Luke trying to learn about the Force post-ANH. Best one of this YA trio, quick read.

Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure, by Cecil Castellucci & Jason Fry: Second of that trio. Forgettable. Leia does some stuff. Even reading the summary at Wookiepedia I can barely remember it.

Smuggler's Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure, by Greg Rucka: Third of the trio. A tale of Han and Chewie having whacky adventures. Also forgettable.

Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig: Chuck got a lot of hate for this book, but I didn’t think it was that bad. Again, our main characters barely appear and we are chasing around with a boy who grows up to be Snap Wexley. His mother is a Rebel pilot, and he’s been left to shift for himself. His reprogramed battle droid, Mr. Bones, serves as his protection. The second Death Star has been destroyed, and this is about struggling to make a post-Imperial galaxy happen. Not a bad read.

Aftermath: Life Debt. By Chuck Wendig: More of the Wexley kid’s adventures with a snarky ex-Imperial. I didn’t hate this book, but neither of them really grabbed me.

Aftermath: Empire's End, by Chuck Wendig: not out yet; finishes the trilogy

Bloodline, by Claudia Gray: This is the story of the politics that led to the First Order and to Leia starting the Resistance. It is very much Leia’s story, set about 7 years before The Force Awakens. Ben Solo is already off training with Luke, Han is off on his own adventures, and Leia is left to struggle with an increasingly corrupt government. Again, Claudia Gray has a terrific handle on telling Star Wars stories, and she writes Leia very well. This is a good one, if you are interested in the politics behind TFA.

Before the Awakening, by Greg Rucka: Like the YA trio of stories of our old heroes, this is a trio of stories about our new ones, though each one short enough that it is one book. Definitely worth it to read Finn’s story—it provides a great insight into his character. Rey’s story is decent. Finn’s is much more just a “I’m fighting the First Order” story, and didn’t give me that much.

And that’s it for now. I’d also recommend the collected Darth Vader comic books, as that series has ended and it’s mostly very good.

Hope this helps!
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Why should I pay? [Aug. 1st, 2016|11:25 am]
The other day Ferrett was having a debate with someone over assorted political issues. One that came up was the Affordable Healthcare Act. This person, in their* 30s, demanded to know why they should pay for health insurance when they were young and healthy. What, exactly, were they getting out of the money they were spending for insurance?

It struck me, then, that I've heard this argument before, and been just as irritated by it.

It's the argument that retired people make when voting down school bonds: "Why should I pay for the schools anymore? My kids don't go there. I don't get anything out of it."

It's the same argument, snarled from the far ends of the bell curve.

Yeah, it's a bummer to have to pay taxes. I know. I pay lots of them. My kids aren't in school anymore. But they were. And so was I, once. And someone else footed that bill. So I don't object when it's my turn to pay for the benefit I once received.

And yes, when you're young it hardly seems fair that you have to pay for insurance that you probably won't use. But guess what, bucko? You won't be young forever. And when you aren't, someone else will be paying premiums that get spent on your health care, just like you're paying premiums now.

These systems don't work if everyone doesn't participate. I paid insurance premiums for years on when we never even met the deductible. And then there are years like the one when Ferrett had his appendix burst. Or his heart attack. We weren't financially ruined by those events, because we had insurance. And we had insurance because lots of people pay premiums and only use a fraction of that amount in a year. There was a pool of money to pay the hospital because, through a flawed system that needs reform, millions of people had our backs.

The AHA isn't perfect--the insurance companies won far too much of that battle--and I would like to see lots of reform in the way medicine works in this country. But the plain fact is that no insurance system works unless healthy people pay in. If insurance was "opt in when you get sick" the whole system would be bankrupt in no time.

So, yes, most young people are paying for a service that they, gods willing, will not be using. This year. But even setting aside accidents and the fact that youth is not a guarantee against cancer or other diseases, they are paying forward for the services that they will need far sooner than seems possible. I didn't get to nearing-60 overnight, but sometimes it feels like I did.

I take great issue with the older person who thinks it's no longer to their advantage to pay for public schools through their taxes. And I take the same issue with the younger person who thinks they shouldn't have to pay for health insurance. We're all in this together, and it's the only way these systems work.

*yes, I'm using the singular "they." It's now considered acceptable, and I try to move with the times.
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The privilege you don't know you have [Jul. 11th, 2016|09:13 am]
A couple weeks ago, our friends Nick and Heather were here visiting and we went downtown to eat lunch. After, Ferrett said that we had to take them to the most amazing men's clothing store, Albert's, which is downtown.

Albert's customers are mostly African-American, and it caters to people who want to dress with style and flash. The window displays always have suits in sherbet colors, with matching shoes. The fashion is decidedly urban, and a lot of fun.

So the four of us walk in. I immediately felt the tension in the air as the clerks all turned to look at us. It was a game day; lots of people downtown who usually aren't. This was two big, very white guys, with their wives. Were we there to ridicule? To make trouble? I could feel them holding their breath. I felt self-conscious and awkward, like I was invading in a place I shouldn't be. It took a lot for me to smile and step the rest of the way into the store.

It quickly became apparent that we were just enthusiastic shoppers, and everyone relaxed and visited with us while Ferrett tried on a flashy jacket (alas, it didn't fit him through the shoulders in a way that would have required too much tailoring) and the rest of us wandered around admiring the suits (most of which weren't in exotic colors) and shirts. It was all good, and we departed with warm well-wishes.

And as I left, I realized that, for most African-Americans, particularly black males, that tension we felt when we first entered the store is the reaction they get almost every place they go. The only difference? For them, it generally doesn't fade away. The entire time they are in a business, people are eyeing them. Tense. Waiting for something bad to happen. They face that kind of tension day after day.

Lots of people look askance at the notion of white privilege—this so-called privilege hasn't afforded them a nice car or a good job or the ability to buy a house. But that's not what I'm talking about when I talk about privilege. I'm talking about the kind of invisible ease with which people can move through life. The average white person doesn't think about the fact that they are welcome in their local grocery store. That no one follows them around, watching their every move.

That if they pick up a toy gun in the kid's section of Walmart and carry it with them to grab a gallon of milk, they don't have to worry about someone calling 911 and getting them shot dead in the automotive section.

It's these small things, so invisible as to be considered just "how life is" that I'm talking about when I talk about privilege. Yes, there was that study where they sent out identical resumes, half with white-sounding names and half with black-sounding names, and the ones with white-sounding names got responses at a rate more than double. Yes, there is the pervasive inequality in the terms for mortgages given to black and white people with the same credit scores and incomes. There are lots of those big things that need to be addressed.

But the little things, the invisible things, the things that allow white people to move through their lives unhampered, they have barriers for black people. And we need to be sensitive to that. So that it can change.
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Careful there, your solipsism is showing [Jul. 8th, 2016|07:55 pm]
"Why is there only a gay pride parade? Where's my heterosexual pride parade?"

"Why is there a black history month, but not a white history month?"

"I'm a size 8. Why doesn't the body acceptance movement talk about people like me?"

"Why do you say Black Lives Matter? Don't *all* lives matter?"

I have heard all of these statements, from people saying them seriously. You know what they really boil down to?

"Why are there things in the world that aren't about me?"

And my reaction is, "My god, are you an infant?"

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: gay people, black people, fat people? They'd all be much happier if there wasn't a need for their causes. If they could all just live their lives without prejudice and fear and hatred, if they didn't feel a need for solidarity because no one shouted obscenities at them, or beat them, or killed them? If their experience wasn't ignored or denigrated?

If they got to go through life with the same kind of acceptance and safety as the average skinny white heterosexual?

Hell, they wouldn't need parades, either.

But they don't. We don't. So we have to take a stand and say, "Hey, I'm a person, and my experience is valid and important!"

That isn't saying that the experience of the skinny white heterosexual isn't valid. It's asking to be allowed the same experience.

Shouldn't we celebrate white history? We do. We have a special name for it. It's called history.

Shouldn't we celebrate smaller body sizes? We do. It's called all the fashion magazines and every department store, where the clothes will fit you.

Shouldn't we celebrate heterosexuals? WE DO. It's called every institution of family and business and society.

Shouldn't we celebrate white all lives? We. Freaking. Do. It's called watching your children walk out the door in the morning without the sick fear that a mistake will leave them lying dead in the gutter while the whole world assumes it's the child's fault.

When you protest that anyone's struggle for dignity and fair treatment isn't paying attention to you, the greed and arrogance that displays is not just stupid. It's evil. It's determined to not only keep your fair share of the good in the world; it's seeking to keep everyone else away from that goodness.

Black Lives Matter has no implicit "only"--what's implicit is the "also." If you don't see that, you're either stupid, or you're pretending not to see it so that you can hold onto your superiority in society. You genuinely believe that people who aren't like you are inherently inferior. And that is an ugly and evil thing to believe.
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Hey you, Outraged Liberal! Stop making everything worse! [Jul. 2nd, 2016|03:43 pm]
Today I heard about the boycott of Finding Dory because there is a lesbian couple in it for a split second. I was, naturally, outraged. I was, naturally, about to link to the article in Facebook and write a diatribe. I was, naturally, All Worked Up.

But then, quite unnaturally, I paused a moment to do a search on Twitter. A couple different searches. I found a gazillion tweets on the topic.

Almost uniformly, they were outrage at the notion that people would boycott Finding Dory and how terrible those people were. Pages and pages of outrage.

What didn't I find? Very much encouragement for actually boycotting. In fact, I found one guy who is an obvious troll, and one woman who seemed genuinely to be boycotting.

Oddly, that one real tweet was the exact same tweet that had been in the article I read about this terrible boycott--strange, if the Twittersphere is full of calls for boycott, don't you think? It had a response from only one other person. The troll's tweet had no responses at all.

But someone in a newsroom somewhere decided to write an article designed for outrage, and someone else got outraged, and then there was Mass Hysteria (TM).

So out of curiosity, I went looking for the Horrible Boycott of Cheerios over the ad with the mixed race couple. Once again, loads of outrage. Once again, little sign of people actually encouraging boycott.

The news would certainly have you believe that All Those White Christians are out there hating on blacks and gays. But when The Daily Show went to rural Mississippi and asked people how they felt about gay marriage, there was lots of, "okay good for them."

I'm reminded of being in Israel as the wall was being built. The Israelis I talked to about relations were uniformly of the opinion that they had to find a way to live in harmony, that the wall wasn't going to work, and that most of their experience interacting with Palestinians was positive. Not the picture that is painted by the government or the news.

Could it possibly be that there isn't as much divisiveness and hatred than we are being sold? And are we making that rift larger by helping to blow these stories out of proportion?

Yes, there is hatred, and yes there is prejudice and the KKK and Westboro. But we're allowing ourselves to believe that those outliers are the mainstream. And we're making it worse by linking to fake outrage.

The next time you see something that makes your blood boil, don't just click "Share" and add your own fury to the screed. Take a minute to see how true the claim is. And if it's not true, don't share it. Instead, go looking for a story filled with positivity, particularly one that involves a group of people who you wouldn't generally consider allies. They are out there--the world is filled with people of faith doing good works and reaching out in support of others.

But it's not as glamorous as outrage and disgust. It doesn't get the kind of clicks that hate-baiting gets. So it needs a lot more help being seen.

I don't think most of America is as far apart as the news outlets and the politicians would like us to believe. And I'm tired of playing into their hands to the detriment of society. I believe in the power of good works, and the general decency of most people.

Let's stop feeding the trolls.
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What is it about Italy? [Jul. 1st, 2016|09:37 am]
In July 2014 we went to Italy. Before we went there, I couldn't stand olives.

When we came back, I loved them. I still do. I have a giant jar of them in the fridge, and every once in a while lunch is simply olives and artichoke hearts, maybe with a little feta.

This year, our Mediterranean cruise started in Italy and our first stop was on the island of Capri. Before we got there, orange was a color that I associated with traffic cones and not much else. I didn't really like it at all.

While shopping I saw and fell in love with an orange purse. I carry it everywhere now. It doesn't match anything I own, but I don't care. It's my new favorite color.

I didn't have this kind of thing happen when I visited any other country. Not Israel back in 2006, nor England or Germany later that year. Not Greece or Turkey in the latter part of this trip. I saw many amazing things, and am grateful for the experience. But none of them completely changed an aspect of my very nature.

Italy apparently has a special, magical hold over me. I'm okay with that--I'd move there in a heartbeat, given the chance. It's just peculiar and amusing.
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An open letter to content providers and advertisers [Jun. 30th, 2016|06:13 pm]
Look. I'm sympathetic. Really, I am. When I watch YouTube videos, I let the entire ad run even after the "Skip ad" button appears, because I know that your continued content relies on eyes on those ads.

But if those ads are more than 45 seconds? Yeah, no. We're done here. In fact, I need to REALLY like you to give you a full 45. Advertisers, if you can't get your message across in 20 seconds, the company you're working for should freakin' fire your pathetic butt.

This rant is brought to you by a day on my work computer. I don't have any ad-blocker software on that computer, because I generally only access about four sites from that computer. But today I happened to need to find a video online.

Oh. My Freaking. Stars. Pop-ups, ads so large they choke the download of anything else, multiple ads before the video could start.

No. Just, no. I closed everything down, gave up on finding the video I wanted, and from now on I will only search from behind the protection of ad blockers.

You have no right to lament over your lost revenue when you aren't bothering to consider your viewer experience. Piling on more crap to make up for the lost revenue just drives the understanding consumer away.

Pay attention to content, and make a deal with your readers that you will never run popup ads, never auto-start advertising videos, and vet all your ads for malware. Then maybe we'll come back. I don't mind an ad along the side offering products I might be interested in. Even an ad along the top, though it will make me roll my eyes, won't trigger my anger reflex.

But the crap I experienced today? I'm not coming back to your sites because of it. Figure your junk out.
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George Will takes his ball and goes home. [Jun. 27th, 2016|08:56 am]
"This is no longer my party."

No, you ass. This is the party you and all your other appalled, chest-clutching cronies created when you allowed the rhetoric of anti-intellectualism, regressive fear-mongering, and race-baiting to take center stage. Instead of fighting back against the worst instincts of humanity, characterized by Limbaugh, Hannity, et al, you let them take the lead in shaping a party filled with prejudice and a complete misunderstanding of the proper role of government. You betrayed the legacy of your party, of Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. You sold this country to corporations and stood by as the middle class evaporated, letting the greedy cast the blame on the poor and immigrants. You abandoned the central tenets of governance, cooperation and compromise, in favor of obstructionism for the sake of entertainment. You dropped the reins and gave hatred its head to run rampant through the nation. You sowed the seeds of this.

And now you're dismayed by what you reap? How dare you walk away. Turn your ass around and get to work undoing the damage you've allowed to happen. Fight back. Tell Republicans that education is important. Tell them that the Second Amendment was not intended to be an assault-rifle free-for-all, that "well regulated" is in there for a reason. Tell them that the Muslims living in their towns and neighborhoods aren't any more dangerous than--and have the same rights as--everyone else. Tell them that allowing other people to have rights is not oppressing their religious freedom and to get over themselves. Tell them that this is the great melting pot and to get back to melting, dammit.

Fox News will call you a traitor. The pundits who capitalize on fear and hatred will try and tear you down. But they're your problem, and you need to fix it.

You invited these clowns to this party. Take some damned responsibility for throwing them back out.
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Getting back into the world [Jan. 4th, 2016|05:32 pm]
Ferrett had someone to go out with last night. He asked if I was okay with it.

I said, sure. It was comfortable to have him out of the house for the evening. He's been out a lot lately, and I've gotten used to it.

That alarmed me.

The past couple years have been emotionally difficult for me. In reaction to it, I've become an introvert. I have to work myself up to go out, even with people I really love. Once I get out, I'm good with people for a while, but it exhausts me.

In the meantime, Ferrett's dating pool has increased. He has been enthusiastically making friends, going out, having weekends away.

And I realized, with a bit of shock, that I've sort of offloaded his emotional needs to other people.

This isn't to say that I stopped loving him, or stopped wanting to be with him. I had just stopped being emotionally involved with pretty much anybody. Out of respect for all I've been going through, Ferrett retracted most of his needs, redistributing them elsewhere. We still love each other, but we were in danger of becoming affectionate roommates.

This realization does not make me unhopeful. The fact that I recognized it at all is a sign to me that I am recovering that much more from the deep hole of grief in which I've spent the last couple years. I am looking up, looking around for the light of my life. And realizing that he is further away than I want him to be.

We've already talked about this, and are already making changes: rearranging some times that were intended to be apart, replanning evenings so that we get out to the movies together, reorganizing evening activities so that we eat dinner together and I do the craft work I want to do at the same time that he is writing. These are, for the most part, easy adjustments, things that have more to do with awareness and scheduling than emotion.

But they will return us to the things that bring us closer. In our early marriage, when we had a lot of growing and changing to do and it seemed like every conversation was about The Relationship, I insisted that we put that crap aside and just go out and enjoy each others company. It made all the difference, remembering why we were putting in all that hard work. Now it's not hard work, but it is reconnecting. And doing so from a place of enthusiasm from both of us. Because everything stems from our core relationship. We're good that way.
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That New Year thing [Dec. 31st, 2015|01:29 pm]
I don't do resolutions anymore. They are always failures. Instead, I set a goal. One year, it was learning to juggle. I accomplished it, and felt great about myself.

This year? My goal is finishing up my UFOs. That's quilter slang for UnFinished Objects. Years ago I used to teach quilting classes, up in Fairbanks. For those classes I made sample pieces in different colors. Now I don't teach, but I had four different lonestar centers, the beginnings of full-sized quilts. I also have a top pieced together from the different step examples from a different class. That's four quilts to make, not an insurmountable number to accomplish in one year.

Pictures, as projects get finished. Let's see how I do.
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Tamir Rice, and why the wrong decision is tragically right [Dec. 28th, 2015|11:31 pm]
No one will face charges in the death of Tamir Rice. And as frustrating as that is, I understand why it happened.

We are wrong to look at the actions of individual officers. What needs indicting is the system of police training itself.

Within the parameters outlined by the grand jury (the exact details to which I am not privy), I can only surmise that the details were quite straightforward: officers were informed by a 911 operator that a black youth was pointing a gun at people in a park. Officers responding placed themselves between the youth and other potential targets. Officers saw black youth reach for a weapon. Officers responded with protective--and, alas, deadly--force.

Facts presented in that way make it clear that the officers, though they may be regretful at the death of a 12-year-old, reacted in a manner that followed police procedure. And, in that light, the grand jury could not return with a warrant for prosecution.

They made the proper decision, based on what was presented. But what was presented is a long way from the universal truths.

Truth one: Tamir Rice was a dopey kid playing with a pretend gun. The way he played would be written off if he were white. But because he wasn't, someone called him into the cops.

Truth two: Cops are trained to a kind of risk avoidance that perceives persons of color as a far bigger risk than they really are. The stats show that cops are at less risk now than they have been in the last century, but they are trained to regard every difficulty involving a minority as possibly fatal. No one wants to end up dead on the streets, so this training makes cops much edgier than reality warrants.

Truth three: An African American male cannot overcome being viewed as a deadly enemy. Tamir was playing. His play can be regarded as thoughtless and stupid, but considering that white mass murderers have been brought in without injury, an honest assessment of the situation has to consider that unsubstantiated fear triggers tragic reactions.

The cop who shot Tamir testifies that the kid was admonished at least twice to drop his weapon. Yet the act of reaching for the weapon--possibly to drop it--was the inciting act that led to the firing of shots that killed a 12-year-old boy. How could Tamir have survived a situation where trying to drop his toy gun resulted in getting shot, but not trying to drop it would have led to getting shot? The kid was literally in a no-win situation. Perhaps if he had had the wits to drop to his stomach with his hands behind his head he might have survived.

Is that really the standard we want to accept? Perfect understanding of a situation and the ability to make a decision that only cool hindsight would make obvious? Dear heavens, that's not the standard I want to abide.

And yet that is the standard to which we appear to be holding black youths. Don't you know that you should always be perfect? Don't you know that anything less that complete compliance is a death sentence?

Why can't you just be the good nigger?

It's painful to write that sentence. But I can't avoid it. It's what so many people expect. A white kid murders people in a church, and the cops find the time and energy to talk him out of his stronghold. They take him to freakin' Burger King.

A black child plays unwisely with a toy gun. And people defend his murder as his own fault.

Tamir Rice didn't bow and scrape. He wasn't white, so he didn't get the benefit of the doubt. He hadn't killed anybody, but because he wasn't white that didn't matter. Any minute now, a black man could just freaking kill anyone. Everyone.

Being black and all.

And yet, I will sadly and regretfully nod in agreement of the decision made, regarding these cops, in these circumstances. Because this nonsensical behavior is what they were trained to do.

The problem is not with Officer Friday, on patrol. The problem is systemic, endemic. It stems from the belief that The Other is inferior, that there is only one way to live, to be.

Until we deal with that. Tamir Rice is just one more statistic.
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The most wonderful time of the year [Dec. 24th, 2015|01:11 pm]
Running around the house getting ready to celebrate Christmas. Tonight will be Beef Wellington with bacon-roasted potatoes and asparagus. Tomorrow morning we go to the Meyers' to enjoy Christmas morning with them. In the afternoon, another viewing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

And then the next day I begin my *second* favorite time of year: I put my family on airplanes and get the house all to myself for several days! I am in need of serious aloneness, snugged down in my house with my puppy, my books, my craft room, and no need to talk to anyone for at least three days.

I don't need this very often; I love my family and love having them around me. But once in a while my introvert batteries rejoice in being left completely alone. I always think that I'll watch movies and such. I usually don't turn on the TV at all, reading and sewing. And just thinking.

By the time they come back I will be thrilled to see them. But for that few days, I will be basking in privacy.
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So, this thing called Star Wars happened.... [Dec. 22nd, 2015|07:04 pm]
I have been slow in writing my review, mostly because life, but also because my first impression and my second impression were so very different.

I came away from my first viewing of The Force Awakens feeling a resounding, "meh." It wasn't bad, but I felt like it just didn't hold up to the end. I absolutely adored all the new characters, and felt like they needed more screen time than they got. But there was too much retread about it that missed some of the pacing marks vital to make A New Hope the emotional success that it was.

I went and saw it again the next day. and knowing where the flaws were, being able to set them aside, I came out absolutely LOVING the movie. I can't wait to go again. Once again, the casting of the new characters was absolutely perfect, and there were lots of great emotional beats. I still don't think the ending quite pulls off the triumph for which we seek, but there's lots of good stuff going on.

Now for the nitpicksCollapse )

It's going to make a fortune, beyond what it already has, and it's absolutely worth seeing if you have any interest. Also, the comments on this are open to spoilers, so if you don't want to know, don't look!
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Watching the red carpet, jealous and excited - #4 in a Star Wars series [Dec. 14th, 2015|11:30 pm]
A long time ago, in a state pretty far away....

I was a freshman in college when the first Star Wars trailers appeared in the theaters. I was still living at home, and had a job, so my best friend and I had disposable income and a mutual love of movies. We went to lots of them. At one, we saw a trailer for a science fiction movie about "a boy, a girl, and a galaxy!" When it ended, I turned to my friend and delivered my first impression of Star Wars:

"Wow, that looks stupid."

By the time it reached us in Portland, the first rush of excitement had been conveyed on the evening news. Everyone was abuzz with Star Wars fever. The only theater it was playing at in Portland was clear over on the other side of town. My best friend and another friend dragged me across town, where we discovered a line that wrapped all the way around the building.

"Well," they said, turning to me, "since you have to go to work at 6am, we should probably come back another day."

"Oh, hell no," I growled. "You dragged me all the way here, we're bloody well seeing this movie."

In reality, the line had caught my attention. Something was going on here. We couldn't get into the 7pm show, and the theater people came out and counted heads, figuring out who could get into the 9:45 show. We were beyond that mark, and nowhere near the end of the line. After a huddle of the managers, they announced that they would, in fact, show the movie again at 12:15--unprecedented.

Again, my friends suggested we leave. Again, I dug in my heels. We sat on the sidewalk and played cards with another group of determined viewers. Finally, very tired, we dragged into the theater--the biggest theater screen I've ever seen, by the way. We were wowed.

The lights went down. The first words appeared. The music started. I was tired and still skeptical. A small ship flew into sight, bright lights flashing behind it.

Then a Star Destroyer flew in over the tops of our heads and my mouth hung open. I remember thinking, "I'm watching movies change forever."

Star Wars gave us something that can never be duplicated. It was a watershed moment in cinema. That kind of magic is not going to strike again.

But the other thing that Star Wars gave us is an entire galaxy to play in. George Lucas almost killed the love with the prequels, but the Expanded Universe showed us that there are a million stories to tell, not just the ones of our three heroes. On Thursday, those stories move into a new generation.

Tonight starwars.com livestreamed the red carpet of the premier--sometime tomorrow someone will put up Carrie Fisher and Oscar Isaac's interview, and you should absolutely find it and watch it; they are hysterical. Anyway, watching the excitement of all those people waiting to see the movie, fans who are at least as rabid as I, I'm reminded of those lines so many years ago. We get to share it again.
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Fanus rabidicus - #3 in a Star Wars series [Dec. 13th, 2015|06:28 pm]
I have been watching a weekly video show on YouTube called Jedi Council. It's definitely for serious Star Wars geeks. Every week they discuss Star Wars for at least an hour, often 90 minutes.

I love it.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago they reported that J.J. Abrams had confirmed that the movie was officially finished, officially "in the can." And my reaction at the news reminded me of another reaction I had. A long time ago, in a state far, far away....

Back in the days of VHS tapes (I told you it was a long time ago), the Holy Trilogy was released for the first time in letterbox format. After watching bad aspect ratio for years, we were all excited to see the rest of the movie. And a few days before the release I realized that I should probably actually preorder it as the demand was exceeding supply.

I stopped by SunCoast Video and asked to reserve a copy. The nice young clerk took my money. As we were finishing the transaction, I chuckled and said, "This being Alaska, it'll probably won't be here on the release date anyway."

"Oh no," he said, cheerful. "We already have them all in the back."

And the look I saw next on his face told me what the look was on my face. His eyes went wide, and he actually took a step back into a defensive position.

Yes, I looked like I was about to leap over the counter and assault him to get the movie. I was a little embarrassed and tried to reassure him, but he was nervous until I left the store.

And that's how I felt when they announced it was in the can. Like I should jump into my car, run to the nearest theater, and hold them hostage until they showed me the movie. Oh, I recovered. but the fan rabidity was there.

It was definitely there.
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How is the Force awakening? - Star Wars, second in this silly series [Dec. 12th, 2015|12:00 pm]
In the trailer, Han confirms that the legends - the Jedi, the Dark Side - it's true. All of it.

Which implies, of course, that the Jedi have once again been all but forgotten in the galaxy far, far away.

I've heard some people be irked about this--why "Return of the Jedi," only to forget them again? How much amnesia do they have in this galaxy that they can forget the spectacular deeds of Luke Skywalker in such a short time?

But really, how many people actually saw those deeds? Han, Leia, Chewie, the droids. Mon Mothma knew about the Jedi, but we don't see him using his Force powers even in front of his fellow Rogue Squadron members. He had barely rudimentary abilities by Hoth, and then was gone with Yoda, followed by chasing down Han.

Outside of the Rebellion? Ain't nobody knows about this.

I can see Mon Mothma asking Luke to keep it on the DL, and the galaxy not ever learning that the Force had returned. Just rumors. Legends. Much skepticism. And the powers of the Force slow to awaken.
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In which I am a geek - Star Wars, the first in a series [Dec. 11th, 2015|09:57 pm]
We are less than a week away from the new movie. I am ridiculously excited about it. Probably more excited than I should be. I have failed entirely at keeping my expectations low.

The thing that has allowed me to be this excited? Harrison Ford on the publicity trail.

If you go back and watch Ford's interviews in the last few years, they are worry-making. He slurs his words. Loses his train of thought. Seems to drift off. I wondered if he was getting senile or suffering mini-strokes.

Now I'm pretty sure he was stoned out of his gourd.

In the interviews now? He's lively, excited. He plays at being a cynic, but he's present. He actually cares about this movie. He's gotten involved in fan outreach for charity, he went on Jimmy Kimmel and let himself be very silly in a sketch.

He hasn't had this kind of enthusiasm about a project for a long time. He's seen the movie and is excited about it.

I think we're in for a good time.
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Hickory Farms [Dec. 4th, 2015|04:47 pm]
I missed them last year--to be fair, I had rather a lot of good excuses. But this year I made an early trip to the mall.

Because I could not live another whole year without their honey pineapple mustard. And last year when I missed them and looked online, you could only buy it in tiny wee jars. I picked up four, knowing that it won't get me through a year but feeling awkward about asking if they had a case price.

And once I was there, I couldn't resist meltaway mints. And sausages. Amy could barely lift the bag.

So now when I check, you can order it online.

Of course.
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Last time I learned this, I was 9 months old [Dec. 3rd, 2015|04:12 pm]
I am relearning how to walk.

After taking a number of falls, I finally admitted that I needed to see a physical therapist about it.

She made me walk. And then told me how I was doing it all wrong. My posture, the way I step, the way I hold my head.

I have to relearn it all. She told me that it would take time, and that it would be painful. She is right about all of it. Remembering to walk with my head up, to lift my legs differently, to hold my body differently, it's exhausting.

I'm worn out my walking down the street.

Like all physical training, it will get better. For right now? It's a pain in my neck. And butt. And lower back.
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T-day redux [Nov. 28th, 2015|12:23 am]
Since we had dinner at the Meyers' yesterday, and since Amy was with her dad and stepmom for Thanksgiving, we are having our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. I have made the stuffing and the cream of mushroom soup for green bean casserole (SO much better when it's homemade soup!), and the turkey is brining. I have leftover sweet potato casserole from yesterday in the fridge, and since I'm pretty much the only one who eats it that will be enough. My bird is a mere 14 pounds this year, what with it being just the three of us. I'll make buttermilk rolls tomorrow, and finish the green bean casserole. The mashed potatoes will have sour cream and horseradish in them as they are yummy that way.

After dinner, we'll finally go see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. Our movie watching is way behind this year.

So, all in all, I predict a very nice Saturday!
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Thanksgiving [Nov. 26th, 2015|10:52 pm]
Spent the holiday with Kat and Eric, plus good friends of theirs and those friends' parents. The day started quietly with us arriving early in the afternoon so that we could visit and play games. Between the craziness of our schedule and the craziness of theirs, we haven't seen much of them in the last few months. It was nice to have time.

Dinner was, of course, vastly too much food for 13 people. There was the usual chaos of getting everyone to the table, getting all the plates filled, people passing things in two different directions, laughter, confusion.

And finally that moment when it all falls silent as people tuck in. Everything was delicious, and we lingered at table for a long time, talking, telling stories, laughing.

I felt her absence through it all.

It's the second Thanksgiving without Rebecca. Her absence isn't an awkward silence--when things happened that reminded us of things she had done, we recounted those stories and chuckled to remember her. But to see the kiddie table with two little boys and one little girl, instead of two and two, it still hurts.

The grief doesn't buckle my knees, most of the time. I've realized that you don't get over it, you just learn to live with it. But sitting out on the front porch for a few minutes I was struck by it all again. "My god," I thought. "That actually happened. I remember her sitting in this chair, and the next day she died." It still shocks me, sometimes.

I'm grateful that I knew her. I'm grateful for the memories of that spunky, strong-willed, thuggish little spark. Even as I continue to mourn, I'm grateful.
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Once again, I'm so lucky to live in Cleveland! [Nov. 24th, 2015|09:48 am]
So, Clevelanders! I have a tip for you. Paulius Nasvytis​, the genius behind The Velvet Tango Room​, has just opened a pizza parlor, Citizen Pie. Like, it's opening today. It's directly across the street from the Beachland Ballroom, and it's delicious! Ferrett and I got a chance to preview the pizzas last week. Beautiful, simple, interesting ingredients, all cooked in a woodfired pizza oven that was shipped over from Italy--none of this "it looks like a wood oven, but it's actually fueled with gas" nonsense. I had the Caponata, and it was amazing--a brilliant selection of olives, matched by the surprise of currants as well as pine nuts. Every mouthful was a new surprise of flavor combinations. Ferrett went with the basics, a marinara. Made in true Italian style, not smothered in cheese, the fresh ingredients really shined through.

The place is cozy, with limited seating, and the cooking is all done in an open kitchen. Go with an appetite; you want to eat this!
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Barbie [Nov. 23rd, 2015|12:57 pm]
A couple days ago tfcocs had an entry about getting a Barbie. She had a picture of the boxed doll, and then said, "Deboxed, she probably looks like this:"

And my thought was "naked, with her hairdo wrecked."

I have never seen a Barbie, be she a standard one or an Elsa one for whom a little girl has begged incessantly, survive more than 15 minutes before that little girl had her stripped and her carefully manufactured coif pulled out. The ones that last 15 minutes are generally because Mom is standing over the child, scolding her that the doll will never look the same again, once she takes her hair down. The moment Mom's back is turned? BOOM, out come those tiny rubberbands that held the braid so nicely.

Frequently, this rifling of Barbie's outfit is followed by the child bringing the doll to Mom and begging her to "fix it." And then recrimination and tears. But if you handed that child a pristine duplicate of Elsa/Anna/Cinderella/Ariel, the result would be the same: tiny plastic shoes lost, mermaid tail removed, hair asunder.

I know, because I did the same with my Barbies when I was a kid. I can't remember exactly why, except that I was always itching to brush her hair, and to fashion new clothes for her out of fabric scraps.

Barbies spend most of their life naked, it seems, stripped by little girls who never quite get around to dressing them again. And it doesn't seem to matter to them that the doll they clamored for becomes just one more Barbie, once she's stripped of her regalia. They have to have that special one. And drive Mom crazy with the way they play.
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4 weeks! [Nov. 20th, 2015|01:01 pm]
A couple months back I went to the gynecologist--again--because my body hasn't gotten the message that, at 57, I never intend to procreate again. The doc suggested a treatment path, but suggested that he should do another biopsy just to make sure that the one that came out clean last spring didn't miss something. So I got to slide into the stirrups again.

As I recall, the last time we did this he told me that no news was good news, and I got the results by mail a week or so later. I expected the same this time around. But that's not what happened.

The next day I was in an all-day seminar when my phone vibrated. I looked down at it and saw that it was a Clinic phone number, but I couldn't answer. Notification of voicemail appeared a few seconds later. I resisted it for about fifteen minutes, but figured I could listen to it.

"Hi, this is Nora at the Clinic. Please call me at your earliest convenience."

My heart rate went through the ceiling and I started sweating. Why would they call me if it wasn't bad news?

As it was, I sneaked out about half an hour later and called back, and everything was fine. The doctor just wanted me to know as soon as possible so I wouldn't worry.

But during that half hour? I was certain that I had cancer and was going to die. And what was the first thought that came to me about my impending death? Was it "I won't be there when my daughters get married"? Was it "Ferrett is going to take this so hard"? Was it about my family or friends at all?


It was, "I won't get to see all of the new Star Wars trilogy!"
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Pain [Nov. 8th, 2015|11:36 am]
I've slipped a disc in my back. I already have degenerative disc disease and am practically bone-on-bone where my lumbar spine and sacral spine meet. I've been working to protect my back, but one bad step was all it took to mess me up. As in, I went straight to the ER. If you know me, you know that getting me to go to the doctor is often a battle.

I keep inching closer to back surgery. To say that I don't want to go through that is a severe understatement. Monday I have to follow up with my doctor and the spine clinic.

In the meantime, I've missed a weekend away with my hubby. I don't want this to become the pattern of my life. I am not young anymore, and it's a real risk. It makes me sad.
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Loss, and grief, and helping [Nov. 3rd, 2015|11:52 am]
A year ago today my mother died. It was not a surprise; she had made the choice to discontinue painful treatment and to go into hospice. That gave me an opportunity to fly out to Montana and spend some time with her while she was still lucid. We had a good visit: much laughter, much reminiscing, a bit of old business that needed to be dealt with and gotten past, and then more laughter and reminiscing. I will always be grateful for those days.

I'm still devastated. It's still hard to believe, a year on, that I can't pick up the phone and hear her voice. Returning to the West, being in the places that she knew and loved--both last April for Ferrett's book tour and on last month's adventure--had me time and again thinking, "Oh, I should tell Mom about this," before remembering that she wasn't there to tell.

But as hard as losing Mom was, the death of a parent is in the natural order of things. We know that our parents will die. We expect that they will die before we do.

Not so, the death of a child. A child's death disrupts the timeline. It feels like an insult to our very existence.

When children are dying, there is a wealth of resources for support for that child. Make-a-Wish is just the best known, but there are lots of other organizations and businesses who reach out to help. Our sense of the unfairness of a child dying, of how wrong it is that their life experiences will be stunted, cut short by death, motivates people to provide what fun they can for that short life.

But once the child is dead, all these organizations walk away, ignoring that a broken and grieving family must go on, must try to figure out how to function as a family with that hole in the middle. Surviving children, who spent the last months or years always feeling like they came second, like they were a continual afterthought in the face of medical treatment and last days, have resentment and guilt to work through. Parents often feel that everything they'd put on hold for the last few months needs to be handled *right now* -- even if right now is when they most need a break from the demands of the world. In the stress of readjusting, a family can get lost and overwhelmed trying to cope with everything at once. The divorce rate for parents of a deceased child are more than twice that of other couples.

And all the help that preceded their child's death? It's gone. Yes, there is still grief counseling, but the kind of help that let a family walk away from their problems for just a little while? Nothing.

That lack of support is what inspired my friend Kat Meyer to start Rebecca's Gift. After Rebecca died, Kat looked for resources to help families coping with grief and in need of time to get away, but there simply was nothing there.

The philosophy behind Make-a-Wish and other organizations is to provide experience to a dying child, but the family that's left behind is a damaged and frail entity, and in need of healing. The Meyers took a family trip, a trip that took them out of the day-to-day demands and distractions of life. It helped them rediscover themselves as a family unit. Without friends and TV, all crammed into one hotel room, they weren't distracted from each other. They bonded.

That is the mission of Rebecca's Gift: giving the families of deceased children a chance to get away from the stresses and demands of daily life and rebuild their bonds. Like Make-a-Wish, Rebecca's Gift will send families on trips so that those families can rediscover themselves.

Rebecca's Gift is having their first major fundraiser on Sunday, November 15, 2015. Rebecca's Boardwalk will celebrate Rebecca's great love of the Jersey Shore and all the games and foods of summer. This is a family event, with lots of prizes and games for kids, and it's for a need that truly is not being met by any other organization.

If you are local to Cleveland, please come and enjoy the fun. If you are not local, please consider donating. Help bring joy into the life of grieving families.
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Apricot chicken [Nov. 2nd, 2015|12:31 pm]
Driving back across country, I spent my final night away from home with our very good friends Laura and Jeremiah, in their wonderful new house in the Chicago area. I arrived late and left early, but I did get a few hours with them in the evening.

And in the morning I was sent on my merry way with a wonderful treat: 8 jars of Laura's homemade jam. She's been doing a lot of canning this year, and has impressed and intimidated me with her urban homesteading while holding down a fulltime job that often takes her from home for weeks at a time. She's my hero now.

Anyway, when I got home I decided to make apricot chicken. Now, I've had apricot chicken that was too sweet, too cloying, the chicken sort of boiled in a sweet soup of apricot. That's not what I was looking for. So instead I came up with this:

My family pronounced it delicious, so I thought I'd share it with you. Like all my recipes, there are no measurements. I am a jazz cook, and my recipes are more like a fake book than actual sheet music.
Apricot chicken

5-6 bone-in chicken thighs
1 large onion
handful of shredded carrot
3 cloves garlic
8 oz. jar of apricot jam, preferably home made by a kitchen goddess
olive oil
salt & pepper
garlic powder
Dijon mustard
balsamic vinegar
4 cups cooked rice, salted

Preheat over to 375.

Chop the onion and garlic. Cover bottom of skillet with generous amount of olive oil. Saute the onions and shredded carrot until they are soft and onions are browned. Add garlic and continue sauteing until it browns slightly.

While onions and carrots are sauteing, generously coat the skin side of the chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Think you've been generous enough? Unless you do this regularly I bet you haven't been generous enough. Go back over them one more time. Trust me.

Once the garlic is the color of an early summer tan, scoop the veggies out of the skillet, draining as much of the olive oil as possible, and set them aside in a small bowl. Turn up the heat and gently place the chicken thighs, skin down, in the skillet. If you haven't salt/pepper/garlic the thighs again, and cook them about 5 minutes, until the skin is browned. Turn them over and let them cook another 5 minutes.
In the meantime, spray an ovensafe pan with cooking spray and put your rice into it, smoothing it out to the corners. When the chicken is ready, place the pieces skin-side-up on the bed of rice. Return the skillet to the stovetop and turn off the heat.

Add the sauteed veggies and the apricot jam. Stir until smooth. Add a little Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar to taste. The balsamic should not be overwhelming, just enough to make the flavors pop. Spoon this glaze over the chicken thighs, being careful to cover them completely. This won't be a thick covering, but it should be enough to cover the thighs.

Bake for 35 minutes for a convection oven, 45 for a conventional. Serve.

We had ours with roasted asparagus. The leftovers didn't last until morning.

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(no subject) [Oct. 29th, 2015|12:37 pm]
You know, now that I have a nondescript white panel van, it occurs to me that I have the potential of never having a parking problem again. I can just get a couple big business magnets printed up, something like "Pataski's Plumbing and Exotic Dance," and then I can stop my van anywhere, flip on the flashers, and stroll away, confident that my van will be there, unticketed, when I get back.
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I've had an adventure. And now I am home. [Oct. 26th, 2015|02:15 pm]
We are coming up on the first anniversary of my mother's death. When she died, she left me her cedar chest and my great-grandmother's treadle sewing machine. But these items were in Montana, at the home my sister now owns, and getting them from Hamilton to Rocky River was a logistics nightmare. Shipping them would be expensive and a lot to ask of my sister. Renting a U-haul to drive them across country was also expensive.

And then I got a brilliant idea for a harebrained scheme. I would fly to Seattle, visit friends there, and buy a used van for cheap. When I got back home, I would sell the van for essentially the same amount that I bought it.

And so I took off for Seattle on a one-way ticket, relying on friends to help me in the quest for a van. Friends and Craig's List. On day one I sent off emails and texts to an assortment of folks with vans listed and then went for a walk in the neighborhood. It was amazing to be once again in a place where neighborhood gardens can look like this:

And then you cross the street and walk immediately into this:

I hiked down off the bluff, finding a charming waterfall at the bottom of the hike:

I really do love the PNW.

When I got back, there was an email from a person living across the sound, telling me his van was still available. So the next morning I figured out the bus and ferry system and chugged myself out to Bellevue. The ferry ride was lovely, in spite of the rain:

The person who put up the ad, however? Not nearly as lovely. After three buses and a ferry ride, I found myself standing in a grocery store parking lot, no van in sight. And no further response from the person. It was someone's idea of a prank call for the 21st century.

I was pissed. And my feelings were hurt. I worked my way back and started on the process of finding more vans. The next day, I found the perfect van. I swear that karma was involved, because in order to make myself feel better about the wasted day I bought a homeless person a sandwich.

Anyway, here's Sebastian:

He's a 1999 Ford F250 Econoline with 250,000 miles and great maintenance. He's a real working van, with built-in shelves and drawers in the back. Working AC, cruise control, and an updated stereo that has an auxiliary jack. I could listen to my tunes for the rest of the trip!

Sebastian secured, I spent one last day visiting in Seattle, then went down to Portland to see family and my best buddy from high school. Had a great time, then headed for Montana. Spent a couple days with my sis, loaded up the furniture, and headed for Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone wowed me. Just gorgeous, lots of wildlife, and geysers. This beautiful river was right at the entrance, and then this amazing formation looked like a glacier but was actually minerals and bacteria growing in a mineral stream:

It was late when I arrived, so I had to work my way out of the park to find somewhere to camp. Even though the weather was gorgeous, all the park campgrounds were closed for the season. The place I found was a forest service campground 5 miles off the highway, where I camped all by myself under amazing stars.

I hung my food in a tree, then laid on the picnic table looking up at the sky until I heard a footsteps. Turning on my flashlight, I shined it right into the face of a coyote about 10 feet away from me. I shooed him off, but was suddenly very aware of how alone I was. Time to lock myself up in the van!!

The next morning I got up early and returned to the park. This was when I got into the caldera. As beautiful as Yellowstone was just for its natural environment, holy cow was this awesome! Even though it was raining, I stopped at every hiking area and walked around the wooden paths that were set up all around.

And, at last, I arrived at Old Faithful. The first thing I did was go to the Visitor Center to see what time the next eruption was predicted. Only 20 minutes! Perfect time to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, and snag a picture from this big guy, who was lying right outside the door to the Visitor Center:

Right after I took this, the ranger came out to chase people away from the bison. Because of course it's half a ton of sleepy critter that could suddenly turn cranky. Eep!

Then it was out to the platform where less than 100 people waited for the geyser. Ended up talking with a cute family and explaining to their boys that a prediction wasn't the same as someone flipping a switch. But the geyser went off within 5 minutes of the prediction. I was surprised by how quiet it was, and how long it lasted.

So this is my Old Faithful video. There are many out there like it, but this one is my own:

I stood there, thrilled, watching. And then I was suddenly sad. I had been loving my independence and traveling at my pace, but having no one to share with was suddenly lonely. I left Old Faithful and headed on through the park, spontaneously deciding to head for Grand Tetons National Park with the idea that, after seeing the mountains, I would head for Mt. Rushmore.

It was raining and cloudy, so my peek at the Tetons was minimal. But I headed north along the Wind River Valley, one of the prettiest drives I've ever experienced. It was granite ruggedness followed by Badlands-style landscape followed by red rock canyon country. Alas, no pictures because it was raining.

But at that point, all I was was homesick. So I turned east and started hoofing it. I drove down and across Wyoming, getting into Nebraska. That night I called Ferrett. "I know I was supposed to be out here for another 8 days, but do you mind if I come home day after tomorrow?"

Ferrett had been quietly lonesome and miserable, missing me terribly but not saying anything because he wanted me to be happy and enjoy myself. He was *thrilled* to get me back early. I cranked across Nebraska at 85 mph, blew through Iowa, and stayed the night with friends in Chicago. I slept in that morning and got home at dinner time last Tuesday.

Now Sebastian sits in our driveway, and I'm sort of attached to him. Rather than selling him, he may become a camper for us. And I'm glad to be snuggled in the arms of my sweet weasel, every night.

I'm glad I had my adventure, and I'm glad I had home to come home to.
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In which I admit my hypocrisy [Oct. 1st, 2015|11:37 am]
When it comes to language, I am a proud Luddite. I cling to the proper use of grammar. I object to people using the word "problematic" to mean "a problem" when the actual definition is "questionable," and agree that I can hand you the remote, but you haven't asked if I will. I insist on spelling out words in texts, eschewing "cu l8tr" for complete sentences with proper punctuation. I champion the Oxford comma.

And yet.

And yet.

I now regularly use "ima" in place of "I'm going to." Oh, not in writing. But speaking? "Ima stop at the grocery store. Want anything?" I hear myself do it, at least part of the time, and reflect upon this slippage of my speech. I know it's not the only example of my speech getting slangy, it's just the one of which I am most aware.

There is nothing about this phrase that is superior to the other phrases that I reject. It just works on my tongue. I have to admit, then, that language is a living thing that does, in fact, move and change.

But I still believe that grammar and vocabulary are important. Precision of thought requires precision of language. Communication beyond the basics is deepened by mutual agreement about the meaning of words.

Ima keep fighting the good fight.
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Empty house [Sep. 28th, 2015|12:57 pm]
Erin and Matt and gone, along with their dog. It's really quiet, and I miss them.
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Full house [Sep. 17th, 2015|03:23 pm]
My younger daughter has just moved in with us for a while. Her big sister is moving to Colorado next week. Her furniture and belongings are all being hauled away in a truck this afternoon, so she, her boyfriend, and their dog will be staying with us for the next week. There will be five of us, and one bathroom.

I can't wait.

I feel so grateful that my daughters have both grown into women that I love to be around. They're thoughtful, intelligent, and wickedly funny. We can talk about everything. They are both passionate about the world they live in, and insightful.

The years of raising kids were not always easy, but having adult children who are such a delight is such a blessing. I'm thrilled that my snowboard-passionate daughter is getting to fulfill her life-long dream and move to the Rockies, but boy am I going to miss her.

For the next few days I will be cooking for five. I'll be making all the kids' favorite meals and we'll talk and laugh and probably argue over the stupidest damned things. Because we're still family, and family means we rub each other the wrong way now any then, particularly in close quarters. Both girls have tempers, and like all sisters know just how to get each other's skin. I have a bit of a temper, too, and they can trigger the "mom voice" in me. But we will have a great time together.
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Junk drawer [Sep. 15th, 2015|01:38 pm]
I get so irked at myself for not taking before and after pictures of things. Suffice to say that I stumbled into accidental dejunking today when I went to look for something in the junk drawer.

The problem with junk drawers is that every house needs one--that repository for batteries, lighters, takeout menus, scissors, tape, pens--but they quickly become the tossing place for everything that comes into hand but you don't have time to deal with. "I don't want to throw this out, but I don't have a place for it. Hey, the junk drawer!"

Also, I live in a household where certain people (not naming names) have a tendency to change the battery in something and toss the dead batteries back into junk drawer. Also to treat empty tape dispensers like they may grow new tape if they're left alone in a dark place for a while.

I, on the other hand, have a tendency to receive photos of friends and family and, not knowing what to do with them in that moment, toss them into the drawer. The thing is, I *do* know what to do with them; I have a special drawer just for photos. Only I forget that. All. The. Time.

I'm as guilty as anyone else in the household of not wasting the brain power to figure out where a thing actually goes. So the drawer had reached the point of needing to be jammed shut.

Not anymore. I put away, or threw away, at least 60% of what was in there. It's neat and organized, and I found that pair of scissors I've been irritated had disappeared. I feel very accomplished.

It will last about two weeks....
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Carrying water--and when to put it down [Sep. 14th, 2015|01:01 pm]
I just got a motion for a trustee to dismiss one of my client's cases for not providing tax returns. When I met with this client, they had not done their tax returns for multiple years. I told them they had to do them and get them to me ASAP. I have heard nothing from them on the subject.

So why do *I* feel guilty? The client is adult, and the consequences were explained. The client was reminded a couple weeks ago.

My calendar is filled with tick reminders to client after client as to when their payments are due--even though they receive the orders and I gave them the dates at the time that we met. I just spent two months straightening out three separate clients who stopped making their chapter 13 payments without ever letting me know.

I'm not a lawyer, I'm a babysitter.

I think I have to get more assertive when I meet with people. I have to tell them the deadlines, but then I have to tell them that they are personally responsible for meeting those deadlines, and if they want me to be their calendar they'd better fork over more money.
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Nerding [Sep. 10th, 2015|10:54 am]
In this day and age, when everyone has jumped on the superhero bandwagon, there are a lot of people sounding like hipsters: "I was into the Avengers before they became popular." For many of them, it's kind of a disappointment to find that the passion they'd learned to embrace as the thing that made them different is now shared by millions.

To me, this is great. My biggest fandom is Star Wars, and having all this new merch around is fun--even if I buy next to none of it. I'm not worried about over-exposure. I love what I love, and seeing Star Wars stuff everywhere makes me happy.

I learned many years ago that there is a difference between fandom and geekdom. When visiting a friend for the weekend, I was informed that, though I had not watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, that night was the finale, and she was watching it live. She'd watched the whole series, and she wasn't about to miss the end of it just because of out-of-town company. So we watched, and seeing that final episode was the impetus behind my going back and watching the entire series in reruns. Since it was on 5 days a week, I accomplished in just a few months what she'd taken seven years to complete.

The movie Star Trek: Generations came out a couple weeks before another visit. When I got to her house, she asked if I'd seen it. I told her yes, and then excitedly expounded about how, in the last iteration of the time loop, we hadn't actually seen Lursa and B'etor die, and so maybe those characters had survived and could come back.

She gave me a kind of side-eye look and said, "You've gotten way too into this...."

That's when I realized that there will always be levels of fandom, and that I would always be the kind of person who, when I fell in love with something, took it to extremes that other fans wouldn't even imagine existed.

And that's cool. My friend isn't less of a fan because her fandom doesn't drag her into a depth of passion that mine does me. I can love the Marvel movies and DC television shows even though I don't have an understanding of the history behind the characters that Ferrett, as a comic book geek, has. I've seen his glee, while watching The Flash, at the introduction of characters, and I know that he'd "getting it" on a far deeper level than I am. But that doesn't mean I'm not having fun.

Yes, you are probably much more of a geek about the things you love passionately than other people who like that thing. But it's a big tent. We can all fit in it.
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365 degrees [Sep. 3rd, 2015|01:11 pm]
I have been slaving in the junk mines, hauling enough crap out of the house that Ferrett has started having dreams about moving--his subconscious can't believe that there's this much activity going on without us actually changing residences.

So why is there still such a mess? My dining room is currently giving my agita. My sewing machine is on the table, along with all the detritus of making a quilt. There is packaging for a piece of furniture that just arrived. Erin left behind some things when she picked up Summit after we dogsat for a week. There is fur everywhere, waiting for me to get enough picked up that I can actually vacuum.

I turn around in a full circle, and all I see is the mess. Then I turn just a little further and I am reminded that this is a home. It's a living, evolving space, not a museum. Messes are going to flow in like the tide, and then flow out again. And my friend Lucy, who was over yesterday evening, helped me with perspective. I was complaining about it, and she said. "It's not really a mess. It's just a mess compared to what you want it to be."

I admit it. I find sparseness restful. Ferrett, on the other hand, finds it cold. When the house is as clean as I want it, he feels like he's living in a hotel.

So I make concessions. There are toys scattered on the living room floor, because dog. In one month, all the Rock Band instruments will come back up from the basement and clutter my living room with plastic. But it's plastic that bespeaks friends and fun, and so I will live with the drumset that's about the size of a VW Beetle. Because several times a month my house will be filled with laughter and music, and that's a good thing. A bit messy, but still good.
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Shedding [Sep. 1st, 2015|02:12 pm]
We have been living with two dogs for a little over a week now. My daughter's dog, Summit, is a white, shorthaired mutt. My dog, Shasta, is a black, shorthaired mutt.

Together, they apparently believe they fight crime. Judging from their barking, at least.

Shasta's short black fur hides pretty well on the furniture, but Summit's white is another matter. My carpet looks like it's grown elderly and needs a dye job. I haven't vacuumed because Summit goes home tonight. Tomorrow, there will be vacuuming.

In the meantime, however, I am adding to the mess. What I'm shedding, though, isn't fur. It's threads. I'm working on a quilt for Ferrett, and hauled my sewing machine and equipment upstairs. Because I am insane, I chose a pattern that has over 3500 pieces, many of them not much larger than a quarter. This has led to a lot of thread bits, many the same length as the dog hair, scattered on the floor, the carpet, tumbleweeding companionably with fur in corners.

So, yeah, pretty much the whole family is shedding. Oh, did I mention that Ferrett is balding as well...?
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Melanie Wilkes is my copilot [Aug. 31st, 2015|12:06 pm]
My friend Bart spent yesterday evening on Facebook, live-tweeting his experience of watching Gone With the Wind. He made the argument that it is, for the most part, incredibly feminist and progressive. He concentrated on Scarlett, of course. But to me? The real badass is Melanie.

People miss this, because Melanie is kind and quiet, and because our main POV character is Scarlett. Scarlett doesn't get Melanie until the very last. But when she does, she realizes that Melanie was her true champion all along.

So let's break it down. The first time we see Melanie, she's all mousy in dove gray, and Scarlett attempts to make her jealous and convince her that Ashley is a lying scoundrel. Melanie hears what Scarlett says, and her reply is the sweetest, "Well bless your heart, aren't you the cutest thing?" dismissal of Scarlett's venom. She pulls Scarlett's fangs, and our little belle doesn't even realize it.

Melanie is never physically strong, but she's the one who keeps going at the hospital. She's the one who's got the guts to assist the doctors while Scarlett runs away.

And when they get to Tara and Scarlett shoots the potential rapist in the face? Melanie's the one who's all, "You go, girl, let's loot the body." She keeps her head, keeps the rest of the family away with a quick lie, and keeps Scarlett focused on dealing with the body.

Melanie is the one who, in the midst of a very judgmental society, accepts the generosity of a prostitute when all the other "good" women sneer at her. She's the one who is not just willing but proud to acknowledge her gratitude and debt to Belle Watling.

It's not that Melanie is weak-willed. No, when India Wilkes catches Scarlett in the arms of Ashley and scurries off to tell Melanie, Melanie is all, "Bitch, get out my face, out my house, you dead to me." And that's the end of India. Ashley's sister has to wait until Melanie is on her deathbed for dispensation. Melanie rules with iron.

And that iron is surrounded in a velvet so soft that most people don't realize the iron is under there. At the Atlanta ball scene, Melanie--who can't be more than 20--is considered such an important pillar of society that her endorsement of unconventional behaviors makes them acceptable. While people may regard her acknowledgement of Belle Watling as naive, no one looks down on her for it. Melanie calmly lies to the face of soldiers, cool enough that butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, and they believe her because she has always been genteel. She saves Scarlett's reputation--and Bonnie's future in society (had she lived) by her acceptance of Scarlett into her home.

Melanie's kindness and gentleness gave her the latitude to be ruthless as hell and get away with stuff that no other woman could. And everyone around her loves her--even Scarlett.

Yeah, Scarlett's got all the flame, blazing on the surface. But Melanie? Melanie's the hot coals at the base of the fire, where the real work gets done.
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Unnerving moments [Aug. 28th, 2015|09:53 pm]
This weekend Ferrett and I were scheduled to go to a con in Lansing. Because Erin is out of town, instead of our built-in dogsitter we had both dogs to watch. But the daughter of a friend has watched the dogs for us before. So we had arranged for her to come again.

Then Tuesday I came down with pinkeye. When I was at the doctor's office, he asked if I had a fever, nausea, earache, any other symptoms. I said no, but he looked askance.

I should have known there was a reason behind all that. As the week went on I felt worse and worse. Last night I was up in the night, throwing up, feverish, miserable. This morning Ferrett and I regretfully agreed that I was not in any shape to go to a convention.

I contacted the mom of our dogsitter, apologizing that we would not need her.

A bit later, I heard back from her. Turns out that her husband, dogsitter's dad, had shown up at the school intending to prevent me from taking her with us. Their relationship is...contentious, to say the least. So we wouldn't have a dogsitter in any event, messing up the weekend if it hadn't been messed up by my illness.

But, stupidly and I know ridiculously, I feel like I've dodged a bullet. A literal bullet. Even yesterday, when dogsitter's mom mentioned that her dad objected to her coming her, but that it was okay, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that things might go very badly.

This morning, when I thought about going to get her, a chill went down my spine and I thought, "If I go there, he's going to shoot me."

Now there is not one reason in the world for me to actually think that. I don't know that he owns any guns, I've never heard of him owning guns, and while I don't like the guy, I've never seen him threaten anyone.

When I stop to think about it, logically, it's a very silly, melodramatic thought. But in this day and age, when shootings happen live on TV, it's probably not surprising that I had this reaction. Because there's a nonzero chance that an angry father, believing that he is being manipulated, could pull out a gun--a legally acquired gun--to make a point. And that, in a moment of heat, that gun couldn't end up being fired.

I have always been in favor of the right to bear arms. I lived in Alaska, and owned firearms. I had lots of friends who owned firearms. I like to go target shooting.

But I'm not sure it's worth the risk anymore. Not when we kill each other so regularly. Not when walking into a disagreement between a married couple makes me fear for my life.
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Crafting, and crafting [Aug. 27th, 2015|03:15 pm]
About five years ago Ferrett was really getting into woodworking. For Christmas that year, I bought him a set of power tools to set up a shop in our garage.

Those tools sat in boxes in the middle of the garage floor for two years.

In 2013, Ferrett and our daughter Erin took a long weekend and set up the tools. They built an arcade cabinet.

Then everything sat fallow for the next year or so.

Finally, last fall our friend Eric wanted to build some bookcases for his third-floor office. The guys worked on that project, decided they really enjoyed woodworking, and when spring came this year got pretty serious about projects. They now have Woodworking Wednesdays, once-a-week evenings when they craft. They've replaced some of the not-very-good beginners tools with better equipment, and are in the process of turning our garage into a working shop.

By this winter, I should be able to park inside again. I can't begin to tell you what a thrill that is.

But as they are out there, measuring twice (or more) and cutting once, I am in here, crafting as well. I'm making a quilt, Ferrett's otter quilt. I'm measuring and cutting, then putting the resulting bits back together. When the guys come in from the garage, they chuckle at the parallels of what we're doing. My sewing machine sat fallow for a while, but I'm crafting again.

What he makes is sturdy and supportive. What I make is soft and cuddly. I am at an advantage, because if my cuts are a little off I can ease or stretch, something that's pretty tough with wood. In the end, we have one more thing in common: other people see an awesome piece of work, and we see our mistakes. But even with goofs, both our projects bring warmth and a feeling of being loved to the person who receives them.
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The 365 project [Aug. 24th, 2015|03:24 pm]
Today, I removed five dead computers from our house. Some of these computers have been hanging around here, defunct, for more than a decade. Every year our local government have a technology disposal week. Every year I think, "Oh, I need to take advantage of that!"

Every year, I forget. But not this year! Five! Five dead computers gone.

That only leaves three, maybe four dead computers still hanging around. Hey, you do what you can.

Anyway, it's part of what's referred to as the 365 project: donate, recycle, or throw out one item from your house every day for a year. Getting the crap clutter out of the house. It's harder than you think. Oh, I got rid of probably 365 separate items in the last month, clearing out a bunch of junk from the basement, and the computers, old speakers, cables, keyboards, etc. It's easy to do the big stuff.

The tough part is doing it every single day. It doesn't matter if you got rid of 50 things on Tuesday, Wednesday you need to figure out something else that can go. That's when you start drilling down and really evaluating what can go.

We all have way too much junk in our lives. It weighs us down. I'm trying to lessen that weight, lighten the physical burden of life.

Until we moved to Ohio, it was pretty easy. I never lived in one place for more than three years. At least every 36 months, often considerably less time than that, I had to pack everything up, haul it to a new place, and find a new place to put it. When you have to schlep all the crap, you get a lot more ruthless about what you really need to take with you, what you need to find another place to store.

I've been in the same house for 14 years now. I have a basement, with big storage closets. It's easy to keep things "just in case" I need them.

I seldom do.

So now I'm dragging crap back out of the house. Some days it's, "Oh, crap, I don't have much time, what can go?" Other days I come across a treasure trove of crap to mine.

We'll see what things look like by next August.
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(no subject) [Aug. 21st, 2015|05:25 pm]
Ferrett and I watch a show called Food Network Star. It's a contest that selects one cook to become the Next Food Network Star. The only really big star who has come out of the contest is Guy Fieri, but winners (and some runners-up) from other seasons are now perennial favorites on the network.

All contestants must have a viewpoint, the thing that is going to sell them as the next star: Aarti Sequeira and her Aarti Party entertainment show; Jeff Mauro as the Sandwich King. So a few times over the years of watching, Ferrett and I have wondered about what, if we were ever contestants, our shtick would be. I'd never been able to think of one, until I was cleaning up the kitchen today and noticed this:

It's clear: I would be the Cast Iron Queen.

Yes, I have felt the pull of All Clad and its shiny, gleaming silver. I ever have one All Clad skillet. And it's lovely for omelets. But most of the time, I reach for the sturdy black of my cast iron. I love the way it holds heat, I love how sturdy it is.

I love that it doesn't require a lot of scouring to look good. And compared to All Clad? You can outfit a kitchen with cast iron for the cost of one All Clad saute pan.

So that would be my thing, on Food Network Star. I'd advocate for heavy cookware--and probably get thrown off after just a couple weeks for lack of sophistication. But if they want down-home cooking, me and my cast iron are the ones to pick.
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The kitchen is reopening [Aug. 20th, 2015|03:58 pm]
There's bread rising on my counter.

For those who know me, this used to be a common, multiple-times-a-week occurrence. I baked bread as regularly as breathing.

That all stopped a couple years ago. I honestly can't remember when I last baked bread. A lot of things about my life kind of came to a halt in the last couple years. I shut down to minimum life support. I bathed, I read, I kept up on clients, and barely spoke to people.

But in the last month or so, I've felt like I'm slowly, slowly waking up. I'm working like someone who likes her job, I'm getting exercise, I'm keeping up the house the way I like it kept up.

And I'm starting to cook again. For a while there we were eating out a lot, bringing in a lot of takeout. Now, in the last couple days, I've actually felt like cooking for the first time in a long time. And yesterday I felt the need to revive my pour sourdough, to see whether Shelob had survived my neglect.

She had. So today I am baking a loaf of the bread that was the staple of my baking, the bread I can bake without pulling out a recipe, with a minimum of measuring. I am definitely rusty, but it's rising.

I can't say for certain that this will become the regular occurrence it was before. After so long of being so subfunctional I'm finding it hard to trust that this new energy of mine will last. I'm still not all the way back--my tolerance of crowds is low, and even the company of my dearest friends is something I can only take in small doses. Some days being responsible and working just feel like they're going to kill me, like I can't possibly do it another day. I worry that I'll fall back into that morass.

But not today. Today I'm baking bread.
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Games mortgage companies play [Aug. 17th, 2015|11:12 am]
Today, I received mail from one of the many mortgage companies I deal with. It was a request for permission to contact a client of mine directly regarding a loan modification. This is a pretty standard form, so I signed it and prepared to send it back.

That's when things got a little suspicious. The form instructed me to send it back in the self-addressed, postage-paid envelope accompanying the letter. But the envelope I received had exactly one sheet of paper in it: the form itself.

Well, I thought, human error and oversights can happen. I'll just mail it myself. I looked the form letter over. And then studied it closely. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Though it's pretty standard stationery, there is no address to be found anywhere on this letter. No address, no fax number, and no contact number for the person who sent the letter.

I had so much trouble believing this that, even as I'm writing this entry, I paused to study that letter one last time. No contact information whatsoever appears on this letter. I can't help but assume that this is intentional: a false attempt to appear cooperative while actually stonewalling the borrower.

I wish I could say that such incidences are isolated. But my experience over the years is that mortgage companies are seldom cooperative in the loan modification process.

Whenever a client of mine has prepared a loan modification packet, I instruct them to send it by certified mail, so that someone has to sign for it, and to keep a copy of everything they've sent. Because mortgage companies are notorious for misplacing loan modification packets or claiming they never arrived.

In the worst incident, the borrowers had sent in 8 separate copies of the loan modification packet. Every time they finally got acknowledgment of receipt of the packet and began working with a mortgage company representative, that representative would get transferred, someone else would be in charge of their mortgage, and that person would not have a copy of the packet anymore.

By the time they came to me, they were fighting tears of frustration. A short-term layoff had gotten them behind on their mortgage, but because the mortgage company would not accept their payments they were now months behind, in danger of foreclosure, and the interest and penalties were piling up.

Unfortunately, there is very little regulation that forces mortgage companies to act in good faith. There have been some class action lawsuits leading to multi-million dollar settlements, and some borrowers are benefiting from those funds. But as far as actually changing the behavior of these companies on a day-to-day basis, the lawsuits have accomplished very little.

It's pretty appalling that we as a nation loaned money to these companies, sent none of the CEOs to jail, let them all pay themselves giant bonuses, and are still getting screwed over by them. But hey, corporations own the government now...
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The weird granularities of tableware [Aug. 14th, 2015|02:35 pm]
The food is cooked, the plates are filled. Everything smells delicious. Smiling, Ferrett hands me a fork. I smile back, but apologetically.

"Um, thank you. But can you get me a big one?"

It completely baffles him, but I hate eating dinner with a salad fork. For him, it's an instrument of delivery for food. For me, it's part of the food experience. The weight of the fork, the size of the bites, the balance in my hand, they all have a direct impact on how much I enjoy my food.

What I've never confessed to him (until now, obviously) is that since we've gotten a new set of flatware I often reject the dinner fork of one of the patterns for the dinner fork of the other pattern. This is not a matter of preferring one pattern over the other. No, I actually choose different ones on different days because that one is going to feel better eating this particular meal.

I know it's silly. I've actually been so embarrassed by this at times that I accept the proffered fork from Ferrett, and then sneak back into the kitchen to switch them out. But eating is more than just flavor. It's an experience for all the senses, and my sense of touch comes into play with the weight of that fork in my hand. Thin, flimsy silverware at a restaurant actually distresses me--but then again so does the stuff that's overly heavy. Each spoon doesn't need to weigh a quarter pound. I just don't want to feel like I can tie it in a knot, either.

Let's not even discuss bent fork tines [shudder].

Anyone else have odd aversions, ones that don't relate to the actual food? Or is it just me?
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Why I am stupidly happy with Play Boy [Aug. 13th, 2015|06:12 pm]
Playboy ran an article in early July of this year that was a pictography of "ways of the O" - but worrying about women finding their happy place was not the thing that made me excited (see what I did there?) about the article.

No, the exciting part for me is that half the pictures are with plus-sized models. Go take a look; it's pretty much work safe (unless you work in a church or a daycare, I suppose). The first five pictures are a very standard, very blonde model, but the last five contain models (two of them) who have a little more meat on their bones than what's considered the standard of beauty.
This is a delightful development. Considering that most women are at least the size of, if not larger, than the plus-sized models, it's nice--great, in fact--to see this kind of acknowledgement that we exist, and that men can find us attractive, and can and should want to take our pleasure into consideration. A more realistic view of the female form in all its glory can only be good for us all.

I can, however, anticipate that there is criticism. Those who worship a random idealization of body type undoubtedly think of such pictures as "giving women permission to be fat." That it encourages women to "let themselves go."

To them I say, good! The idealized female form in modern society--skinny and young--is achievable by maybe 1% of women. Even that 1% can only stay young for so many years. The constant pressure to be something that we can't be serves only the beauty business that relies on our self-loathing. Oh, and the $6 billion/year diet industry.

Thank you, Play Boy, for showing women who actually exist in daily life. We're an awful lot of fun to snuggle up with.

After all, we're built for comfort, not for speed.
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