Sunday, August 13

Bitter Food for Thought

Author Peter Bergen reviewed the cases of over three hundred Americans who “were charged with some sort of Jihadist crime” and translated the lessons, trends and stories he uncovered in the process into United States of Jihad. The book purports to be “an essential investigation of 'homegrown' Islamic terrorism and it was in many ways, a tough read for me. (i.e. I read it in chapter-long chunks instead of sitting down and plowing through and did a lot of swearing in the process.)

There were some components of the book that made it ultimately well worth reading. Insights from law enforcement and military advisors on what makes 'home-grown' and 'lone-wolf' terrorists so hard to spot ahead of time and stop before they can strike were extremely interesting and informative. Peeks into different approaches and concepts of threat management, how they've been applied, and their respective strengths and weaknesses went a long way towards helping me more effectively assess and appreciate where a lot of political moves and law enforcement plans have come from (whether they worked or not).

That said, I seriously struggled with the author's presentation of Islam/Muslims and at several points I was extremely frustrated (and a bit disgusted) by his dismissal and reproof of authors (like Robert Spencer), officials and law enforcement officers/agencies for taking a harder line/less sympathetic approach to individuals seeking to join jihad. Bergen took great pains to interview 'moderate' Muslims and show cases in which they attempted to intervene with family members/friends showing signs of radical or unsafe behavior; likewise, he extensively explored the powerful influence of ISIS media messaging. Nowhere did he address or acknowledge the messier truths that people like Spencer tackle: the Koran explicitly encourages devaluation/subjugation of women and disdain/disregard for any non-Muslim, calls the necessity of reestablishing the caliphate, etc. The 'moderate' Muslims he profiles can ignore those bits if they want, but it doesn't change the fact that those realities exist and the people we've entrusted to protect us have a right to take them into account when trying to do their jobs.

The most powerful and unexpected take-away for me (though it wasn't necessarily the intention of the book) was that many of the American terrorists profiled got started on their path through a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves and a deep longing to do something with meaning. This is a universal desire, and part of a much bigger conversation; I would love to see this explored more somewhere.

At the end of the day, I give this three stars. It was technically well written and it did offer a lot in terms of food for thought. But the author's soft brush around some very real, very hard issues that had a very real place in this discussion (and the way he finished the book with feel-good reassurance about cross-religious partnerships to broaden understanding and communication and how low the statistical likelihood of any one person actually being hurt in domestic terrorist attack) utterly failed to deliver on the “and how do we stop them?” component promised by the book's subtitle and, theoretically, the whole point of doing the research that inspired the book to begin with.

Monday, August 7

Mass Exodus

People in our lives have been talking about leaving New York for years now. As the state has gotten increasingly more liberal, more heavily taxed, more politically correct, and more obnoxious those plans have escalated in both seriousness and agressiveness of timeframe.

This year has marked a distinct tipping point. My sister picked up and moved to Florida in May. Eric's brother pulled up stakes this month and is on his way to South Carolina. Our neighbors (who have lived on this road for decades) are in the process of selling their house and eager to get back to the friends they've already made in New Mexico.

Other friends/family continue to plan their escape, caught where they are a few more years yet by other factors. We had someone come walk through our house, interested in buying it, at the start of the summer. That didn't end up going anywhere, but the larger trend has played a lot in our thoughts. It's interesting to ask oneself where you'd go if you just picked up and moved. What would you look for? What would you do (or hope/plan to do) differently?

Errant Venturing this summer has been really good for me/us on this front, as it brings up a lot of new ideas and questions and possibilities we just wouldn't have really had any reason to run into before. It's too early to know what the future holds and when (I've given up trying to anticipate much, given how the last year has gone), but we know we're not staying here long term and the writing on the wall has reached a new level of clarity, for sure.

I don't really have any conclusions or pearls of wisdom to offer or anything on this front, except that it's made two things really stand out for me.

First, it's totally okay to decide that something that worked for you before doesn't any more. Life changes, relationships and jobs and all of those things grow and transmute and if you find that a system or a habit or whatever no longer serves, trade it in for something else. No guilt necessary - be grateful for the season it was good and move on.

Second, nothing else I can do will match the impact of properly taking care of myself. Which always sounds selfish and weird when it's in writing, I think, but it's just true. Nothing's going to serve me better in the face of change and opportunity than having the physical, mental and emotional reserves and resources to meet the day head-on and make the most of it (even if that just looks like being able to enjoy little things like frisbee with the dogs or having the patience not to smack someone at work).

I have no idea if that matters to or helps anyone else right now, but it's been a big lesson in my life this summer, and I thought I'd throw it out there!

Sunday, August 6


Generally speaking, we're fairly bad at taking vacations. When we do, we do them really well... we just tend to go a pretty long time between them. It's something we're actively working on.  One of the things we've been wanting/planning to do was take a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. At the beginning of July, after much anticipation, we went! We both took a full week off from work, and we packed up the babies and the Errant Venture and set off.

"Oh look! Napping kelp! Don't mind if I do!"
Our GPS was not in our favor. We thought we had it set up to take us well away from the Springfield (Massachusetts) area (which is notorious for abominable traffic), but somewhere en route it recalculated and sent us through there anyway. What should have been a six or seven hour trip took ELEVEN hours... large chunks of it gridlocked in Massachusetts with people who drive like lunatics and apparently have never heard of blindspots and are unaware that their vehicles come equipped with a bunch of mirrors for a reason.

As we passed through the Portland area, we started seeing signs for lobster rolls and decided we totally needed to find some before the trip was out. (We always look for good coffee, too, everywhere we go.)

Thankfully, it took almost no time to get set up once we arrived at Bass Harbor Campground. The dog run looked like something out of a horror movie (we used it exactly once) but the pool was nice and we appreciated being able to swim. We didn't plan a lot of excursion-ing: the goal was to relax. And, given what a sopping wet, unseasonably cold winter we've had at home, to enjoy sunshine and being warm! I had a very good time soaking up some sunshine while reading a good book and, for once, didn't burn because I finally found sunscreen that doesn't make my skin crawl. Hooray!

The babies spent most of the trip overstimulated, damp, and thrilled. We took them for a walk to a nearby lighthouse, all over the campground, and then to the ocean. It was their first exposure to any kind of body of water bigger than a mud puddle, and their reactions were pricelessly delightful. Arthas deigned to get just the tips of his toes wet and stand there enjoying the scenery. Nenya flopped her furry little self directly in the seaweediest spot she could find and beamed. She tossed her head in indignation that the water was salty and not drinkable, but otherwise was quite content to stay there. Both enjoyed exploring the forested, seaside trails with us. (Though they slept for days when we got home.)

It took forever to find halfway decent lobster rolls - apparently nothing around there opens much before 4pm or on weekends (which was ridiculous); we never did find good coffee (except what we took with us, of course). I did find that my appreciation for people-watching has improved; I wasn't ever much of a fan, but now that I am doing it in some sort of context it's much more interesting. (It was interesting to watch the people at the neighboring campsite grapple with four little girls, a 13 year old terrier mix and two enormous Great Pyrannies puppies!)
"This is plenty close enough, thanks.
Have you not seen Jaws?"

It was a wonderful trip and, on the way home, we decided to overnight in Vermont. That not only cut the driving time for the day in half, but kept us well away from the Springfield mess. We also learned a few things that will positively inform our planning for future trips:

-  First (which we'd already kind of suspected), major holidays that everybody has off are not great times to try to camp. The roads are nuts, everywhere is completely full (and booked a year in advance), and there's a lot more of the loud-families-with-kids dynamic at shared facilities like swimming pools.

- Second (which we hadn't thought about, but makes a lot of sense), by contrast, the weekend after a major holiday (or even mid-week, right when everybody else is going back to work) is a great time to travel. Rates, populations, and traffic are all lower. Definitely something to keep in mind as we look ahead!

- Third, hopping in the pool (when there is one) as soon as we're set up and the dogs are walked is something we should make a priority. It definitely refreshes both body and perspective after you've been in the car navigating traffic for hours.

- Fourth, the whole "level sites" tag on campground websites is worth paying attention to. The first couple places we went were very level and gave us unrealistic expectations; we now appreciate that we need to either keep some spare planks of wood on hand for leveling or pick up some of those lego-block style RV levelers to make up for less well set up sites. (Not a big deal, but good to know!)

- Finally, the whole overnighting somewhere on the way home thing is something we should consider more often.

Aside from being told by our coworkers that they don't appreciate having to survive without us for a full week, it was a fabulous trip all around and we look forward to more!!

Saturday, August 5

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

You know the saying "Truth is stranger than fiction"? It is SO true. (Anyone in the customer service business will swear to this.)

Thursday I read one of the craziest examples of this that I've seen in a long time, and it was so bizarrely great that I want to point it out here in case you, too, could use a little eyebrow-raising in your life (of the sort that doesn't also come with spiked stress levels).

Rhinestones, Madness, and Resurrected Corpses: The Love Story of Tony & Susan Alamo

Everything you need to know about this story before you read it can be summarized in the following lines: 

- "I’m watching them and it’s like a tennis match of horse crap." 
- ...they [got] married another couple of times to make sure it stuck."
- "Stricken with grief, [he] did what any heartbroken evangelist would do. He created his own fashion brand."

Seriously... go read it. Be entertained. Then go hug your significant other and thank them for not being a cult-leading Elvis wanna-be... just because.

Friday, August 4

How Not To Apply For A Job

A little free entertainment for your Friday, inspired by something that actually happened at Panera earlier this week... 

How NOT To Apply For A Job:

- Show up a solid 40 minutes before the business opens (while it's still dark outside and nothing else nearby is open) and lurk creepily

- Wait for the opening manager to go outside to do things like set up the umbrellas, grab the newspapers, etc., and proceed to demand that she turn on the Wi-Fi. (Bonus points for grousing about how the Wi-Fi should never be turned off to begin with when she politely explains that she has no control over that and it will auto-turn-on when the cafe opens.)

- Stand around inside the cafe as soon as it opens, scowling at the menu, touching and leafing through everything you can find, and mumble incomprehensibly and menacingly to yourself. When asked if you can be helped with something, refuse to talk to anyone except the manager.

- Loudly complain (two minutes after opening) that the Wi-Fi STILL isn't up and announce that you're going to call Corporate to take them to task for failing to have it turned on when it was supposed to be.

- Announce that you are going to apply for a job at the cafe. Type in the wrong internet address (even though the correct one is listed sixteen places readily at hand, or available via Google). Upbraid the manager (who is busy trying to do her job) when the site asks for a credit card to charge you for submission.

- Find some reason to demand to see the poor beleagured manager every fifteen minutes or so for the full two hours that you stay lodged in the cafe's back corner, grouching or complaining every time.

- Leave about ten minutes before the General Manager comes in, so he can't tell you to knock it off and/or ask you to leave.

Note: I requested that if my GM actually interviewed the gentleman who did exactly all of the above, he do so on one of my shifts during my break so I that I can sit inconspicuously at a nearby table and be stupidly entertained. I know, I'm a horrible person...ha!

Thursday, August 3

Another Passing

Baby Kimber
In 2010, I posted this picture here on the blog of my parents' newly found GSD/Burmese Moutain Dog mix, Kimber. She was a precocious ball of fluff with an attitude and followed Arthas around like he was the Best. Thing. Ever.

Last week, sweet Kimber left us.

Her life was respectably long by the standards of her breed and filled with so much love -given and received. She was a valiant protector and a beloved companion and is dearly missed. 

Before she left, she made sure my parents were in good hands, mentoring Grendel (another GSD/Burmese mix) on the proper supervision of humans.

It's been a rough year for pets in these parts - Ruger's loss still feels fresh, too. Please, if you have furry companions, give them an extra kiss and a few treats today and make sure they know you love and appreciate them!

The padawan has become the Master - Kimber and her furry apprentice Grendel.

Monday, June 19

New Stairs!

When we moved into our house five years ago, it was abundantly clear that the primary driving factor for where the previous owners had located things could be summed up in one word: convenience.

Nothing was square to anything else, nothing was intentionally aligned with the road, the path of the sun, or pretty much anything else you might logically expect. The randomness of their choices was perhaps most glaringly evidenced by a set of stairs leading down from the driveway to the front yard... that aligned with exactly nothing. It wasn't near the garage, or the front door, or anything. 

The front porch, just after completion.
After trekking through the driveway and yard back and forth every time for a while (there were bigger fish to fry first, as anyone who has ever moved or bought a house knows), we made a point that first year of moving those stairs across the yard to line up as closely as possible to both the garage and the house.

For five years, our impromptu adjustment held. But the stairs weren't particularly well built to begin with, and in the last year or so they've started to show their age in ways that leaned toward the unsafe. This year, replacing them was a priority. Because there are so many code-related details involved in stairs, it wasn't worth doing it ourselves. We called the guy who built our beautiful front deck, and he agreed to make us a matching stairway.

Our gorgeous new stairs (and one of my furry supervisors, who approves this post.)

The local shale and river stone walkway connecting the stairs to the front porch.

It was supposed to take one day. It took three very long ones. But, in the end, the results were perfect: safe, lovely, and pretty much designed to last forever.

And, with that, the last of our major house projects are done for the year. Which is good, because goodness knows there's enough else going on!!  : )