Friday, December 15

New Shower Set Up

Our house has two bathrooms. We took the tub out of the master bathroom a couple years ago while we had a giant dumster here for another project since we knew it was going to have to eventually get replaced anyway.

Between that, the stupidly damp/cold/awful weather we've had pretty consistently the last two years, and the fact that we're both working full time and don't want to spend every spare minute we're home cleaning (to keep up with the effects of said gross weather), we decided a while ago to just turn off the water to the shower in the master bath and use the tub/shower combo in the hall bath instead. It worked out really well... until the fixtures in the tub/shower combo started leaking.

It wasn't an emergency situation, but it did force us to start looking at replacement options. My Prince is wonderful and did lots of research, and then we examined our options on both the design side of things and the "how much of a pain is this going to be to install" side of things... because this house was very definitively NOT designed with ease of replacement/upgrades in mind. We ended up going with a Peerless dual-shower-head fixture. (In no small part because I feel like every house should have at least one movable shower head for the washing of pets, small children, and the like. Simply as a practical matter.)

Then, recently, on a day that My Prince was home and I was at work, he got the entire thing installed! I came home and it was all done and beautiful! (Much nicer than my sad photography skills can convey.) It felt like an extra victory, sneaking in one more house project under the deadline before we roll into 2018, and blessedly one less thing to worry about over the winter when everything seems harder. I'm very grateful for talented people like My Prince who can handle projects like that, and quite pleased with the results!

Wednesday, December 13

Early Christmas Present

Image Credit
We've invested a lot of time, money and energy this year in refining how we live. Not refining as in "gentrification" - the "streamlining" kind. In and around everything else going on, we made a serious effort to replace tools that needed it (e.g. extension cords, the stereo) and consciously invested in things that make daily life smoother and more efficient. We continued (and maybe escalated) our process of divesting ourselves and our property of anything and everything that didn't work out or is no longer serving us well. The work isn't done yet, of course, but already the results have been gratifying.

Unexpectedly, however, it left us scratching our heads a bit when we asked each other "so what do you want for Christmas?"

Finally, though, I decided that the only thing I wanted was this beautiful ring! I've been looking for/at something like it for a while, and since I'm actively working toward the goal of getting back into writing full time, I expect to actually get to wear it regularly. (Instead of sticking it on a chain like I do with all my rings while at work right now.) The stone is laboradite, which I love, but which is also really hard to find most of the time. Color-wise, the silver is a good match for the white gold of my wedding rings. It's designed as a "spinner" ring, which I thought was appropriate since I tend to figet with my jewelry anyway.

My Prince generously obliged, and even more generously didn't make me wait until Christmas to have it! It's beautiful and I'm delighted and spoiled. Just thought I'd share!

Monday, December 4

Biting the Bullet


Terrible picture of actually very nice
every day boots.
Generally speaking, I am not a fan of shopping. I am particularly not fond of shopping for clothing or shoes. (Seriously, do you have any idea how many positively hideous pairs of shoes there are in the world?! And somehow you have to scroll through all of them to find the one or two simple, attractive things that you want. Every. Time. Ugh.)

Most of time, I get off easy. Not only is my closet well stocked enough that I rarely need to shop for anything, but My Prince is much more patient about these things and very gracious about helping me search if I need to purchase something. Recently, though, I found myself in the unwelcome position of needing to buy shoes. Not just one pair, but two. It was my own fault - I'd been putting it off and putting it off, and finally reached the point where my black heels were too shot to keep wearing and cold weather was solidly here, meaning I could no longer avoid getting a new pair of every day boots.

(For the record, I tried a couple times in the last couple years to buy a decent pair of boots, but with no success.)

Finally, last month, I bit the bullet and just carved out time (and patience) to go through the whole online shopping process. Not surprisingly, both pairs of shoes ultimately had to be exchanged for a different size (why are these things so inconsistent?!). Even on sale, the boots were a lot more than I'd have liked to spend. That said, there's huge relief in finally having the ordeal done with and knowing that I won't have to do it again any time soon! 

New all purpose black heels. Super comfy!

Sunday, December 3

Random, Horrifying Fact


Because it's still stuck my head several days after I first read it (and I've told everyone I regularly see in daily life), have a fun, random and positively horrifying fact :

"Bromated flour is considered a class 2B carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and has been shown to cause malignant tumors and to damage human DNA." source

It's been banned all over the world, but you can still buy it on the shelves of your average American grocery store. 

Meanwhile, we spend zillions of dollars annually on pink everything, proudly advertising our 'commitment' to finding a cure for cancer. Let's just file this one with all the rest under "reasons it's positively amazing humans haven't driven themselves to extinction already" shall we?

Saturday, December 2

Scalloped Potatoes

Have you ever had a recipe you were sure that:
(a) you'd made before;
(b) everybody has a recipe for (so you must, too); and
(c) you probably shouldn't need a recipe for in the first place?

Yeah... that was me this past week with scalloped potatoes. No idea how I somehow didn't have a recipe for that in my sprawling personal cookbook.

Seeing as it is a potato recipe (and therefore should almost certainly include unreasonable amounts of butter and probably some bacon), I looked up Ree Drummond's version first. (If you're not used to the Pioneer Woman's cooking, she's all about using butter, bacon fat, and the like in Julia Child-worthy quantities.)

I threw in a handful of diced bell peppers with my onions for color, and subbed a handful of diced bacon for the ham (sauteed up right with the peppers & onions). As always, I went with cornstarch instead of flour as my thickener, but otherwise I made this pretty much to spec and it was great! Definitely needed to cook a little longer than listed, but I was very happy with how quick and easy the prep was and with the rich, hearty end result. It more than qualifies to be a main course all by itself and should give you plenty of leftovers besides. Just wanted to share in case anyone else needs a (healthy) comfort food recipe now that December is upon us.

You can find Ree's recipe here: Scalloped Potatoes.

Tuesday, November 21

100 Days of Productivity

I recently ran across a challenge online called "100 Days of Productivity".

The original idea is pretty simple and geared toward Instagram/Tumblr in that you do something (anything) productive every day, and post a picture representative of it online. Obviously, my personality type is too geared toward productivity in general for that to be anything new or helpful for me as is. Moreover, I not a fan of taking/posting photos, so that whole tracking process would derail me completely.

But as we near the end of the year, I can't help but be attracted to the potential of a slightly modified version. There's a lot to like about the idea of starting something in the next couple weeks that rolls over into the new year - it feels like a headstart on a New Years resolution, with the added awesomeness that it's only for a set period of time instead of the whole year. By the time you hit March, for example, you could be celebrating already having banged out something great and feel like you'd set a positive tone for the year. It also feels like it might provide some welcome focus through the usual mess of the holidays and the generally cold, dreary weeks that follow when everything slows down and drags. 

The question, then, becomes what target to set or what subject to pick to specifically work on. I want it to be different from what I'm already doing (like reading a chapter of something a day) and separate from long-term health habits I'm trying to establish (working out, drinking enough water). And, of course, if it's going to be worth doing and set next year up well, it needs to be a goal that matters.

I've been picking at a couple ideas, and I think I've almost got it narrowed down, but I'd be curious to hear what everyone else thinks. If you were going to do 100 Days of (Focused) Productivity, what would you choose? Anyone want to do it as a shared challenge with me?

Sunday, November 12

More Random (And Awful) Historical Facts

Apparently, for the better part of a century, the British Navy thought it would be a good plan to flog people for getting scurvy. Even after they knew it was an illness, and still later when they figured out it was a deficiency disease of some kind, the practice carried on. I have not yet figured out the logic behind taking someone who is already not functional and flogging them... it's clearly not going to improve their ability to work, no matter what you think the root cause is.

Lack of logic remained rampant, however. They later decided that a great solution to beriberi (another deficiency disease) would be giving people arsenic. Or strychnine... just for variety. (*Cringe.*)

Again, some days I wonder how the human race has lasted as long as we have. On the bright side, our bizarre insistence on self-delusion and penchant for making matters worse as often and drastically as possible makes for great reading!! : p

Tuesday, November 7

What's In A Carb?

This morning at work I had a customer order a breakfast sandwich and ask what she could get it on that was “low carb”. Unfortunately, the honest answer was “not much”, but I did explain that we could always put her eggs and cheese just on a plate or in a bowl if she didn't want the bread. I also started to offer to add a few of the free extras people tend to like when they take that option – tomatoes or spinach, for example. Then I corrected myself, since I couldn't remember off the top of my head if spinach qualified as low carb. (Turns out it does at about 1g of carbs per cup of fresh spinach, if anybody cares.)
Corn. Grows above ground. Not low carb.

The woman looked at me, smiled cheerily, and said “Oh, it is. Everything that grows above ground is low carb.”

Umm.... say what now? 

(Picture here an absolutely blank stare, as I ran that sentence through my head six times in an effort to figure out if I misheard it, or possibly misunderstood what she was trying to say, before I resigned myself to the fact that she was completely serious.)

I politely finished cashing her out and (barely) resisted the urge to go bang my head against the nearest wall.

Obviously, she was repeating a rule of thumb given to her by someone (probably a professional) she trusted to know these things. And I concede I can sort of see what they were getting at… potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables tend to be much higher in carbs than your (above-ground) leafy greens.

But for Force sake!! Wheat grows above ground, and flour is (or should be) just ground wheat. Apples, bananas, corn, pumpkins – last I checked, they all grew above ground and are definitely not low in carbs!!

If you're on a 'trendy' low carb diet, it might not matter that much. But that kind of grossly inaccurate, misleading rule of thumb could practically kill someone who's trying to go low carb to control diabetes, epilepsy, or other medical conditions particularly sensitive to that. 

This is the level of common knowledge about our food supply and dietary practices that permeates the country, and yet you have to pay out of pocket for any and all education on the subject. Almost no insurance will pay for more than one or two sessions with a Registered Dietician, and then only if you have diabetes, essentially. It's positively appalling. 

Anyway, I'll stop ranting now, but please consider this your friendly neighborhood PSA that GROWING ABOVE GROUND DOES NOT MAKE SOMETHING LOW CARB.  Thank you. 

Saturday, November 4

Appallingly True Random Fact

In the immediate post-Civil War era, heroin was introduced as a "wonder drug"... to treat diabetes.

Despite being a heavily refined variant of morphine, which they knew was addictive, professional chemists and physicians of the time were quite confident that heroin wouldn't be addictive at all.

Does anyone else read world history and occasionally wonder how we haven't killed ourselves off as a species yet?

Wednesday, November 1

It's Good Not To Be A Manager

Yesterday at work, there were two different repair guys in: one was working on the rethermalizer (essentially a giant box of hot water that we use to heat bags of soup) and the other was working on the walk-in freezer. The entire freezer/cooler area smelled like burning metal, which wasn't encouraging, but was apparently the least of our worries.

The guy working on the rethermalizer shut the whole thing down, informed my General Manager that the plug and outlet it was connected to were charred, and he really had no idea how we hadn't burned the entire cafe to the ground yet. Yikes!

So the GM goes to grab our back-up portable unit from storage. While he's gone, the cafe gets a call that someone was drilling just down the street and hit a gas line... which they thought was connected to our (giant) rack oven. So the manager on duty had to run out and tell the day bakers to shut the ovens off until further notice - because we're only a bakery cafe and don't need those or anything.

All I could think as I headed out to my truck (finally) was that it was a really, really good day not to be a manager. The manager who counted my drawer ended up working 13 hours yesterday... and I went home on time, and left all the drama behind. I don't miss being in her shoes at all.

Tomorrow we have piles of regional corporate company. My GM dared me to throw a brioche roll at the District Manager's head. It's an unreasonably tempting offer, but I think I'll probably be good. (Probably.)

Hope everyone else is having a less dramatic week than where I work!


Tuesday, October 31

Hydration Challenge

Hydration has always been a struggle for me. Some people can down water like it's nothing or at least have no trouble consistently tipping back a glass of water until they've reached a daily goal... but not me. It was an absolute revelation during my NTP training to discover that my reluctance (and sometimes outright revulsion) to drink water was related to an ongoing mineral imbalance situation.

While I've made huge strides towards sorting that out, and drinking water has gotten somewhat easier, it's still a conscious daily effort to make sure I drink enough. I am aware every day of something else I learned in my classes: it can (and usually does) take at least six months to completely rehydrate a body after long-term dehydration.

Our bodies have a pretty strict hierarchy of critical vs. non-critical organs and systems. When we're missing something we need, they raid the bottom rungs of the totem pole and strip them of stored resources. It can take a long time to resupply those less-critical areas when if/when we finally start taking in what we need again.

Considering that water is absolutely essential to transport nutrients, flush toxins, deliver oxygen, regulate body temperature, cushion joints, keep the electrical functions of our cells in working order, and about a dozen other super-important tasks,  it's kind of scary to think what I'm doing to those less-than-uber-critical areas of my body in the meantime!

So I've set myself a challenge: drink the bare minimum amount of water my body needs (based on body weight) every day for six months straight. In keeping with best practices, I'm not waiting until New Year's to start - I'm starting tomorrow, November first!

I've got a solid tracking system worked out, as well as several different habits/systems/tricks established to help me reach my daily goal amount. Now I'm ready to escalate to making those daily goals happen consistently long term.

I'm very curious to see what changes I recognize in myself and how I feel by the end of this experiment. Even if I don't noticeably feel different, I consider it a worthwhile endeavor for my health. Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 29

Global Entertainment

Saw this on tumblr and it was too funny not to share:



  But it gets better:




Tuesday, October 24

Finishing the Stairwell

Theoretically, this hasn't been a big year for house projects. We've focused our time and energy other places more in 2017 than we have since before we bought the house! That said, there have been a few projects and they've definitely made a difference. One of them was the stairwell we had put in out front.

Back in June, I posted about getting the stairs put in. They looked like this:






We knew at some point before winter they'd need to be stained, but they needed to settle in and fully dry out first. Then things got busy and there was traveling, and time lapsed. This past week, aware that the end of October approaches and time is short, we made time to finish them. My Prince did the hard stuff - the big, sweeping areas where it would be really noticeable if it were uneven, etc., as he's by far the more talented of the two of us when it comes to such things. The next day, I carved out time to do all the little spindles and other odd spots. Now, they look like this:



They pretty much perfectly match our front porch. Combined with the stone walkway we built to connect them, they give the front yard a coordinated, rusticly lovely look that is lightyears away from the haphazard weirdness that existed when we bought the place.

For all that we're prone to looking at things through the eyes of homeowners (always looking ahead to the next project, or aware of how much *could* be done), it is really nice to step back once in a while and genuinely appreciate the massive ways we've reshaped our property and give ourselves proper credit for work well done.

Wednesday, October 18

Parked, Plugged and Pickled

Despite the disgusting, erratic weather and uncooperative work/travel schedules, our beautiful Errant Venture served us admirably this year. When we could make the stars align, it took us on adventures to new places. Over the summer, when the weather was perpetually damp and too often cold, we moved out there full time (even when it was just in the driveway) and let it provide a much-needed modicum of sanity. (There's a tremendous amount to be said about and grateful for when your living space takes only moments to clean and almost nothing to run heat/energy-wise when seemingly everything else is trying to be as difficult as possible.)

Throughout the entire process - from buying it to bringing it home to adapting to and experimenting with it - the EV has taught us a lot. It challenged how we think about things, gave us a push to try new things (and to stick with figuring them out wherever initial attempts didn't go smoothly), and adjusted our perspectives and mindsets in valuable ways.

With the first frost upon us and most campgrounds in our neck of the woods closing down for the year, we bit the bullet and packed up our sweet EV, tucking her in next to the garage for the winter and making sure all the hatches were battened down for winter.

Now, I feel like one of those Master Gardeners who views Winter as the season of planning for the coming Spring. Instead of seed catalogues and gardening books, though, we'll be curled up with campground guides and travel guides, scouring the pages for places to go and things to see next year. In the meantime, we're finding ourselves grateful for space enough in the house to throw the Ball and let the babies careen after it for much needed exercise when it's too cold/gross to play outside.

Tuesday, October 17

Seaweed Salad

Baby Soup and napping kelp... not to
be confused with the type you eat.
Recently, while traveling, My Prince had occasion to try a seaweed salad. It was reportedly delectable and he returned home with a request that we attempt to find a recipe and give it a try at home.

I was a bit skeptical, seaweed being well outside my usual purview, but game to give it a try. We ended up using this recipe from Genius Kitchen.

Once you got beyond the small prep (dicing and toasting), the entire thing was stupidly quick and easy. We made double the recommended amount (to use up the whole package of wakame), and it held really well in the fridge for a couple days. (Yay!)

I was pleasantly surprised! It had a fresh, gingery taste and otherwise tasted just like a fairly dense green salad. It was a little chewy, which was a satisfying texture, and extremely filling. Nutritionally, as long as you're buying clean stuff, seaweed is also tremendously good for you, so it was a win-win all around! Considering that we can get dried wakame shipped to our door inexpensively and conveniently compliments of Amazon, this is definitely something we'll make again!

Sunday, October 15

I Need That Search Program They Have On Cop Shows

Not a wallet I will ever own.
Have you ever watched any of those cop shows (or almost any spy/government agency movie) where the heroes need to find one elusive thing, so they feed everything ever into the computer/connect to every corner of the interwebs, and then systematically narrow it down until *POOF*. Exactly what they wanted/needed was the only thing left, glowing miraculously back at them off their screen.

Yeah, I need a program like that.

I recently killed my wallet beyond the point of repair and was (extremely) reluctantly forced to go searching for a new one. I dislike shopping for wallets almost as much as I dislike shopping for purses. (Hence why my awsome husband actually *made* my current purse for me.) I feel like there's very few things I need a wallet to reliably do and yet none of those are things you can search by.

Why, I ask you, is there not a feature that allows you to require (in addition to RFID protectiveness, naturally) something as basic as ID slots that you can actually get your ID out of when you need it? Why is there not a feature that lets you require that you be able to fit your checkbook into it in order for it to show up on your hits list?

And why, in name of the Force, is there not an option to mass exclude things you will NEVER pay money for? Like hideous patterns in garish colors. Or wallets that have no place to put change. Or ones so bulky they weigh more than you do - before you put anything in them.

(Incidentally, I wished for something simliar last time I had to shop for shoes online. There are an obsene number of hideous red shoes in the world, and sifting through them all one google search at a time is slow and painful work.) 

Anyway, I finally found something and was delighted when it both shipped quickly and proved to be durable and just what I needed. But I'd still really like some of that magical search software...

Monday, October 9

DIY Dry Cleaning

On this date last year it was already snowing here. Cold, wet, unpleasant stuff that bore no resemblence to the light, fluffy, magical flakes that always seem to show up in movies and nostalgic memories. Though we didn't know it at the time, it was the advent of an exceptionally wet, weather-crazy year.

Dryel... just another thing you
can learn to make instead of buy!
As I have complained to my (exceptionally patient and understanding) husband repeatedly over the last couple months, I feel as if I have been running laundry and wiping things down with Lysol constantly for an entire year and not making any progress. Sure, it keeps things from getting moldy and nasty, but that's it. It's been so damp and either unseasonably cold or hot (depending on the time of year) that it feels like nothing ever dries out and stays clean.

In an effort to get ahead of this nonsense last Spring, Eric thoughtfully bought several really good garment bags for both our closets. We stashed anything we weren't actively and regularly wearing in them, zipped them up, and sighed with relief at the thought of one less thing to worry about and keep up with. For good measure, we mostly left our closet doors open, too, to encourage circulation.

It didn't work.

I said all kinds of bad words last week when I went to pull something out of one of the bags and discovered mold spots on it. My leather boots, my leather skirt, three of my nice dresses - I ended up taking everything out of the closet. A load of laundry took care of most of it, but all the leather had to be cleaned by hand. The dresses were all supposed to be dry cleaned, except that two of them had boning in them and dry cleaning isn't actually particularly good for them... to say nothing of the fact that it would be ungodly expensive.

So I did some research and discovered that the maker of at least one of the dresses strongly recommends using a DIY at-home dry cleaning process, using Dryel or one of the equivalents and your dryer. I ended up giving it a shot and was extremely relieved and impressed when it worked very well!

In case it's something everyone else doesn't already know and/or might be able to use someday, I thought I'd copy the recipe I used here.

DIY Dryel

3/4 cup water
1/4 cup (white) vinegar
1 tsp borax
1 tsp dry oxygen bleach
5-10 drops Essential Oil(s) of choice (optional)

Combine all in a bowl. Soak a clean wash cloth in the mixture, then squeeze it out. Place the wash cloth and the item to be cleaned in a clean zip-top pillow case or lingerie bag. Toss it in the dryer and run on high for 30 minutes. Remove promptly and hang to finish drying.

Notes: I used baking soda instead of borax and it worked beautifully. I also used liquid Oxyclean stain remover instead of the dry oxygen bleach. If using essential oils, consider using lavender, Thieves Oil, or some other mix that will help maintain freshness (not just make it smell pretty).

I hope no one ever needs this, but I'm grateful it worked for me. We'll be running the dehumidifier from now until we start using the fireplace for the winter... I'm done with this craziness!

Monday, September 25

Special Features

It turns out my truck has special features I didn't know about! I knew it was all kinds of equipped, of course, but I completely missed the fact that it has dedicated Puppacinno servers!

I've read that if you go to Starbucks and ask for a 'Puppacinno' they'll give you a small cup of whipped cream. We're not Starbucks people, but needed some terrible coffee while on the road and that was what there was, so we stopped. Eric actually had the presence of mind to remember to ask and the server did, in fact, offer up a cup of whipped cream.

Nenya turned her nose up at it ("that's not gravy!!"), but Arthas happily helped himself. Which is when I realized that there are actually cup holders in the back of the center console of my truck, perfectly positioned for happy border collies to nom on cups of whipped cream from the back seat.

The picture doesn't do the adorableness of the moment justice, but I thought I'd share anyway. Hope your week is off to a good start! 

Tuesday, September 19

Random Fun: Which Halloween Monster Are You?

Just for fun, a quick quiz to see what kind of spooky you do best.

(I got a witch... I'm okay with that. Cauldron! Bubble me up some cider!!)

: )

Monday, September 18

The Communication Skills They Didn't Teach Me in College

So, I was a business major and, as part of the curriculum, we learned all kinds of models for communication. Some, obviously, were better than others.  Recently, I ran across a new model I haven't seen before that I really liked. I haven't really tested it with other people yet, but I'm finding it a fantastic structure for sorting things out for yourself or to pair with Brene Browns SFD method.

It's the Whole Message approach, for lack of a better term, and it involves breaking down what you are trying to communicate into four parts:

(1) Facts
(2) Thoughts
(3) Emotions/Feelings
(4) Needs 

Using this framework to imagine what I'd say to someone about some situations that have happened recently has been really eye-opening. It significantly changes how I'd word things. It also provides an unexpected feeling of calm, I think because there's tremendous power in separating hard fact from how we feel about that fact. Because someone can attack 'feelings' all day long - automatically inciting defensiveness and the slippery slope that conversation usually slides down once you're there. 

It's a lot harder to argue with a fact. And once the fact is established, there's a lot less ground for someone to stand on to try to assail you from.

There's also enormous peace to be had in figuring out what you need before you have a conversation. Even if that 'need' is just "I need you to understand that this behavior is outside my boundaries" or "I need you to be aware that, because of above fact, I no longer trust what you say to me." Even if the other person doesn't like it or isn't interested in acknowledging/cooperating/changing, it's powerful to know you did everything you could, expressed things clearly and calmly, and can move on from there however you need to without guilt.

Now if only they'd taught me this in business school a decade and a half ago!!

Saturday, September 16

Bottom of the Bottle


If you know anyone who is a fan of Blue Bottle coffee, please pass along word that it's being purchased by Nestle.

Probably the only reason this is blog-worthy, for me, is one of the lines in the article linked above:

“When consumers see a brand being built by a large multinational, and they see it marketed as a craft beverage or craft product, they view those products with a heavy dose of skepticism,” he said. “But when it’s a brand that’s acquired, people can still view it as what it was before.”

Setyan agreed, saying there’s little evidence to suggest customers change their behavior after these deals.

“Most consumers don't pay enough attention to even know,” he said. [emphasis mine]
Giant conglomerates buying popular, top-quality small companies and infiltrating through the back while taking pains not to advertise or make the association obvious up front is certainly not new. On the face of it, it isn't necessarily immoral, either.

But as someone who is deeply aware of the challenges your average individual faces in sorting through the mass of marketing, misinformation, and carefully worded pseudo information that surrounds our food system, this kind of thing just aggravates me. People pay good money for 'craft' or small-business products because they've invested the time, done the research, and worked darn hard to find people and businesses they trust to produce foods and beverages that align with their personal standards - whether those are culinary, health-related, or social (i.e. conforming to certain practices/belief systems). For them to be intentionally left in the dark as much/as long as possible when conglomerates who openly admit to not knowing or caring about the same things take over the reigns is a form of defraudment and deception. And Force knows our system has enough of that already.

So, anyway, if you know anyone drinking Blue Bottle please pass thing along. If you're not currently drinking the stuff, don't start. And maybe bear in mind going forward that in our food and business communities - often and unfortunately -all is not what it seems.

Thursday, September 14

Inktober and NaNoWriMo

I wanted to make this post creative and inspirational, full of tidbits of the random facts stuffed away in my brain about exploration/experimentation, practice, how doing things we love is healthy, and about the power of feeling a part of something bigger than ourselves. But my brain's just not there at the moment, so imagine I said all those things, okay?
The NaNoWriMo badge.

In any event, the point of the post is to tell/remind everybody that October and November are great opportunities to challenge yourself or inspire a young person in your life who likes art or writing!

October is host to the Inktober Initiative: a challenge to artists all over the world to pick to do one ink drawing a day for the month. Any kind of ink, any kind of paper, any subject, any size - just draw!

November, of course, is NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. Writers of all stripes commit to writing 50,000 words in the month of November. Again, any topic, any style, no judgement - just write!

Both challenges are open to all age groups and both websites have tools, resources, and links for connecting with other participants if you're interested. Fall can be a busy, hectic time for sure, but it's also one of the most important times to invest in yourself and to open yourself up to new possibilities. Even if these aren't for you, please consider passing them along to anyone who might be interested - the world can always use new Makers!!

Wednesday, September 13

Something to Chew On

Clicked on this TED talk on a whim this morning... and now I want every church everywhere to watch it. (Not out of condemnation, but because of what both the author and Brene Brown both preach: when people know better, they do better.) Thoughts?


Tuesday, September 12

An Unsought (But Critical) Opportunity

Photo Credit
It's not a secret that America's infrastructure has been borderline abysmal for an embarrassingly long time. (We earned a dismal D+ on The American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card!)

These infrastructure failings have been equally rampant on the public (bridges, roadways, water/sewer/electric lines) and private (individual homes/property) fronts. How many people do you know who've bought a house - not even a particularly old one - and found themselves having to deal with the stress and expense of ancient appliances, inefficient and shoddily installed wiring/insulation/windows, or a dozen other things that somehow were never made it into the list of priorities monitored by code? Shall I tell you about the number of the grants I worked on related to public infrastructure that were requesting money to redo or replace projects funded by State/Federal money in the last twenty or thirty years?

With all that in mind, I can't help but think (as I watch the headlines scream about the destruction in the Caribbean, Houston, and throughout Florida) that we, as a nation, have a rare opportunity about to land in our laps. It's not something we'd ever have sought, but that's not an excuse for not rising to meet it.

If we're going to have to rebuild anyway, now is the time to do it RIGHT. 

 Put in the money now - on both the public and private levels - to lay down the infrastructure we want and will need in the future. Don't just replace what was lost - consciously choose to put something better in its place. Insurance companies and strategic tax law can make it not only possible but the easier, more attractive choice for homeowners to upgrade. Get Energy Star appliances, windows, insulation. Go solar. Put safe, affordable, Universal Design housing where there used to be McMansions or trailers. Communities overhauling public assets with taxpayer money should be required to justify their proposed investments with hard numbers demonstrating that they've chosen the option that will best serve the public moving forward over the long-term. Is it the most efficient they can get? The most durable? The most fortified against future disasters? Does it align with applicable best practices? If the answer isn't yes to every one of those questions, they need to head straight back to the drawing board or find private funding.

Do I have any faith that our government will do anything this logical or in the best interest of the nation and the public? Of course not. But I sincerely wish that for every person who looks at this mess and says "we need to talk about climate change" there would be another championing a serious national discussion on infrastructure. Because, honestly, there's a heck of a lot more we can do to improve the latter than the former... and one of the best roads to the kinds of changes climate change proponents want to see is through infrastructure changes in the first place!!

So no, we didn't want this - any of this. But since it's fallen into our laps anyway, let's at least be smart about it, okay?

Sunday, September 10

Protect The Asset



Just a brief thought to share from Greg McEown's book Essentialism this crisp Sunday morning as we head into the thrall of autumn:

Protect the asset. The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we under-invest in ourselves – and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits – we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.”

Fall can be a wonderful time of year - full of rich smells, vibrant colors, seasonal adventures, cozy sweaters, and steaming mugs of delicious things - but it can also be hectic and stressful. There are new habits/schedules to adapt to, fresh rounds of the plague going around to avoid or weather, and the inexorable count-down to the holiday crunch. (Especially with all the chaos and upheaval going on down south right now, weather-wise!)

Can you carve out a minute (or five) this morning or this week to make sure you're "protecting the asset" that is you? Maybe:
  • Get a few coffee dates with friends on the books before your calendars fill up
  • Stock up on your favorite tea or seasonally flavored coffee to enjoy when you can steal a few quiet moments to yourself 
  • Write a short bucket list for Fall - everything you loved most last year, or wanted to do and couldn't - and find a place for them in your calendar between now and December
  • Buy something small and shiny that makes you happy and put it somewhere you'll see it every day
  • Defer, delegate or drop one project, responsibility, or activity/commitment to open up some breathing room in your schedule
  • Give yourself time and permission to get a full night's sleep as often as possible (and extra when you can! (Remember: sleep deprivation causes the same or higher levels of physical/mental/emotional impairment as consuming alcohol!!) 
How can you take better care of yourself this Fall?


 
 


Thursday, September 7

What's In A Name?

Just for fun, I thought I'd share this list of Puritan names I ran across recently. There was an ongoing conversation among Star Wars fans about how terrible some of the names in SW universe are. (Korkie Kryze and Talon Karrde both got mentioned more than once, just to give you an example.) In response, one of the participants offered the above list of actual names from various historical records that Puritans gave their children. While some of them are quite lovely, others were obviously from an era before anyone had to write their name in the tiny little lines/boxes that are now standard on any kind of official form... they also make you wonder what some of these poor little kids' nicknames were! 

The whole list is worth checking out, but here are my top three (cringe-inspiring) favorites:
(1) If-Christ-had- not-died-for- thee-thou-hadst- been-damned
(2) Helpless 
(3) Fly-fornication

And, just in case you thought horrible names were getting more rare in our 'enlightened' (not sci-fi) times, my sister texted me last week that there is a child at the school she works at whose name is 'Panera'...   

What's the worst name you ever saw/heard a person given? 

Wednesday, September 6

Your Tax Dollars at Work

I try very hard to filter my "news" intake, if only because so much of what is considered news these days makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Recently, though, I couldn't help but notice a headline on a local-ish paper that read Dairy Farmers' Lobby Fights Milk Alternatives. Against my better judgement I looked the article up online later, and spent most of it shaking my head.

Here are the top two highlights (with commentary, of course):

"Coffee shops, supermarkets and other outlets increasingly feature cow milk alternatives made with extracts of almond, soybean, coconut, rice and other plant-based products."     Um, yes. Of course they do. Because guess what?  "Approximately 70 percent of African Americans, 90 percent of Asian Americans, 53 percent of Mexican Americans, and 74 percent of Native Americans were lactose intolerant.  ... substantial [insability to digest milk] is also common among those whose ancestry is African, Asian, Native American, Arab, Jewish, Hispanic, Italian, or Greek." src  It's not the fault of the "milk alternative" industy that the customer base for commercial dairy is declining, guys! Do what every other industry has to do... adapt.  


"Republican Representatives Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, and John Katko and Elise Stefanik of New York have urged the FDA to strictly enforce the definition of milk and crack down on the alternatives. Michigan Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters are co-sponsors of a bill introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., making it illegal to describe a product as milk if it does not come from a “hooved animal.”  Seriously? There's *nothing else* that strikes you as possibly a better use of governmental time and energy right now... nothing at all?!?

-sigh-

All I can think of is the very sweet girl who once worked for me at a Panera years ago who was 110% convinced that two percent milk and half-and-half came from different kinds of cows. The dairy industry can gripe all it wants about people "falsely believ[ing] they are buying real milk and its nutrients" when they buy milk alternatives, but I can tell you from first hand experience that the average public knows a LOT less about milk than dairy producers tell themselves they do. All in all, they might want to rethink their approach. Just a thought...


Tuesday, September 5

Sunk Cost

Have you ever had one of those weeks (months? years?) where the same idea or theme just keeps popping up? Different places, different ways, but defintitely recurring?

For months now, maybe even the whole of this year thus far, I've been seeing the Sunk Cost Fallacy come up over and over - in passing conversation, in choices friends and family have been grappling with... just kind of all over.

If you're not familiar with the term, a "sunk cost" is any investment - time, money, energy, emotional involvement - "that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered". [src] The year you invested in a work project that just got canceled. The weekends you dedicated to remodeling your house. The friendship you worked so hard to cultivate that's spiraling into bad territory.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy (SCF) - and related Escalation of Commitment Bias - occurs when people make decisions about their future based on "cumulative prior investment" rather than on the evidence, numbers, or other information they have about the realistic costs and benefits of a choice moving forward.

Two really simple examples from my professional life are the FDA/USDA's unwavering hardline position on promoting patently unhealthy diets and the US Department of Education's continued funding of a myriad of programs that we know don't work. In both cases, decades of research prove beyond doubt that what is being championed has not - and will not - serve the public good. But enough high-ranking people have so heavily invested their careers, reputations, and trillions of dollars of tax payer money into those faulty programs that the agencies continue to toe the line rather than acknowledge the good intentions, the new information, and the losses in between the way they'd need to to move on constructively. 

It's not always pride that prompts people to act from this bias; sometimes it's an aversion to/feeling of shame about waste. (I paid for these tickets, it'd be wasteful not to attend the event even though I really don't want to.) Sometimes its a fear of grappling with the grief, shame, or self-doubt that would accompany letting go. (If I let this go, it means owning up to having made a really bad call. How will I trust/respect myself after that?) Sometimes its just about not feeling up to taking the risk of trying something new. ("The devil you know is better than the devil you don't," or "just thinking about trying to figure out what I'd do instead if I gave this up is exhausting!")

And sometimes it's all just freaking complicated because this is life and sometimes it just is.

There isn't really a point this post, except to share my observations of a pattern I've been seeing more and more of lately, and to wonder (semi) publically if anyone is seeing the same patterns or aware of this trend. Is this a thing where you are right now? In your life, or the lives of people in your circle? Are you noticing other trends, instead? I'd love to hear about it, either way!

Saturday, September 2

The Napping Cave

Curtains puddling on the floor: a romatic look, until
your Roomba gets involved...
Once upon a time, I took a trip to London and Amsterdam as part of a Model UN trip in high school. (We were vastly underprepared for the actual MUN part, but the rest was awesome.)

Obviously, being in Europe, we visited a bunch of museums and they were full of completely different kinds of things than we usually find in the US, for the sole reason that they had centuries and centuries of extra local history to include. One of the things that I remember being a bit intregued by was the different styles of beds tucked into odd corners of the galleries. They tended to be shorter than modern beds (as people were generally shorter back then), but many of them were either essentially large boxes (with closable doors) or heavily draped canopy beds.

Pinterest and other modern media tend to give us a mental image of canopy beds like the one pictured here but, historically, the design was both more utilitarian and entirely practical. Drawing the curtains on your bed kept all the body heat in! That was a huge deal back in the era of drafty homes heated solely by fireplaces that all got banked at night (so that you didn't burn said home down, naturally). They also provided some privacy in eras during which noble/well-to-do families tended to have servants bustling about at all hours and less-well-off families saw children sleeping in the same room as their parents.

It wasn't something I really thought about until we got the RV. We intentionally chose an RV styled such that the bed is on the opposite end of the trailer from the door. With a window at the head and foot of the bed, a solid wall on one side, and a curtain you can pull across the open side, it is for all intents and purposes a canopy bed. (Or, as the babies consider it, a Napping Cave.) I had my doubts about the curtain initially, to be honest, but once we tried it, I was seriously impressed!

It's not a solid black-out curtain, but it does an excellent job of mitigating light. It does an even better job keeping heat in! Stick two border collies in there with you and close the curtain and you'll be toasty warm. I've discovered that by pulling the curtain almost all the way across and closing both blinds I sleep like a rock, which I think has something to do with the very dark and very warm thing it has going for it (both psyschologically and physiologically, but I'll spare you the science). Either way, it's definitely made me think about all the "technologies" we used to know and use and have more or less lost in our pursuit of higher tech things. This, at least, is one technology I'm glad isn't entirely gone!

Friday, September 1

August: Five Random Things

I'm having a little bit of a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it's officially September already. (But the twenty-degree temperature drop and the distinctly 'crisp' air on my way out to work in the mornings is bringing it into perspective pretty quickly!) As I looked forward to what's coming up in this new month, I also did a quick glimpse back at August and thought I'd share a couple random interesting things from the month around here.

1. Rising Strong. In preparation for Brene Brown's new book coming out in a couple weeks, I reread/finished reading her last book, Rising Strong. It was one of those books that rewires your brain... literally and powerfully. It entirely changed my perspective on several on-going situations and I'm still processing it.


2. Bullet Journaling. I've seen bullet journaling all over the interwebs for a couple years now and never been inspired to try it. But this summer I found myself with a bunch of different systems I'd never quite been able to make work as well as I wanted them to and a frustrating list of things I wanted to prioritize but was abysmally inconsistant on. So I did some research (I'm an ISTJ, of course I did), selected a simple starter format that would cover just the stuff essential to me, picked up an inexpensive bullet journal, and gave it a whack. Results from my first month are good! My version won't ever be artsy or Pinterest-level-pretty, but it's working, and I'm happy. (And it's the reason I'm remembering to write this blog post tonight.)

3. Small Indulgences. It's a proven fact that small indulgences make a huge difference in quality of life and daily happiness. (There's actually a quote from I think the 1700s about people giving up all kinds of major things before they'll sacrifice their little happinesses, because those are what make the hard things bearable.) In August, we added two indulgences to the list. The vinyl decal shown at right, which graces the cabinet above the sink in the EV. (It's a Tolkein quote, if you're trying to remember where you know it from.) The second was a set of vanity plates for the truck, which say ERNTVNTR... yup, the truck and the EV are now both ridiculously coordinated, and it makes me stupidly happy!

4.  Vitamins. I minorly adjusted my vitamin regamin and almost immediately saw a big difference. Weird, but true. And I'm grateful because, honestly, when it comes to improving your quality of life, adding/subtracting a couple vitamins is one of the easiest changes to make!

5. Wizarding Weekend - this one is completely random and just for fun, but did you know there's a Wizarding Weekend in Ithaca in October? I didn't, until a bunch of my coworkers were talking about wanting to go recently. It restores my faith in humanity to see people drawn to things like Harry Potter, magic, fantasy, and all things geeky!
What did you learn/celebrate in August?

Tuesday, August 29

Judgement Day

Image Credit
Happy Terminator Judgement Day!

Monday, August 28

Why It Occasionally Sucks to Be Conscientious

How NOT to do the sub-flooring over a
split-line in your house.
When we bought our house, it had an ancient, hideous and thoroughly-abused red/orange carpet in the living room area and weirdly patterned vinyl in the adjoining dining room/kitchen area. I vacuumed for literally hours for the first few weeks with our take-no-prisoners vacuum and it was still seemingly impossible to make the carpet anything that resembled clean.

Accordingly, one of our fairly early projects (once we'd finished all the usual unexpected surprise kinds of things you have to do once you buy a new house) was to rip all of the carpet and vinyl out and put down pre-finished hardwood in the whole of the kitchen, dining room, living room, and hallway. We went with a gorgeous warmly-colored hickory in fairly wide planks that we paired with an equally warm, wheat-colored paint, transforming the space into something we have been proud of and delighted in. Part of the reason for choosing hickory was that it's all but indestructible; you could drive a tank over our floor and it would probably have been fine... a desirable trait in a house that's going to see lots of mud and border collies.

Unfortunately, as time went on, we discovered that we were getting a serious swelling/gap problem. In the winter, the floor shrank and we got a distinct gap between the planks along the center of the house. In the summer, the planks swelled, pushing up in a peak at the some point. Research (and some exploring when we ripped up the flooring the bedrooms to put engineered bamboo down in there) revealed that when our house was put together, the idiots in charge (true to form) didn't use their heads. Instead of laying the sub-floor ACROSS the split line, they laid it out from either side of said line... ugh. Despite doing everything we could without taking the floor up, it eventually became obvious that that floor was going to have to come up and be redone from at least several feet to one side of the split line to the far wall. 
Bridging the gap... how the split line SHOULD look.

Needless to say that was NOT a project we wanted to do. We'd put the floor down with the intention of only having to do it once... aka a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and T-nails. Finally, this year, other things being what they are, Eric decided the floor simply had to get done. We waited until the height of summer when everything was as humid as it was going to get (and it was stupidly humid this year!!), then he took the floor up. (Thank God for brilliant and incredibly organized men, right? His system was incredible!)

Once everything was up, he cut out a chunk of the subfloor and put in a new chunk the way it should have been done in the first place. While he was taking everything out, we decided to open up the pillar in the center of the archway between the living room and dining room/kitchen. It was noticeably out of square, and we were pretty sure it was at least half hollow (and therefore pointless).

Yup. Not only was it half hollow (why?!?), but:
(a) It wasn't a solid pillar. It was a bunch of pieces of lumber bolted together. Technically, it does the job but it seems like more work than just getting to industry-standard single pillar and just using that instead.
(b) They never put a proper bracer under it, so it was resting directly on the subfloor. Not real bright, guys...
(c) The header on one side isn't supporting anything... it's just there, and stops before it reaches the center. Again, structurally it doesn't matter, but it really doesn't make any sense. At all.

On the bright side, with the unnecessary extra removed, the space opened up and we're getting a lot more light now! It will also make it easier to square what remains off so it no longer looks cock-eyed.

One main pillar or a bunch of individual pieces of wood?
This option seems like a lot more work, but what do I know?
When Eric started putting the flooring back down, he discovered that the couple days the stuff that hadn't come up had been allowed to sit, it had shifted a full 1/4 inch! There was that much pressure on everything! As much as it severely sucked, he then had to take up another couple feet of flooring in the kitchen so that when everything was laid back down all the lines would match up down the length of the house. After that, there was some really creative, very talented cutting of thin strips to bridge the narrow space between what had to be relaid and what never came up.




It was a terrible project that Eric did entirely by himself. (All I did was try to keep up on vacuuming and such so that we didn't lay the floor over a permanent bed of sawdust.) I am incredibly grateful to have such a talented and conscientious husband, and very happy to have this project (and all the dread associated with it) off the to-do list!!

As someone who has now done it two different ways (and redone it unwillingly, once), here are my top suggestions for putting down wood flooring in a house:

1. Use engineered wood - bamboo is great! We heard a lot a bad things about bamboo's durability when we were initially making our choices, but we put it down in all the bedrooms and have been extremely impressed and pleased with it's look, feel, function, and durability. (And it's way cheaper than something like hickory!)

More lack of logic and common sense from the morons who
built our house.
2. Always double check the subfloors! If in doubt about anything at all - quality, positioning, whatever - replace it. It won't take that long or cost that much, and it will save you oodles of grief later!!

3. Plank width matters. Shoot for something not too narrow, but also not too wide. (Helpful, I know.) But trust me. Do you homework here, because it will make a much bigger difference than you think to a lot more than just aesthetics.

4. Don't get pre-finished hardwood. They tell you it's easy to clean. It isn't. If you want pre-finished, go with engineered. I don't know why, but it's so much better/easier to maintain.

Anybody else got house projects on the mind before Fall/Winter hit?








Sunday, August 27

New Books Worthy of Note

Just a quick PSA this morning to let you know that two wonderful authors I think very highly of have new books coming out this Fall! If you're like me, your reading list probably doesn't need any additions (and may, in fact, be towering over your head in I'm-never-going-to-finish-this-ever kind of way), but sometimes it's nice to throw a change of pace there, right?

Brene Brown - shame reseacher, author of the incredible books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong - has a new book coming out September 12th titled Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.  (Not familiar with Brene? Check out some of her awesome TED Talks here.)


Caitlin Doughty of the Order of the Good Death (linked in my 'followed blogs' to the right of this post) and author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory has a second book coming out October 3rd: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death.(You can see Caitlin's (very funny and fascinating) Ask a Mortician videos here.)

[As a side note, my husband spoiled me with a Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday... if anyone's in the market for a new e-reader, I highly reccommend them. It's awesome!!]

Tuesday, August 22

Below The Root Line

The things that people think they know about food occasionally make the nutritionist in me want to cry. Or sit right down on the floor in Panera and laugh until I cry. Or both.

For example, Sunday I had a couple in with their college-age daughter.

Woman: Yes, I'd like a You-Pick-Two with chicken noodle soup and a Turkey Apple Cheddar.
Me: Sure. Would you like bread, potato chips, or an apple as your side?
Woman: Oh, not bread! I'm don't want to eat any wheat!
Me: ...Okay, I think I might have typed in your order wrong. You wanted the chicken noodle soup?
Woman: (Nods vigorously.) Yes.
Me: And the Turkey Apple Cheddar Sandwich?
Woman: Right. What kind of bread is that on? Is it gluten free?
Me: (Bites my tongue, then answers very politely.) Unfortunately, no. We don't have any gluten free bread.
Woman: Oh, well what kind of bread do you have that doesn't have a lot of wheat in it?
Me, in my head: Do you even know what bread IS? And if you're trying to avoid wheat, shouldn't you not be getting a *noodle* soup?
Me, out loud: Um, well, we can do the flatbread, which will be a little lighter than most of our other breads. Or maybe sourdough???
Woman: Oh, yes, sourdough would be good! That doesn't have a lot of wheat in it!
Me: ...
Me: Okay. So an apple for your side, then?

This morning, I was doing something else and listened to the GM ring in a couple.

Husband: I want an egg white breakfast sandwich on ciabatta.
Wife: I'll have the same thing, but on an asiago bagel. But can you have them burn it, first?
GM: Well, it doesn't actually get toasted - it goes on the panini press.
Wife: Yes, but I want them to burn it.
Husband: Mine, too.
GM: ...We can grill it a second time.
Husband: (Sounding very pleased with himself.) Good. Do you know why we want them burned?
GM: No, I don't.
Husband: Because there's sugar in bread. And if you burn it, you burn all the sugar out!
GM: Here's your pager.
GM to me, after they walk away: You make me ring the crazy ones on purpose, don't you.

And the one that always makes me want to bang my head against a wall.

Woman: Yes, I need a plain bagel, toasted with cream cheese. But I need it to be just the tops of two bagels - my son has a nut allergy.
Me: (Tries REALLY hard not to look at her like she's got two heads.) Just the tops of two plain bagels, toasted?
Woman: Right. That way it won't have come in contact with any nuts or anything.
Me, in my head: THAT'S NOT HOW THAT WORKS!!! HOW HAVE YOU NOT KILLED THAT POOR CHILD?!??!
Me, out loud: Have you had the 'manager speech' about allergies? You know we can't guarantee -...
Woman: (casually waving me off) Oh, it's fine. We do it all the time!
Me: Okay... (cuts bagel by hand with a clean bread knife and asks for it to be put on the panini press with fresh grill papers instead of through the toaster... because it's the best we can do, even if she doesn't care.)

Note: Bakers don't change gloves, etc. when dealing with raw bagel dough. Everything gets baked on the same trays. Bagels get piled haphazardly in baskets 'European style', and then dropped through the slicer into the slicer tray in every which direction they please. Then through the toaster, again, in any which direction. I hold my breath every time that family comes in and pray the kid doesn't have a seizure in the dining room because there was nut exposure in there anywhere!!

Anyway, there is no point to this except that I have spent the last three days all but gaping at the sheer astonishing bizarreness of people and the things they think they know. Thought everyone else might enjoy it, too... (especially since you don't have to keep a straight face!!).

*Title is a reference to a class I took in college where some of my fellow students believed that root vegetables were veggies that grew "below the root line", which they seemed to believe was something like the Mason Dixon Line... it was a loooong semester.

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!