Saturday, March 25, 2017


It's hard to explain what vertigo feels like to someone who's never experienced it, but I'll give it a shot. Earlier today my brain was telling me the room was tilting at a 45-degree angle while at the same time my eyes were insisting that it wasn't. That disconnect between my brain and my eyes is what makes me feel dizzy and sick. I've had to lie down, close my eyes and just let my brain insist that my world was tumbling from the safety of my own bed. Eventually, I have faith, this will pass and everything will line up again as it did before.

Meanwhile, I think I could use some Dramamine.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy St. Paddy's! Got any tatties?

I had one of those spit-in-a-tube, send-it-in DNA tests done a while back, just out of curiosity. Some of the results were unsurprising (31% Scandinavian? Yup.), but others took me by surprise. On my mom's side of the family, we're recent immigrants, Swedish and Dutch (read "Dutch" as mostly Dutch, with a bit of DNA from the Iberian Peninsula and Central Asia). But I wasn't sure about my dad's side of the family. We've traced part of the family line back to the 1600s, and they're still in America, so where did they come from?

Oh, and what about that Cherokee DNA claim? Everyone in the family knows the story of my great-great-something grandfather, a wild young man living on the edge of Indian territory, who stole a woman from the local Cherokee settlement and galloped away, had the whole tribe after him, yadda yadda.

Well, based on my test results (and a few of my siblings' test results), that was likely a story made up of whole cloth. I have no Native American DNA whatsoever in my profile. My brother, however, has a smattering of African DNA, which might suggest there are some other family stories nobody ever passed on. I'd like to hear about them.

Anyway, I also have about 18% English ancestry, which wasn't all that surprising. But the big surprise was the Irish ancestry: 31%. My genetic background is almost a third Irish. I'm as much Irish as I am Swedish. Who knew? But come to think of it, my dad's side of the family does have some very Irish-sounding surnames. Plus that's the side of the family tree that don't branch out much (say this with a Tennessee accent for the full effect), so it's very possible that the families that came over from Ireland who-knows-how-many generations ago largely kept that set of genetic markers undisturbed through intermarriage.

(Still trying to puzzle out that 1% Melanesian DNA result, though. Huh.)

Public domain photo by isjamesalive (flickr)
What does this all boil down to? Kiss me, I'm Irish (apparently)!

Speaking of boiling, off to cook some corned beef and cabbage and tatties. Because reasons. Tasty, tasty reasons.

ETA: This was the first year we made colcannon instead of potatoes. I think they're a once-a-year indulgence, though. So much butter. SO much cream. heck yeah.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The third place

did a fair amount of reading while spending time with my mom last month, and one interesting concept I came across was the "third place" in community building. (For one example, see Third Place Books in the city of Lake Forest Park -- a city name that seems to say, "Pick ONE already!"). It's called a third place because the first place is home, your safe spot; the second place is work, where you make money. The third place is the local bookstore, barbershop, pub or diner, the place where you feel comfortable hanging out, socializing and enjoying free time with friends -- in other words, your home away from home. Third places create a leveling space where people from various walks of life can come together and forge friendships. For teens and young adults who do not have the blessing of a safe home, third places also sometimes provide the refuge they desperately need in their lives.

Lots of spaces have the potential to be third places. For instance, back when Captain Midnight and I were newly married, our third place was "Barnes & Noble night," where a group of friends met once a week or so in the B&N cafe to chat, drink sodas and granitas, and generally act like complete goofballs. But third places don't have to be purely physical locations. The folks from Barnes & Noble night originally met and befriended each other on a local BBS, which functioned as a virtual third place. Captain Midnight's current third place of choice is his online gaming group. Through this group he's met and befriended people from all over the world, and they merrily inflict bad puns on each other and enjoy slaying each other in various games.

Third places are critical because they create and maintain a sense of community. Often, the difference between merely enduring in a place and thriving there is the sense of being part of a whole, which a good third place can provide. (This is one reason why I was so miserable living in Eugene, Oregon -- while it's not a bad town, I had no third place there, so I felt isolated and wretched much of the time.)

Despite their importance in creating community, third places can be fragile. There's a bit of alchemy to creating a third place. If one provides all the other elements -- neutral ground, accessible, low-profile, egalitarian, etc. -- and no regular patrons show up to establish habits, it ain't a third place, Jack. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink; in the end, only the patrons decide whether a venue receives third-place status. And even a well-established third place can go belly-up if the owner makes too many changes too fast and scares off the regulars; if a third-place business starts operating under new ownership which decides to change everything just for kicks, the established patrons will disperse. Good luck finding new patrons to replace the old ones. Worse, some established third places just shut down with little to no warning, giving the former patrons nowhere to go. WHICH SUCKS. And keeping a group of patrons together when their chosen venue has vanished (or been altered beyond recognition) is remarkably difficult to do.

So if you're fortunate enough to operate a third place venue, DO NOT MONKEY WITH IT. Seriously. It's easy to do more harm than good when you make changes, especially if you choose not to listen to your patrons and instead inflict upon them whatever idea comes into your pointy little noggin. Don't expect your regulars to put up with those shenanigans. And if you don't worry about losing your current patrons because you expect to draw in new patrons with your shiny stuff, please note that the kinds of people who are most drawn to the new and shiny are always looking for the newest and shiniest; they'll probably move on to another place in a month, leaving you flat. There's no need to work at being the place where the cool kids hang out; instead, you want to be the place where everyone wants to hang out, precisely because no one feels the pressure to be cool there.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Light within the dark

On several occasions I've told people that I don't like horror. But even I realize that's not quite true. I've read my share of horror stories and seen quite a few movies that fall into the genre. (And I am actually rarin' to go see Get Out ASAP.) When I say I don't like horror, what I really mean is that I don't like the specific elements often found in modern horror tales: gore and dismemberment, foul language, explicit sex, and anything else designed purely to shock and/or titillate the audience.

But that's not what horror is. Or, at least, that's not what horror has to be.

Michaelbrent Collings, a horror writer who is also a Mormon, gave a thought-provoking address at the Life, the Universe and Everything symposium this year. While much of what he presented is given from a specific religious viewpoint, a great deal of what he says has universal application. If you're ever tempted to dismiss horror out of hand as a genre you will never read or watch because of potential unsavory elements, give this a read:

Mormons and Horror: Light Within the Dark

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Snow, Zoobies, and technological impairment

It's snowed on and off most of the day.

This shouldn't be much of a surprise. If I choose to visit Utah in February, I'm bound to see at least some snow. It is kind of what Utah's known for these days. But the first few days I was here, the only snow was on the mountaintops; everything else had melted in a glorious mid-February thaw, with shirt-sleeve temperatures during the day. And I, like a doofus, got used to it. At least I remembered to bring my overcoat.

Anyway, my rental car doesn't have 4-wheel drive, which has made things Interesting. My mother's house is on a hillside, and getting that car all the way into our cul-de-sac after a good snow dump is an exercise in futility. Fortunately, I did learn to drive in this state, so I remember the basics: how to drive in snow, how to handle a skid, how to put extra space between me and another car in icy road conditions, etc.

What is truly driving me bonkers, however, is the daily Zoobie obstacle course between the rehab center and Mom's home. Zoobies (aka BYU students) are notorious for their jaywalking ways at any time of the year, but when it's dark and icy and they randomly step out in front of cars in black clothing, not giving anyone enough time to slow down... gaaaah! RAAAHR. I tell you, if I end up mashing them into jam with my rental car, it'll be a fate too good for them.

In other news, I hear through the grapevine that Julie is already part of the way into Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. So, Project Get Sooz a Cheapie Cell Phone proceeds apace. Not sure if I should pick up a new feature phone, or just try to reset my niece's old flip phone to factory specs and go with that. (How easy is that to do? Or is that even possible? Could I be more clueless? ngh.)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Are you asking for a CHALLENGE?!

No, not this kind of challenge.
I'm most likely to reconsider my conscious choice not to own a smartphone when I'm traveling. When I'm at home, my daily habits are set up so that I don't really notice not having a cell phone. Travel is another matter. If I'm sitting next to my gate and wondering how much time I have left before boarding, I have to go in search of a public clock or subtly peek at the iPhone of the stranger seated beside me. If I'm stuck in a strange city with a two-hour layover, I can't call Captain Midnight and tell him that I already miss him. (Pay phone? It is to laugh. If you can find a specimen of this endangered species, it will charge you an arm and a leg for a call.) If I intend to use public transportation, I have to plan ahead and print out a map and schedule before I leave home. I have a fairly good sense of direction, but if I'm in an unfamiliar city I tend to be very careful so as not to get lost. Should I become curious about something new I see or experience on my travels, I just have to put that curiosity on hold -- no looking it up on the spot. And if I ever feel a bit bored while on public transit or in flight, I'd better have remembered to pack a good book or a knitting project in my carry-on, because retreating into an electronic pacifier is not an option.

With that said, I think I notice many more details -- all the little finches flying around the Long Beach terminal gates, for instance, or the conversations the flight attendants were having in the back of the plane, or the unusual view of the Wasatch Front from the FrontRunner tracks (especially the slightly creepy up-close remnants of the Geneva Steel plant, since the rail line ran right past it) -- than I would if I were to spend the whole trip glued to a smartphone. And I know I would do just that, based on the way I'm consistently glued to my computer at home.

All this is coming up again, of course, because my sister Julie and I got into a playful sparring match on social media about my advanced case of Phonus Lackus, and her continued unwillingness to read any of the Harry Potter series. And I posed her a challenge I might later regret: that if she would read all seven Harry Potter books (no, I'm not insisting on Fantastic Beasts or Quidditch Through the Ages or The Tales of Beedle the Bard or even Cursed Child), I'd get a cell phone.

Well, she says she's downloaded book #1 onto her tablet. So I'm doing some initial research into phone plans. (If she'll go through with it, then so will I.) What I really want is a dumbphone that can handle talk and text equally well. I don't need a billion apps or Internet access or even a camera -- just talk and text. That's it.

So, my 3.5 readers, got any suggestions for a dumbphone with a good QWERTY keyboard?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Weirdness, with a side of snow crab

[Mom has moved out of the hospital and into a nearby rehabilitation center, where she will probably stay until her doctors determine she's had enough treatment to finish convalescing at home. If you're inclined to pray for her, please ask for her break to heal cleanly and her physical therapy to go well. Thank you!]

Last night I was thinking about a little incident I'd almost forgotten, something that happened the last time Jenny came to visit me. We went into Seattle to play tourist for the day, taking in the sights on the waterfront. We also decided to pick up some lunch at a seafood restaurant, and it was there that we witnessed something subtly creepy.

Our waitress seated us across from an older couple, a man and woman who appeared to be in their 80s or early 90s. They were clean, neatly dressed, had unremarkable features. But they were sitting perfectly still and staring into space, looking not at, but through each other. And all the time my sister and I sat there -- talking, laughing, perusing our menus, subtly glancing at this couple out of the corners of our eyes -- they remained locked in that position, unmoving, unblinking, perhaps not even breathing. They might have been statues. We were just starting to wonder if they'd simultaneously died in that position and rigor mortis was setting in, when their waitress arrived with their food. This broke the spell, and they picked up their cutlery and silently began to eat.

Were they having a fight? Trying to win a bet? If it was some kind of game, it wasn't one I'd like to play. The two showed every appearance of being an old married couple, which made me wonder -- how do you reach a point where you're so unmoved, so apathetic in the presence of the person with whom you chose to spend a lifetime that you can't even rouse yourself enough to scratch an itch or change your expression?

I suppose there could be some alternate theories to explain their preternatural lifelessness. Were they aliens who had finally grown tired of blending in with the human population? Androids taking a quick mental road trip to Uncanny Valley? Beings under some kind of malign enchantment that could only be broken by chowin' down on lobster? Maybe they were spy fish in clever human suits, infiltrating the restaurant as part of their assignment to discover what became of their boss, the missing Captain Dungeness. (That dossier isn't going to have a happy ending.)