Monday, July 27, 2015

Kung-fu household management! HYAH!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Want to do some good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, July 17, 2015

Choosing to believe

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

All right then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So this is how I'm going to die.

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Monday, July 13, 2015


So, if you haven't already heard the news on Facebook or in person: today is the day Captain Midnight starts his brand spankin' new job.

(Yes, I agree wholeheartedly, "!!!!!!!!1!!!" Also, yay for not having to move!)

I just wanted to thank all the people who fasted and prayed for us, thought about us, watched out for us and otherwise did whatever they could to aid us during the approximately 10 months CM has been looking for work. We appreciate your kindness, your thoughtfulness and your generosity more than you can know. Truly, no one gets through life without a little help, whether given or received.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Fitting your tree

ROBABLY right to the end of my days, I'm going to argue that J.M. Barrie was one of the most consistently underrated authors of the 20th century. One vignette from Peter Pan that illustrates Barrie's satirical brilliance discusses how Peter measures each of the Lost Boys (as well as Wendy, John and Michael) to fit a hollow tree, so each one can enter the Lost Boys' underground house without being seen or followed. Due to the way the hollow trees work, each person must fit his or her own tree precisely:

Usually it is done quite easily, as by your wearing too many garments or too few; but if you are bumpy in awkward places or the only available tree is an odd shape, Peter does some things to you, and after that you fit. Once you fit, great care must be taken to go on fitting, and this, as Wendy was to discover to her delight, keeps a whole family in perfect condition.
Wendy and Michael fitted their trees at the first try, but John had to be altered a little.
-- from Peter Pan, Chapter 7, "The Home Under the Ground"
When I read the book as a child, I didn't see anything particularly funny in this passage -- but as an adult (and specifically as a plus-sized woman), I suspect Barrie wrote about altering people to fit trees as a way of poking fun at the ready-to-wear clothing industry. Ready-to-wear, particularly for women, was just getting started when Peter Pan was first published in 1911, but already it was establishing a clothing standard that would grow from the merely ridiculous to the outright insane: although every human being's body is unique, ready-to-wear is only produced in standard sizes, so rather than alter the garment to fit the unique body shape, each consumer is expected to alter her own shape to fit the garment. And "once you fit, great care must be taken to go on fitting" -- heh. Because heaven forbid one should ever go from a size 5 to, say, a size 7.

Have you ever bought a dress you never wore? Not because you regretted buying it -- but because you deliberately bought it a size too small as a "carrot" to entice you to lose weight so you'd be small enough to squeeze into it? Then you're trying to alter yourself to fit your tree. Need to wear special foundation garments (say, more than your basic underwear) for your clothes to look good? Fitting your tree. Have you had or are you considering plastic surgery so you can wear a particular size? OK, how do I put this delicately -- YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR TREE.

For heaven's sake. Make your clothes fit you, not the other way around.

Do you really think the celebrities in the trashy fan-mags all have perfectly standard-sized bodies that let them fit their fashionable clothes off the rack? BZZT WRONG. They get their clothes tailored to fit them. (Or they go the haute couture route, but let's just set that aside because most of us can never hope to afford -- or would be embarrassed to own -- custom-made clothing that costs the annual GDP of a small country.)

I know, not everyone knows how to do alterations, and tailoring is expensive. But think for a second. What's easier, faster and cheaper to alter -- a human body or a piece of fabric? Even if alterations end up adding to the cost of a garment, if that means you'll actually wear it and look good in it, that's money well spent. In my not-so-humble opinion, the only clothes you're allowed to leave unworn in your closet are the ones you wore at your wedding.

I've been going through my own closet, trimming away any vestiges of the alter-yourself-to-fit-the-tree mindset I grew up with. If there's anything in there that doesn't fit my body right now, I have two simple choices: pay to have it altered, or broom it. This process is going to take time and money; I can't do any but the most basic alterations, and while I've found a tailor I trust, she isn't cheap. But if in the end I have a wardrobe full of clothes I can wear -- clothes that actually fit and flatter me, not the me I hope to be one day -- then I think that's worth the investment.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Is it I?

Now when the even was come, [Jesus] sat down with the twelve. And as they did eat, he said, "Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me."
And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, "Lord, is it I?"

--Matthew 26:20-22
The quote above comes from an important point in the life of Jesus Christ. He and his apostles are sitting down to celebrate Passover, and although the others do not yet know it, Jesus is aware that this is the last meal he will ever eat in his mortal life (thus the term "Last Supper"). When he drops a bombshell on his dearest friends, their response shows they have learned a key principle from him. Rather than casting aspersions on any of the others (i.e., "Yeah, bet it's Judas; he's been acting squirrely lately"), each man asks himself, "Could I possibly be the one to do this thing?"

Brutally honest self-examination is just as difficult to accomplish now as it was 2000-odd years ago. We know in theory that we're imperfect human beings with negative traits and personal shortcomings, but most of the time we overlook these shortcomings because it's painful to scrutinize our own souls for faults, and it's troublesome to overcome such faults. It's far easier and much less painful to point out the faults in other people. Trouble is, this is precisely what we've been asked not to do.

In 2014 I picked up a book with the slightly amusing title of Thank You For Being Such A Pain, in which the author discusses the myriad spiritual pathways to deal constructively with the difficult people in one's life. One of his overarching theories about such people is that, whether or not they are aware of it, they come into our lives to teach us something important. Quite often, the people who make us crazy illustrate those faults and weaknesses we try to hide from ourselves -- because, human nature being what it is, the traits we find most irritating in others are usually identical to our own shortcomings. It wasn't the first time I'd been introduced to this theory, but now that it's had a chance to sink in, I'm seeing some of the many ways in which it applies to me.

So, practically speaking, how does this theory apply to my life right now? Well, I guess I need to work on getting rid of bigotry and needless intolerance of others in my thoughts and behavior. I need to be willing to listen to different viewpoints and seek to understand why others hold them dear. I need to learn to respect other people's time, recognize when I am monopolizing it, and back off. I need to learn to show affection in appropriate ways. I need to curtail my tendency to talk too much and too loudly. I need to learn not to be prickly when people are only trying to be kind. And I need to apologize quickly and honestly when I slip up and hurt other people's feelings.

That ought to be enough to keep anyone busy for a while, right?

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

I need an errand faerie

< rant >
< /rant >

Most of the time I don't mind running errands, but when there are lots of things to be done and little time to do them... well, my head pops clean off and bounces away from stress. So if you happen to encounter a disembodied Soozcat head rolling around today, do me a fave and stick it back on my body. Bonus points if you position it right side up.

Though it may be hard to tell which end's up.