Archive | May 2017

Weather shifts, linguistic relativity, and the search for the perfect writing beverage

“Have you ever stopped to think that maybe coffee is addicted to me?”

“Have you ever stopped to think that maybe coffee is addicted to me?”

According to the “Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax” a particular ethnic group had over 50 words for snow. Though I’ve also heard people misquote the same pseudo-factoid as 180 words for snow. You can follow the link to get some information on the faulty reasoning that led to the initial viral spread of the misunderstanding of an anthropologist’s book in the 1940s, but I always thought that if the myth were true, that the dialect of English spoken by inhabitants of Seattle would have developed at least 180 synonyms for drizzle. Not rain, drizzle.

Despite Seattle’s reputation for rain, we don’t get a lot of the heavy rainstorms that people who live in other parts of the world are used to. We don’t actually get that many rainy days at all. What we have are lots of overcast days. Many, many days of cool, damp weather that may include a little drizzle or mist here and there. Yeah, during some months (November, for instance) we get some deluges. This year we had literally the wettest winter since we started keeping records here 122 years ago, and last year was the second-wettest ever, so the pattern may be changing. We’ll see. In any case, much of our reputation for rain comes from all those cool, damp overcast days where it feels as if it must have just rained a bit ago, even though it may not have for several days.

Another reasons we have such a reputation is the sneaky prank Mother Nature likes to play on newcomers every spring. Every year, at some point in the month of May, we get a week or two of weather that seems like summer. It usually only gets into the low or middle seventies (Farenheit), but the thing is that after months of overcast days, drizzly days, and occasional rainstorms, a week or two of sunny weather with no rain at all and warm temperatures in the daytime fools people who think that summer is here. Never mind that most of those nights the temperatures drop back down to the 50s or 40s, in the middle of the day it was warm and sunny and dry, so summer must be here.

And then the June Gloom hits.

An upper atmosphere trough settles in causing almost constant on-shore flow. Cool, moist air from the ocean keeps coming inland. So every night we get overcast/foggy cool weather, and the clouds and fog may or may not burn off at all during the day time. And we get drizzles and light showers. Temperatures may get up into the low 70s for a little bit each day, but between the lack of sun, the damp, and the rain, it doesn’t feel that warm. Statistically, we have mostly June Gloom instead of summer until about July 12. And particularly in contrast to those couple of weeks of what seemed like summer, that long cool period breaks the spirit of people who aren’t from around here.

This last weekend was the end of our faux summer. And it was a lot warmer than our usual May foray into warmth. The temperatures got up into the 80s. But then the drizzle and rain came back. I happen to love the rain and the cooler days, but it this time it was a bit of a shock even to me. I couldn’t figure out last night—after I got home from work and ran my two errands, then peeled off my office drag and switched to shorts—why I was so cold! I actually had to pull a pair of sweat pants out of the drawer!

I’ve also heard a theory that the reason people who don’t live here long think it rains a lot is precisely because common English doesn’t have a single word that means “cool, overcast, with the impending feeling of rain.” Since the categories we sort things into are at least someone dictated by the language(s) we speak, the argument goes, people actually mentally perceive those days without rain as rainy. A friend once told me about the time she admonished her husband and son to go outside and get some activity in while the sun was out… it was late winter/early spring and the sun was not out at all, the sky was very overcast. But it wasn’t raining and it had been the day before. She said, “You live enough years in Seattle, and you start seeing any time when it isn’t raining and it isn’t so dark you need artificial light as sunny!”

We’d had enough warm days that I was starting to think that making a pot of ice tea might be a good idea. Of course, we tossed out a lot of redundant dishes and such during the packing, and when I looked in the cupboards, I couldn’t find a proper pitcher. We haven’t completely unpacked, yet, so I may well have something that would work in one of the boxes. So I didn’t want to run out and buy a pitcher. The other problem is that Michael will only drink tea if it is so saturated with sugar that you can’t get more to dissolve in. Ordinary sweet tea like my grandma’s used to make (where you dissolve several cups of sugar into the tea when the water is still boiling, because once you’ve iced it you can’t get them much sugar to dissolve into it) isn’t quite sweet enough for him. Meanwhile, I can’t drink that much sugar anymore, so I drink all my tea (hot or cold) or coffee without any sweetener.

If we had had one more day of hot weather, I would have broken down, made a mug of hot unsweetened tea with my electric kettle, then poured it into a big glass full of ice cubes. Which isn’t quite as good as having a whole pitcher of tea you can refill from, but tastes good. And now we’re going to cool weather for a while. So I’ve pulled my collection of tea bags out of the pantry. The tea bags had been out of sight since sometimes early in the move, so I haven’t been making tea at night. On days that I’m home all day, I wind up making a second pot of coffee and drinking coffee into the evening. Which is fine, except I think that tea in the afternoon and evening changes the way my brain works.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to get back into the writing zone. Or maybe I’m just too tired from all the packing and unpacking. And it isn’t as if there isn’t still a lot of unpacking to do!

Maybe I should have a nice cup of tea before I tackle the next box.

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Achievement unlocked: No Shuttling Weekend! (And we can haz library?)

Anatomy of a Bookworm. Click to embiggen. Some of these statements do describe me...

Anatomy of a Bookworm. Click to embiggen. Some of these statements do describe me…

At some point a few weeks ago I made a promise to myself: “There will come a weekend where I don’t have to drive multiple times back and forth on that route from Ballard to Shoreline.” Back in April when I first checked the address on a map, I was delighted that it was so close to the home of good friends. I knew most of the route quite well! Driving up for the appointment to look at the place and decide whether to apply for it wasn’t just familiar, it was comfortable. Driving the route had usually meant we were on our way to spending time with good friends. It was merely 25 minutes each way! But after we signed the lease the route soon became something else. The first weekend we drove the route back and forth at least 9 times. And just about every work night the following week I made the trip at least once.

I’d come home from work, load up the car, drive to new place, unload the car, then possibly do a couple of small things before driving back. While I was out Michael would be packing more boxes. Once I got home I would usually start packing, too. Sometimes I would simply load up the car and drive up again. Then the next weekend it was multiple trips every day again. Until the day of the big move, and we started sleeping at the new place. Then my routine became come home from work, hop in the car and drive back to the old place to pack more little things and/or clean. And so on. Thus did the once familiar and happy-making route become a dreaded chore.

We managed to take at least one night off each week. One night where each of us came home from work and did virtually no packing and there was absolutely no driving back and forth. I didn’t always skip any and all moving activity on the night off. Just not having to spend that time—nearly on hour—in transit was quite a relief.

A couple of weekends ago, when I said to some friends how much I was looking forward to the weekend that I knew would arrive eventually when I didn’t have to drive that route again and again, one friend shuddered and said, “Oh! I know that feeling. Believe me!”

It isn’t fun… Read More…

While we’re on the subject of Memorial Day…

© Another Believer, Wikimedia Commons User

I’ve already said plenty about the day, but here are some other thoughts worth considering:

WE NEED MEMORIAL DAY TO OBSCURE THE UNBEARABLE TRUTH ABOUT WAR

“…nothing helps a country’s militaristic right-wing triumph over their domestic enemies more than a state of war.”

Let Us Remember Memorial Day by Waging Peace

“Let us reclaim our belief in the sanctity of human life. Let us turn swords into plowshares.”

It used to be called Decoration Day… (or, Memorial for Grandma)

I’ve written before about why Memorial Day shouldn’t be confused or conflated with Veteran’s Day — and I am hardly the only person to draw attention to that distinction (Washington Post: Why Memorial Day is different from Veterans Day, CNN: Get it straight: The difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Washington Examiner: Why you shouldn’t confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day NPR: Memorial Day Dos and Don’ts.

Flowers from Mom, my sister, and I  on the grave this year for Grandma and our step-grandpa.

Flowers from Mom, my sister, and I on the grave this year for Grandma and our step-grandpa.

Some of those articles mention the original holiday, but they get one bit wrong. Before the first official federal observation of a Memorial Day, at Arlington National Cemetery back in 1868, there was another holiday observed in many parts of the country—long before the Civil War—called Decoration Day, which was a day to have family reunions and celebrate the lives of all of our deceased family members. My Grandmother observed that version faithfully her whole life, long before the official creation of the modern Memorial Day with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968.

Grandma died exactly ten years ago last week, and it still hurts to think about. The fact that she was putting flowers on the grave of another beloved family member when she died just makes me even more of an adamant defender of the original, non-jingoistic, non-warmongering version of the holiday. But rather than rant about that, I should post about my grandmother, a wonderful woman who taught me so much.

So, for Grandma (originally posted on Memorial Day 2014):

Memorial, part 2

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers for Grandma’s grave.

Grandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve written before, the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1868, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.

I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.

Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would begin calling distant relatives and old family friends. Grandma knew where just about every person descended from her own grandparents was buried, and she made certain that someone who lived nearby was putting flowers on the graves of those relatives by Memorial Day. She took care of all the family members buried within a couple hours drive of her home in southwest Washington.

She was putting flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud (Grandma’s sister-in-law) seven years ago on the Friday before Memorial Day when she died. My step-grandfather said he was getting in position to take a picture of her beside the grave and the flowers (there are hundreds and hundreds of photos of Grandma beside graves with flowers on them in her photo albums) when she suddenly looked up, said, “I don’t feel good!” and pitched over.

One weekend she had blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her 84th birthday. The following Friday, while putting flowers on Great-aunt Maud’s grave, she died. And one week after that a bunch of us were standing at her graveside. It was just down to a few family members, and we were at that stage where you’re commenting on how pretty the flowers that so-and-so that no one had heard from in years were, when someone asked, “Isn’t grandpa’s grave nearby?”

Grandpa had died 23 years earlier, and was buried in one of a pair of plots he and Grandma had bought many years before. And after Grandma re-married, she and our step-grandfather had bought two more plots close by.

Anyway, as soon as someone asked that, my step-grandfather’s eyes bugged out, he went white as a sheet, and said, “Oh, no!” He was obviously very distressed as he hurried toward his car. Several of us followed, worried that he was having some sort of medical issue.

Nope. He and Grandma had been driving to various cemeteries all week long before her death, putting silk-bouquets that Grandma had made on each relative’s grave. Aunt Maud’s was meant to be the next-to-the-last stop on their journey. Grandpa’s silk flower bouquet was still in the trunk of the car. My step-grandfather was beside himself. He’d cried so much that week, you wouldn’t have thought he could cry any more, but there he was, apologizing to Grandma’s spirit for forgetting about the last batch of flowers, and not finishing her chore—for not getting flowers on Grandpa George’s grave by Memorial Day.

The next year, several of us had the realization that without Grandma around, none of us knew who to call to get flowers put on Great-grandma and Great-grandpa’s graves back in Colorado. None of us were sure in which Missouri town Great-great-aunt Pearl was buried, let alone who Grandma called every year to arrange for the flowers. Just as we weren’t certain whether Great-great-aunt Lou was buried in Kansas or was it Missouri? And so on, and so on. One of my cousins had to track down the incident report filed by the paramedics who responded to our step-grandfather’s 9-1-1 call just to find out which cemetery Great-aunt Maud was in.

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers from us, Mom, and my Aunt Silly on Grandpa’s grave.

Mom and her sister have been putting flowers on Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves since. Our step-grandfather passed away three years after Grandma, and he was buried beside her.

Some years before her death, Grandma had transferred the ownership of the plot next to Grandpa to Mom. So Mom’s going to be buried beside her dad. Mom mentions it whenever we visit the graves, and I don’t know if she realizes how much it chokes me up to think about it.

We had put the flowers in place. We had both taken pictures. Mom always worries that she won’t remember where Grandpa’s grave is (it’s seared in my head: two rows down from Grandma, four stones to the south). Michael helped Mom take a wide shot picture that has both Grandma’s and Grandpa’s spots in it.

I thought we were going to get away with both of us only getting a little teary-eyeed a few times, but as we were getting back into the car, Mom started crying. Which meant that I lost it.

Grandma’s been gone for seven years, now. But every time we drive down to visit Mom, there is a moment on the drive when my mind is wandering, and I’ll wonder what Grandma will be doing when we get there. And then I remember I won’t be seeing her. It took me about a dozen years to stop having those lapses about Grandpa. I suspect it will be longer for Grandma. After all, she’s the one who taught me the importance of Those Who Matter


Flowers from Mom and I on Grandpa's grave this year.

Flowers from Mom and I on Grandpa’s grave this year.

And if you are one of those people offended if I don’t mention people who served our country in the armed forces on this day, please note that we also put flowers on my Grandpa’s grave. Grandpa served in WWII in Italy. He didn’t drive a tank, he drove the vehicle that towed tanks that couldn’t be repaired in the field, and one of the two medals he was awarded in the war was for doing a repair of a tank while under fire. After the war, he came back to the U.S., met Grandma (who was at that point working as a nurse and trying to support her two daughters), and eventually married Grandma and adopted my mom and my aunt. Many years later, he was the person who taught me how to rebuild a carburetor (among other things). He was a hero many times over. And this post is also dedicated to his memory.

Weekend Update 5/27/2012: Elected bullies behaving badly

Gary Owens from Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

Gary Owens from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In

So, on the eve of a special election a congressional candidate body slammed a reporter for the temerity of asking him a question about the health care bill currently in congress. He assaulted the reporter in front of witnesses. There is audio of the assault. And yet, he won the election: Body slam a journalist, win an election: Readers see ominous signs in Gianforte’s victory By the way, I refuse to say “alleged assault” because in a subsequent speech the candidate has admitted that he did it. But we shouldn’t be surprised, I mean, after all: Montana Congressional Candidate Greg Gianforte Has Close Ties with Extremist White Supremacist Pastor because of course he does!

There are so many things I could say about this, but I think this tweet sums it up:

“Here's what I know about people: You don't grab someone by the throat and throw them to the ground for the first time at age 56.” —@todgoldberg

“Here’s what I know about people: You don’t grab someone by the throat and throw them to the ground for the first time at age 56.” —@todgoldberg

Let’s move on to someone who may finally be facing justice. Back in 2012 a high school student in Rhode Island sued to have a religious banner removed from her public school. Shortly after a court ordered the school to remove the mural, state legislator Peter Palumbo said in a radio interview that the student was an “evil little thing.” So a government official, an adult, was bashing a teen-age girl because she had the audacity to stand up for the Constitution. Classic bullying behavior. Well, Palumbo apparently does know a thing or two about evil: RI State Rep. Who Called Teen Atheist “Evil Little Thing” Indicted for Embezzlement.

He lost re-election recently. Not for bullying a teen-age girl, of course, no that didn’t cost him any votes. He was revealed to be involved in a financial scandal. This week, he was indicted on charges of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from his campaign funds. This has nothing to do with the contract scandal that cost him his office. This is another illegal not-so-little thing he was doing.

I wish the Rhode Island citizens would have tossed this guy out on his ear back then, but they seemed to have been too busy making death threats and bullying the teen-ager who stood up for the Constitution. At least, now, karma has caught up with one of her bullies.

Friday Links (what would Yoda do edition)

“Do or do not. There is no try!”

“Do or do not. There is no try!”

We finished clearing out the old place. I went to bed early two nights in a row. I haven’t really worked on any unpacking at the new place the last few days. We have a lot to do in that regard, but we’ve been spending every spare moment dealing with the move for about six weeks, and we’ve both been exhausted and sore the whole time, so a couple of days of just going to work has been an incredible rest.

Anyway, here are the links I found interesting this week, sorted into categories.

Links of the Week

Proof Chris Evans Really Is Captain America.

15 Acts Of Heroism By Everyday People.

Restoring Our Faith in the Rule of Law

Supreme Court strikes down North Carolina gerrymandering.

This week in Comments, Trolls, and Wankers

Take Your Platitude And Shove It Up Your…….

This week in awful news

Manchester attack: government ‘furious’ at US leaks of forensic photographs.

U.S. House Reps Introduce Resolution Condemning Anti-Gay Violence in Chechnya.

Manchester was an attack on girls.

This week in awful people

Miami ‘Joker’ Bonds Out of Jail, Speaks About Gun Charges.

News for queers and our allies:

Taiwan’s High Court Rules Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal, In A First For Asia.

Nevada governor signs bill to ban conversion therapy.

Four facts reporters should include in stories about Texas’ pending attack on the transgender community.

Dear straight allies, please don’t come to pride until you’ve understood these 6 things.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

Remembering Carrie Fisher on Stars Wars 40th Anniversary.

Cast of Star Wars: The Last Jedi Takes Over Vanity Fair and It’s Glorious.

Where’s the Queer Representation in Science Fiction and Fantasy Media?

Why the 40th Anniversary of ‘Star Wars’ Matters.

Looking Back at Moonraker’s Insane Attempt to Turn James Bond Into Star Wars.

Here are the winners of this year’s Nebula Awards.

Star Wars 40th anniversary: That’s no moon … but what if it were?

The Nebulas Do Diversity.

NEBULA AWARDS WEEKEND PATREON PANEL. Interesting advice on how to use Patreon…

Star Wars’ Head-Banging Stormtrooper Explains the Classic Blunder.

40th Anniversary Of Star Wars: An Ode To Action Figures, Both Past And Present.

‘Star Wars’ Opened 40 Years Ago: Background Actors Recount How Movie Changed Their Lives.

And other news:

Twitter Founder “Sorry” If He Helped Put Trump in Office.

As crime dries up, Japan’s police hunt for things to do.

This Week in History

Gendering The Past.

This Week in Tech

Safari vs. Chrome on the Mac.

This Week in Covering the News

The Seth Rich lie, and how the corrosion of reality should worry every American.

The life and death of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory.

This Week Regarding the Lying Liar:

As Trump unravels, so do Fox’s ratings.

Donald Trump, Our A.I. President.

Trump’s Election Integrity Commission Could Have A ‘Chilling Effect’ On Voting Rights.

Trump wasn’t always so linguistically challenged. What could explain the change?

The Pentagon Can’t Believe Trump Told Another President About Nuclear Subs Near North Korea.

News about the Fascist Regime:

Nope. No and Also No Way.

The Questions About Obstruction Now Spread to White House Staff.

Trump Budget Based on $2 Trillion Math Error.

This week in Politics:

Here’s what the ‘glowing orb’ Trump touched in Saudi Arabia actually was.

Jeremy Corbyn has defied his critics to become Labour’s best hope of survival: His anti-austerity manifesto has been therapeutic, renewing his party’s identity and sense of moral purpose.

This Week in Racists, White Nationalists, and other deplorables

White supremacist converts to Islam — then kills neo-Nazi pals for disrespecting his new faith: police.

How the Swastika Became a Confederate Flag.

Donald Trump’s Base Is Shrinking.

FBI Investigating If Killing on University of Maryland Campus Is Hate Crime.

Farewells:

Roger Moore, beloved James Bond actor, dead at 89 after short cancer battle.

Roger Moore – Saint, Persuader and the suavest James Bond – dies aged 89.

The story everyone’s sharing about Roger Moore.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 5/20/2017: More words and pictures.

Confessions of a penny pinching packrat.

And we’re out!

Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls – more adventures in dictionaries.

Videos!

Roger Moore Back as Bond! What if… Spectre Trailer:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

NY Library Brings Drag Queens to Kids Story Hour:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Is Atheism Prideful?:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Queen – Frankie Grande (Official Music Video):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

BABY STRANGE – Pure Evil:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls – more adventures in dictionaries

My copy of Funk & Wagnalls is a 1969 edition.

My copy of Funk & Wagnalls is a 1969 edition.

In 1875 Isaac Kaufmann Funk started a publishing company. Two years later one of his friends from University, Adam Willis Wagnalls, joined the firm as a partner and they renamed the business Funk & Wagnalls Company. For the next 13 years they published mostly religious books, but switched to reference after the success of their The Standard Dictionary of English in 1894. This eventually led in 1912 to the publishing Funk & Wagnalls Standard Encyclopedia.

Isaac Funk did not like the conventions of other dictionaries at the time, espousing his editorial philosophy in four principles:

  • the definitions should be ordered according to current usage, rather than historical meaning
  • etymologies (word origin and/or derivation) should come after the definition, rather than before
  • there should be one alphabetic list of all words, rather than the book being divided into separate sections of geographical, mythical, biblical, and biographical terms
  • all entries that aren’t proper nouns should be published in all lowercase

Funk also had a passion for accurate phonetics.

They published an updated and expanded two-volume version of the dictionary, called the New Standard Unabridged Dictionary in 1913, which they continued to update with new editions until 1943. The Funk and Wagnalls Student’s Standard Dictionary of the English Language was first published in 1920, then Funk and Wagnalls New Practical Standard Dictionary (another two-volume set) from 1946. Not to mention various specialty dictionaries.

They became a household name (as it were) when in 1953, in a deal with Unicorn Press, the encyclopedias started being sold in grocery stores. Not the entire set at once, mind you. No, each week a new volume became available. Volume one sold for 99-cents and subsequent volumes where $2.99 a piece. If you remember to go to your local supermarket every week, in just four or five months you could have the entire encyclopedia. The encyclopedias continued to be sold that way until some time in the 1970s.

But what really put Funk & Wagnalls on the pop culture map were some kings of television comedy in the 1960s. Johnny Carson appears to have been the first person, on his nightly Tonight Show to occassionally use the name of either the Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia or dictionary in various jokes where he would allude to the f-word or other sexual matters without getting in trouble with the network censors. But things really took off when it became a running gag on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. The catch phrase, “Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls” was a running joke, as well as other references to the publisher’s awkward to pronounce name to allude to sexual topics.

There is also the much repeated story the Jerry Garcia got the idea to rename his band, The Warlocks, as the Grateful Dead, because he found the phrase while thumbing through a Funk & Wagnalls dictionary while smoking dope with a bunch of friends. For a long time Garcia’s story was considered a misremembering, as no one could find an entry for grateful dead in the editions of Funk and Wagnalls standard dictionaries. Finally, someone found a copy of The Funk and Wagnalls New Practical Standard Dictionary, Britannica World Language Edition whose editorial board had included the chief editor of the Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. The 1955 Britannica World Language edition included a number of terms from folklore and mythology that don’t appear in any other edition of Funk and Wagnalls standard dictionaries.

I think I first saw the Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia during one of the grocery store promotions, though I also remember the two-volume dictionary set being owned by my paternal grandparents. Funk & Wagnalls never became as famous (nor was considered as definitive) as the Merriam-Websters or Oxford dictionaries, but they were good reference books. And the idea first popularlized by Isaac Funk that the dictionary should focus first on current usage, was eventually adopted by more famous dictionaries. That isn’t a bad legacy.

And if you don’t know what I mean by legacy, well, you can look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls!

And we’re out!

The flower bed after I dug up all the irises. Will be sharing rhizomes with people who offered to take some.

The flower bed after I dug up all the irises. Will be sharing rhizomes with people who offered to take some.

I had to be at the old place in the middle of the day Tuesday to meet the people who were going to haul away our second fridge. Or, since we don’t actually own the other fridge at the old place, I guess this one was our only fridge. How we (Ray & I originally) came to have a refrigerator of our own in addition to the appliances that came with the rental property before moving into the Ballard place 21 years ago, leading to some years later when said fridge died Michael & I buying a replacement so we still had two fridges is a tale for another day. Regardless, since someone needed to be there the meet the haulers and sign paperwork, and since we’d disconnected the internet service at the old place, and there wasn’t any real furniture (so I didn’t want to haul my laptop there and try to work from home the whole day), I took most of the day off and spent the time I was waiting digging up the irises.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, these irises are descending from a small bag of rhizomes my grandma gave me some years before she died. Every few years I’ve dug them up and thinned them, usually finding some people to take the excess off my hands. I’d mentioned on Facebook a few weeks ago that this might be the last time I’d see grandma’s irises blooming, since we don’t have a yard at the new place. And a bunch of people, including several of my in-laws, said if I did want to dig them up they would take some. And one former co-worker pointed out that she had kept some large irises when she lived in an apartment without a yard in a one of those large, half-barrel style containers for several years until she bought a house and could plant them.

So many people offered to take some, I figured that I’d try to dig up the whole bed. Fortunately, the part of the structure that is transplantable (sometimes people call them bulbs, sometimes corms or tubers; when I looked it up to see if I was using the correct term, I learned that anatomically the part in question on irises is a rhizome) tends to grow close to the surface and half the time above the surface (particularly if you’re a bit overdue on the thinning, because they start growing over each other), so there wasn’t a lot of actual digging. I had to use the tiller a lot to loosen the soil, but mostly it was a matter of just pulling them up, shaking off the dirt, and piling them. Then I went through the pile to cut off the flowers and leaves so that I only bagged up the part people will need to replant to get them growing again…

Read More…

Confessions of a penny pinching packrat

Every single penny accounted for…

A recent Tumblr post reminded me of one of the reasons that people who aren’t packrats don’t understand packrat behavior. Packrat behavior is sometimes clinically defined in terms of controlling anxiety. The biggest anxiety in question, and the one we mention least often, is economic anxiety. And the thing about economic anxiety that is most misunderstood is that it is not irrational.

Tumblr user Ignescent explained it really well:

This really locked into my brain when I was reading one of the declutter your space things and it suggested getting rid of duplicate highlighters and pens. /Pens/. It suggested that you needed one or two working pens, so if you had extra you should get rid of them. That was when I realized minimalist living was /innately/ tied to having spare money, because the idea was, of course you just went out and bought the single replacement thing whenever the first thing broke. You obv. Had the time and money to only ever hold what you needed that moment, because you could always buy more later.
—ignesecent.tumblr.com

There were several years of my life when every single dime of every paycheck was already allocated before I got it. This wasn’t because I was bad at money management or because I was living above my means (at least not the way that people who like to throw that phrase around use it) or because I was lazy, it was because I made very little money, period. I was attending college part time and working three jobs (three jobs). My mom was working full time (when for health reasons she shouldn’t have been working at all), lived in another state, and was trying to support my younger sister. My parents had been divorced for years at that point and one of my dad’s least awful behaviors was that he absolutely refused to even fill out financial aid forms for any of his five children, let alone send any support that wasn’t ordered by a court.

In that situation, any unexpected expense—no matter how small—meant skipping at least one meal during that pay period. I’m not exaggerating. At least half of my meals at the time were things like cheap boxed macaroni and cheese. Not the “expensive” kind with a picture of orange sauce-slathered pasta on the box. I’m talking the plain white box with black block printing that sold for 20-cents a box (and about four or five times a year would go on sale for 10 boxes for a dollar, so you’d buy five bucks worth when it did because that meant you had a cushion in case of an unexpected expense later).

And a good portion of my childhood was spent with our family living like that. I talk about the bullying in school, but that wasn’t the only horror that school sometimes visited upon me. You don’t want to know the terror and humiliation that comes over a kid from a struggling family if you are informed that this next assignment requires your parent to buy something unexpected. Or that there is a $10 fee required for this class activity that is part of your grade.

So, yes, when Michael and I were loading the last of the Christmas decorations out of the storage space at our old apartment this weekend and I discovered yet another old monitor that we had wrapped up and stashed when we replaced it years ago, I felt a bit of embarrassment, because that meant we had a total of six old monitors to get rid of, instead of the two that we had thought just a week ago.

But another part of me knew why it was there. Because things break. You have the money now to buy that new monitor you’ve been pining after for months, and you’ve double-checked, triple-checked, and quadruple-checked your bank accounts and all of your bills for the next few months before spending the money (because you always do that before spending money), and it’s nice and pretty and so much better than this old thing you probably should have replaced a year ago.

But you do not, repeat, do not dispose of the old monitor. You don’t donate it to charity. You sure as heck don’t throw it away! You put it away, because if some disaster happens and your shiny new monitor gets fried when lightning strikes your building (it happened to my ex- years ago, one lightning storm and half of her electronics were fried) or whatever, you can pull that old monitor out of the basement and keep working for however long it takes to save up to buy a replacement.

Yes, sometimes when we replace an appliance or a computer part or accessory, we will pass it on to a friend we know needs it. But the reason we are able to do that? Is because we know that we still have the older one that we replaced four years ago in storage, so if something goes wrong for us, we have that back up.

It doesn’t matter that for years I’ve been lucky enough to have relatively stable employment and the wherewithal to cover my bills without worrying about skipping meals if a tiny unexpected expense comes up. It doesn’t matter because I know I’ve had to live that way before, and I know that it could happen again. It isn’t about an irrational fear or lack of planning.

It is planning.

There are checklists in the back of my mind all time: do we have enough food in the cupboard to make meals for the next couple of weeks? Do I know which bills I have to pay in the next two months and the approximate total to cover them? Is the gas tank on the car full? Did I pay up the Orca card so my bus pass will work for the next two weeks? If the microwave or stove break do I have an alternate/backup means to cook until we can get something replaced or repaired? And yes, if my pen runs dry when my rent is due, do I have backups so I don’t have to make time to go buy a replacement before I can write the rent check and hand it in on time?

Those aren’t silly, or paranoid, or stupid fears. My living spaces haven’t been cluttered my whole life because I have a sloppy mind.

I understand that there are hidden costs to the packrat behavior. I know that storing all these extra things is using up space that could be used for something else. Packing items super tight into every available nook and cranny means you have to spend more time later looking for something. It can mean that you aren’t aware of a physical problem with part of the house because you can’t see that back wall over there and don’t know that some water damage happened because the neighbor tried to fix a sink themselves rather than call a professional, and they cleaned up their side, but not before some seeped through to your wall.

And I right now I am hyper aware of how much extra time, effort, and money it takes to move (or sort through and dispose of) all that extra stuff that I’ve been storing all this time.

Knowing this makes it a little easier for a time to tamp down that chorus in the back of my head that speaks in the voices of my grandparents and great-grandparents about not getting rid of things that we might need some day.

The truth is that the chorus isn’t wrong. We might need that some day.

I say this because I don’t want my recent self-deprecating comments about my packrat tendencies to be taken as justification to upbraid anyone for being a packrat. It’s one thing for me to decry my own issues, but it’s important to remember that the “ideal” uncluttered minimalist lifestyle is a product of economic privilege that not everyone has. Scolding someone for not being able to achieve it is just as wrong-headed as blaming young people for not owning a house on the occasional purchase of avocado toast.

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Weekend Update 5/20/2017: More words and pictures

“Several people close to the president say his reliance on a small cadre of advisers as he mulled firing Comey reflects his broader distrust of many of his own staffers. He leans heavily on daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Hope Hicks, his trusted campaign spokeswoman and Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard. Schiller was among those Trump consulted about Comey and was tapped by the president to deliver a letter informing the director of his firing.”

“Several people close to the president say his reliance on a small cadre of advisers as he mulled firing Comey reflects his broader distrust of many of his own staffers. He leans heavily on daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Hope Hicks, his trusted campaign spokeswoman and Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard. Schiller was among those Trump consulted about Comey and was tapped by the president to deliver a letter informing the director of his firing.”

The Associated Press article being quoted in the above is available here: FIRESTORM OVER COMEY’S DISMISSAL ADDS TO TRUMP FRUSTRATIONS.

But her emails…

“Tell him is fake news. Work of moose and squirrel.” Cartoon by Pat Byrnes from the New Yorker.

“Tell him is fake news. Work of moose and squirrel.” Cartoon by Pat Byrnes from the New Yorker.

The Pat Byrnes cartoon originally published here: DAILY CARTOON: WEDNESDAY, MARCH 29TH

“Jesus regularly ate dinner with thieves and prostitutes, but you're telling me it's against your religion to bake a cake for a gay person?”

“Jesus regularly ate dinner with thieves and prostitutes, but you’re telling me it’s against your religion to bake a cake for a gay person?”

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