Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stuff Like Whoa

Here's an interesting exercise.  Give away 1/3 of your possessions, decide that another 1/6 is trash.  Then move into a place 2/3 the size of your current home.  Then watch your things multiply!

This was our fatal error: not taking into account the fact that the garage doesn't "count" in the square footage of our house.  So 1500 feet is actually, well, a lot more.

Luckily, the attic space is ample so we aren't in as bad a spot as we thought.  And we do have most of the bigger furniture still on the way (with drawers and cabinets and such).  And there is outside storage.

But we'll be living cozy for a while until both of us decide we can part with some more things.  Or figure out how to condense it all.  For instance, I have a lot of yarn - most of it came from my mom - but it takes up two 17 gallon tubs.  By winding it up in yarn balls I can fit it all in a hanging sweater...thing.  You know, the thing you put in your closet so you can store things vertically.  Yeah, I can fit three times as much yarn in one of those things when it's balled.

Books.  Oh my goodness, the books.  So many of them.  And I've already ditched the duplicate copies (both in hard copies and the ones I have in digital form).  And the ones that I can get for free on my Kindle because they're in the public domain.  And the ones I realistically won't read.  And the ones I can find regularly for 50 cents at a thrift store.  Goodness.

And bedding?  Holy cow, we got rid of extra sheets and blankets and we're STILL busting at the seams.  The only things I refused to part with were the quilt my grandma made me when I was a baby, and a blanket I knitted myself.  We kept 2 sheet sets for each bed - one for warm weather and one for cold - and a blanket and comforter for each.  I think what we'll need to do is assess how well the wood stove works come winter time and then maybe ditch some blankets.

Camping supplies.  Big sigh there.  How is it that this stuff can take up so little room in the back of my little Toyota and then magically increase in volume once it comes time to put it somewhere in the house?

My husband's clothes.  How is it that such a simple man has more clothes than me?  He wears the same 3 things every week!  Luckily we have a dresser coming that should solve that problem.

Ironically, I think the only stuff that takes up LESS room than I had anticipated is my crafting supplies.  Yarn, patterns, fabric, paint, canvas, all of it is pretty compact.

And the moving continues...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Please Stand By

Just checking in.  We're in the middle of our move, and we got the internet up and running last night.  However, we still have a lot of treks to make between the two houses not to mention deep cleaning 1500 feet of house.

And work starts up again a week from tomorrow.  So I have a lot of prep work to do there, too.

So here's the deal with the new house: it's growing on me.

For instance, last night the temperature dipped under 50 degrees.  In the old house, this would equate to indoor temperatures of 52-55.  Here?  67.  Yesterday afternoon it was actually cooler inside than out - an unheard of event at the other house.  This is not an insignificant fact given summer temperatures here routinely rise above 95 and often go over 100.

The kid is loving the freedom to run around both the much safer house and the gated front deck.  I'm loving not having to stay within arm's reach every moment of every day.  PLUS it came pre-baby-proofed, with the go-ahead to install more drawer and cabinet stoppers if need be.

We get PBS and network television courtesy of the rear house's cable connection.  I can get all the Huell Howser I can stand!

So yay!

We have most of our kitchen and master bedroom moved, but it doesn't seem to have made much of a dent in the other house.  So we have our work cut out for us.  Posting will be sporadic for a while, but I hope that unlike this blog's previous incarnation "sporadic" will mean just that, rather than "nonexistent."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Netflix Price Hike

Yesterday I, along with millions of other customers, got this e-mail from Netflix:

Dear Anne,

We are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into two separate plans to better reflect the costs of each. Now our members have a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan, or both.

Your current $9.99 a month membership for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs will be split into 2 distinct plans:

   Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month
   Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs, 1 out at-a-time (no streaming) for $7.99 a month

Your price for getting both of these plans will be $15.98 a month ($7.99 + $7.99). You don't need to do anything to continue your memberships for both unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs.

These prices will start for charges on or after September 1, 2011.

You can easily change or cancel your unlimited streaming plan, unlimited DVD plan, or both, by going to the Plan Change page in Your Account.

We realize you have many choices for home entertainment, and we thank you for your business. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to call us at 1-888-357-1516.

–The Netflix Team

And the internet promptly ignited in a giant fireball directed squarely at Netflix.  As of this morning, when I clicked on "Dear Netflix" as a trending topic, within two minutes there were 171 new tweets..

People are pretty pissed.

Here's the thing: most of the tweets that I was reading weren't even all that upset with the final cost of the streaming + DVD plan.  What people tended to be upset with was pretty much two-fold: 1) that it was a 60% increase all at once, and 2) that there would be no corresponding increase in streaming content or other boost to service.

I get that even if all the people who say they're going to downgrade or leave their Netflix subscription actually do so, that Netflix will still make money.  I get that it costs a lot of money to distribute all this streaming content in addition to DVDs.  I get that it's still less than half the cost of cable TV.

But it's still a comparatively huge increase all at once.  And the tone of the e-mail seems a little strange to me - as though they figure a lot of people are going to quit Netflix altogether so they might as well make it easy by providing the link.  Could you imagine a cable company making it that easy to cancel subscription when they announce a price increase?  Heck no - they hand you over to retention and try to sell the crap out of the great features that they have.  Netflix didn't do that in their e-mail.  There's no mention of how many titles are available via their streaming service or DVD, no mention that they have the best selection for the lowest price.  Nothing.  It's either incredibly cocky or incredibly apathetic.  Probably both.

I have until September to decide what to do.

Here's my thought process:

Back in November 2010 Netflix changed their plans to offer streaming-only as an option.  I had the $8.99 streaming plus one DVD plan.  Rather than save a buck and ditch the DVDs, we decided to pay the extra dollar to keep our service as is.  We don't rent a whole lot of movies as is, but if we rented even two movies in a month then the Netflix would be worth the extra $2.

But November 2010 got me thinking about what else was out there.  I took the time to find out that even in my little rural don't-even-have-a-Walmart-community, there is a Redbox.

Now skip ahead to yesterday, and they're asking us to pay $6/month more for the exact same service.  That means that in order for the $15.98/month to be worth it to us, we would need to rent 6 Redbox movies each month.  Not gonna happen.  That's more than 1 movie per weekend, and we just don't have the time or stamina for that.  It makes no sense for us to keep the same account with Netflix when we can rent just one movie per weekend with Redbox and STILL pay less overall.

So that's what we're going to do, and from the looks of social media we're not alone.

It seems like a really silly thing for Netflix to do on the surface - anger the majority of their customers by boosting their price without providing much justification (or increase in service).  But the reality is, they're still going to be making more money this way.  For most subscribers like me they'll only lose $2 in revenue each month, and I would bet that the majority of users will just swallow the increase.  That's not even taking into account new subscribers who will likely opt for the streaming + DVD plan.

In the meanwhile we'll keep the plan until the last possible moment and then downgrade.  We use the streaming feature a LOT, so the $7.99/month fee is worth it to us.  The same fee for DVDs?  Not so much.  We'll be using Redbox instead.

So Redbox: I think it's time that you sat down at your desk and start writing your thank you letter to Netflix.  If Twitter, Facebook, and my own decision-making process is any indication, you're in for a lot of new customers.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I came across this disturbing story on NPR the other day.  It's a story basically plugging a book about supermarket tomatoes and why they are so...gross.  (Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, by Barry Estabrook).

I'll quote the part that was the most disturbing to me: 

" Up until recently, workers on many of Florida's vast industrial tomato farms were basically slaves. "People being bought and sold like animals," Estabrook [the book's author] says. "People being shackled in chains. People being beaten for either not working hard enough, fast enough, or being too weak or sick to work. People actually being shot and killed for trying to escape. That sounds like 1850's slavery to me, and that, in fact, is going on, or has gone on."

Estabrook adds that there have been seven successful slavery prosecutions in Florida in the past 15 years." - Courtesy of "All Things Considered" July 9, 2011
Wait, WHAT?!  People being shot and killed for trying to escape?!  Seven successful slavery prosecutions in the past 15 years (meaning, many unsuccessful prosecutions where there?  How many settled out of court?  How many have slipped under the radar?)?
The author's main point, according to the NPR story, is that tomatoes are a summer fruit.  They just won't grow below a certain temperature.  Florida has that temperature year-round, but it doesn't really have the climate or the soil for large scale tomato crops, so they have to constantly irrigate, use antibacterial agents and fungicides, and fertilize the hell out of them.  And they have to get them to places across the country at cheap enough prices that people will happily buy them in January.  Hence, the actual, literal slave labor.
The author's solution?  Grow your own, or at least buy local if you want taste.  And don't expect fresh tomatoes in wintertime, because where they came from...ain't pretty.
Sounds easy enough to me.  Excuse me while I go water my romas.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Point of Release

I have a lot of time to think on my training walks now that I've hit the six milers.  At my pace that's about an hour and forty five minutes of think time.  I also have a fairly limited area where I am able to walk.  Sidewalks are scarce, and towns with a population of, say, 1500 or so don't exactly have sprawling urban areas where I can people watch or otherwise distract myself.  So I do some repeated loops.

I used MapMyWalk to chart out the distances in increments of 1, 2, 3, and 4 miles.  An entire circuit of the main streets in my subdivision give me a whopping 3 miles.  A somewhat dangerous training tip from the Susan G. Komen website was that my training miles do NOT have to all be logged at once.  For my six mile walk, for instance, I could do three miles in the morning and three in the afternoon.  Or two miles in the morning, two mid-day, and two after dinner.  Oh, the temptation to cut a walk short and finish it later...

I did try this a couple of weeks ago.  I wasted it on a three mile walk.  I did two in the morning and had all great intentions of walking a mile in the evening and then going for a swim.  Well, I did the swimming part, but it was just outside that I skipped the walking part.

No more.

Which is not to say that the temptation isn't there.  For my six mile walk, for instance, I do the initial 4 mile loop, pass right by the house, and then complete the two mile loop.  The individual parts of the loop have temptations in and of themselves.  The four miler is very similar to the three miler, with only taking a couple of side streets to differentiate them.  The difference between the one and two mile loops is a matter of turning either left or right at a certain intersection.  During a six mile training walk there are at least four intersections where I need to make a decision either to take the longer route or the shorter.

But after the last decision point, it's done.  No matter whether I'm tired or hot or cranky or don't feel like continuing for any number of reasons, in order to get home I'll need to complete the mileage.  That is a great feeling.  It's hard to describe, and I feel kind of silly writing it out, but it's as though just not having a choice in the matter of whether I'll finish the day's training or not makes it easier to walk.  Or like I'm already finished with the training even with a mile of walking ahead of me.  It's a point of release.

And then at the same time I feel like such a jerk for complaining inside my head about the training.

I just finished reading Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy.  Grealy was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma at age 9, underwent radiation and chemotherapy, had half of her jaw removed, and dealt with reconstructive surgery for the rest of her life (she passed away at age 39 not from the cancer, but from an accidental overdose of pain medication).  This was her memoir.

The part where she described the chemotherapy was excruciating.  She described trying to give herself pneumonia as a child in order to get out of going for her treatment, she described the daily nausea, and the brutal anticipation of her weekly appointment where it would all start again just as she was beginning to feel as though she could keep down food.  She described radiation burns inside her mouth that made it impossible to eat anything but the blandest of foods.  She recounted that this treatment continued for two and a half years.

I get to walk.  I might not look forward to aching legs, or the sun, or quite frankly the boredom.  But every time I go out there and train I get stronger.  Each time I go it gets easier.  And why am I training?  To try to raise money for cancer research.  Each time someone gets a dose of chemotherapy or radiation, it does NOT get easier.  It gets harder to endure physically, mentally, emotionally.

So I can deal with my trivial frustrations, the weight of deciding whether or not to fully train.  I get to have those decisions.  Now it's time to make them matter-of-fact and just release them, make the whole walk that point of release.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mom, Part 5

The 3 weeks of antibiotics were up.  Mom's pain continued to worsen.  Almost a month to the day after she first went in for "that weird tongue thing," she went back to the hospital to try to find a way to better manage her pain.  That's when the family started to unravel.

Communication is emphatically NOT my family's strength, and living 500 miles away from them was not helpful in the least.  Somehow key details were left out in conversations until they were old news.  For example, I found out in the middle of a late night phone call with my sister that Mom's cancer was upgraded from stage II to stage IIIC or possibly stage IV weeks earlier.  So many of the events of this time are hazy in my mind, disjointed and illogical in the order presented; only because the whole damn thing was illogical in my brain.

I was 29.  My mom was not supposed to be this sick.  She wasn't this sick and it was all some annoying headache that just needed to get resolved NOW.

So when she went into the hospital again on the 10th of November I expected a barrage of text messages, e-mails, telephone calls, a repeat of October.  I wasn't expecting to hear that the lesion in her brain was still there along with another lesion on her liver.  Or that the liver biopsy would come back positive for cancer.  Or that I would need to change my planned Christmas visit to a Thanksgiving visit because Dad didn't think Mom had another two months left in her.

I faltered in asking for the time off.  I didn't want to take the time.  I think in my mind I felt as though if I made her wait until Christmas that damn it she would just have to hang on and wait.  But I went ahead and booked a sub for the three extra days and waited.

November 11th she had the liver biopsy.  The results came back the next Monday.  Positive.  Next on the to-do list was a bone scan to see if the cancer was present in her bones and spinal fluid.  Results would come back by Saturday or Sunday.

Sunday I attended church for the first time in nearly a decade.  The homily was about how we all have life-shattering experiences.  Those times that truly test faith and make us question the goodness of God.  The priest was very forceful in explaining that we must trust in God and stay with him during these times and he will stay with us.  He threw in a little fire and brimstone along with a steaming heapful of Catholic guilt regarding church attendance during trying times.  I was thoroughly turned off.  But in the middle of the recessional, at the end of mass, my phone buzzed.  A text message from my younger sister: "Bone scan NEGATIVE."

I walked out to the car after church, sat behind the wheel of my car and melted.  I hadn't cried during any of this before, but I did then.  Bone scan NEGATIVE.  It was hope.  It was the only good news we had gotten since she'd had the mastectomy.  Somehow, despite all of the other facts - her constant pain, the cancer in her liver, her shaky voice over the phone - somehow this one fact convinced me that she would pull through and conquer this thing because the bone scan was NEGATIVE.  After a while, I peeled my forehead from the steering wheel, wiped my eyes, and drove home.  I still needed to lesson plan and pack.

It was going to be a grueling week anyway.  That Thursday I had two parent meetings and a formal observation by my supporting teacher (I'm still a newbie).  My supporting teacher was in the loop as to what was going on with Mom, and we had both agreed to get this observation over with early so that we could stay ahead of the game.  Last year we had to deal with my unexpected pregnancy, so we already knew that staying as far ahead as possible with the paperwork would help us out big time in the end.

Thursday rolled around and I got my first meeting finished early.  I went back to my classroom to prep for my observation.  That's when the text messages started rolling in.  My older sister was driving in from out of state with her family.  The text message was from her: Dad called her crying, asking when she would be getting in.  Shit.  Something's going on.

The bell rang and students started filing in.  No time to think about that now, I have a lesson to teach under observation.

We got started, and the lesson was going really well.  And then, toward the end, the phone just started exploding with messages (on vibrate, don't worry).  For a brief moment I made eye contact with my supporting teacher.  She made a motion to indicate the question, "Do you want to suspend the lesson?"  No.  I definitely did NOT want to suspend the lesson.  We soldiered on, my kids did great despite the buzzing coming from my purse every few minutes.  The bell rang, my students and observer left, and I went straight for my phone.  I had about 10 minutes before my next parent meeting.

Mom was dying.  Soon.

She had 2-3 months at best, and probably much less than that.  How soon can I come down?  Dad's a wreck.

My meeting was pleasant enough.  I didn't mind that we were meeting during lunch.  I wasn't in the least bit hungry anyway.  We worked through a plan for the student, wrapped up neatly just in time for my afternoon classes.  I don't even remember what happened the rest of the day or at all the next day.

Two to three months.  Dad doesn't think she'll make it to Christmas.  How soon can I get down there?

I made plans to drive down with the family on Saturday, arrive Sunday after going to church with my mother-in-law.  We packed quickly and left early, 8 inches of early snow on the ground; it had all fallen the night before.

Then Saturday's phone call came through as I was sipping a beer, unwinding from the drive and anticipating the next day.

Mom was asking for me.  The doctors say it will be soon, probably within the week.  People who are dying often hang on so they can wrap up unfinished business with people, or give them final messages.  Mom was asking if I was there yet.  But don't change plans, she'll hang on for you.

I changed my plans and arranged to leave as early as possible the next morning.  Church with my mother-in-law could wait.  Mom couldn't.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Moving Right Along

Last month I wrote that we may have found a new house to rent.  Well, cross of the "may have."  Our application was accepted, and we begin moving next Friday.

I'm still working on that research on cost of living, by the way.

That means a few things: I'll need to find new places to train, we'll need to seriously downsize our possessions, and we'll need to get used to a new neighborhood.

There are plenty of benefits to living in the new house (else we wouldn't be moving, right?).  For one thing, it has an attic, some double paned windows, lots of shade, and at least a touch of insulation.  In an area with actual seasons this is not a small consideration.  The last two years here have taught me that coastal California dwellers are s.p.o.i.l.e.d. when it comes to comfortable living.  High ceiling, A-frame houses on top of a hill sure look picturesque, but when there's nothing between the ceiling and the roof it makes for either exceedingly uncomfortable living quarters, or exceedingly expensive ones.  The rule in my house is that the air conditioning is forbidden when the inside temperature where the thermostat lives is under 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  That translates to 96 degrees in the living room.  In winter time we spend most of the snowy days within 4 feet of the fireplace bundled in our winter coats, willing the thermometer to hit 55 degrees by late afternoon.  We all know how expensive air conditioning is, but what I didn't know before living here is that a tank of propane costs more than $500 to fill.  Yikes.

An attic will help with the heat.  The shade will help a lot, too.  For the winters we will graduate to a wood-burning stove, and around these parts it is entirely possible to get your hands on a cord of wood for $10, provided you're willing to fell, chop, and season your own wood.  Sign us up for that deal!

Incidentally, I marvel at and salute the pioneer women who came to the foothills before such things as weatherized, insulated structures and air conditioning.  I can't imagine cooking over an open flame in a modest, floor length dress and petticoat in 105 degree heat.  You can't tell me that hanging a wet blanket in the doorway is an adequate solution.  Believe me, I've tried it.

Anyway.  Back to the benefits.

The other thing that we are allowed to do in our new abode is plant whatever we would like in the ground.  I mentioned my vegetable garden, and the new landlord said that would be fine and that I can certainly put those in the ground.  If we end up staying for a while I may even get bold and look into purchasing some fruit trees...

We will also have a brand new trail head about 5 minutes up the road that leads to some amazing views of the foothills.  I hear a rumor that on a clear day you can even see out as far as the Coastal Range, although I do wonder how many clear days we get anymore.

In the other direction a 5 minute drive will land us at a small lake, open for swimming, fishing, and non-motorized boats.  There's a playground for the kid, and the beach is an off-leash area for dogs (not that we have a dog, but it sure is fun to play with them).  It's a nice place to go to get away from the heat.  Today, for example, we plan on going up there with the surfboards and paddling around a bit.  Hey, they still need to get some use, right?

If it sounds like I'm trying to convince myself that it'll be a good move, then you're onto me.  I won't miss the indoor heat (or the cold), and I won't miss having to use a gate card to get onto the road to my house, but I just can't shake the feeling of...I don't want to move.  I like going out onto our deck in the morning with a cup of coffee and seeing the pine-forested mountains.  Or sitting in the evening with a glass of wine watching the sun set through the trees.  We won't have those kind of views at the new house.  We won't have the quiet, either.  Gated communities are known for being pretty snooty (which I won't miss), but they certainly are quiet.  The new house is on a road that leads directly to Main Street in the next down over, so there is a lot more traffic.  It's nestled in the trees, so we'll lose our mountain views.

But mostly I guess it's that it's change.  I don't like things to change too much, and the last three years seem to be nothing but: my husband losing his job, me losing mine, getting a new job, moving to a brand new area of the state, unexpectedly getting pregnant, each of us losing a parent, and now up and moving again.  Sure it's just up the road, but it's still a disruption.

I just wish (and hope) that things could be a little more...boring for a while.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

3 Mile Training

Tuesday was my last 3 mile training walk for a while.  After this it gets a little, um, intense.  Especially for someone who loves her couch as much as I do.

So to celebrate I brought my camera with me to show you a little bit of my neighborhood.

Here's a blurry glimpse of the view from about 500 feet away from my front door.  I used to think that this was looking out toward the Central Valley but as it turns out we're looking straight down toward the southern end of the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Heading up toward and around the top of the street we get a view of the canyon.  When it snows you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the tops of mountains in the high country.

See that road snaking up through the middle of the picture?  I walk up that road.  It's steep.  Did I mention how much I love my couch?

Of course, before you walk up a steep road you need to go down one first.

Back over to the canyon...wouldn't you just love to have that view right off your deck?  Or, heck, why not have a second deck as well.  It's good to have choices.

It was about 80 degrees already by the time I started my walk (8:30 AM).  Depending on my mood on a given walk day this sign is either cruel irony, or a delicious reminder that cooler days lay ahead.

I think this is my favorite part of the walk.  By this point I've been walking downhill for about a mile, much of it in the shade.  Here there's a short bridge and a water trap.  Yes I live in a golf resort community.  Shush.  It's still half as expensive as Santa Cruz.

And here's the final leg of my journey: 0.6 miles uphill.  Look, do you see all that shade?  Me neither.

Joking aside, I love walking through this little neighborhood.  As long as I can start my walk early enough the weather is pleasant, the views great, the houses beautiful, and the people friendly.  When I started walking in May it was a bit of a pain to do even twenty minutes.  Now I'm up to five mile jaunts and am able to look at the 3 milers as my "easy" days.  It's amazing what 4 walks per week can do in such a short amount of time.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Verdict

Last month I wrote about my frustration with the media in relation to high profile criminal cases like Casey Anthony's.  It was a long, rambling piece about how we have a system that is supposed to presume innocence, with the burden of proof being on the prosecution to convict.  I expressed concern that when so much evidence is publicized before the trial that it will taint prospective jurors, thus denying people their right to a fair trial.

And then yesterday (in case you somehow missed it) Casey Anthony was found not guilty of 1st degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child.  She was convicted of 4 counts of providing false information to law enforcement.

My Facebook newsfeed went sort of ballistic.

I counted 20 posts regarding the verdict.  Of those, 12 posts were along the lines of, "Eff you, defense attorney/Casey/jury she did it and you know it!"  6 posts stated something about reasonable doubt and how the prosecution didn't prove their case well enough so the verdict was valid, 1 post simply stated "I wasn't on the jury so I can't judge," and 1 post was completely neutral, only linking the news story with the comment "Not guilty."

Now, I want to be clear here: I have a gut feeling that Casey Anthony killed her daughter.

And now I want to tell a story that was in the news when I was in college.

A man and his wife went out for a night-time excursion on their boat.  They did the wrong thing and had a few drinks.  When it was time to turn it around and come home, something happened - the boat hit a wave wrong, the wife slipped, I don't remember exactly how it happened, but the wife ended up in the water.  The husband, being a little woozy already, panicked and briefly tried to find her in the water but then realized that he wasn't equipped to help her.  The longer he stayed there the greater probability that she would drown.  So he went for shore as fast as he could, tied up the boat, and called the police.  When the police responded, they decided to treat this as a crime.  So they interrogated him for four hours and didn't bother to notify anyone to start a search party for the wife.  By the end of the four hours it was clear to the husband that the police had a rough scenario mapped out: husband wanted out of the marriage for some reason, maybe an affair he wasn't admitting, maybe there were money problems, whatever, so he staged this to look like an accident by pushing his intoxicated wife overboard in the middle of the night.

Luckily for the man (and especially luckily for the wife), a small fishing boat happened to be nearby and happened  to hear the wife call for help.  She figured that her husband had gone to the police for help, so she headed there, too, and corroborated his story 100%.

Now what would happen if that fishing boat hadn't been there?  The police would have had a body and a flimsy story with no witnesses to back this guy up.  Under their scenario they wouldn't have had to look for any injuries since the cause of death would have been drowning, and any traces of alcohol left in her system would have backed up the idea that he'd liquored her up to impair her swimming.


I'm not saying that I buy Casey Anthony's story.  What I'm saying is that without direct evidence that Caylee Anthony was even murdered (that evidence itself is circumstantial - no injuries to the skeletal remains, and no chemical evidence found, either), and without direct evidence that Casey - and only Casey - had the means, motive, and opportunity to carry out said murder, then the accidental drowning story provides reasonable doubt.

The violent reactions against the verdict that I was reading were completely emotionally based.  It was either that same gut feeling that I have, or pointing to her behavior during the month that Caylee was "missing," but it wasn't based on science, direct witnesses, or any irrefutable evidence.

The prosecution just didn't have the kind of evidence that they needed to absolutely prove that Casey Anthony had the motive or used the means that they suggested in carrying out first degree murder.

Child neglect?  Sure.  Probably even neglect resulting in the death of a child.  Murder one?  No.

Again, I feel the need to point out that I do have the gut feeling that she did it.  BUT...

Here's the thing, you guys.  Sometimes innocent people are arrested for heinous crimes.  I repeat the question that I asked last month: is it better that more murderers sometimes go free so that we reduce the number of innocent people wrongly convicted?  Or is it better to tighten the system so that fewer actual criminals are acquitted, but more innocent people are jailed (or worse)?

She was on trial for a crime punishable by death, and the prosecution was going to ask for the death penalty in the event of a conviction.  You can't take that back if there's a mistake.  If evidence comes up down the road that exonerates someone, you can't vacate the sentence.  It's done forever.  That's why we need to be very, very certain of guilt.  And I'm not talking about a certainty based off of gut feelings or crazy behavior that doesn't match what you think you would do in that person's shoes.  I'm talking proof beyond a reasonable doubt - proof that a murder occurred, that there was a clear means, motive, and opportunity, and no one else who could reasonably have committed the crime.

I'm not happy that Casey Anthony is going to walk free after her stint in prison for her misdemeanor convictions (if she even goes to or survives prison).  But I am happy that I live in a place where it's tougher to sentence someone to die when there isn't much more evidence than my gut feeling that she did it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mom, Part 4

I left Mom and Dad's house at the beginning of October after a short 4 day visit.  Mom was still recovering from her September surgery and a resulting infection, but was otherwise in good spirits.  She was so focused on getting through the round of antibiotics so that she could start chemotherapy.  The night before I left, my older sister flew in from out of state to help relieve my dad so he could continue working.  The day I left they sat together for several hours at the hospital waiting for a follow-up appointment.  Sis said that Mom was in good spirits, and when I talked to Mom directly she jokingly complained about living at the hospital.  All seemed to be going well and the fever and swelling had gone down enough that the chemo appointments went onto the calendar.

October 9th Mom's Facebook page indicated she was going out for one last hurrah before the hard treatment: "On our way to Palm Springs for a late lunch with friends."

That night we got a text message from Dad - Mom was in the hospital.  After lunch, she had excused herself to go to the bathroom for some privacy because she noticed that her tongue was acting strangely.  She couldn't make it go to the left.  On the way out the door she mentioned it to my dad, who works in health care.  Concerned that this was a neurological symptom, he took her straight into the emergency room.

They gave her a tentative diagnosis of a stroke, and started running test to confirm immediately.

I hadn't looked back that far on her Facebook page until I started writing this post to make sure I got the dates right.  It's incredible what stress and anguish can do to distort perception of time.  I was sure that she had spent nearly an entire month in the hospital in Palm Springs - in reality it was less than a week.  So much happened that week: the stroke diagnosis, the brain lesion that couldn't possibly be cancer, the infection diagnosis, the IV antibiotic infusion, the return of the stroke diagnosis, and then finally infection.  Behind and through and under everything, pervasive in every tense conversation was the question, "But when will they let her start chemo?"  We knew Mom's cancer was aggressive, invasive, and quick moving.  She had just disclosed to us (after my visit) that 18 out of the 23 lymph nodes removed in surgery came back positive for cancer cells.  She needed to get on the chemo and quickly.

Mom was out of the hospital and in her own bed by October 15th with an intensive IV antibiotic infusion regimen.  That means that she needed a dose every 3 hours around the clock for three weeks.  With no nurse, that meant that my dad or sisters would need to take turns staying home from work to be with her.  A wonderful neighbor offered to step in and give her the infusion on my dad's work days so that we could all save our sick days for when she would start chemo.

Every time I talked to Mom during this time she was grateful for all the help, all the prayers, but she was bored as hell.  For someone as social as my mother it must have been the hardest thing to be holed up in the house, attached to a bag of fluids, sequestered from the world to defeat an infection.

As it turns out, it was probably a phantom infection.

Monday, July 4, 2011

American History

I love history.  I studied it once upon a time in college.  Now I teach it.  Talk about a challenge...

For me history is, well, the story.  It's how people lived during good times and bad, peace and war, economic booms and devastating depressions.  It's how the family unit interacted, what people did to survive, how technology changed day to day life and social behavior.

It is not this for many (most?) people.  Most people, including my students, consider history to be this terribly dull subject full of dates, names, and rich people they don't care about.  So toward the end of the school year I decided to make it personal.  I printed out a copy of an old newspaper so that my students could read the news from the day after my grandmother was born - there was an article about Italy joining World War I and a local interest story about a survivor from the Lusitania sinking.  I printed my great-grandfather's draft card from 1917.  I brought in another newspaper article: a short story on my great-grandmother, and how five of her sons were enlisted in World War II.

After telling an anecdotal story, leading into another history topic, one of my students interrupted me.  "Ms. B,  how come your family is so interesting?"

"It's not any more interesting than any of your families."

"Yeah it is, you have all these stories about how your family was around for all this stuff that happened."

A-ha.  And that's where I catch them.  They all have family who were around for "all this stuff that happened," they just don't know the stories.  But even if they can't or won't track down the stories, what did happen in class was suddenly they remembered what the big deal was with the Lusitania because of "Ms. B's grandma." They figured out that Pearl Harbor was a big deal because "Ms. B's grandpa and all his brothers signed up the next day."

And all that got me thinking some more.  I've been researching genealogy since my mom passed away in November.  Since then, I've found an amazing amount of information through birth records, census data, newspaper articles, death records, and more.  As a person who spent most of her academic life studying history, it was an informaganza of personal connections to the history of the United States.  I've found stories and records of ancestors hitting on almost any topic of study in US history that leaps to mind.  We've got Jamestown settlers, Revolutionary War veterans, War of 1812 veterans, early pioneers in the Westward Expansion, Free-Soilers, anti-Free-Soilers, slave-owners (ugh), California 49ers, Confederate Civil War veterans, Union Civil War veterans, successful cattle ranchers, cattle ranchers who lost everything in the depression of the 1870s, late 19th century Italian immigrants, tin mill workers, grocers on the run from the Mafia, covered wagon pioneers of the Oregon Trail, a disgraced local politician, a lieutenant governor of Texas, a preacher during the Great Awakening, Hoover supporters (both Herbert and J. Edgar), and socialists, World War I veterans, people who dropped out of college during the Great Depression to keep the family afloat, World War II veterans, and much more.

Maybe I've been reading too much Bill Bryson, maybe I'm too much an admirer of the late Howard Zinn, but I want to write a book.  A personal history of the United States.  My family might not be any more "interesting" than my students' families, or your families, but their lives make up a story of what the heck happened in this country since before it even was a country.  It's the story of people in times and places where they did what they needed with the materials available to survive and raise their families.  And it just so happens that their lives coincide with the major events we're all supposed to remember from school.  Or, hey, even some not-so-major events that just lend some color and context to the time.

Would you read something like that?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Curse of Santa Cruz

Summer time in the Sierra Nevada foothills usually means brilliant sunshine, warm (OK, hot) daytime temperatures, and night time skies clear and dark enough to see the Milky Way.

It's beautiful here, but sometimes I get homesick for the coast.

But not really for the coast; for Santa Cruz specifically.  This is a little strange, because the only time I spent in Santa Cruz was the 6 year period between graduating college and moving up here.  There's nothing really binding me to Santa Cruz - family and childhood friends are mostly in southern California, I didn't go to college there, the cost of living was nothing to feel nostalgic about, and so on.

My husband, who spent many more years there than I, tells me that there is a curse on Santa Cruz.  Actually, there are several, but the one that he related to me goes as follows: 

Hundreds of years ago, Europeans arrived in California.  The Spanish set up missions and pretty much terrorized the native population.  90% of the indigenous people died, and most of the rest were displaced, forced into servitude on the missions, and made to assimilate Spanish culture and language.  It was not happy fun times to be an Ohlone, that's for sure.

One particularly bold shaman is said to have given the Dominican padres this message: "You can come here.  You can take our land and force us to change our way of life.  But you will never be happy here, and you will never be able to leave."  

As my husband tells the story, the curse applies to every outsider who moves to Santa Cruz: once your move there, you will never be happy, and you will never be able to leave.  Santa Cruz grabs your soul and hangs on.

I was feeling a bit of that this morning.  I wasn't missing the rising crime, the meathead college students, the high rent, the traffic congestion, the dippy faux hippies.  What I was missing was the morning fog, the sound of sea lions barking, the smell of salt in the air, the quick walk you can take in any direction and find an independent coffee shop, the rows of Victorian houses on Walnut Street, the sound of the carnival rides at the Beach Boardwalk, the vague humming of the ocean, the Nickelodeon, Castle Rock (which will be closed in a few months thanks to the new state budget), Pacific Edge Climbing Gym, The Crepe Place...

Sometimes it's tempting to peruse job postings, look up homes for rent, fantasize about coming back, even though it's not where my people are, it's not where I'm from.  But it has hints and shades of a home; I could never really be happy there, I know.  But I don't think I'll ever be able to leave.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cutting Loose Old Issues (AKA Blog Post of Epic Proportions)

I was thinking about an ex this morning during my 4 mile training walk.  About how I wish I could go back and feed myself empowering responses to his bullshit...and then GTFO of that relationship a hell of a lot sooner than I did.

Here's the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of how we got together:  freshman year of college I spent some time hanging out with the front desk attendant.  One day his friend, we'll call him "Bob," was there, too.  Bob and I hit it off immediately - he was witty, obviously smart, and we played off of each other really nicely.  Within 30 minutes I was introducing him as my Close, Personal Friend.  Bob had a girlfriend back at home - a girlfriend that he just wasn't sure he wanted to stay with, since here he was off at college and surrounded by all kinds of new people.  After spending lots of time together (totally platonically), and then going home for the summer, he came back...single.  After a few months we started dating.

Bob had issues.  Huge, chauvinist ones.  For example, he described his future wife this way - she would be well-educated, very pretty without wearing makeup, very thin (he preferred size 5 - yes, please do note his use of "junior" clothes sizing), exceedingly intelligent but not smarter than him, she would need to work at least 30 hours per week outside the home so that she would have interesting things to talk about, she would need to be responsible for all the child-rearing except for the fun stuff like ball games, oh and he didn't clean or cook so she would have to do all of that, too.  He told me all of this not as what his "ideal" wife would be like, but rather as his standard - he would accept nothing less.

So let's stack me up against those criteria, shall we?  At 19 I was in college, he thought that I was, "Not beautiful," but that I, "Clean up nice" (yes, he did actually tell me that), a size 14, he alternated between telling me I was smarter than him and yet at the same time stupid, not sure that I wanted kids, and not willing to take on a full time job without splitting the chores.  Hmmmmm.  There's a bit of a disconnect there.

He would remind me of the fact that I was bigger than he liked.  Constantly.  He would talk about how he's just not attracted to "bigger" girls, and how 5 was the "perfect" size and what did I wear again?  and he would point out girls walking by with nice bodies, and would invite me to go work out with him at the gym.  He said he was trying to "encourage" me to be "healthier."  But here's the thing: I wasn't fat.  I wasn't even overweight.  Ever.  Sure, I was right on the upper end of the healthy range on the BMI chart, but that does not equal overweight.

I think what compounded it was the fact that before I even met him, I was starting to get a little nervous about my weight gain.  I put on 10 pounds my senior year of high school, following foot surgery and a yearlong recovery.  Then I put on the freshman 15 25.  One morning I was getting dressed and saw them: bright red streaks across my rear and thighs.  Stretch marks.  I was horrified.  But at that point all I would need to do is go back to my habits before, and the weight would stabilize.

No.  Now it was a question of whether this guy that I was over the moon for would still be attracted to me.  So I dieted, failed, dieted again, lost weight, regained it, dieted again, and took up various forms of exercise in the process.  I remember, with a cringe, jogging down the streets of my college town, huffing and puffing, and with each footfall thinking, "If I lose 20 pounds, Bob will think I'm hot."

So guess what?  I lost the weight and he still broke up with me.  Something about wanting to "meet new people," and, "break out of his circle of friends."  The next time I saw him he was dating someone else he had known since freshman year.  After that ended he dated one of my sorority sisters.  When I told him that I had a crush on one of our mutual friends, however, he went ballistic, accused me of going for his "best friend," and being a whore.  I put the weight right back on and started dating his "friend" (actually more of a casual acquaintance - the friend was thoroughly confused at being named Bob's best friend - "We only talk like once or twice a month...what gives?").

Fast forward 10 years.  I lost that weight again, and then some.  I'm actually back down to where I was in high school and that's after giving birth.  But I didn't lose the bulk of it by dieting - I lost the bulk of it by surfing and rock climbing.  I was having fun, and I wasn't worried about the weight loss.  I mean, it was a super awesome side effect, but not my main goal.

I want to go back to my 19 year old self and give me a good shake and a slap upside the head.  I want to explain to myself that this guy was disgustingly toxic, and that there was nothing that I could do to make him attracted to me.  I want to tell me that even if he did ever decide to fully commit to me that I would be miserable with him, because no earthly woman could ever live up to his "standard," and that any woman who did live up to it would have the self-confidence to ditch his sexist ass in a heartbeat.

I want to tell myself that being thin for someone else is far more unhealthy than being a comfortable size for ME.  It gives someone else a kind of control over my body that only I am allowed to have.  He's allowed to have his preferences, but if my size was such an issue for him then he needed to cut me loose and cleanly, too.

But here's another thing that I want, and I'm not sure how healthy this is.  I have a secret fantasy of happening to run into Bob somewhere around town (he ended up moving to my hometown).  We run into each other, catch up on old times, and I let him know how many years of damage he did to my self-confidence and body image, and that I didn't drop the weight that he hated so much until I was able to love myself for me - and realize what a toxic influence he was on my life.

But that's probably not a healthy fantasy, either.