Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Thanksgiving

Clearly I am really bad about remembering that I have a blog. Hopefully [really, hopefully] I can successfully pull off a New Year's resolution to write more. We shall see.

But anyway, what I wanted to do really quickly since it's almost Christmas and therefore the happiest, and busiest, time of year, is sum up the last month where I have been Internet blog silent. And seeing as that month included Thanksgiving...

  1. This is the 100th post on my blog! 100! It's crazy.
  2. I have a job now! Hooray!
  3. I did not run out of fantastic TV shows to watch while I waited to get a job! As of today, I am completely caught up on Doctor Who.
  4. I have a bunch of wonderful friends.
  5. I got to see a ton of my family at our Thanksgiving reunion and there were adorable babies everywhere. We spent a lovely couple of days on the beach in Mississippi. There was tons of tasty food, of course. I also technically went to New Orleans again. We celebrated my great-uncle's 90th birthday at the WWII museum, which was a pretty fantastic place. One day, though, I'll go to NOLA to be a day.
  6. My sister is home from college!
  7. Shiny wrapping paper. I love it.
  8. Movies! This has been an almost perfect year in terms of movies. The Hunger Games, Prometheus, The Avengers, Anna Karenina, The Hobbit, Les Miserables [if it lives up to my expectations]. If there had been an Angelina Jolie movie out, then it would have been the Movie Year to End All Movie Years. So, so close.
  9. Christmas music! Somehow, I've managed to avoid getting bombarded with Christmas music this year. I haven't filled my quota of it yet.
  10. Hot tea.
There are plenty of other things I'm grateful for, but they're not coming to mind at the moment. So we'll leave it at ten. I wouldn't want this list-post to get too long. Especially considering it's the end of the year, which also means the month of people making best-of-2012 lists. It's like OCD heaven! So stay tuned for more list-making, including the best books I've read this year.

Merry Christmas, universe!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Chocolate and Child Labor

Did you know: that chocolate candy you love so much may have been produced with the help of child labor in West Africa. Happy belated Halloween! It's a very unfortunate mistake to consider the world rid of slavery, which is especially heartbreaking in the case of children kidnapped from their homes for a life of dreary, often dangerous manual labor. I am unfortunately not as well versed in this subject as I'd like to be, so for that there are lots of links and even a BBC documentary.

[I know, I quit blogging for a month and come back with this sad, sad story. I'll get less concerned in the next post or two, so come back for those!]

First, I was not even aware that this happened [although I must admit, I wasn't terribly surprised] until I read this post from Kristen Howerton:

The Inconvenient Truth About Your Halloween Chocolate and Forced Child Labor
The picture below is a photo of a young child gathering pods to harvest cocoa beans. There are hundreds of thousands of children in West Africa who do this work. Young children. Children who should be attending school and having a childhood. And they are working for most of the mainstream chocolate providers in the USA. A report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture about cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast estimated there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions. Some of them have been taken from their families, or sold as servants. U.S. chocolate manufacturers have claimed they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don't own them. This includes Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the US division of Cadbury . . . who collectively represent pretty much every snack-size candy bar that will be available in stores this Halloween
Chocolate: The Bitter Truth

I know it's a long five parts, but this documentary gets to the heart of this tragedy, with interviews of children working on cocoa farms and parents who had their children torn away from them. [As per usual with the BBC news, it is very well done and very, very heartbreaking.]

I hope that we can do something about these mega-companies using cocoa harvested by child slaves. The obvious answer is to only buy fair trade, but there are a few other ways to help as well.

From Problem to Solution: Practical Ideas for an Ethical Halloween
The chocolate companies are well aware of the human rights abuses in the farms they are buying from, but unfortunately it is the profitability that is driving the ship, not ethics. I really do believe that consumers can change things. I think back ten years ago, when organic food was a fringe hippie thing that you could only by at specialty stores. Now, nearly every mainstream grocery store is producing their own line of organic foods. Consumer demand is what drives the market.
Lastly, this is the headline I happened to notice on MSN a little while ago. I don't remember EVER seeing or hearing or reading about the child slavery issue specific to chocolate, so I felt like the universe was telling me I needed to get back to the blog.

Hershey Shareholders Sue for Child Labor Records
The complaint says that reports about the systemic use of child labor, forced labor and human trafficking on cocoa farms in West Africa caught the eye of the U.S. House of Representatives as early as 2001. The House passed a proposed amendment to the FDA and Related Agencies Appropriations Act that would require "slave-free" labeling for cocoa products.

Before that amendment could go to the Senate for a vote, the lawsuit notes that major cocoa producers -- including Hershey -- promised to solve the problem in-house without pressure from lawmakers. Those companies signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol to eliminate illegal child labor in high cocoa-producing countries in West Africa, but the lawsuit contends there is ample evidence that the companies failed to comply with its terms.
Hopefully this becomes a big deal for the media and people actually start to acknowledge the fact that a lot of the products we buy are so cheap because of slavery and sweat shops and unfair, unsustainable business practices. Hopefully.

In the meantime, I won't be buying candy [not that I do anyways] and will try to avoid those companies that are doing the least to end child slavery in their supply chains.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I'm Cheating on My Novel

You read that right. I'm cheating on my novel.

I knew this had to happen eventually. I've been getting closer and closer to this day, flirting with other ideas and taking time away from Delaney and More Blessed. By now, I think this could officially be called a full blown literary affair.

The problem with MB is two threefold. A) I've plotted too much of it out in advance so now I don't feel compelled to finish and B) I'm not that excited by or interested in it anymore and C) I hate technology and that idea calls for too, too much modernity with its trains and air conditioning and DNA tests.

This is more my style, technology wise.
This other shiny new [and by new, I mean not worked on] idea took the chance to make its move. It whispered in my ear, "Look, this story happens in 1950ish! None of that pesky technology! But we still have trains! You love trains, don't you!"

Yes. Yes I do.
And with that, I was a goner. Before, it had just been snapshots of tense moments. Then I wrote the opening scene, and kept going, and kept going after that. Tentative title Cells. It's about spies. I love me a good spy caper. It's also got some treason and some conspiracies and some revolutions and some moles and some almost-Russian mobsters. All things that I DO find super exciting.

And fake passports for everyone!
[And when even that seems to modern to me, I can always take a break with my witchy Victorian-ish England-ish novel that I also started recently. No reason to stick to one genre, now is there?]

To top it all off, I'm toying with the idea of doing it in dual-POV except still third person. Just to make things more confusing for everyone :)

There's also a cute little multilingual kid. Just for the cuteness.
On a semi-related note, I've also discovered that hand-writing works better for me. Microsoft Word is not so great at keeping me on task. Even with the Internet turned off. Hence, the amount of time it takes to get a single blog post written. Also, the ridiculous number of games of Hearts...and Spider Solitaire...and Minesweeper...and Freecell...and Spades that I play. Thank goodness for all my scrap paper. So take that, computers!

[Actually, don't take that comment to heart, laptop. I really enjoy you working again.]

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Finding Meaning in the Modern World

Confession: I spend way too much time on the Internet.

I'm pretty sure I've referenced that fact here before. It's been a recurring problem, except for that glorious and tragic stretch of time that my charger was still broken and I had access to computers only as long as the campus computer labs were open. I got so much reading done during those two months.

But recently, I've had excess access. I can't even feel guilty about turning my laptop on to check one little thing because there is always a computer on in the house. Usually at least two, now that we got a replacement for one that died. And the one likes to wake itself up so the screen is always inviting, always tempting. [I know, it's a terrible American thing of us to be so wasteful and it drives me insane.]

I am not very good at resisting that kind of temptation.

If only my cat weren't so fat and lazy, he could do an intervention for me.
And so I spend all this time, doing...stuff? I follow all these blogs, read all these articles, laugh at all these memes, and then? Forget most of the content the next day.

I have this weird, OCD habit when I start to follow a new blog, that I try to read through all the previous blog posts. The entire archives. Sometimes years and years worth. There are still a couple I haven't even finished yet. The other day, an author was deleting a bunch of posts, all of which I had gone back and read, and I was relieved that I hadn't missed my chance. I was thinking about it later, and I couldn't remember what any of them were about. Why had I needed to read a hundred something posts? And sure, they were wildly entertaining when I did read them. But did it matter?

That's what I'm coming back to more and more these days: does it matter? As I sit in this comfortable little big house and eat my privileged meals and drive my efficient car and use all this water and electricity. What am I doing to matter?

It feels like most things on the Internet are so temporary, so meaningless. The social justice parts of it, I really love. The sharing of ideas, spreading of open-mindedness. The ideals of what being online could be. And there's lots of places that aren't like that at all, places that I try desperately to avoid because they just make me sad for the future of humankind. Then there's all the art on display. The authors, the painters, the musicians, the filmmakers, the actors, the dancers, the photographers, the people doing crafty things because they love it. There is meaning to be found in art, a deeper connection across all of us that I long for.

I found this image and proceeded to read 5 pages worth of comics.
I'm still struggling to rectify these two ideas, filling a life with campaigning, raising awareness, spreading healing and also with beauty, entertainment, suspension of reality. I have to remind myself that all the reading and TV watching and gossip following that I do is not wholly in vain. My brain needs a chance to relax, unwind, rid itself of all the garbage that gets into it every day.

And I am not embarrassed to acknowledge that sometimes, the best way to do that is to watch a movie where nothing makes sense and everything blows up.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Email! Disability Update! Romania?

I have had a super fabulous week and I'm not going to gush on and on about how nice it was, but it was very nice and finally kind of busy. Which I LOVE. I need to be busy busy busy because I get bored really easily.

[While typing that, one of the busies almost became busty...erm, not quite the same thing.]

I'm still getting that last bit of summer mode out of my system and settling back into sort of a routine of job searching - which I will not talk about much here because I talk about that with everyone in real life - so this is not going to be too meaningful or soul-searching.My brain is quite obviously too spastic for that at this moment.

First, after a couple of comments, I made an email that I don't mind making public and where I can be reached if anyone wants to contact me. If all I get is spam, I'll be deleting it, but I'm hoping that this will both make me more accountable in actually getting posts written AND make me some new friends. I'm trying to figure out how to add this in its own line to my profile description, but I am decidedly not blog-layout-savvy. Also, I am having trouble deciding what I really want this email name to be.

For now, you can contact me at:

[Side note: I always wanted a pen pal and finally got my parents to sign me up for an international one. I got matched with a girl from Romania, oddly enough, and wrote her this long, detailed letter about my life. Which I never mailed. Thus ended my only pen pal experience.]

This is totally relevant because having Internet friends is kind of like having a Romanian pen pal, right?
Secondly, there is this petition that so closely relates to my last post on disabilities. Apparently, and sadly I must say it doesn't surprise me too much, the state of Florida is sending kids with special needs to nursing homes instead of providing the assistance their families need to care for the kids in-home. So the kids, who have loving and non-abusive families, are being taken away so the state doesn't have to pay for services. Even though the state does have to pay a lot for the kids to be institutionalized.

You would've thought that institutionalization would be universally recognized as NOT IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE KIDS by now.
[Today is apparently a Romania sort of day. Too bad this didn't happen a couple of weeks ago when I realized my church attire was the Romanian flag. Not even on purpose! Red shoes, yellow dress, blue sweater.]

So even though this might not actually get much accomplished, Stacie Lewis [writer of the Amazing Half-Brained Baby blog I linked last time] started a petition to get these kids back with their families and receiving services because she realized how little media attention the issue was getting.

You can read more about it and please take the time to SIGN HERE.

Who wouldn't want to live somewhere that looks like this?
[For one final bit of Romania tying-in, the book I've been thinking about lately is primarily set in an alternate-world version of Romania so yesterday I was reading about Bucharest. Coincidences are my favorite things ever.]

Saturday, September 1, 2012

We Should Talk About Disabilities

Lately, I keep seeing articles popping up in the news and on blogs about people with disabilities. With my degree, I took a bunch of classes that either directly or indirectly discussed how disabilities - the ones we usually think of as terrible curses/burdens and the ones we don't think about at all - affect the family and the educational system and the workplace. So I have been well-versed on the topic and still there are new things out there every day for me to consider.

It's interesting to compare how disability, and the various types of disabilities, is treated in the media and in different countries. It seems to me that the poorer the country, or the family, the worse off the people with major disabilities are. Not necessarily through any fault of their families, but due to the inter-generational transmission of ignorance or lack of services or the often astronomical cost of caring for children and adults with different needs.

But then there's a difference we don't usually hear about here, between the U.S. and Europe, because national health care and social services take better - and cheaper - care of people with disabilities than for-profit companies in the States. Of course, they're worrying about funding cuts now too.

[Not that there aren't good people doing good work for people with disabilities at home too. There are. I just see the vast difference in what is provided in Europe and what has to be sought out here. In fact, I briefly toyed with the idea of going into Early Childhood Intervention because I think they're brilliant for Americans when it comes to children accessing services.]

No matter where or what magnitude it is, it's sad for me to see people with disabilities so marginalized by society. We wouldn't like to think it, with our legislated equality and whatnot, but we're failing them.

We fail them when we call them "the disabled" rather than a person, who happens to have a disability. We fail them when we focus on what they can't do, rather than what they can. We fail them when we pity them or offer sympathies without offering solutions or help.

We fail them when NBC doesn't give any useful coverage to the Paralympics.

We fail them when a school demands a boy get his name changed because it violates their policy.

Instead of comic relief for a tragic about cuteness relief for an angry rant?
Another one that means a lot to me - and I would say this is technically related more to illnesses/medical conditions rather than "disabilities" - is when we fail to acknowledge the invisible sufferers. The people who don't "look" sick but suffer from chronic fatigue, or fibromyalgia, or depression, or cystic fibrosis, or anxiety, or...or...or. The ones who, on top of living with this extra burden, have to explain to people that they aren't faking being sick. They aren't looking for your criticism or your advice or whatever. They just want to live as normally as possible for them.

It astounds me that, as much of a capacity for kindness that humans have, we are so quick to fall into this blaming-hurtful-ignorant-critical mentality. A person who is living with blindness, or deafness, or paralysis, or a cognitive impairment, or...or...or, shouldn't have to deal with that kind of crap. They are inspirational just as every single one of us is inspirational in our unique way. No one gets away with having it all in life. We each have our own personal issues to struggle through.

And no one, no matter what, should have their journey trivialized or marginalized. [Although I must admit, there is certainly a limit to my empathy for sociopaths.]

So please, be aware of how you talk about disability. Technically, it's called person-first language. It really does make a difference in terms of attitude towards the individuals we so often described [and still sometimes describe] as a group. Be as aware as you can about policy and current issues, or be ready to listen if someone explains them and their effects to you. Really, I think everyone should be like this about everything, but especially for the more sensitive parts of the human experience.

Some great articles and blog posts I've read about normal people who are also impacted by disability:

The Greatest Sporting Event You've Never Heard Of

It's a Shame Paralympic Opening Ceremony Wasn't Seen By All [If anyone knows where to find the whole ceremony online, I would appreciate the link!]

School Demands Deaf Boy Change His Sign Name

Mama Lewis and the Amazing Adventures of the Half-Brained Baby [I couldn't think of one post that I wanted to share more than others, so if you're interested, this is the author of the first article. Her little girl is the cutest thing ever.]

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Three Day Whirlwind

The Olympics' Facebook page told me the other day sometime in the past week that the Opening Ceremonies happened a month ago. And that means that we were in San Francisco watching them a month ago, and it's kind of embarrassing that it's taken me this long to write travel posts about it. So I'm getting it done today - one final wrap-up for the last three days.

We started Day Three by actually getting to the Museum of Modern Art, where we split up and spent several hours wandering and wandering. It was fabulous. Of course, I also love art museums, so I was bound to think that. But this one really, really was wonderful.

And sparkly :)
We took a long train/bus ride to the beach, where we got our feet wet and generally ran around in a very silly fashion. I even walked through the sand. It was kind of terrible, especially since we didn't get back to our hotel to wash our feet for hours.

But there was a pretty flower.
We then proceeded to the nearby Golden Gate Park to hang out at the California Academy of Sciences. We spent some blessed minutes inside a 80 degree rainforest and then experienced a fake earthquake. The simulator thing was very hyped all over the city but it wasn't that exciting. The exhibit that went with it was interesting though.
You had to check for butterflies before you left to make sure none got out.
Since we were just more or less across the street, I said we should go to the National AIDS Memorial Grove. It was beautiful. We only stayed for a few minutes, but the trails there seemed very magical. It was almost like being back at Machu Picchu, wandering through the Inca mists.

Occasionally, and for good reason, I get sentimental about nature.
We were then very hungry and decided to find somewhere to eat near to where we were. After some wandering through a not very touristy area and almost giving up, my sister pointed across the street and said, "That looks like a restaurant." And it was. And it was a delicious, delicious fancy Italian place. And we ate tons and tons of food.

Day Four came, too bright and early, and we started off making our way to the Painted Ladies for my mumsy. They were painted and very popular with the tourists. It really wasn't all that exciting because there is just SO MUCH gorgeous old architecture in San Fran. Especially compared to the suburbs.

The best picture with the least amount of random tourists in it.
Then we got to my sister's favorite part of the trip: shopping forever and ever. Specifically, vintage shopping forever and ever. Which I am okay with up to a point. I almost got a fancy designer dress - Marc Jacobs, maybe - for $20, but it was too small. Also, a beautiful, beautiful of Italian-made Robin Hood boots exactly like the kind I've been wanting for ages and ages, but again, too small.

This is the street to shop on. Even the guidebook said so!
Meanwhile, my father went and found a place to eat, which was the lovely Red Victorian that I had pointed out across from our last shopping stop. We had some tasty, tasty vegan BBQ chicken. And it tasted just like chicken. Then, because the place was quirky and cutesy and owned by a lady who had previously lived in a commune in Hawai'i [because, why not?!] we took a tour of all the funky themed rooms. So if you're ever in San Francisco, you should stay there.

We took the bus through El Presidio, just to check that off the list, then hurried through the Palace of Fine Arts, because I thought it was lovely. Then we tried to find the Maritime Museum, but failed through some mislabeling on the building. It had closed earlier that it was supposed to anyway. [Okay, well, earlier than the information desk thing we called to ask what time it closed told us.]

Fancy, fancy, fancy.
This lack of finding things upset my sister, who wanted to go to the only Gay/Lesbian History Museum in the country, which would have been cool, but she had just spent too darn much time shopping for us to get everything done. From the pier area, we walked over to the trolleys. However, because it was super crowded and we apparently like doing everything backwards, we hiked uphill to the twisty Lombard Street and took the Trolley back down, because taking the trolley is something every tourist has to do.

Photo proof. We were literally on it for two minutes. Or thereabouts.
Then we had a tasty, tasty seafood dinner at this place my mom noticed while we were on the bus. And we went back and got a table in the tiny, tiny restaurant and it was wonderful.

Saturday was literally a whirlwind day. We got up even earlier, sped downtown, and then split up. My dad and sisters went back to Golden Gate Park and saw some buffalos or something. Meanwhile, my mom and I went the historical route and toured the Mission Dolores and her Basilica.

I took about 100 pictures here, but not any good ones of both the Mission and the Basilica. The original Mission is the smaller white building.
We did a little wandering in the Mission District and then headed back to our Caltrain station to await the rest of the family. After some goofing around and picture taking, both on and off the train, we got back to the hotel, grabbed our stuff, hopped on the hotel shuttle and got to the airport. And then we had to wait in the security line for ages, meaning we didn't have lunch for ever longer. [I do not enjoy being hungry, clearly.] And that's about it. The plane didn't crash, we I savored the warm weather, and now summer vacation is a month in the past.

Just kidding! I graduated, so I'm on permanent vacation until I can find a job! Commence teasing sister who has to wake up at 5:30 and begging people to hire me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Brain Dump

I had my first job interview yesterday! Hopefully, the first of not too many before I actually get a job. Plus, my sister got dropped off at college today! But since that meant I actually had to get up before noon for two days in a row AND do lots of driving, I am completely exhausted. So I've just been moseying around the Internet and I want to share some of the things I've enjoyed reading in the past couple of weeks. There's lots of disturbing and inspirational and intriguing stuff out there.

[Okay, and I want to get to post something without having to do any work. That's how I roll. I was going to say that but upon further reflection, it just sounds stupid coming from me.]

VICTIM OUTS RAPISTS ON TWITTER:  A teenage sexual assault victim took to Twitter to out her assailants and now faces jail time. "The public humiliation culminated this June, when her assailants struck a plea deal on charges of felony sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism that Dietrich felt amounted to a “slap on the wrist.” And the court had an order for Dietrich, too: Don’t talk about it, or risk 180 days in prison and a $500 fine."

ELEGANT REMINDER OF OLYMPIC HISTORY: Larisa Latynina won 18 Olympic medals in gymnastics for the Soviet Union, but she attended swimming Tuesday night. Michael Phelps was racing. He was trying to beat everyone in the pool and Latynina’s record as well. And when the moment came, she knew exactly what a great champion should do. She put on her lipstick. 

I still think her medals are way more impressive, but I am a bit biased.
EVERYDAY SEXISM PROJECT: The Everyday Sexism Project exists to catalogue instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis. They might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don’t even feel able to protest. By sharing your story you’re showing the world that sexism does exist, it is faced by women everyday and it is a valid problem to discuss.

PUSSY RIOT CLOSING STATEMENTS: Charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were first arrested in March. Five members of the Russian feminist punk band staged a guerrilla performance on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. For less than a minute, the women danced, singing “Our Lady, Chase Putin Out!” and crossing themselves until they were apprehended.

PATERNITY LEAVE IN SWEDEN: In Sweden, men must take two months' paternity leave to receive generous paternity benefits offered by the government. Some men are now pushing for a third month. It has given rise to a culture of "latte dads" who hang out in Stockholm's plentiful coffee bars.

MANATEES!!!: Sea cows help mow local backyard after flooding.

You cannot tell me that this isn't the cutest thing ever.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tourist Mistakes

***Thanks for the comments, and the record number of hits on yesterday's post. It's weird that even in this insanely connected world, sometimes all we really need is to reach out. You guys are awesome!***

The long-awaited picture essay: San Francisco, day two!

We started the day not quite as early [thank goodness!] and after some scrambling online, found out that the bus we'd taken back the night before had a stop RIGHT NEXT TO our hotel. Actually, it was maybe a ten minute walk away, but still. That's more time I could have been sleeping. Alas.

Once we got into town, I guess my parents hadn't figured out the transit system map, so we walked to Chinatown. Which is not that far, except then you'll also be walking all around Chinatown. Poor planning, instance number one. [We were making every touristy mistake possible that day...]

It was a very lovely place to walk, at least.
After lots of wandering [and lots of stopping to sit in once place for 20 minutes...], we found a fortune cookie factory and then a little authentic place for lunch. And I ate Chinese food. And I really liked it. It was miraculous. Then next door there was a place that had gelato, and so we got a couple of cups of those. These were giant cups. I should have taken a picture. But it was almost difficult for the five of us to finish 3 of them. I got the Coconut, which was the family favorite. Because, duh, coconut flavored anything with Asian food is always wonderful.

Now for mistake number two. We started heading back to the main road to go to the MOMA. [What I consider the main road is the one all the metro stops and sketchy-bus stops were on. Market, I think it was called.] Maybe we even took a bus, I honestly don't remember at this point. Then we got almost there and stopped at the Yerba Buena Gardens.

Not a mistake, although we did linger for ages. Nothing much happened in that 20 minutes, other than a guy occasionally doing acrobatics.
No, the mistake was forgetting to check the schedule and trying to go to the museum on the day it was closed. After a pause to snap a picture and a quick peek inside the gift store [and, let's be honest, we all took advantage of a public restroom], we proceeded on to the Golden Gate Park.

Yay solidarity! If it weren't so cold, San Fran would be a perfect place for me.
This time we were forced to take the bus. Although maybe this was the day that we also stopped at this cutesy bookstore that my parents had stopped in YEARS ago when they were in San Fran with friends. Not even intentional. [Yes! While editing I just remembered! It was! But before we got to the park.]

But anyway, it was about this point that I started taking maps from my mother, the official paper-carrier, to figure out how to get places. So we got ourselves to the De Young Museum with minimal movement, which was good because the place was huge. And full of beautiful, beautiful art.

This was only the entrance. I wish I could've taken pictures everywhere!
They kicked us out at closing time, when we found out that our handy City Pass covered this and a different museum - but only if you went on the same day. AND the other museum has lots of Impressionists. I was brokenhearted. But I got over that quickly because we were hurrying down to the Castro District, first for some sustainable, good-cause-supporting food.

Vegetarian sandwich with avocado. BEST. SANDWICH. EVER.
And then we hurried, hurried, hurried down a couple of blocks so we wouldn't walk in [too] late for a lovely, lovely service at the Metropolitan Community Church of San Fran. My sister found it online, so she knows what the service was called, but it was kind of nondenominational/universalist/spiritual. It was the perfect pause in a busy day - simple, focused, inclusive.

We also met a super friendly guy from Norway whose hometown had been taken over by Texans.
We walked back to a metro station, taking pictures along the way. Then we took the T line in a roundabout way around the city and got dropped off at the last stop, which coincided with a sketchy-bus stop. We were a smidge early, which was good because if we had missed the bus, it would have been an extra hour of a wait. But we were early, which meant a longish wait in the dark and cold. Luckily, we made it back to our hotel with no mishaps AND it was cheaper where we got on. All's well that ends well.

Partying in San Fran, day three, coming soon to a theater blog near you!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Time for Brutal Honesty

***I'm sorry I forgot all about writing about San Fran. I've been a smidge busy and also a smidge disconnected. I'll get back to that...eventually! But I have a few more serious things I need to say first.***

I cried myself to sleep the other day.

Let me reassure you that nothing bad happened to me. I had a typical day, full of playing Internet Spades and cleaning and eating and watching the Olympics. From the outside, it’s hard to see how a bunch of little things pushed me over the edge emotions-wise. It’s not life itself, but my perception of it, that depresses me so much.

It’s weird how that works. Cognitively, I know how good I have it. I want to be very clear that I’m not complaining about the circumstances of my life. I am well aware how much privilege I have, in almost every aspect. I get that.

But emotionally, I’m miserable. Not all of the time, and probably not whenever anyone else has seen. I like to think that I have a really solid mask up when I need to hide my emotional state. Also, it’s a lot easier to feel happy around people that I love, even the ones that I just like :). But at home, by myself, it’s not as easy to be positive about things. I tend to focus on the future, which seems so far away, and it’s hard to enjoy the moment.

 I feel the need to interrupt the seriousness with a lovely song.

Especially because the two things that I have always wanted most – my dream job/non-profit and my family – feel like they’re getting pushed further from the present. I’m still just checking off the steps as I inch closer to those goals. Ever since I can remember; well, probably since about 7th grade. First, it was 2 years to high school. Then it was 4 more years to college. Then it was 2 years that turned into 3 to get done with college. Now it will be at least 2 years until I [hopefully] will be leaving the country as a Peace Corps volunteer.

[I also, naively, thought that I would get married super young. Clearly, that is not about to happen. And really, I'm totally okay with that, it's just so different from what I thought I wanted.]

All this waiting just tires me out. In retrospect, it wasn’t all that long or all that bad, but in the present, it feels like it’s taking forever. There’s always another step I have to take, another delay, another requirement of living in American society. And I have enough trouble tolerating this society without the added burden of depression.

I figure I could get diagnosed with mild depression, but I don’t know for sure. Some days I feel really crippled – it’s hard to get out of bed, it’s hard to get anything done, it’s hard to care. These don’t happen often when I’m busy and have things to distract my over-active mind. Other times, the mean side of my brain yells at me and tells me to quit whining, I'm just always looking to have a pity party focused on me, that I don't deserve to be super insanely happy. Then the nice side points out that that’s really making a case for the opposite point of view and they just go back and forth and give me a headache.

I don’t know why now is the time I feel compelled to share this with the world. I just…as I was lying in bed trying to sleep, I started composing this. Then I typed it up the next day, but I just couldn't post it. I guess I needed a day where I felt really great about things before I could talk about the not-so-great stuff. It’s a part of me, part of my story, part of my life. I don’t necessarily give a lot of thought to it. I don’t talk about it, except occasionally with my sister, who always knows how to make me laugh. I’m not looking for an intervention or sympathy or anything. It's one obstacle out of many, and certainly is not among the most insurmountable [for me].

But it's something that I've always hidden before, and I shouldn't have to want to, because it's not a curse or a disability or what have you. It's some shoddy wiring in my brain, that's all.

Or something like that. I am not one for explaining complicated medical things very well.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Beside the Bay

The one week this summer that my family has been all in one place, not doing five million opposite things, was the only time we had for our last family vacation before I get a real job and my sister starts college, making it even more difficult to coordinate schedules and vacation time. So we went to San Francisco, because my sister has been wanting to go for a while [and London, her other choice, is not the best place to be a casual tourist at the moment].

Notice the fog and the bridge.
Because it's so far and we had so little time, we got to fly! I love airplanes. For one, they're a lot faster. I also like the staring at the window as clouds and fields and cities go by. And I never have to take a turn at driving.

[I used to also love getting pretzels and snacks in the plane, but now they're so cheap, we only got sodas. I made up for that by buying a soft pretzel at the airport before we left.]

But enough of the boring stuff. I imagine I have enough pictures to make each day a separate post, or else I would be subjecting everyone to one super-duper long essay on the trip. And that's no fun for anyone.

We started our first day on a boat ride around the bay. Typical tourist stuff, it actually was included on this CityPass thing that we bought that was really handy. It was cool to go underneath the Golden Gate bridge, where I finally found out how was named for the name of the area and not, somehow, the color. I knew there was a logical explanation for that seeming contradiction!

Although , as we were passing under, the people in possession of my camera at that moment were sitting inside and didn't take a picture...I did, however, take pictures of the famous San Francisco sea lions.
But anyways, we touristed over to the Ghiradelli factory, where they sell you overpriced desserts [minus the free samples!] and let you look at a little chocolate making machine.

Then we had lunch at a cutesy 50's diner.
On our walk back over to the Aquarium [no one in possession of a map was trying to figure out public transportation at this point...], we went into a bunch of art galleries that had cool paintings by unknowns and tiny sketches by some of the most famous of my favorite painters. That was pretty nifty.

We walked the pirate route, apparently.
Then we went to the Aquarium! Woohoo! I love aquariums in general, but this one had a video of a giant octopus squeezing itself through a tube and into a giant beaker AND had an area where you could touch sting rays [well, they weren't sting rays, but they were basically sting rays with a different name].

This fish is as big as my sister. It was also stalking her through the tunnel.
Then we hiked some more through the hills and some trees to get to Coit Tower, which is apparently pretty famous. We didn't pay to go to the top, but there's a great view of the city just from the top of that hill. Instead of taking the easier route down, we waited 30 minutes for a bus and then finally had dinner at a sourdough bread bakery place which was super tasty. And very crowded. Also, I had a sip of my dad's beer cause it's totally legal now [!!!] and it was terrrrrible. So I'm totally justified in my decision to not drink during college because I would have just been making ugly faces every time I tried something.

It maybe is supposed to symbolize a firefighter's hose.
And then we finally headed back to our hotel to crash super late after this super sketchy guy told us to take this bus rather than the BART, which seems like it should be just like DART, except it's super expensive. So we tried the bus instead, and could have gotten off really near our hotel except we didn't know it, and got off at the airport to take yet another shuttle back to the hotel. Which was clearly unnecessary and took forever so we didn't do that again. More later on our adventures with San Fran public transport :)

I almost forgot we passed this place! Thank goodness for photographic evidence.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Excerpt Numero Deux

I'm working on some posts to talk about the lovely city of San Francisco, which I just visited, but between the drama of Olympics gymnastics and a desire for sleep, I haven't even gotten my pictures loaded onto my computer. So those are going to have to wait some more.

Instead, I'm going to post the most writing with the least amount of effort: another bit of already-written story! This is the beginning chapter.

More Blessed

Year Fifty-five, Month Nine, Day Twelve

The sparrows scatter, squawking in terror as I fly through them. I screech in amusement.

Dumb sparrows. Not afraid of a tiny ant until she becomes a potential threat.

I land on my favorite tree and shift carefully so that my talons cling to my perch until I have arms to wrap around the trunk. I survey the forest beneath me, alert for any signs of movement, signs of being seen.

I breathe in the moist air. I shift even slower this time, watching as my legs became scaly and merge together. My tail loops around the branch as my upper body changes, my arms fusing to my sides and my face losing all aspects of humanity. I snake through the treetops, noiselessly making my way towards the ground. In this unpredictable forest, I am the deadliest predator imaginable. If I wanted to, I could snatch any number of small animals from my surroundings.

A pretty disgusting snack, but I don’t think snake-me would mind.

Refocusing on my task, I uncoil myself on the dirt.

Now let’s see, which part to change first…legs to support my body or a head to grow onto?

I decide on the legs. Slowly, my bottom half stretches out again. The snake head flops awkwardly on the body of a rodent. When I finished changing into that form, I grow and grow into my favorite, the wolf. I give a howl and bound away.

I long to be free like this forever, gliding, swinging, darting through the forest. My spirit feels at home here; my body can be at peace with itself.

I notice the sun beginning to sink and reluctantly slink back towards town. Before leaving the protection of the trees, I turn back into me. My mother would have a fit if I shifted anywhere near the house, even though that’s probably more protected than the forest is.

I’m lost in thought as I wander through the streets, already missing my brief time in the woods. I wish I could be alone like that here, but there are always people jostling or being loud or –

“Hey!” I yelp as someone pours a bucketful of soapy water from a window above me. Krik Marama, with some of my more obnoxious classmates, stands laughing at my sputtering. The chants of "Looney Delaney!" start immediately.

The wonderful city of Siran, always a joy to return to you.

I glare and imitate a sign for a witch’s curse. Some of the boys keep laughing, but I take a fierce pleasure in Krik’s discomfort as I hurry away from his house.

Paranoid idiot.

I finally reach home, just before the last rays of sunlight disappear over the mountains to the east. I fumble for my gate key in the dim evening, muttering curses at the absence of a lamppost. I have no idea how my mother manages to unlock it when she comes home well after dark.

Once I’ve wiggled the key into the lock, I close it snugly behind me and make my way through the maze of our yard to reach yet another locked door. Unlike most of the houses in the far south of Ayakrim, ours has a terrace garden in the front and a jumble of hedges in the back. My godmother, Tanya, says Mother bought the house envisioning the barriers she could create around it. Front door, barred and bolted. Terrace staircase, blocked off. Back door, concealed by a hedge maze. They must be popular in Tsgeniz, where my mother was born, because I’ve never seen anything like it in Siran.

It’s a good thing we never have guests over. People would wonder what we’re hiding. Buried treasure? Stolen paintings?

Well, we aren’t.We're hiding me.

I shake the pointless reminders out of my head and flip to the next key. Before I can turn the handle, the door flies open.

“Laney! Hurry, hurry! The hobgoblins will be out for you soon!” Tanya yanks me over the threshold and slams the door shut. She fusses over me, checking for goblins and all manner of supernatural creatures that haven’t set foot in the city for decades.

Satisfied that I remain curse-free, she turns back to the pot of noodles sitting on the stove. I throw my things in the living room and flop onto the couch, grimacing when I think of all the homework I’ll have to do. I theoretically have already done it, since I’m only allowed out of the house to go to school, do schoolwork at the library, or hang out at my friend Cleo’s house. The first, I can’t get out of without my mother knowing. As for the second, unless I have a hideous group project, my godmother’s permission and Cleo’s silence give me free reign of the forest.

A noise from the yard jolts me out of my reverie. I groan a little on the inside and plod back into the kitchen so it looks like I’ve been home for ages, helping Tanya prepare dinner. She hands me a bowl of carrots to chop just as my mother walks through the door and drops her bag on the table.

“Hi Mother.”

“Hello dear, good evening Tanya.” She sighs. I can tell without looking that she has collapsed in her favorite chair.

“You had a really long day today, huh?”

“Yes. Councilor Marama heard reports of a witch sighting in Bayarm that we needed to research. Pray the gods it is only a prank.”

“Mmm.” I don’t believe in witches, but I’ve seen how superstitious Krik’s family and other traditionalists are. Including my mother.

After a quiet dinner, I retreat to my room, paging listlessly through all the homework I have to do. Essay on historical literature, mathematical problems, memorization of yet another patriotic chant. Today, only one thing helps motivate me.

Tomorrow it’s my birthday. I can’t get any incompletes. Tomorrow has to be perfect.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

As Requested: An Excerpt!

I apologize for asking for input and then disappearing from the blog scene. This being summer, I'm still super busy taking mini-trips and trying to get a job and getting organized. Soon, I'll [hopefully] have exciting things to tell you about the lovely city of San Francisco. For the moment, I'm going to post an excerpt from one of the 20+ stories that I would finish writing if I could quit being so ADD about it.

Now, this has never been read by anyone else [unless someone's been hacking into my computer, which is doubtful] and is thus in a highly unedited state. But I got the idea of doing a Sleeping Beauty retelling, and I happen to like Sci-Fi, so that's what this is an attempt at doing.

Time Thief

Station S16B97-1

                Red lights swirled ominously around the sterile workspace.

                Shadowy figures appeared on the wall, creeping towards the dark corners of the giant room.

                Shouts rang out and heavy footsteps neared the hole in the command center’s wall. Heavily armed men in protective gear poured in, quickly fanning out in search of the saboteurs, while several anxious engineers began to go over every piece of equipment still intact. Quiet boots followed them in as a well dressed man examined the damage. After consulting with their teams, the chiefs of Security and Engineering hurried over to him.

                “No enemies present, sir,” reported the Chief of Security as he took off his helmet.

                “We w-won’t kn-know the ext-t-tent of any d-da-damage until a f-full diagnos-s-stic ch-check, b-b-but it s-seems to b-b-be clear, s-sir,” stammered the Chief of Engineering.

                The Unit Commander pushed past them and strode purposefully to the far side of the room. A startled engineer, feeling the UC’s gaze on him, leapt from his station and offered his chair to his superior. The man stared resolutely at the screen. “It’s her, isn’t it?”

                The lights stopped flashing.

                The engineer stared at the ground and barely moved his head.

                He nodded.


                The Sleeping Beauty. She was found by a wandering minstrel who had left the main road out of fear of highwaymen. When he couldn’t wake her, he sprinted back to the monastery which had sheltered him the previous night. The monks deemed her a miracle, sent by God for redemption, while the more zealous hermits prophesied doom at her awakening.

                Over the years, the stories about her took on a life of their own, spreading from ports to towns to tiny hamlets. Legend had it that the one that woke her from her endless sleep would be eternally blessed, or at least hailed by the masses as a miracle worker. Lord Calhoun didn’t believe in such fairy tales, but he grudgingly accompanied his niece to visit the sleeping lady. He didn’t much like the idea of Ardis begging for a miracle to remedy the theft of her dowry, but he had exhausted all his better plans.

                “Dear Edward, don’t be so gloomy!” the girl implored, cheerfully adding, “Cassandra Adams went to see the Lady and was betrothed the very next week!”

                “Coincidence,” he said stiffly, but smiled in spite of himself at her blind innocence.

                A jolt of the carriage brought their attention to the crumbling stone wall of the monastery nestled in the Blackbriar Forest. After 100 years of sleep, the Lady was very well known but attracted far fewer visitors than at the peak of her novelty. As such, repairs on the old buildings had been severely delayed.

                The two disembarked and were escorted through the main gate of the complex by an overenthusiastic young monk. “First visitors all day, not got too many this week either, I expect it’s on account of this rain while Brother Egbert fears the End must be nearing…” He chattered on as he led them through arches, creaking staircases, doorways, and twisting corridors.

                At last they came to the barred room which housed the sleeping Lady. The monk gave a password to the guards, who unlocked the rusty door and shoved it open. Edward watched, amused, as Ardis peered excitedly into the room, and then nervously began tiptoeing towards the large canopy bed where the miracle woman lay. As she knelt reverently to whisper her wishes into the Lady’s ear, Edward leaned casually against the wall and examined the large cell.

                The monks had covered whitewashed walls with elaborate tapestries portraying the Lady, awake and smiling, blessing the men and the land that had kept her safe for so many years. Water gushed in the rivers, trees burst into bloom, and livestock multiplied at her command. Besides the ornate bed, a gift from a wealthy admirer, these were the only furnishings in the room. Still, it was far more opulent than any of the monk’s cells.

                Edward glanced over at the bed, surprised to discover that his niece had already risen and was beckoning him to petition the Lady himself. He grunted his decline.

                Ardis frowned heavily and cast sorrowful eyes at him. “My dowry,” she whispered.

                Her uncle sighed and pushed himself off the wall. He bowed his head, as if to pray, and then caught sight of the Lady for the first time. He blinked and moved towards her bed for a closer look. His eyed widened in surprise, peering desperately into the woman’s face.

                It was her.

                He had seen her face at his manor, laughing at him as she vaulted through a window and balanced on the air. She had disappeared almost immediately, but what concerned him most was the fact that she had disappeared with the last jewels from Ardis’ dowry.

                This woman, this lady, who they had come to for help was the very thief who had undoubtedly ruined his niece’s prospects.

                There was no question it was her face.

                But the Lady had been asleep for 100 years, even he knew that. How could she, in a windowless cell under constant guard, escape from the monastery and travel to his family’s estate, miles away?

                “Are you quite done praying, Eddie?”

                He blinked, unaware that he had unconsciously sunk to his knees by the bed. He suddenly felt dizzy and reached out to steady himself, accidentally brushing his hand against the Lady’s, still and soft. The guard at the door took a step forward, and Edward quickly stood, backing away from the Lady.

                 He was through the doorway, a mumbled apology to the guard, when he heard Ardis' gasp. "Edward, look!"