Saturday, February 21, 2015

Office Space

Last Monday I leased office space for four hours at a rate of $350 per hour, and got my car fixed for free.  That’s how I like to look at it.

It all started last Saturday, when the Common Household Husband made the mistake of riding in my car. 

When I ride in his car, the conversation usually goes like this:

Me:  Your car is making a strange noise.

Husband:  Oh.  Let me turn up the radio. 
(He proceeds to ignore the noise for months until the axle breaks.  True story.  And let me tell you, when the car axle breaks, the car does not move.)

But when it’s MY car, this is the conversation:

Husband:    Your car is making a strange noise.

Me:   Oh?

Husband:  Yeah.  It’s much louder than it should be.

Me: It’s always that loud.

Husband:  And the floor is vibrating. 

Me:  It’s a moving vehicle.  Of course the floor is vibrating.

Husband:  You’d better take it in to be looked at.

I made an appointment with the dealer, with the nebulous symptom of “excess road noise,” to which the appointment-maker-person said, “How old are your tires?”

Monday afternoon I showed up at the dealer’s service area, walked toward the receptionist, and was immediately confronted with not one, but two Very Large Dogs (plus a person I presumed was their owner).  I panicked and walked into a different area, approaching a person whom I knew was not the receptionist.  I said, “I have an appointment to have my car looked at.”  The person said, “You want to go over there,” and pointed toward the dogs.  I said that I would wait until Those Dogs left, and why on earth would anyone bring their dogs to a car dealer?

Eventually the dogs entered the waiting area, so I carefully sidled over to the receptionist.  Soon I was standing before Service Advisor Mike.  I sheepishly said, “My car is louder than usual.” 

I bet if my husband were taking in the car, he would have said, “My wife says the car is louder than usual.” 

Mike, who was young enough to be my son, smiled congenially and promised expert mechanicsmanship.    He invited me to take a seat in the waiting area.  I said, “No way.  Not until those Two Very Large Dogs leave.  I can’t believe people bring dogs to the car repair place!”  Mike said, “Actually, a lot of people bring their dogs here.  But if you go past that area, and turn left, you will find an alcove with a table. You could wait there, far away from the dogs.” 

And so I did.  The alcove turned out to be blissfully quiet, with a table I had all to myself.  I got out my computer and started working on crop economics.  After a while Mike appeared. His mechaniscmanship was indeed thorough, as he found not one but four things wrong with the car.  Three of them were dire, as in, the engine will fall out, or the engine will have a nuclear meltdown, or the wheel will seize up.  All the suggested repairs came with dramatic prices.

I called the Common Household Husband, who told me to shop around for a better price. It is not easy to get a car repair quote over the phone, but after 45 minutes, I managed to get some information. Much to my surprise, for two of the repairs, the dealer’s price was competitive.  So I told Service Advisor Mike to do those two repairs, and I happily settled in to my new quiet, dogless office space to try and earn back a fraction of the car repair expenses. Several hours later I left with a new timing belt, water pump, wheel bearing, and some other car parts that sound made-up to deceive common housewives, like “tensioner” and “yaw rate sensor.”

I have decided in the future to follow my husband’s practice.  If I hear a strange noise in the car, I am just going to turn up the radio.

I am looking forward to getting a smaller car,
but we still need this large one for several more years,
for transporting college students and their stuff.
I also included this photo to remind us that
short-sleeve weather has occurred in our lifetime.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Liquid Dinner and Dessert

Tonight it was just Younger Daughter and I at dinner.  We finished off our leftover Valentine’s Day shrimp bisque soup (it’s pink!).  Then I asked her, “Would you like some tea?  Or hot chocolate?”

Younger Daughter enthused, “Oooh!  I would like some of that hot chocolate you made the other day!”

While she did the dishes (yes!) I went to find the recipe.  I measured, stirred, nuked, stirred, and served.

YD:  “If I ever have children I am going to give them this hot chocolate.”

Me:  “Yes, this hot chocolate alone could be a good reason to have children.”

I have The Crislers to thank for this wonderful recipe, except their version makes enough for a whole army of pink-cheeked post-sledding youngsters. If I have that much hot chocolate mix sitting around the house, I will have hot chocolate at every meal and even in-between and will eventually get swept away in a river of hot chocolate.  (Considering how cold it is, that might not be a bad thing.)

I entered the recipe into a spreadsheet to calculate the amounts needed for a single serving.  Curse you, you cumbersome English system of measurements! The amounts I came up with do not add up to 2 Tablespoons of substance, but my recipe is only 3 WW Points Plus, and it tasted very good to me, so I’m sticking with it.

Kristy did say the recipe originally belongs to Martha Stewart, but The Martha’s web site does not have photos of post-sledding youngsters.  Still, I feel that if I ever get to have grandchildren, I will owe a debt of gratitude to both The Crislers and The Martha.

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix for One

Put into a large mug:
2 tsp sugar (white, granulated)
1.5 tsp cocoa (I used dark cocoa)
dash salt

Stir in 1 cup skim milk.  Heat in the microwave for 1 min 30 seconds.  Stir thoroughly. Taste to see if it is hot enough.  If needed, microwave for an additional 10 to 20 seconds.

Friday, February 13, 2015


This post is written in an academic style, which I haven’t used since writing a paper for Anthony Hecht’s Shakespeare class in my senior year of college.  So this post is lengthy, but hopefully with less blathering than my college papers.

I’m just telling you that so that if you want, you can go make hot chocolate instead.

* * * * * * *
Thoughts on The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

A few days ago there was a shooting at a nearby public space.  (Is there ever a week in America, anymore, where this is not true somewhere?)  The shooter is a 17-year-old.

One newspaper story noted this: 

The teen had spent time in the juvenile justice system and, according to court documents, became the subject of some custody cases when his parents were incarcerated.  PittsburghPost-Gazette, Feb 8, 2015

This could be an example of a phenomenon I read about in both Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath, and in Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow.  It is this:

Having a parent incarcerated increases a child’s chance of juvenile delinquency between 300 and 400 percent; it increases the odds of a serious psychiatric disorder by 250%... if you lock up too many people for too long, the collateral damage [to the social system] starts to outweigh the benefit [of locking up criminals].  Gladwell, p 245, 246

Alexander’s book contends that the war on drugs has disproportionately targeted African-Americans.

Today, the War on Drugs has given birth to a system of mass incarceration that governs not just a small fraction of a racial or ethnic minority but entire communities of color.  In ghetto communities, nearly everyone is either directly or indirectly subject to the new caste system.  The system serves to redefine the terms of the relationship of poor people of color and their communities to mainstream, white society, ensuring their subordinate and marginal status.  The criminal and civil sanctions that were once reserved for a tiny minority are now used to control and oppress a racially defined majority in many communities, and the systematic manner in which the control is achieved reflects not just a difference in scale.  The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer concerned primarily with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.  Prior drug wars were ancillary to the prevailing caste system.  This time the drug war is the system of control.  Alexander, p. 188

Yes, there have been improvements in race relations since the 1950s.  Racism is no longer on display in the form of “Whites Only” signs at drinking fountains.  America just marked the Friendship Nine’s historic sit-in of a South Carolina lunch counter with a public apology from a judge and prosecutor.  But we have not reached race neutrality, not yet.

Yesterday, the Director of the FBI James Comey said this:
Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. We simply must find a way to see each other more clearly. . . . It is hard to hate up close.  Washington Post via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb 13, 2015

Alexander contends that the War on Drugs of the past twenty years is not overtly racist, but becomes a racist system because of those unconscious biases.

Claims that mass incarceration is analogous to Jim Crow [are] not meant to suggest or imply that supporters of the current system are racist in the way Americans have come to understand that term.  Race plays a major role – indeed, a defining role – in the current system, but not because of what is commonly understood as old-fashioned, hostile bigotry.  This system of control depends far more on racial indifference (defined as a lack of compassion and caring about race and racial groups) than racial hostility – a feature it actually shares with its predecessors.    Alexander, p. 203

What does Alexander prescribe?  She doesn’t give a detailed to-do list, but asks people to care.  She says that a policy of “color-blindness” does not serve us well, but exacerbates the problem, because of those unconscious biases.

Alexander recognizes that it is damned hard to care about a criminal.  There is a reason that Rosa Parks was picked to challenge the racially segregated bus system in Montgomery – she was an exemplary citizen.  Alexander quotes John Edgar Wideman:
It’s respectable to tar and feather criminals, to advocate locking them up and throwing away the key.  It’s not racist to be against crime, even though the archetypal criminal in the media and the public imagination almost always wears Willie Horton’s face.”  (John Edgar Wideman, “Doing Time, Marking Race,” The Nation, Oct 30, 1995, quoted in The New Jim Crow)

I promised less blathering here than I did in college papers, but really, saying in a blog that I care is just so much blather.  I am ashamed to admit that I am not sure exactly how to go about caring, and that I am also scared what may be required of me.  Perhaps I will start by spending a little time outside of my comfortable environment.  On Sunday our church has planned a “field trip” to a men’s shelter we support.  This shelter does so much more than just put a roof over the men’s heads at night, because a roof is only one part of the shelter each human being needs. The visit to the shelter does not really have anything to do with race relations.   But going there will definitely force me out of my comfort zone.  It’s my little Household Mom way of practicing this 10° Rule.  It’s as close as I can get to nonconformity.

The victims of that shooting need our prayers for healing.  How about the perpetrator?  Can we pray for his healing, too? 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Skin Deep

Part 2 of my Gripping Story
This is a Public Service Announcement.  If you are a member of the League of Very White People, then hie you hence to a dermatologist and get the Once-Over. 
Slick to embiggen to see just how very white we are.

When my skin doctor, Dr Albert Mark Einstein Twain, retired, I found a new doctor.  I feel fortunate to have found a highly competent and personable doc, although to my knowledge he does not frequent the theatre.  Once a year I go for the once-over.  Usually I point out the latest scary-ugly thing on my skin, and he says, “Oh, that’s just a [insert medical term ending in –osis].  That’s nothing to worry about.” 

I went for my annual this January, and for the first time, he looked concerned about a spot – something practically invisible on my face just below my eye.  He had to look through his magnifying-glass thingy three times.  Then, biopsy.  Boom, basal cell carcinoma was confirmed.  This is not a surprise, as it has appeared in members of our family going back generations.  It’s not a kind of cancer that spreads easily, and as long as you get it removed right away, it’s not likely to cause problems. 

The doctor’s office said I should have a procedure called Mohs surgery.  My brother said, “Well, at least he was the most competent of the Three Stooges.”   Leading up to the surgery, I mostly forgot that it was coming up, except for moments of total panic that someone would be slicing my face while I was wide awake. 

I had the surgery on Tuesday, and Dr Moe was indeed very competent.  While he was taking the pound of flesh (okay, more like a microscopic layer of flesh) he distracted me by asking about my children, a topic on which I am willing to go on at length, even when under the knife.  The initial procedure was over in five minutes, so I will have to go back next week and tell him all the rest about my kids.  

After the slicing, before the stitching.

The second part of the procedure was the stitching up.  This was more lengthy (a whopping ten minutes) but quite a bit more disconcerting.  Despite excellent topical anesthetics, I was in no mood for chatting, even about my kids.  I got through it thanks to the prayers of others for me, and by reciting snippets of St Patrick’s prayer over and over.  I also spent some of that ten minutes praying for other people I know who were going through things much more difficult. 

Then the highly competent nurses Larry and Curly bandaged me up, told me my eye might swell shut, instructed me to keep the bandage dry for a week, to keep my head elevated, and to take it easy.  Then they sent me on my way. 

As we were waiting for the elevator to the parking garage, a very good friend from church just happened to walk through the door.  She works in the adjacent building, but I hadn’t realized that until we had arrived that morning.  How wonderful it was to see a caring friend just at that moment!

On the way home, I told my husband that I didn’t think I could eat crunchy food, because chewing might turn out to be painful.  Also, I was supposed to sleep with my head elevated, and therefore, we should go up to, say, a mountaintop.  To sleep in a resort hotel.  With room service.  He said, no, but he would stop off at the grocery store and pick up some mashed potatoes.

Now I can tell you from experience that it is well nigh impossible (hello, Suburban Correspondent!) to keep a bandage on your face dry while taking a shower. I expect to look odd for a while, but hey, my eye did not swell shut. My son says I should wear a mask across that half of my face and go around as The Phantom of the Common Household.

Not too bad a result.  I'm so happy my eye did not swell shut!
I dread the moment when they will pull off the bandage next week.