7.14.2015

on discourse and friendship

I remember the moments when my opinions on healthcare changed. There were two.

The first was early on in my teaching career. I avoided talking politics with my students - certainly current politics - but for some reason I was sitting at my desk and a student asked me what my opinion was on universal healthcare. I was slightly distracted, checking grades or something, and as she was right there and the class was doing something else, I answered honestly (and mostly parroting what my father believed): that I didn't know, that I was worried about what it would do to taxes and that I didn't trust the government to do a better job than what we currently have. My student, sharp as could be, said, "Miss, that's because you've never had to go without health insurance."

The other moment was not much longer later, when I was talking online to a friend that lives in Canada. He pointed out what I didn't know at the time, that the US is the only first world country that doesn't have universal health care.

These things gave me pause. They were major contributing factors to my changing my mind and the way I thought about the issue.

I have spent the last eight years teaching students how to think critically: how to take evidence as a whole and build a rational, logical argument based on that evidence, and how to determine what counts as quality evidence to begin with. I am routinely appalled by how many adults seem to have zero understanding of this process.

It used to be that when I disagreed with someone, particularly in the areas of religion or politics, I said nothing. Public conflict tends to make me deeply uncomfortable, and I told myself that there was no use discussing these topics - no one would change their minds and it would only succeed in making people angry.

Teaching taught me otherwise. (It is remarkable how much one learns by teaching. Sometimes I think my students taught me more than I ever managed to teach them.) Most people have never had their thought processes challenged. Most people don't automatically check to see how valid a source is. Most people don't stop to ask themselves how much bias they have on a topic, and they don't stop to consider how their privilege or social standing is affecting their beliefs. Most people can't point out logical fallacies, and even if they can, they don't seem to understand that a logical fallacy means an argument is objectively invalid. And the only way to get most people thinking rationally is by pointing out when they are not, and hope that, in return, someone will do the same for you. (The way to fix this is by systemic, high-quality public education, but that's a topic for another post.)

Put more simply: teaching taught me that if stupidity and ignorance isn't pointed out and something done to correct it, it grows exponentially.

There is a balance, though. It works best when the topic discussed is one that neither person is deeply emotionally connected to, as emotion essentially cancels out the rational thought processes of the frontal cortex. The problem is that the biggest social issues and the greatest founts of stupidity tend to be in places where people are deeply emotional. So you have a choice: you can either attempt to engage logically anyway, and hope that the logic triumphs once emotions have cooled, or you can not say anything on the big emotional topics and only start discourse on smaller issues. Sometimes thinking logically about something you're not emotional about can transfer over to things you are emotional about. And regardless, often the people who are watching the exchange benefit from it more than the ones involved.

I believe, strongly, in public discourse. I believe that, for us to move forward as a species, we have to have discussions on topics that affect us deeply, or we are doomed. I believe that refusing to engage or sequestering yourself so that you only hear opinions that mirror your own is a sign of weakness - an inescapable tragic flaw.

And yet there are times when I choose not to say anything, because the person has expressed something so horrifyingly ignorant (and usually hateful) that I cannot trust myself to avoid the ad hominem attack. Sometimes I have enough history with a person that I am not willing to risk our entire relationship just to make a point. Sometimes I know the topic is so entrenched in personal identity that there is almost no hope of change, and I let it slide. Sometimes I hope that someone else will have the courage to say what I don't.

I agonize over those moments. When a cis-male spews hate about a MTF transperson, or when a missionary says that adults should pay for their own food and health care, I cringe. I write out possible responses. Sometimes I hit delete, and I wonder if the point where discourse seems impossible is the point when it is no longer worth remaining friends.

1.03.2015

2015

They're not resolutions. I hate resolutions. They're more like . . . guidelines.

From now on:
More dancing and walks
More water
Better food, less of it
More tea before bed
More time with people I care about
More baths
More breathing
More of the things that make me happy, and less of the things that don't. 

10.19.2014

the dirty banana


The first full day we were in Jamaica, we asked one of our waitresses ("String Bean" read her name tag) what she recommended for a drink that was strong and wasn't too sweet. She suggested a Dirty Banana (which wasn't on the menu) and we said okay without asking what was in it - and it was perfect, and I drank about a million of them before we left, and I don't even like bananas.

I made sure to spy on how they made it and wrote it down for when I came home - although since they just tended to throw ingredients together without measuring, it's taken me some time to perfect the proportions. Naturally the next step was to share them with you, dear reader.

Dirty Banana 

2 oz gold or dark rum (we've been using Appleton)
2 oz rum cream (the Caribbean version of Bailey's - we brought Sangster's back with us, but as it's not available in the States, you'll have to make do with whatever they have at Total Wine)
1/2 oz creme de cacao
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 ripe banana
ice 
Throw all ingredients in a blender. Add ice till the three cup mark; blend until smooth. Makes 2. 


8.31.2014

on Jamaica

We'd long envisioned getting married on a beach, and the appeal of a beach in a foreign country was strong. We ended up picking Jamaica for a couple simple reasons: it was relatively cheap, and we had a friend who goes on an almost yearly basis, so we could (and did) harass her with whatever questions we thought up.

We stayed in Montego Bay, which is on the north end of the island and the second-largest city after Kingston. Jamaica is a huge tourist economy, but the season is November - April, so prices were much cheaper for us in June, and we didn't run into hardly any parties of frat boys (and no hurricanes, either).

On our friend's recommendation, we stayed at the Royal Decameron Montego Bay, and after seeing several of the other resorts, were glad we did.  For about $175 a night, we got a beach front room and all of the food and drinks we wanted (all the resorts we looked at were all-inclusive). The food was overall very good (local dishes and their take on other culture's cuisines - lots of fresh fish, lamb, chicken, steak), and the drinks were decent - and given what we drank while we were there, our liquor bill alone would have been at least that much anywhere else. My favorite drink was a dirty banana - blended rum, creme de cacao and fresh banana - but we had everything from straight rum to coffee with amaretto to old fashioneds (we had to explain how to make it, but they were game). You're also not expected to tip, and most people don't, but we found that leaving a dollar here and there got us significantly better service. While some of the other resorts were nicer, they were much further from town, and what we could have afforded would not have gotten us anything close to a beach view.



The trade off was that our room wasn't as nice - the bed was slightly hard, there was a water stain on the bathroom ceiling, and the water pressure in the shower was iffy - but we were fine with that given how great everything else was.




The food was served buffet-style, with many different options available. Colin hates buffets and he was fine with this because the food was so good. We ate with a beach view at every meal, a luxury that should not be underestimated. There is also a sit down restaurant you can make reservations for.




We found about a hundred different ways of doing pretty much nothing at all, which is exactly what we wanted. We'd wake up leisurely, meander down to breakfast, bring coffee back to our room, go down to the beach and read or swim for awhile, eat lunch, take a nap, spend more time on the beach, shower for dinner, eat more delicious food, get happily tipsy, fall asleep at the unheard of time of 10 pm, and do it again the next day. I finished three and a half books while were there and swam for at least an hour every day. Having nowhere to be and nothing we had to do was glorious. We would have had to pay for WiFi at the hotel, and there's no 3G access, so we had a nice break from electronic distractions as well.

We did about one thing differently every day, starting with a couple's massage in a cabana on the water, which was lovely.




We wandered into town a few times, which was easy to do on foot. The half-mile or so of the main road by the hotel is called the "hip strip," and its filled with tourist shops and bars, including a Margaritaville. The locals are very aggressive sales people - they call out to you from across the street to come into their stores and will keep pressing if you waver at all. Our friend had warned us beforehand, and a firm "no, thank you" worked just fine. We were disappointed in the cheesy made-in-China wares that most of the shops were selling, although we did find a good price on Appleton rum and Sangster's rum cream (like Bailey's, but even more delicious) in one of the little grocery stores. Also, if you're white, it's pretty obvious that you're a tourist, and you are therefore an easy target for less-than-legal substances. The second time we went into town Colin and I bet how many times we would be offered pot -  he bet 5, I bet 10 - and it was 7 times total. Again, "no, thanks" worked just fine. Margaritaville was fun for the kitsch factor, but we didn't stay for more than a drink, as the appeal of  free drinks back at the resort was too strong. They also offered yacht rides with loud 90s dance music, if that's your thing.




We asked one of the taxi drivers what we should see if we only saw one thing, and he recommended Dunn's River Falls, which is a long waterfall over 600 ft or so of rocks that you can climb. It was beautiful, but had been so mined for tourist purposes that we were somewhat disappointed. They had us climb the falls in long chains of 20 or so people, which was a pretty dumb idea, all things considered (and was frustrating for us, as we could have scaled it without help in about a third the time). They'd scraped the rocks of moss and carved footholds into some of them, and it was so swamped with people that it was hard  to enjoy how pretty it was. I don't have any pictures of it - we didn't have a waterproof camera, and opted out of paying for their photos.

As the falls are near Ocho Rios, we did get to see a significant portion of the coastline and more rural areas as we went there and back, which was nice. We also stopped at a place near Discovery Bay that had absolutely fantastic jerk chicken (possibly the best of the trip, although to be honest they were all so good that it would be hard to rank), and would have been worth the drive alone. It looked like they were smoking it on wood poles underneath a sheet of aluminum. (I had my camera on the nighttime setting or something, so apologies for the poor quality.)




After using the snorkels provided by the hotel and being amazed at just the little reefs in the water by the hotel beaches, we decided to take a glass-bottomed boat out to one of the larger reefs off shore.




I had trouble with my mask and didn't enjoy it as much as I could have, but Colin loved it. The reefs weren't as colorful as the pictures of the ones you see in Australia, but we saw a lot of cool coral and a bunch of different fish, and the water was incredibly clear. We were also surprised that it went so far out and was only about 10-15 feet deep, and when there aren't reefs (or the wake of the boat), you can see straight to the white sand at the bottom.





The water itself was incredibly beautiful. We spent most of our time on the furthest south beach, as it was the quietest. I didn't get over that perfect turquoise blue the entire time we were there. The sunsets were incredible, and the resort faces west, so we had a perfect view. The weather report told us it would be thunderstorms that week, and although it did tend to get cloudy toward the evening, we got sprinkled on for about five minutes once, and most of the daytime was clear.












Cultural notes: our experiences with the local culture were admittedly quite few - restricted to those working in the tourist trade, and whoever happened to be walking down the hip strip when we were (still mostly part of the tourist trade). Almost 20% of the island is living below the poverty line, which was fairly apparent when we drove through the more rural areas. I wish I had read up more on the country before we went - I didn't know until after we came home than Rastafarian is a religion (and not actually a big one - the island is very religious, but mostly of the Protestant variety - only somewhere between 1-5% of the population identifies as Rastafarian). The locals speak patois as well as English. There is definitely a cultural difference between what Americans would consider polite and what the locals do, but it's easy enough to get used to - and once it's clear you're not just another asshole tourist, they're more friendly.

Our total cost for the vacation portion (read: non-wedding) was about $3300 (flights, hotel, taxis, non-hotel food, massage, excursion, souvenirs, etc). At least in the touristy areas, you can use Jamaican and American money interchangeably. They say the rate is  10 to 1, but it's actually 100 to 1 - 1000 Jamaican is 10 USD. We changed over about a third of our spending money into Jamaican. We also waited longer than we should have to buy our flights, which ended up costing us more than we planned - buy them early. Southwest also started flying in to Jamaica the day we left (we're pretty sure we saw the first plane come in), so there are probably cheaper options now than what we had. We decided to play it safe and get the CDC recommended shots beforehand, which was an additional $370 we didn't originally plan for.

To sum up: Jamaica is awesome and beautiful, and we are so glad we went.




p.s. I am working on a post on the wedding stuff for A Practical Wedding, and if they publish it I'll link to it here.

5.31.2014

on buying glasses online

I've been looking to buy new glasses for several months, now. The ones I had were so old they were missing about 70% of the anti-reflective coating on the lenses, and small enough that I couldn't wear them outside because they didn't block enough light (and I didn't wear them often enough to bother getting prescription sunglasses). I wanted plastic frames this time, skewing more bookish-librarian or nerdy-girl-prior-to-prom-queen-transformation than hipster irony.

So I begin poking around. My optometrist had fuck all; Costco had some that were tolerable, but none that I'd actually enjoy wearing. (The enjoyability factor is important: I spent half my childhood hating how I looked in glasses, and therefore have sacrificed my eye health for looks ever since I got contacts.) Enter Warby Parker - via facebook ad, I believe - with sexy models and reasonable, all-inclusive prices, and a try five at home for free program.

I should preface this with the fact that I seem to have a hard-to-fit face for glasses. I'm of medium width measurement-wise, but I have a wide jaw and round cheeks, so what fits physically on my face often ends up looking too small visually. I also have a huge pet peeve about frames touching my cheeks, even if it's just when I smile. It takes trying on about a hundred pairs of sunglasses before I find ones I can stand; prescription glasses seem to be more on the order of two or three hundred. I should also mention that the last pair I had fitted (a decade ago, now) involved me having a melt-down in Costco about how unsymmetrical my face is. The poor woman who helped me clearly still remembers and is especially nice whenever I come through her check out line.

But I use the "virtual try on" feature on Warby Parker, order five for my try on, and get them sent to me. I am excited. When they arrive, I tear them open, am impressed by the quality, and completely unimpressed with how any of them look on me. Glasses, it turns out, look very different in a photograph online - or superimposed over your photograph online - than they do in person. I play around with them awhile anyway, and drop them back in the mail five days later.

Warby Parker also sends a barrage of friendly emails when you do a try on, encouraging you to post pictures on social media to get feedback, or to email them directly for advice. Nonplussed with my own selections, I send in photos of myself in the try on pairs by email (it's hard to take photos of yourself in glasses, I find), and get fairly helpful feedback that informs my next try on batch. When they come, they are better, but still nothing golden; mostly, still a touch too narrow for my face visually.

I give up awhile, and then start poking around on Rivet and Sway instead. Their styles are slightly more expensive and geared entirely for women, and they have a handy little survey to direct you toward frames you might like. I pay more attention to the measurement numbers this time, and end up with a batch of glasses that all almost-work, with one pair being the standout. I order, overjoyed.

And when they arrive, they come in a very nice case with a beautiful, watercolor print cleaning cloth, but they fit absolutely nothing like the try on pair - they lean heavily on my cheeks and seem oddly angled downward. I email customer service, and they respond quickly and sympathetically, and promise to send a replacement pair. The second pair arrives, and it is (I swear) exactly the same pair as the original, except that they'd bent the arms up at the hinges violently, so that they are loose from the frames (like glasses get if someone sits on them) and incredibly crooked on my face. When I write a complaining email, requesting the no-questions-asked refund and pointing out that they said they'd *replace* the frames, the woman insists that they were replaced, but that all the frames had that inward tilt so their technician bent up the handles of the *new* pair of frames. Sigh. (Note for customer service people: better to tell the truth than lies that make no sense.)

Here's a shot of the "replacement" pair:


Back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, I've taken so long with this process that Warby Parker has come out with a new season of frames, and armed with my newfound expertise, I pick out another five styles. I find another clear winner when the try ons arrive: the Dale, in Whiskey Tortoise. I order them, slightly apprehensive, and hold on to the trial pairs until the prescription one comes, just in case they suffered the same problem (a three day weekend makes this possible, although I was still impressed by how quickly they shipped). They arrived, and fit exactly the same as the trial pair. Success! The hard case isn't as nice as Rivet and Sway's, and they only have a plain fabric case instead of a cleaning cloth, but the glasses themselves are much better quality (and were $50 cheaper).

I also discovered that my optometrist's office was willing to fit them on me for free (which was good, as I didn't want to trust myself to bend them).

I would absolutely recommend Warby Parker, though I would say ignore the virtual try on feature and start by emailing them for help, with pictures of you in your current frames for reference. I also had a friend that suffered from Bell's Palsy and had to buy glasses last minute, and she raved about how helpful and swift they were as well. They also donate a pair to someone needy for every pair purchased, so you get feel-good bonus points for buying from them.

Also: if you don't know what measurement numbers your current frames are, try some on in person somewhere. When you order your try ons, select frames that are a similar size. Glasses come with three measurement numbers (in order): the width of the lenses, the width of the bridge, and the length of the arms. Arms are less important (since they can be bent), but make sure the total of the lens + the bridge measurement is within a digit or two of your current pair. Don't bother with anything that isn't the right measurement, no matter how cute they are - you'll just end up sad that they don't fit.

And here's a selfie of a (finally) satisfied customer: