8.19.2015

on moving

a series of observations and anecdotes, roughly chronological, written with a gin & tonic in a crystal wine goblet in hand, one week after arriving in Missoula

About halfway through the loading the truck process, both the husband and I decided, entirely separately, that next time we are hiring people to pack and move our stuff, regardless of the cost. And despite the fact that we had ten lovely people helping us.

When you come to visit us (you are coming to visit us, right?), and if you drive (why would you? Allegiant flies out of Mesa for ridiculously cheap), do NOT stop in Salt Lake City. There were plenty of lovely Mormon hamlets all through Utah that provide cute roadside inns. Salt Lake is quite possibly the ugliest, jankiest downtown I've ever seen. We were offered meth, and were quite surprised when both our car and moving truck were not broken into overnight, if that gives you any idea.

Except for some boring parts in Idaho, the drive was quite pretty.

The Budget truck we rented kept tripping the "stop" mechanism on the gas nozzles, unless they were long enough/had a complete enough seal. We had to drive around looking for a nozzle that would work at every single stop. We have several $0.72  gas charges as a result. The company refunded us $108 and chastised us for not calling roadside assistance.

Utah apparently doesn't know how to set up road cones/barrels for construction purposes. We encountered one north of Page just sitting in the middle of the lane, its brothers all in a proper line on the shoulder. Both of us barely avoided that one. Later that night, with no warning or signs whatsoever, they took about four barrels to narrow the two lane road down to one. Colin (driving the truck) made the choice to sideswipe two barrels instead of jerking the truck too quickly. One of the barrels' rubber feet came flying toward the front of my car like an enormous frisbee, solidly hitting the bumper (though thankfully causing no damage). The entire night we were in Salt Lake, I dreamt over and over of watching Colin swerve in front of me, and then realizing that whatever was in the road was coming toward me too quick to avoid. Swerve, panic, brace for impact. Swerve, panic, brace for impact.

Once we made it into town, we unloaded the truck with only one other adult for help in three hours. It was like a Christmas miracle.

Missoula is unbearably gorgeous, even under the haze of smoke from all the nearby fires. We've eaten out for every meal thus far, and had a ridiculous amount of fantastic food, some of which I've posted. Tonight's, which I didn't post, was Brazilian bowls of rice and meat and toppings like chimichurri.

The Mexican food situation is not as dire as I feared. I have had a decent huevos rancheros, and look forward to trying several more. Most places have something reasonably spicy on the menu, and we have tried the most highly recommended Mexican food place in town. The salsa was reasonably hot, the food delicious, and will definitely serve to satisfy cravings. However, due to the town's weird liquor restriction laws, they don't have any tequila at all . . . and thus make their margaritas with something called "agave wine." (Luckily this failing is easily remedied, because the best margaritas are made at home.)

I had, stupidly, thought that the loading and driving would be the hard part. I was not anticipating the complete pit that the previous tenants/the management company had left our house for. The quick rundown: mouse feces, rotting food, and fruit flies in the kitchen; dog shit, maggots, hobo spiders, more mouse feces, and general filth and trash in the basement  & garage; hobo spiders all over the outside as well; filth in more corners than you can count. We have been so occupied cleaning that we have not yet unpacked anything except our clothes.

Nonetheless, we live in a section of town Colin keeps calling "the Shire." There is a fruit/veggie stand in the yard of a house just a block away. We saw a kid with an actual lemonade stand the other day. Most people don't even bother to fence their yards. Our neighbors all came out to say hi to us the second night we were here, and they're all great people.

That said, people here are weird. They drive weird, they move their carts weird in Costco, a large number of them have very large, bulbous noses. And they are weirdly almost entirely white.

I was not expecting things like just driving around town to be stressful. It's exhausting. And I have gone the wrong way down one way streets twice now.

There are very few chain stores, which is awesome, but the ones that exist are almost entirely concentrated into one part of town and seem to be forced into direct competition. The traffic in this area of town is the absolute worst.

There is no restriction on casinos, so there are tiny gas station/restaurant/casino hybrids everywhere. I always thought it was dumb that gambling was restricted so much, but the tiny casino things seem so trashy. And it's a stark contrast to the puritanical restriction on liquor sales. I'll take liquor over casinos any day.

The cats seem to have become closer as a result of the trauma of moving, and both they and the kid seem ecstatic to be here. I am waiting for the other shoe to fall.

The thrifting here is amazing.Think good thoughts for me about finding the perfect bike.

The first day we were here, it was in the high 90's. Since it has been 70s-80s. J keeps waking up, thinking it's cold, and putting on long sleeves and gloves.

Yelp and Zomato have been fantastic resources.

Our house will be amazing, once it's done.


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.