Friday, June 23, 2017


Close enough!

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   [aka mass swim starts]
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   [conservative coaches say train a year first]
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, [hopefully <= 17 hours]
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,  ["gentle rollers"]
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, [you're young/tiny, you recover faster/have a lower center of gravity/less surface area...]
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   [my favorite days are recovery days!]
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   [TP data OD]
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   [=teachable moment]
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken 
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, ["fun adventures" can mean so many things...]
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: [pedicure calluses]

If you can make one heap of all your winnings [desk job]
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, [IMAZ]
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
    And never breathe a word about your loss; [: x]
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew [including you, IT Band]
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   [or 140.6 miles, which ever comes first]
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ [...and a lot of Carbopro]

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   [6 bike lengths!]
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,  [tri hards]
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,  [even if they are in your age group]
    If all men count with you, but none too much; [dongs are in different age groups]
If you can fill the unforgiving minute [ 6 hours, 30 minutes?]
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   [23,400* seconds]
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son! [an Iron*man]


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Banned Book Club: Lysistrata

I should have been more specific about *how many* banned books I intended to read.  Scrolling through the list, it is fascinating to look for patterns in how many books a given government bans and their reasons.  Australia seems to have had no qualms with heavy handed censorship which seems bizarre for a people whose persona doesn't exactly ooze political correctness.

I started out with the free version of Lysistrata.  Oof.  The good news it is only 73 some pages and could be skimmed in an hour.  The bad news is that I found the trash talking in rhyming couplets and allusions to gods, geography and less-than-current events nearly incomprehensible.  It was kind of clever the Spartan characters picked up Scottish dialect as I had just come off a steampunk Victorian YA read that had employed similar devices, but you can imagine this did nothing to assist with reading comprehension.  So I watched the 3 min summary on a whiteboard youtube just to be sure I had followed the general gist.

Kinda interesting a Greek military junta in the 1960's banned this one, as it looks like they let a lot of other edgy stuff through like a German sex ed documentary featuring live birth.  The junta looks like it generally undid itself by bringing military force down on student protesters and division within the ranks of leadership.  Fascinating to learn that the Greeks were embroiled in a civil war such a short time ago since in my head it seems like such a wise old country full of stoic philosophers.

Also kind of curious what the literal translation of this would be.  A while ago, I stumbled upon a theory that as our culture has globalized, we've become less violent.  We think violence is increasing because our standard for what we consider to be violent is a moving target and is rising faster than actions, leading us to run exposes and documentaries on violence society might have previously thought were unremarkable... Like the T-shirts that have filled my pinterest feed emblazoned with "Wooden Spoon Survivor."  Some of the lines in here would seem to support that theory if this was a faithful literal translation.  Every couple of pages, I'd find a jarring scenario where a character would be trying to woo his wife with flattery and then 2 lines later be wishing her dead or brutally beaten... but maybe that was a double entendre that was clumsily translated.  


Friday, June 16, 2017

Palliative Care

I'm not entirely sure how "read a book about palliative care" got on my bucket list tracker, but it seemed timely as my last Grandma transitions to hospice care.  I read The Conversation.  You can save yourself time by watching the video instead.

The gist of the book is that our medical complex is predisposed to take any and all actions that could prolong life.  Many of us will face terminal illnesses where these invasive, uncomfortable measures may substantially decrease the quality of our lives for marginal gains on the quantity of life.  He thinks that more frank conversations with individuals about what they want their end of life care to look like could smooth some of the grief and anxiety of this phase.  He encourages people to document their wishes and share these with loved ones who may ultimately be responsible for making those care decisions, stating that without those conversations, loved ones are only doing slightly better than chance (i.e. 60-something percent) at guessing which option the recipient would have chosen.

Cool.  For posterity, I [Belle] can go first...  (the rest of this is pretty bleak, so feel free to skip if you're looking for more light-hearted fare)

Hopefully when the time comes to make these decisions, this blog post is deeply buried in the archives and forgotten.  Incidentally, if the course of treatment I got was inconsistent with this, don't beat yourself up about it.  Maybe I changed my mind and at a minimum, I should have let you know this post existed before putting you in such a crappy situation.  MacGyver would probably be making these decisions for me unless for some reason he is unavailable.  Hopefully he'd keep any surviving parents, siblings, and extended family in the loop though.

What things are most important to you?  What makes you happy?
I'm happy when I feel like I am useful and helping people.  I don't want to get to a point where people who care for me feel I am a burden or where I can't recognize and connect with people who have been a non-trivial part of my life.  My favorite activities currently are reading, training for triathlons with the tri club, learning to garden with the master gardeners, and adding/checking off things on my bucket list... I reserve the right to change those later.

What fears do you have about getting sick or needing medical care?

Main fears-- pain/symptoms that are unmanageable, becoming a time/financial inconvenience to people who care for me, loss of independence and autonomy and the dignity that comes with it.  I'm afraid that if I have a terminal illness that I know will eventually completely incapacitate me, I won't be allowed to take advantage of programs like death with dignity to time the end of things on my own terms.

If you were very sick, are there any specific medical treatments that might be too much for you?
I think life-prolonging procedures should be saved for candidates that have a good chance of recovering and resuming a high quality of life as an outpatient.  I don't want procedures like feeding tubes and breathing support if the odds are good that I would need to stay on them for the rest of my life.  I don't want heroics that have only the slimmest chance of improving things.

Do you have any beliefs that guide you when you make medical decisions?
I want to leave the world in a better state than I found it.  I believe it takes fewer resources to make someone comfortable and manage their symptoms (increase their quality of life) than it does to increase their quantity of life.

I think we should do what we can to understand the most likely health problems we will encounter and make lifestyle choices to mitigate these to the best of our ability.  When health conditions arise, I would prefer to manage them through lifestyle modifications rather than medical procedures or prescription medicines whenever possible.  As much as I love statistics and evidence-based medicine, I'm open-minded about the efficacy of holistic medicine.  I believe some of it may not be substantiated in clinical trials because it is not something that could be patented and profited from.

I think there is a lot of guilt that comes with the trend of family diaspora.  My closest relative is 400 miles away.  My parents are 2K miles away.  I wouldn't want anyone to feel obliged to move to/stay in OC for my benefit.  I am OK with moving closer to a caregiver if it is convenient.  My ideal "elderly" situation would be to design and build a tiny house on a trailer bed and set up camp on an amenable caregiver's property so I could be independent but have opportunities to help out and be monitored and helped myself if necessary.  MacGyver doesn't like confined spaces, so if he's still in the picture, let's defer to whatever arrangement makes him comfortable.

When I die, I'd prefer to be cremated rather than buried under a lawn someone needs to constantly mow, making loved ones feel guilty for not visiting me more often.  I never cared for lawns.  I have a bucket list item to get turned into a diamond (i.e. lifegem), so if anyone wants to help me out with checking that off the list, awesome.  If I don't have enough savings to do it though, don't worry about it.  No need to author a grandiose obituary for me.  No need to guilt people into making epic journeys cross country to attend my funeral.  If anything, I think it would be cool to arrange a day of service and enable folks to do a little bit of volunteer work in my memory instead.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Super flattering pic, I know!  It might be time to re-henna my Roguish streak of grey...

I'm going through a periodic "girly" phase and admiring the subtle 50's cateye look that seemed to be en vogue around the office before my departure last December, I added "apply cateye" to the bucket list as a reasonably easy to dispatch goal to slot in around the doosies like train for an Ironman.

Then spent an inordinate amount of time watching youtube videos, cross referencing products against the EWG website for toxicity and generally adding too much complexity to the whole project.  Eventually, I decided to KISS and streamline my materials--

  • Stila Stay All Day eye liner:  a youtuber recommended this as the felt tip go-to for n00bs.  Also, seems a lot of Amazon customers have beaten a path to this product and posted largely favorable reviews.  $22 seemed kinda expensive for what it was, plus it scored a "4 moderate hazard" on EWG for the endocrine disrupting powers of propylparaben.  boo.  I also eventually want something more metallic-- copper or bronzey to be a more unique/signature Bellepic look.  There are gels out there that do that, but require a brush to apply.  You can also dilute eyeshadow and treat it like eye liner.  All of this sounded like it was adding a few too many points of failure for my initial make-this-stupid-easy-so-you-can-enjoy-success-and-build-on-it objective.  
  • Maybelline New York Great Lash Big Washable Mascara also scoring a "4 moderate hazard" on EWG.  I went with this largely because of its low-low addon price of $2.99 and figured I would feel less regret if it molders in the bathroom for a couple months, I read a "your mascara goes bad after 6 months" article, and decide to toss it.
  • Physicians Formula Super BB All-in-1 Beauty Balm Cream scored a slightly better "3 moderate hazard."  I was looking for some sort of basic base to cover my dark circles and veiny lids but didn't want to go crazy with primer, concealer, eye shadows, and whatnot.  I liked Tarte's BB, particularly its EWG score of 1, but found I didn't use it enough to justify the price.  If I did buy another tube, I'd want to get it matched at an Ulta or Sephora to make sure I had chosen the right shade.  Physicians Formula was 1/3 the price, so figured I would see if I end up cateyeing enough to justify a spendier foundation.  
All in, this haul cost $40 on Amazon and I've started a little contest with myself to do X mins of house/yardwork at $10/hour to pay for such non essentials.  Factoring in the shiny new spray hose, strawberry plant, and tomato seeds I currently owe the house 7 hours of TLC.

Not included in this purchase, but glad I had on hand: q-tips and baby oil.

Day 1 of road testing this application, I was introduced as "that pretty lady in the vegetable garden is one of the Master Gardeners," by the train conductor who gives visitors a tour of the zoo by rail.  That said, he's introduced me the same way even when I'm my post-workout messiness.  Also made slightly more extended eye contact with fellow pedestrians as I walked to the Zoo, the coffee shop for lunch, and home and generally found myself in a grinning self-satisfied mood for more of the hike.  So that was fun.  Maybe my laser eye contact victims were actually scrutinizing how one of my edges sort of feathered from my gardening exertions and needed a touch up when I got home, but whatever.

Conclusion:  definitely don't feel like I need to "put my face on" to leave the house, but the fun of getting into character once in a while offsets the questionable chemicals I'm probably injecting into my body.


Friday, June 2, 2017


So I have a lot of bucket list challenges around growing food in the yard.  To make it more wieldy, I started to think about the stats the urban homesteaders in nearby Pasadena posted.  I figured if I started with just a small area of the yard and refused to "unlock" more of the yard until I'd achieved their yield/foot on what was under cultivation, I wouldn't feel quite so overwhelmed.  As near as I can figure, they're harvesting 1.29 pounds of produce/square foot using about 12.7 oz of daily water.

Now I didn't think MacGyver would be thrilled to see I had cannibalized mesh screens from potentially reparable windows, so for this pilot, I'm improvising with a french press to approximate a mason jar with a screened lid.  Turns out he's equally "thrilled" with the prospect of his decaffeinated wife trying to persuade him to make her a beverage with the backup stovetop espresso maker instead.  Supposing this thing can generate 200 grams of sprouts/week, that would equate to about 31 pounds of produce per masonic square foot per year if kept in constant rotation...  I guess we'll have to see what this weighs next monday or repeat under more controlled conditions (I spilled half the sprouts into the sink on the first watering).  In any event, the yield/square foot seems to have the potential of falling well beyond the Dervaes harvest target, although this probably uses a bit more water.  If the sink grease trap in the side yard was rebuilt to route water to the landscape though, we might be able to stretch that water investment a bit further.

That said, the prospect of running 212 sprout jars concurrently to hit that "2 pounds of kitchen scraps/chicken/day" target is pretty daunting, so once I get this habit and recipes to support it locked in, I'll probably be looking to diversify into other edibles.  

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Mocking Peeps

The two surviving eggers aren't egging much, so it seemed as good a time as any to tackle the bucket list item of raising yard birds from peeps.

After an inordinate amount of deliberation, and drunken approval from MacGyver, I ordered ten 1-3 week old chicks from Dare2Dream farms.  We and MaGyver have both purchased pullets from there, with varying degrees of success.  MaGyver's seemed to settle in for a happy season of laying until a mountain lion debacle.  Of the 8 or so adolescents we've acquired or been gifted by Ma, only 1 sex link remains and her survival instincts are far more impressive than her egg laying abilities.  A lot of our loss was likely due to high prey drive fur kids, but a couple birds went into inexplicable declines and had to be humanely dispatched.  So we weren't feeling super bullish about the health of D2D DNA, but they had 3 advantages that outweighed that concern.

1.  They do regularly scheduled deliveries by van to our area.  Seems way less stressful on chicks than entrusting them to the postal service (our alternative if we sourced through our favorite feed store).
2.  They offer a greater selection of peep breeds with easy online check out capabilities.
3.  We've seen their farm in person and appreciate that this is a family-ish farm, not a depressing chicken hangar like the 100's we pass driving over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house in Delaware.

The species we selected/observations coming into day 7:

  • 2 Barred Rock-- MaGyver's favored breed of her flock. These were the tiniest (youngest) peeps in the delivery.  One "pasty bum" got a blocked vent on day 5, but MacGyver seems to have restored her to her previous high spirits.  These have little white halos on their heads to differentiate them from the aussies.   
  • 3 Easter Eggers-- the hardy exotic-egg-colored mainstay of our original flock albeit sourced from a different hatchery.  MacG considers these the "cutest" they are slightly bigger than the Rocks but still relatively young.  One declined late on day 4 and was dead by the afternoon of day 5.  Seems like coccidiosis and timeline-wise would match contraction on a pretty stressful day in a van.  This is a bummer in that if I had reported the peep "sick" it could have been exchanged since it was acquired within the week.  The "death" guarantee ends at day 4.  Grr.  But we didn't expect all 10 to make it to adulthood, we just wanted better guidelines on what to expect.  Bro-Epic's gift of a Small-Scale Poultry Flock book takes a very Darwinian approach to the whole thing.  Vaccinations and medicated feed be damned, make sure your small flock gets a varied diet, had dry bedding, and celebrate if a protozoa culls weaker genetic material out of your flock.  
  • 3 Australorp-- intrigued by their spec sheet of high productivity and dual use utility.  Plus SoCal climate is on an equivalent northern latitude to southern hemisphere Oz, so it isn't implausible the birds adapted to one climate might do well in the other once they get their seasons flipped.  These are my (Belle) favorites.  There are 2 youngish ones that are slightly bigger than the easter eggers and a punk that is almost the size of the gold sex links whom I've dubbed "Rustle Crow."  MacG thinks he must be a rooster because he's tearing around the brooder, initially jumped out of the brooder and got wedged between its side and a wall until I could rescue him, and otherwise behaving like a pint-sized version of those kitchen raptors in Jurassic park.  His next-biggest sib seems to be adopting similar mannerisms, so I think it might be his growing up in a land full of poisonous critters rather than his/her chromosome count.     
  • 2 Gold Sex Link-- supposedly productive and quiet, the ones we previously purchased were some of the first the dogs desqueaked.  These are the biggest of the haul, the delivery guy saying they were about a week older than the others.  That said, they are much more chill than contemporary-sized Rustle Crow.  They usually just swan down like little blond angels and let a bevy of smaller peeps pile up around them.  

We got the $75 brooder package because I was doing too much hang wringing to figure out of the heat lamp on AMZ would be delivered in time and whatnot.  
  • Heat lamp + cage + clamp mount-- yes, awesome.  kinda wish the cage were fully closed since Rustle managed to almost burn herself jumping onto the edge of the box and I'm still nursing a singed knuckle.  
  • Feed & Waterers-- We technically didn't need since we have a couple mouldering in our side yard from our last chicken integration apartheid (plus there are plenty of diy suggestions on youtube).  We've moved the waterer onto a slightly elevated slate shower tile to keep some of the bedding out of it.  
  • Lidless cardboard box-- quickly became apparent this would not contain chicks beyond their first week of peeping as Rustle aptly demonstrated on day 1.  
  • Feed-- convenient to have some on hand right away that was ostensibly what they were eating on the farm.  I'm a bigger proponent of the organic stuff when possible from Scratch 'n Peck rather than medicated pellets.  I sent MacG out to get the Scratch 'n Peck equivalent at the feed store but the only thing they stocked was grower feed for +5 weeks.  He's ground some of it up in his brewing mill to make it easier for small beaks and I mortar and pestled up some breakfast eggshells to act as diy grit until the AMZ drop shipment of age-appropriate feed shows up (ETA around the time they're 3-4 weeks old...) 
  • Shavings-- convenient to have on hand.  Easy to acquire from a pet store run.  My preference would be some sort of straw or hay that isn't as easy to kick into the waterers and water log them.  
Tasks for coming weekends will be to get an outdoor situation of some sort set up for them so they can start sourcing their own grit, learning to perch, etc.  I'm not so sure we'll ever get to a carbon-neutral stage with them because the Justin Rhodes (awesome permaculturist) youtube interview with Karl Hammer pegged the table scrap needs to support a chicken without grain at 2lb/chicken/day (with caveats that some have found they need a lot more than that).  There's no way our kitchen generates 126 pounds of denser-than-lettuce-leaves refuse a week even when I am being most lax about avoiding food spoilage, so the culling may have to continue.  


Monday, May 29, 2017

Sensory Deprivation Float

This is what I imagined the experience would be, but it turned out to be a lot less claustrophobic and peaceful.  Newport Float floats you in a tub in a closet so you have about 7' of space to bounce pinball toe-to-head in and if you panic, you can stand all the way up without bumping your head.

I came across float therapy reading Tools of Titans.   Ferriss lists something like surviving three 90-minute floats as prerequisite before dosing with psychotropics.  Zoinks.  I was more interested in this as a way to jump start a mindfulness/meditation habit.  The past week, I've been trying to get in 20 minutes of sitting quietly/day using the super basic secular instructions Leo outlines here (Ironically, Leo does 35 minutes of BS'ing about a "no bullshit" approach.  The core points are covered from 13:30 - 19:00, so watch that section and take 20 mins to apply it before deciding if you want to watch the video in its entirety).  Coming off the half ironman, I was also somewhat persuaded on soaking in epsom salt helping absorb magnesium and addressing muscle soreness and other helpful effects, even though there isn't scientific evidence to validate your body is doing any sort of absorption.  Anyhow, my 20 min meditation practice went OK for the first 5 days, then the wheels fell off the bus on the weekend where I was coughing, congested, and so full of self-pity I didn't even bother to build a "To-doodle" (a sort of coloring book inspired daily task list I'm prototyping and may blog about more in the future).  So I decided to reboot with a novel and more challenging mindfulness adventure on what would be day 8... Plus Newport Float was running a deal on $35 morning/late night floats and this was the first available opening.

It turned out to be pretty relaxing.  Not unlike the weightlessness of scuba diving where you can become hyper aware of your breathing, your heart beat, even your stomach growling.  I liked being forcibly locked away from the buzzes of my phone for a designated amount of time.  I liked that the FAQ suggested you could use the time to meditate, sleep, or think creatively.  Since my mind likes to chew on creating and reflecting on curiosity-inspired lists (i.e. 10 things in the world I believe are scarce and how might someone conclude the opposite, they're abundant).  I think I cribbed this anxiety-management habit from Scott Adams' book, but don't quote me on that.  The main point is that this "creative thinking" is antithetical to traditional meditation "note the thought, but don't get drawn up in its story, let it pass like a cloud" approach.

/Tangents about reflections I had in the tank...

So my first line of thinking was on this floating facility's business model and the feasibility of copying it.  I was impressed that Ron the proprietor immediately answered an email I sent about floating with a head cold late last night and wondered how much of his customer service he personally handles and how much he can outsource.  I didn't like the prospect of being chronically "on call."  I did like the prospect of minor customer interaction, set a timer, do my own thing for an hour and a half and right when I'd be at a good point to take a mental break, I wake the customers up and pocket $35-$60 each for their service of keeping me focused on whatever desk project I wanted to focus on.  Suppose in broad strokes, he profits an average of $35/2 hours (90 min sessions with 30 mins of pre-post showering) and he does 40 hours of that a week, over a year each tank might make him $35K in a year with 4 weeks of holiday.  He has 4 tanks, but I get that his cost structure ($50K for ozone cleaning system alone) probably means his margin is a bit tighter.  Right, satisfied that a diversified SteamStead in a gentrified area might benefit from having a deco chamber or two, I move on.

Another line of thinking was marveling at how much ego I had attached to making it the full 90 minutes on this, my first session, despite my head cold.  How I wanted some hypothetical audience to marvel that when benchmarked against other newbies, few of them make it for that long.  All sorts of strategies I had in order to hang in there for that long (counting breaths/heart beats to approximate minutes, evaluating  the pruneyness of my fingers), even if doing so turned out to be torture for hungry-full-bladdered-me whose needs I was ostensibly giving my unwavering attention to by doing this exercise.  It's weird how competitive we can get and the tension that can create.

The main theme my creative thinking kept circling back to ended up being on concluding that we reap what we sew.  I had started by asking myself what the nature of ADHD was, if it was increasing, how that might be adaptive in the grand scheme of evolutionary pressures we face.  I came out of the reverie concluding that if we are preferentially breeding plants/livestock to mature earlier, to be burlier (fat or muscle), to look prettier on the shelf, why are we surprised about the hormonal/obesity/vanity issues within our own species?  Why are we surprised about the disregard we have for our elders?  It is challenging to figure out how long a commercial hen's hypothetical natural life could be, let alone throw a birthday party for them when they get there, why would the arc of a human lifespan be that different.   If we look for cheap, commodities from afar it seems inconsistent to resent our employers from sourcing employees globally, warehousing them similarly, and swapping them out when they reach their planned obsolescence.

/End tangents

Leaving the facility and strolling to a coffee joint a couple blocks away (7 leaves-- they make a sweet delicately authentic mint thing they call Sereno which I liked more than my Kean Grasshopper go-to), things seemed a lot more bright vibrant.  Not dissimilar from that stayed up all night tired but relaxed feeling coming out of burning man adventures... which might have included psychotropics.  This was the point of view it seems like good photographers should have, to see the beauty everywhere that we miss when relentlessly caught up in trains of thought.  A guy in a wheelchair by the 7 eleven asked if I was "In Treatment," determined I was "A Normie," and warned me to "be careful in this neighborhood" and I got the jolting tutorial in what Fear felt like physically (one of my creative prompts was to better understand how basic emotions manifest physically to me in hopes of better acknowledging them rather than suppressing them and wondering why their influence pops up surprisingly in less constructive areas).  That this might not be the most gentrified of areas to loiter waiting for a ride or bike to if indisposed.

At any rate, going to a float facility is a little bit too much of a transportation hassle and cash drain for me to make a habit of, but I hope the "bootcamp" effects will persist in my own daily meditation practice and I might welcome some future visits as a less consumerist gift idea for myself or to share with others that are similarly open to the experience.