Thursday, August 17, 2017




I don't think I'm having a meltdown.  Although I haven't had a proper haircut in about a decade, there was just a culmination of small reasons to change my hair...

Ironman logistics-- I get that Justine Leconte says "wet hair" is oh so stylish these days.  Yet between daily swims, zone 4 spinning sessions, and showering off the effects of training, it felt like 1/2 my waking life my hair was soaking, dripping onto the back of shirts and making me generally feel uncomfortable and hygiene-challenged.  It would get pinched and snagged in latex swim caps.  The end of my ponytail could snag under my armpit while running and jerk my head mid-stride.  Plus the cholos on the bike path seemed to really enjoy catcalling an unattended female jogger and while they probably thought of it as a compliment, a group of strange men taking an interest in you comes across as more of a threat.  None of this is "lost the race" size distractions, but annoying like a really persistent mosquito.  

Anti-vanity-- It seemed like the last 2 decades I had this "brand" of being the approachable girl next door your mom would totally approve of, mostly executed by growing my hair out as long as possible and dying any greys that might belie premature aging but otherwise keeping things low key "I woke up looking like this."  That worked great, I snagged my prince.  Then I discovered he doesn't really care as much about physical appearance as I had assumed... or conversely, maybe I cornered him into trying not to seem shallow and now he's gotta stick by his claims and help me figure out how to use his clippers.  *evil grin*  Either way, a hairstyle choice that would devastate MacGyver was no longer a plausible excuse for a deal breaker.  Which left me alone in grappling with the "scariness" of this project.  What was I afraid of?  Would having short hair net me worse treatment by random dudes? Would I swap the cholo catcalls with lesbian comeons?  Would my androgynous build and eschewing makeup get me confused for being a dude?  Just how much of it was grey now?  I know I don't have cute Natalie Portmanesque elfish features, but would I look hideous?  My hair grows slow and life doesn't come with a control + z function to undo so this was an all-in gutsy move.  What would my tri club and master gardener friends make of all this?  

Adventures-- ever since Mandy chopped her locks and said she donates periodically to Locks of Love, that seemed like a cool upright citizeny ritual to copy.  Since my hair grows slow and they need 10" minimum it took a pretty long time to qualify for their donation requirements.  Plus they said they can take grey hair but they sell it and use the proceeds to make wigs so I figured now was the time to maximize the chances my hair made the cut for a kid wig.  Then there was the whole fiasco on the news with the skinheads in Charlottesville, VA.  I don't usually get all that involved in political stuff but seeing footage VICE did of the alt+right rally was really upsetting and sort of galvanized me to do something pro-social...  I may be descended from the Lees of VA, but if I want this to be my homeland, I need to earn that right, not wave a tiki torch around and insist it is my birthright.  What happened with our culture to radicalize people like that?  What made them so angry, alienated, entitled?  The glee they get out of public outrage, it seems like they never evolved out of the rebellious teenager stage but these are people in their 40's and 50's.  So I guess on some level I'm a liberal skin head, or at least shaved head now.  


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SNAP Challenge

Debrief on the 30 day Food Stamp Challenge at $5/person/day.

We "cheated" a bunch, so this could be an interesting one to periodically circle back to and tighten the screws on the rules.

  • Food already in the house was considered free.  The main motive for this challenge now was to eat down some of our less popular pantry reserves.  
  • Quickly abandoned trying to track what MacGyver buys/eats at work.  So that meant our $10 daily budget covered only about 4 meals a day rather than 6.  
  • "Fitness" nutrition (i.e. gels, bars, etc.) was not counted towards this budget because I already have 2 coaches very concerned about my disinterest in fueling.  
  • We kinda stopped counting on day 29 because day 30 was a fun cross-continental funeral adventure and being on the road subsisting off fast food (even when air dad is able to seat you in heavily snack provisioned zones for the flights) is untenable on $5-$10 a day.  
  • MacGyver lost 10 lbs.  
  • My weight has a lot of variance, but I think I came down 1-2 lbs.  
  • Maybe a 50% reduction in random/redundant pantry inventory... still haven't found a use for surplus cricket flour.
  • Good and Cheap cookbook was geared towards this SNAP purpose and is free in pdf form but it is more sporting to buy a glossy paperback version so the proceeds can go to a good cause.  It was helpful to have experimented a bit with this "capsule" of recipes before starting the challenge, but we didn't slavishly build menus off this book during the challenge.
  • Local grocery store has overlapping promos on Weds, so I would bike there with a backpack.  The backpack reined in how much I bought (typically $25 or less).  I found it particularly discouraging to buy high liquid content, chill requirements, or excessively packaged convenience foods which also tend to be pricier...  MacGyver would say a drawback to this strategy is that I didn't get enough of his favorite foods (i.e. meat and beer) but he also thinks the cutback in beer contributed the most to his weight loss.
  • CSA box-- I have a fraught relationship with these boxes.  If I load the equivalent contents into my Sprouts Amazon Now cart, it costs $6.79 but the CSA costs $17 and is much less convenient to pickup fortnightly and often requires more cleaning and prep.  It does force us to eat veggies, often ones we wouldn't select for ourselves (i.e. lettuce) and that premium pricing does go towards supporting a local food shed though.  If we were truly on austerity measures, I would cancel CSA and hope that I supplemented with an increase in grocery store trips and veggie share of my cart.  In a similar vein, I found myself opting for non-organic options with killer sale prices (bacon, eggs, etc.) when ideologically, I would rather be in the premium price for organic/sustainably harvested camp.  
  • Create convenience food-- the most dangerous intervals were ones where we were exhausted, hungry, and didn't have a plan.  Filling fit packer containers with prepped or precooked "budget" items increased the likelihood we would eat them rather than skipping a meal or defecting to a fast food joint or an off-schedule calorie/nutrition light grocery run.  After a couple disasters and as our emergency snack pantry levels dwindled, I found myself doubling recipes or cooking something in parallel to eat later as an insurance policy.  I would scrutinize perishable things that didn't seem to be "moving" and try to find ways to make them more enticing-- maybe cut the grapes into smaller clusters?  etc.  That said, if you're not already in the habit of elaborate baking projects (pizza dough, bread, dumplings), it is unrealistic to anticipate you'll suddenly have time to knock those to-do's out while grappling with whatever withdrawal symptoms you have from absconding from cafes, sugary convenience foods, alcohol and other luxuries.
  • "Working remotely" and traveling was perilous.  There are few places that will let you camp with a laptop for hours on end that don't also expect you to purchase something that will annihilate your food budget for the day.  Starbucks comes to mind.  I found myself trying to limit the number of days I might need to "hang out" to carpool somewhere to avoid temptation.  When I heard the siren song, I tried to choose the simplest and smallest size options to get the fix without going deeper in the hole.  But I wasn't too aggressive with maximizing my dollars here because I learned in previous frugal challenges a tall house coffee doesn't scratch that "indulgence" itch that a tall latte monogrammed with my misspelled name would and therefore doesn't trigger a "I've been bad and now need to stick to the straight and narrow" cooldown.    
  • Big mason jars FTW.  I got an additional four of the gallon sized dry goods jars and six of the half gallon size wide mouth jars shipped from Ball and these are the best storage/organization investment ever (especially if you standardize on one mouth size across all your jars).  They allow you to raid the bulk bins at the grocery store and have an attractive place to store your loot.  You can also see these otherwise unglamorous rice, flour, trail mix, bean, etc. staples and that seemed to be half the battle to incorporating them into the rotation more.  As a corollary, anything dusty and shelf-stable I wanted to move, I started to push into clear glass cabinets so I could see it better as well (and because its typically gauche packaging was something I was motivated to zen out of my kitchen).  


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Banned Book Club: Anarchist Cookbook

Watched the American Anarchist documentary on Netflix released after the author's death and was moved by the irony of the situation.  Angry 19 year old pursues his bucket list objective of writing a book, thinking himself cleverly subversive in repackaging obscure but public knowledge in more incendiary easier access prose, book sells better than expected and despite his tirade against the oppressive power of private property he could use the royalties money, original publisher gets bought out and he sells his rights to acquirer, becomes a teacher focused on at risk youth, book starts to be connected with terrorist acts perpetrated by at risk youth, has lost publishing rights he would need to discontinue the book.  It is a tragically great story.

Plus lately I've been interested in people who seem to have done a public 180 on their thinking about a given topic (i.e. Neil Strauss: The Game-->The Truth, Tucker Max: I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell--> Mate, etc.).  

Prefatory note on Anarchism today-- By "today" he means 1970.  After brief delight at the cozily familiar anarchist "zine" feel (i.e. Days of War, Nights of Love), this chapter quickly deteriorated into Nixonian era current event name dropping and overly theoretical rants about Socialism, Marxism, and the parallels or lack thereof between WWII and Nam.  I had to bushwhack through persistent flashbacks to UofChicago core social science curriculum shot through with labyrinthine German 19th century exposition and the hope the professor wouldn't cold call on me to express my opinion on the topic.  It is too bad the author didn't want to be involved in updating this to make it more accessible to readers living after the soviet collapse.  Anarchy as I understand it is anti-hierarchy or more generally anti-authoritarian ways of organizing society.  Anarchy as he defines it is creating disruptive chaos in hopes of destabilizing the oppressive state and discontinuing the institution of private property which must be at fault because you feel alienated.  (OK, that might not be the most sympathetic interpretation of the thrust of his argument).  I'm not sure I'm on board with this particular creed, but it was helpful to work out for myself what my specific objections were.  

Chapter One: Drugs-- By now, I'm skimming and questioning whether what I am doing actually counts as "reading" to cross this banned book off my own bucket list.  Interesting acknowledgement of the paradox that drugs can numb would-be revolutionaries into complacency and should be avoided, but drugs can also lift some of the cultural constraints of one's world view and open up the possibility for exploring plausible alternatives to the status quo.  Ironic his view of utopia includes a transition into a time when no one is imprisoned for drug possession as it seems like that is what the decriminalization movement is starting to achieve.  The Pot scene has evolved dramatically since the 70's and Youtube would be a far more practical resource.  He seems to be afraid of needles.  I am not sure I have a large enough social circle to consume 15 pounds of bananas so I can render their skins into a psychedelic.  Not surprising for a 19 year old author, but curious there is very little discussion use of drugs for suicide beyond the standard cautions about overdosing, since suicide seemed to be another popular reason for banning books these days.

Chapter Two: Electronics, Sabotage, and Surveillance-- Completely skimmed this as feature-loaded smartphones and cameras have completely changed the surveillance landscape.  Shoplifting may also morph into various forms of fraud with the shift towards digital retail rather than high tailing it into a nearby mass transit hub.  I'm not sure how many pre 1964 Chevies are still in working order to hot wire (but if we got into a Season 1 of Walking Dead highway gridlock zombie apocalypse situation, that would be a handy skill to have... maybe Echo will take over the ignition for us soon).  It seems like a more developed Social Engineering section (i.e. tv series Lie to Me) could be useful and timeless to both the good guys and the baddies (although I guess we all think we are good guys).  

Chapter Three:  Natural, Nonlethal and Lethal Weapons-- I was only interested in what he had to say about air guns (apparently nothing unless they are the same as bolt action rifles) as I'm not entirely sure how deadly DH's trash panda deterrent would be if it fell into the wrong or unskilled hands.  Amusingly convenient to see that the "How to make tear gas in your basement" section is immediately followed by "Defense and medical treatment for gases."  Odd there isn't a first aid section following the knives and guns section.  

Chapter Four: Explosives and Booby Traps-- What a fun way to learn chemistry concepts.  At this point, my mind has completely wandered to the Warren Buffett documentary I watched last night and the concept of buying "cigar butts" or companies that are on the decline but if you time your purchase right, still have one good smoke left in them, as his wife summarized it.  I also got to thinking about the Drawdown book on carbon sequestration I'm concurrently reading and wondering what a great investor someone with deep macgyver-like understanding of materials science and how things work (like this applied chemistry chapter) could be at anticipating which old guard industries still have some "good smoke" of assets that would be of use to future industries.  

Postscript:  Was I the only intrigued by this Vera point system that determines whether you qualify for a summons or go to a jail until your court date?  It had me wondering about a lot of implicit race/sex/age/etc-isms built into the system and if there was a statistical basis for them.  Sure, prior record is a plausible indicator, but employment duration?  family ties?  duration in residence?  

So I think I've pretty much scratched my "banned book" subversive itch for the time being.  Hopefully I'm not on some watch list for this purchase. 


Monday, July 10, 2017

Banned Book Club: Grapes of Wrath

This one intrigued me for garnering both a Pulitzer and a ban from a county less than 200 miles away.
Lots of practical insight for Peak people facing the prospect of having to bug out here--

  1. Avoid debt, it can whittle your options down to the point where it feels like you don't have any. 
  2. Conversely, avoid running your operation strictly to maximize profits.  You'll lose the versatility of diversified sources of resources and income and have your margins squeezed by even larger, more specialized operators.  
  3. It helps to be technically savvy in whatever the transportation vehicle du jour is. 
  4. Water.  Know how to find it, purify it, transport it.  Be aware of water property rights when entering new terrain (i.e. Mojave).
  5. Air.  This came more from Ken Burns documentary, but it is interesting that a variety of natural disasters can jeopardize air quality and at the point when that becomes apparent, supplies of protective equipment sell out fast. 
  6. Sun.  Exposure could be inevitable and durable items like hats may have more utility than consumables like sunscreen you might not be able to afford.
  7. Modest procreative ambitions.  This one might not be a popular takeaway, but I was struck with how large these farm families were and how that could increase the stakes for any decision because there was always a crisis with someone they were trying to troubleshoot.
  8. But conversely, a big theme of the whole book was how resilient humans were for being able to ban together and help each other, even strangers, even if it inconvenienced us and that if we abandon this instinct, things get brutal fast.  
More generic review posted here.

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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.