Magpie Designs

Friday, September 10, 2021

 Are you looking for a reasonably priced, meaningful gift for someone in your life? 

(Begin shameless self-promotion)

How about a custom, hand-inlaid ring in the materials of your choice? I'm introducing my new side-gig, Magpie Designs. I'm making such rings for sale, as well as making them for my friends, family, and as incentive gifts for those who donate $500 or more to my favorite charity, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

Here are some examples of my work:

"Forged in Dragon Flames"
Crimson Opal and Dragon Scale Opal in Black Ceramic

"Waterloo Sunset"
Fire Burl Dichrolam in Stainless Steel

"Delirious Nebula"
Deep Space Opal in Cobalt Chromium

"Tiger Bones"
Tiger's Eye in Black Ceramic

"It Might as Well be Spring"
Forest Green, Wasabi Green and Black Polymer Clay in Cobalt Chromium

Each of these pieces represents different techniques and materials, and is named for a song that represents the vision I had for the ring. 

If you're interested in commissioning a ring for yourself or someone else in your life, visit Magpie Designs and see what I have on offer. I'll be taking orders for guaranteed delivery by Christmas through November 1st, best effort after that. Thanks for considering my creations!

On the 8th anniversary of your death

Saturday, July 31, 2021

 Today is the 8th anniversary of your death. In some ways, it feels like I've been bearing this burden of grief forever - it's part of my life, and carrying it is my "normal," whatever the hell that means. 

But in other ways, it feels like I learned the news of your death just yesterday, and my grief is still a raw, blistering thing that lays upon my heart like an anvil. 

I'm doing better this year than last, since last year was simply unbearable for a variety of reasons. But it always hurts, and will continue to hurt, for the rest of my life. As the analogy goes, grief comes in waves. Sometimes I can catch it and ride it to shore, and other times it wipes me out, leaving me tumbling through the sea like a piece of flotsam during a storm. 

Regardless of whether it's a terrible year or a bearable year, I will always, always love you, each and every day of my life. I will always, always honor your life and work to make the world a better place in your name. I love you, baby girl. 

________


July 31, 2013 was the worst day of my life. It was the worst day of my life because that was the day the Police Department came to our home to tell us our precious daughter Moe had died of suicide at the age of 22. 

Moe died of uncontrolled mental illness. She experienced severe depression, and was under a doctor's care for her condition. But we lost her anyway, leaving a Moe-shaped hole in my heart that nothing will ever be able to fill. 

Every day I mourn her loss in this world, and I would give everything to have her here with us again. But I can't do that, so instead I choose to perform service projects in her memory such as being a good ally to the LGBTQ+ community, and donating money to institutions she cared about, like our local library foundation. 

And I also support AFSP's mission in helping people who are at risk overcome their lack of hope and help those who have been affected by suicide. 

This is the fifth year I've been up to participating in this event personally, but this will be the eighth year the Maureen's Marchers team is hitting the road in my baby girl's name on the annual Out of the Darkness Denver Metro Walk. The money raised in this event will go to fighting suicide and supporting AFSP's goal to reduce the suicide rate 20% by 2025. This goal is especially challenging in our current situation, where people are still feeling isolated, anxious and uncertain of what the future will bring. 

The danger of suicide is especially high within the LGBTQ+ community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth aged 15 to 24 and the third leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 14. Among youth who identify as sexual minorities, the likelihood of death by suicide has been estimated to be two to seven times greater than the likelihood of death by suicide among heterosexual youth. These kids need help, and it's up to us to provide it in any way we can. 

Please help us honor our lost, beloved Moe-Moe and consider donating to the AFSP. All donations are 100% tax deductible and benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), funding research, education, advocacy, and support for those affected by suicide. The AFSP is a Charity Navigator 4 star charity, and they spend 83.1% of their total budget on program expenses. 

"When you are sorrowful look again at your own heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight." ~ Khalil Gibron

Thank you for your support!

So Exhausting

Thursday, July 29, 2021

 

Yesterday while reading the news, I discovered that the CDC has changed its guidance regarding masks due to a large uptick in COVID infections across the country. In areas where the Delta variant is running amok, they now recommend even vaccinated people where masks indoors where there are many people present. 

I also read that resentment of people who refuse to get vaccinated is growing - even among Republicans - as we continue to struggle to move past the pandemic.

Then I read this morning that even vaccinated people, i.e., yours truly, may be carrying a significant viral load of the Delta variant, even while asymptomatic. 

What this means to me is that I am now a danger to those around me who are not vaccinated. It means it's possible I've already had COVID, masquerading as summer allergies. It means I have a responsibility to society to prevent spreading this illness to those who either refuse to get vaccinated, or those who cannot get vaccinated.

And I have Feelings about this. 

Mostly I just find the whole thing exhausting. It was very easy to get out of the habit of masking up when going out in public, with the exception of air travel. It was a delight to start socializing with folks outside our "cell."* It was a pleasure to get back to the gym for strength training without having to wear a mask. And now we have to go back. 

I want to be clear about something - I am absolutely willing to go back to mask wearing for the sake of those among us who are immunocompromised, or can't take the vaccine for other medical reasons. As a member of, you know, humanity, I have an obligation to do so. It's a minor inconvenience, after all, and doing so costs me nothing and may save someone's life. Go, saving someone's life. 

But I have to admit that doing so for the sake of the knuckleheads who refuse to get vaccinated because "freedom" or "you can't make me, neener-neener-neener" or "it's all a radical liberal plot" sticks in my craw just a little. 

I absolutely believe in agency when it comes to health and safety. You want to ride your motorcycle down the interstate at 100mph without a helmet? Fine. There's a reason ER personnel call such folks "organ donors," but whatever - it's your noggin. You want to forego a seatbelt because in 1 out of a 1,000 accidents being thrown from the car results in the person not dying? You do you, boo. Clearly you flunked statistics, but again - whatevs. 

But vaccination is different. An individual's decision not to get vaccinated does not affect just them. It affects all of us, in every community. It decreases herd immunity. It puts stress on our health care system. It increases the probability of folks who cannot be vaccinated getting sick and dying. It puts the burden of the health of the willfully unvaccinated on the shoulders of those who committed to the idea of the common good and herd immunity. And while I'm having some trouble mustering up sympathy for new COVID cases among the willfully unvaccinated, those who cannot get vaccines should not be subjected to additional risk because I (or anyone else, for that matter) refuses to wear a mask because they don't understand science, or "freedom," or they get their medical advice from unqualified, partisan politicians, or they just don't give a shit about anyone else as long as they're not inconvenienced. 

I don't believe vaccines should be mandated on a public level.** Such an edict would contradict my core values. But I do think the unvaccinated should be made to reduce their public life for the sake of public health. Don't want to be excluded from a cruise or an airplane or a public event? Then get vaccinated. Don't want to get vaccinated because you're a putz? Then restrict your public movements. 

It really is that simple for me. And I find the politicalization of vaccines and science to be disgusting, immoral, and shameful. 

You'll see me on the other side (of my mask, that is). 

________

*We only socialize with people who are 100% vaccinated. We still have high risk people in our lives, and even before the CDC changed its guidance, we were taking no chances with their health and well-being. If that offends you or hurts your feelings, sorry-not-sorry. 

**I'm a-okay with vaccine mandates for certain professions such as healthcare workers. As a veteran, I fully understand the need to give up some control of my medical care for the sake of the group, and while I understand such things may stick in the craw, it is my belief that doing so is a public good from a Kantian point of view. 

Self-Care Saturday

Saturday, April 17, 2021

 

Last year after the lock-downs started, the Smart Man and I gained the dreaded "COVID-19." Since we weren't exactly slender to start with, this soon became a problem from a health and fitness perspective. 

So in May of 2020, we endeavored to lose some weight. The Smart Man had already been slowly losing for the previous year, but we both got serious in May, and we were pretty disciplined in our program. 

Since May, I have lost 68 pounds, and overall, the Smart Man has lost 40 pounds. Since sizes these days are so inconsistent and vanity driven, I'll say that this translates into a six size reduction in my clothes based on the Levi's brand. I was going to try and lose five more pounds as a stretch goal, but I'm incredibly tired of dieting, so I'm sticking with the original goal - a 22.3 BMI, right in the middle of the healthy range.

We're pretty proud of ourselves for this accomplishment, but really - now the tough work begins. I've always been able to lose weight when I decide I need to do so. It's the maintenance that kills me. This cycle of yo-yo dieting isn't good for me for a variety of reasons, so the next year will require a lot of vigilance on my part to ensure I remain within the weight/size range I've set for myself. I'll check back in at this time next year, and hopefully I'll look exactly the same. 


Before. (Sorry for the crappy picture - it's not like I really wanted to photograph myself when I looked like this.)


After. 



Ramona the Feminist

Saturday, March 27, 2021


Today is a very sad day for me, as Beverly Cleary, whose books helped make me a lifelong bibliophile, has passed away at the age of 104.

Like my friend Carolyn, I found Beverly Cleary's Ramona books utterly relatable. I was a younger sister, and my sister would often tease me and called me a "pest" in the same way Beezus would tease Ramona. It bothered me at the time, but now that I have the perspective of age, I realize now how large a compliment it was, even though she didn't mean it that way.

Ramona was unapologetically RAMONA, and that is a splendid thing to be, indeed. As Carolyn notes, she took up space in the world when girls and women were expected to shrink their true selves to accommodate the egos of men and societal norms. Not Ramona, who had a very large heart and cared for others, while simultaneously trying to find her worth in the world. She knew she had value, but the circumstances of her age, gender, birth order, and social norms combined to label her Ramona-ness as something to be criticized, suppressed, devalued.

Ramona the Pest was published in 1968, when I was three years old. The expectations for girls were evolving, but the toxic social norm of deferring to boys and men because girls were "less than" was in full force, and continues to this day, to a somewhat lesser degree.

For me, the lesson of Ramona was that it was right to become frustrated and upset when I was being disrespected based on my gender, my age, and the expectations of others. As I grew, I lost that lesson for a long time, and trying to twist myself into something I wasn't for the comfort and benefit of others made me deeply angry and resentful. But Ramona stayed with me, quietly reminding me that my feelings were valid and worthy of consideration and I should not sacrifice my well-being in service to the patriarchy. The result? Now that I'm older, I still rage against the machine but I am more content in my efforts, knowing the goal of egalitarianism is not an aberration but a desire for society to be its best self, without marginalization and suppression of the other. My goal is morally defensible, and utterly correct.

The real feminist in this story is Beverly Cleary. And she expressed the essence of feminism - the right to be who you will and make the choices that define you - through Ramona. Ramona the Pest, Ramona the Brash, Ramona the Egalitarian, Ramona the Brave, Ramona the Feminist.

Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for writing stories about ordinary kids with ordinary problems, who nevertheless dream of greatness. Thank you for influencing generations of girls in a positive way, giving them permission to be who they are, and to view themselves through the lens of self-determination. You will be missed in this world, but Ramona - and all your characters - will live on.



Achievement unlocked: Creating lifelong readers.


Beware the Ides of March

Monday, March 15, 2021

 

Today has been kind of a strange day. 

As many of you know, today is the birthday of my twin children, Moe and the Smart Son. Since we lost Moe to suicide in 2013, this day has been a tough one for me, and given how tough her death anniversary was for me in 2020, I really had no reason to anticipate this day would be anything other than a bloody train wreck. 

But it isn't. The first thing I thought of when I woke up was the fact that it was the Smart Son's birthday and I needed to transfer some birthday bucks to his PayPal account. Not the twins' birthday, just the birth of my surviving child. In fact, I didn't even think of Moe's birthday until Sister Stacey sent me a text early this morning letting me know she was thinking about me, and it still took me a second to realize what in the Sam Hill she was talking about. 

I'm not sure how I feel about this. 

On the one hand, I have guilt that Moe wasn't the first thing I thought of this morning. I do still think about her daily, but she's no longer the first thing I think about as soon as I wake up. And when I compare my almost-non-reaction today to my emotional reaction in years past, it almost seems as if her presence (and absence) in my life is no longer as important to me as it once was. 

On the other hand, moving forward with my life (and taking part in other people's lives as they move on, as well) is the natural order of things, I suppose. Should I be happy that I can think of her with love and gratitude without also experiencing heart-wrenching grief? I honestly don't know. Losing her, especially to mental illness and suicide, is without exception the worst thing that has ever happened in my life. 

Is the fact that my strength in managing my grief is increasing a sign of healing and hope? Or is it a sign that my grief reactions are changing because she's not as important to me now that there're some years between her death and now? 

I wish I knew.

Moe would have been 30 years old today. I miss you, Pumpkin. 

On the state of the Republic and my uneasy heart

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The last two weeks have left me angry, sad, afraid, and completely scattered. I have so many thoughts and feelings about the events of January 6th and its aftermath, my mind is skipping from thought to thought, and my emotions are all over the place. I need to get a handle on these things, since I'm jumpy and on edge, and it's interfering with my work and my relationships. So here are my thoughts and fears, my rage and concerns, my grief and reactions, in no particular order. 

________

Lipstick on a Pig

Let's not mince words and refer to the group who invaded the Capital building as "rioters" or "protesters." They weren't. The correct word is insurrectionists. And just in case you need a refresher, here's the relevant Title: 

§2383. Rebellion or insurrection

Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

In the case of these particular insurrectionists, they were attempting to prevent the United States Congress and the Vice President of the United States from following the Constitution and executing their duty under the law in certifying the electoral vote. Insurrectionists

Language matters. Using "soft" language to describe the events of the 6th deescalates the seriousness of the crimes committed in the Capital building, including the murder of a Capital Police Officer who was killed for doing his duty.

________

This is why we can't have nice things

While my rage has diffused somewhat since the 6th, it has only gone from "apoplectic with rage" to "rage." The people who chose to breach the barriers of the Capital, and those who gave aid or comfort to those people, are fucking traitors to the Constitution and the nation it created. They claim to be patriots, and try to romanticize their bullshit by comparing themselves to the American revolutionaries who precipitated the birth of our nation, but they are wrong, spectacularly wrong, on both counts. Patriots don't attempt to hunt down and kill our political leaders because a legal and fair election didn't go their way. The American revolutionaries of our history rebelled against the Crown because they believed they were being treated unfairly and wanted a say in their government. Do you see the difference? The insurrectionists of January 6th do have a say in our government. They just didn't get the outcome they wanted - in other words, they lost. And in their mind, that means they're justified in throwing a temper tantrum of epic proportion, attempting a coup against the legally elected government of the United States. Traitorous motherfuckers, the lot of them, and all of them should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and given the maximum sentences. 

And I'm also going to indulge in some "I told you so." On November 15, 2016, I wrote:

To those 47% of you that voted for Trump, I have to say - this is your dumpster fire. He has shown the country and the world who he is, again and again and again. But you wouldn't believe him. So when he continues to be who he is, I don't want to hear about how "you didn't know." Of course you knew. You just didn't care because he appealed to your baser instincts and you fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.

You knew. You didn't care. And so you own this criminal piece of shit administration, this insurrection, this four years of lies, corruption, bad behavior, and mishandling of the epidemic. I hope you enjoy being on the wrong side of history. And if you voted for this reprobate twice? I don't even know how to respond to such an incredible display of poor judgement and White supremacy. 

________

Accountability: It's not just for the "low-class" anymore

So tRump finally became the bestest President in history by getting his ass impeached not once but twice. He's winning!

Actually, he's really not. He's a big fat loser and the walls are closing around him because he finally went too far even for Vice President Pence and Majority Leader McConnell. He miscalculated his ability to act with impunity, and now he and his ill-begotten children are going to pay, and pay, and pay. Whether he wins or loses, he'll pay with the humiliation of another Senate trial. He's already paying with a loss of allies, advisors and champions. He'll pay as investigators continue to dig into what exactly happened on the 6th. He'll pay when the state and city of New York and the state of Georgia indict him. He'll pay when he has to declare bankruptcy (again!) due to his lost relationships with other businesses. His retRumplican sycophants will pay with a loss of political contributions for their complicity in enabling him. His shitty, entitled kids will pay with the loss of their social standing and reputation (like they needed any help on that score). And you know what? Fuck him. Fuck him and all his smug, criminal family. I have no sympathy for these immoral Marie Antoinette wannabes - they deserve far worse than what's going to happen to them. Nothing would please me more than for every damn one of them to disappear into the obscurity they so richly deserve. After their legal and financial troubles are widely reported, scrutinized, and commented upon, I mean. 

________

IDOR got your tongue?*

I find it funny (in a "Can you believe this shit?" way rather than a "funny haha" way) that the insurrectionists were So. Fucking. Stupid. I mean seriously - they filmed themselves going into the Capitol building, they took pictures and filmed themselves actually committing their crimes, and then promptly posted all this to social media where any old body could see it and use it to identify them as insurrectionists. Way to out yourself, genius! 

Did they think this was a game, and their goal was to be "seen" being a big, bad tough guy on social media and the news? Wrong answer, idiot. The FBI, the Capital Police, the Metro Police and the Secret Service aren't laughing. At all. And now you're shocked - shocked you say! - to discover that your group is being rounded up and arrested for your part in this travesty? Get the fuck out of here. Your misanalysis of the situation does not excuse your acts. 

And to add insult to their injury, these dumbasses had previously flocked to a social media platform that marketed themselves as a private, secure, unmoderated platform championing unfettered free speech. Here was a place where the right-wing extremists could exalt in their hate and also plan their misdeeds without interference from the "liberal media." However, Parler didn't hire the best or the brightest or even the minimally competent to architect their platform. Which led to the platform having such a basic, giant security hole in its software that you could launch a Saturn V through it. And people did. Prior to AWS shutting down their servers, hackers waltzed on in and scraped every bit of data they could find, including all the messages, photos, and videos on the site, which included the metadata associated with each object. For those who don't work in technology, this means the people who have archived Parler's data now have a treasure trove of information that will help law enforcement identify and analyze the ringleaders of the insurrection. Parler's technical team made it easy for them, and you can rest assured that ALL of this data is now public, right down the GPS coordinates of where the posts were made. You can even find out what your neighbors have been posting, if you're so inclined.

I could make a "stupid is as stupid does" or "we deserve a better class of insurrectionist" joke here, but it seems like shooting fish in a barrel. 

________

Dishonor before Death

I have a special kind of hate in my heart* for the veterans who chose sedition on the 6th. These are the same hypocrites who are constantly parading around their veteran status with grand announcements about how their "oath never expires" and then turn around and join the "Oath Keepers" or "The 3%ers," or other extreme militias/hate groups who participate in domestic terrorism. Make no mistake - these people have absolutely betrayed their oath, no ifs, ands, or buts. Their oath was to defend the Constitution, and here they were, shaming their service by attempting to stop the Constitutionally mandated duty of Congress and the Vice President. I am ashamed of them, and ashamed that their previous "service" lumps them in the same category as me and the other honorable, patriotic veterans of my acquaintance. They even wanted to kill their own Vice President for the heinous crime of following the Constitution in the execution of his duties. Yeah, you're keeping your oath, all right, you piece of shit. 

________

Business first

I have mixed emotions about the way Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple, AWS and others have basically shut down the social media presence of extreme and far right activists, including retRumplicans. I understand exactly why they did it, of course. These companies currently occupy four slots in the Fortune 50, and the one who didn't make that cut - Twitter - is extremely powerful in this context because tRump relied on it so heavily to stoke his populist flames. But let's be honest, here. They're in business to make money, regardless of what their PR folks would have you believe. Their fiduciary responsibility is to their shareholders, not some nebulous ideal of protecting democracy or whatever. And having the federal government in an uproar and forcing citizens to become even more uncertain about the future of our nation is not good for business. A stable society that respects the rule of law is a much better business environment than chaos and insurrection. The second these companies started to consider tRump and his ilk a liability rather than an asset to their business plans, they made a business decision and dumped him and his hard-core supporters like a hot rock. 

On the one hand, speech encouraging violence and sedition should be banned by private companies. But then it raises the question of who gets to decide? Big Tech executives? Why are they empowered to do so? What makes them more qualified to determine what crosses the line and what doesn't? How would I feel if the current "banning" bias was against liberal thought and opinion rather than conservative? These companies represent a huge market share in the areas where they do business, and I'm not sure I want private corporations to have this much power over political discourse. 

Yes, yes, the 1st Amendment does not apply to corporations, only the government. I took a college level civics class, unlike actual retRumplican politicians who have presumably passed the Bar. But this is not the 18th Century, and I'm not sure our Founders had an instant information society driven by private industry in mind when they wrote the Bill of Rights. In this specific case, I'm starting to think some measure of government regulation over these issues might be in order, or at least worth discussing. I miss the Fairness Doctrine. 

________

Worn out, worn down

I've spent the last four years on a slow boil from a politics perspective, wondering when this nightmare would end. And the answer appears to be "Not in my lifetime." Anonymous sources have been telling reputable media outlets for weeks that the reTrumplicans in Congress knew full well the election wasn't "rigged" or "stolen." But they continued to support this nonsense because tRump's base and their base have significant overlap, and it's more important to them to get reelected than to be honorable people and fulfill their oaths to the Constitution. 

And I don't really see any way to bridge this gap. Almost half of American voters chose White supremacy over character in November, in spite of all the evidence that proved tRump to be dishonest, misleading, incompetent, stupid, ego-driven, entitled, and generally a person of poor character. They were convinced by a con man that creating an egalitarian society is actually an abrogation of the rights of White people. He brought to the surface and stoked the idea that the Blacks and the browns and the wimmin were coming for their guns, their money, their place in society, their privilege. 

Well, that last item IS actually true. 

It makes me throw up in my mouth that these selfsame "patriots" who only wanted to ensure the election was "free and fair" are calling for national unity now that their tRump has come home to roost. You're four years too late and 74 Electoral College votes too short, you corrupt, dishonorable wretches. This is your legacy now -- an armed insurrection inside the Capital building, enabled and tacitly approved by you, in service to your ego and your ambition. 

So I'm sad and exhausted. I'm sad about what tRump's manipulations, lies, authoritarianism and fascist tendencies have done to people I know and care about. I'm exhausted by a political system that allows the minority to dictate policy to the majority based on shenanigans and greed. I'm sad about the no-end-in-sight polarization of our political parties which will probably continue until well after I'm gone. And I'm exhausted by my own cynicism about the country I swore to protect with my life. 

________

*"IDOR" stands for insecure direct object reference, the security hole that hackers used to scrape Parler data from their servers.  

**My intense feelings surrounding this small group bothers me. Hate is a vile emotion, and poisons people from the inside. I have work to do in order to get a handle on this.