Breast Cancer: The Divide Between Awareness and Progress

This past Sunday, New York Times Magazine had an insightful cover story entitled “Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer” by Peggy Orenstein. The title jumped out at me for very personal reasons: my best friend is an Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) survivor. When she was first diagnosed in 2009 (at the age of 34), I saw the pink ribbon as a symbol of hope and solidarity. Times have changed a bit.

From 2009 to the present, my friend had chemo, a double masectomy, some lymph nodes removed, radiation, reconstructive surgery where they used muscles from her back to create breasts, a part of her lung removed when her cancer metastasized, and then a hysterectomy because they found estrogen in the tumor in her lung and it confirmed to the doctors that she can’t have estrogen in her body if she wants to have any shot of keeping the cancer away. During all of this, Races for the Cure came and went, a local TV station threw annual telethons where they gave out pink canvas bags emblazoned with their station’s pinked-up logo to donors (costing $6 for shipping, by the way), and pink-infused football games trampled on in all their pink-cleated glory. All the while, no new information, or at times any information was really given to the public about breast cancer. Good luck if you wanted to hear even a mention about IBC, which happens to be among the most lethal forms of breast cancer. I began to wonder when the hell these multi-million dollar outfits were going to actually educate the public on breast cancer beyond Mammographies!Pink!Self-Exam!GOPINK! Pink!PinketyPinkPinkPinkAware!  Behind all of this pink shit, you start to wonder if “awareness” and education are two completely different concepts. For this reason, Peggy Orenstein’s article piqued my interest.

One of the most interesting aspects of Orenstein’s article is her criticism of the “awareness” campaign’s predominant focus on mammograms. After her cancer was detected on her first mammogram, Orenstein was a loud and vocal supporter of them; why is she changing her tune now? Through her research, she came across studies that indicated that women were often over-diagnosed and received unnecessary treatment, exposing them to harmful chemicals and unnecessary procedures. She found that the push for mammograms barely made a scratch on the statistics for women with lethal forms of breast cancer, and for certain age ranges, the mortality rates haven’t changed at all since mammograms became widely used. She points out an interesting fact that is often lost in the messaging: breast cancer alone does not kill you. It kills when it metastasizes to other organs, and there is no evidence linking the size or age of a tumor to when cancer metastasizes, challenging the idea that early detection prevents metastasis.

Now this isn’t to say that we all need to stop doing our self-examinations and just give up on supporting the cause; I also don’t want to discount what Susan G. Komen and other breast cancer charities have done to destigmatize breast cancer. The danger of their overfocus on Pink Awareness is it not only promotes a message that conflicts from multiple scientific findings, it also gets in the way of progress by putting the Brand of Breast Cancer Awareness before education, research and development. In all the years of pink cleats and pink yogurt lids, what exactly have we learned through this campaign? Through this messaging, who has learned that IBC usually doesn’t show up in the form of lumps, but rather a change of texture to your skin? Or who has learned that there are four genetically distinct breast cancers, and that they all respond differently to treatment? And how much of this money raised has gone to research to find a cure? Orenstein reports that the most recent financials available for Susan G Komen show that 16% of the money raised in 2011 went towards research. While that amount is no small potatoes when looking at how much they bring in, it seems to be a remarkably low percentage for a company who sued to trademark “For the Cure.”

As Susan G. Komen looks to find its footing after a year filled with abysmal PR, they find themselves standing in front of an excellent opportunity to take the next progressive leap for the cure: to step away from the information-free ubiquitous wasteland of pink branding, and replace it with a ubiquitous voice and funding source for research and champion for those fighting breast cancer – not just those who have fought and survived, but those who are fighting and struggling to win the battle – a group Orenstein notes is absent from the awareness campaigns.

This last point is important to me. Through these years, I saw my friend fight for her life both physically and mentally. I watched her dig deep and survive – surviving in a way that transcends any illness. This is another thing they don’t tell you about on the yogurt lids: they don’t tell people how hard it is to emotionally recover from cancer. I’ve seen my friend find herself in a very dark place, and I’ve seen her claw her way out of it like the fierce badass mofo she is. It’s hard work to do that, but damn it, she’s done it. Because she’s my badass friend. She is one of many fighters who have had IBC or metastasized cancer and it’s time for us to fight for them and get the breast cancer awareness back on track.

Sources and recommended further reading:
Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer
The National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet on Inflammatory Breast Cancer
NEJM: Effect of Three Decades of Screening Mammography on Breast Cancer Incidence

Haters Gonna Hate: East Bay Edition

When considering a move to the Bay, it quickly becomes obvious that people are very territorial and judgy with their city choices in the area. As we were doing research on where we wanted to live, Google searches kept on bringing us back to one particular website, where the two most common questions appear to be: “is x safe?” and “what’s it like living in y?” After perusing the forums on that web site for the past six months, I have compiled a summary of the every “pro” and “con” argument you will ever see for a number of cities in the East Bay:*

Walnut Creek:
PRO: “Great Schools! Safe! Near Mount Diabolo!”
CON: “All white and snobby! It is the epitome of Blaffluence. What is Blaffluence, you ask? It’s when you have a bunch of rich people who only want to eat and shop at homogenous, overpriced chains where the staff only wears black – it’s like they built a society around The Keg. Also? It’s super hot. For two days in the summer, it get over 85 degrees…so yeah, it’s basically a smoldering hell that shits cash and Neiman Marcus cookies.”

Oakland:
PRO: “It’s like San Francisco, but CHEAPER!”
CON: “It’s basically post-apocalyptic San Francisco. So, if you’re into that…”

Alameda:
PRO: “It’s charming and old. The ferry is the way to commute to San Fran! The weather is perfect!”
CON: “They underreport their crimes. It’s near Oakland. It’s run-down and ghetto.” [seriously, people say this. By the way, the lead image for this post is a picture of one of the many gorgeous houses in Alameda. People? Get out more.]
PRO retort: “Come on, it’s not Antioch.”

San Leandro:
PRO: “People are super-friendly. The Bay-O-Vista and Estudillo Estates neighborhoods are particularly nice!”
CON: “It was nice before 1997, then it went all to shit. They’ve got crime and gangs. People shoot and stab each other at the BART station. Go to Castro Valley instead. San Leandro’s ghetto.” [again, picture of a San Leandro neighborhood:

…Sigh.]
PRO retort: “Sure the city has its problems; what city doesn’t? It’s not like it’s Oakland or Antioch or anything…”

Castro Valley:
PRO: “Great schools! Not ghetto!”
CONS: “Far from San Francisco! Parts of it are ghetto! But it’s way better than San Leandro or Hayward or…Antioch **shudder**” [Real talk, people who use this word excessively: do you even know what a ghetto is? And no, ghetto is not defined as “places that don’t have a Whole Foods.” And newsflash: they are also not “places that happen to have minority residents.” Yeesh.)

Pittsburg:
PRO: “Affordable living! You’ll always have a seat on BART!”
CON: “While it’s not Antioch, it’s a smoldering shithole that is the Roger Clinton to Walnut Creek’s Bill.”

So all in all, the negative perception of the East Bay on message boards is either you’re in Walnut Creek or in a “ghetto”, but just be thankful you don’t live in Antioch, I guess.

[To be fair to the message boards and if you came across this post in hopes of obtaining useful information: if you automatically discount every post that mentions the words “ghetto” or “racists” when describing a city, you are left with some reasonably good information. Pair it up against crimereports.com and walkscore.com, and you’ll be good to go].

*Please note that this post is mocking perceptions that I find to be ridiculous, if that’s not incredibly obvious already.

The Other 90%

So, I am now officially moved to the Bay Area – yay!  I am still temporarily tied to my job in Arizona, so there is only so much I can say about that experience for the time being, however I feel like things are finally getting better. It’s been a rough 6 months with new experiences I would be happy to never encounter again. I’m recovering, and part of that recovery is dusting off the Kitten. That does not quite sound right. Anyhooz, for today, I want to talk about assholes.

I recently witnessed an exchange between two strangers where it was clear one of them made an honest mistake and apologized profusely for it, whereas the other person chose to be an asshole.  It got me thinking: what qualities make up an asshole, and what percentage of the world is made up of them, really?

I conducted a highly scientific study where I hypothesized that the world is probably 20-30% Asshole. Recalling my experience as a waitress, I decided to round that down to 20% – it just seems there should be more because assholes take up a lot more time, space and energy than your average human. Then I thought, “20%; that’s like 1 in 5.  There’s no way there is one asshole to every five people…is there?” I then thought about every place I’ve ever worked. I figure work creates a good cross-section of people; I wouldn’t be friends with assholes, and the average family dynamic is far too complex to determine who is an asshole (plus, I wouldn’t classify anyone in my family is an asshole; mental? Yes. Asshole? Nah ;)).

Upon assessing every former co-worker I’ve ever dealt with, I realized that while there were certain people I certainly didn’t like, most weren’t assholes.  I mentally went through each person I didn’t care for: Slacker. Con artist. Pain in the Ass. Complainer. Rich brat. Psycho. Gossiper. Person Obsessed with Self-Help Groups Who Cannot Be Counted On. Narcissist. Liar. Eggshell-Walking Condescender. To be fair, I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years.  At any rate, it turns out that none of those people could be classified as assholes; there were aspects of each of them I liked and in most cases, they were genuinely decent people. The actual assholes accounted for only 10% of the people I’ve ever worked with.

What was it about this 10% that made me classify them as assholes?  There is a common criteria among all of them:

  • A persistent victimhood where they believe every person around them is angling to attack them
  • An assumption that there is a selfish/hurtful motive behind everything a person says or does
  • A complete disrespect and lack of consideration for others while demanding to be treated like they are King or Queen of the World. This is usually done by belittling, yelling, unnecessary defensiveness and passhole-aggressholery.
  • Anger. Just constant anger over the dumbest, smallest shit.

When you write it all down like this, assholes are a pretty sad lot.  Yet, we give them so much power.  I mentioned earlier about being a waitress.  In my ever-so-brief stint at Friendly’s, I took something from that experience that I still carry with me to this day. No, not the peanut butter fudge ice cream I pilfered when I found out they weren’t paying me my credit card tips – that shit went straight down the piehole three seconds after I walked out the door.

No, I learned that the 10% took up 90% of my time and energy because I only wanted to make them feel satisfied. They were volcanos of anger just waiting to erupt, and I shoved ice cream and attention into their giant, gaping calderas as an offering in the hopes of appeasing them. Silly me. Every time – let me emphasize that – EVERY TIME – it didn’t make a difference. They weren’t looking to enjoy the food I gave them or appreciate my service; they went there looking for problems, free food, and the opportunity to feel superior. This happens all throughout service industries and all throughout life, yet no matter where you go it’s the 10% that get 90% of the attention. It’s the 10% that ruin your day. It’s the 10% that make you throw a phone across the room or take an extra moment in the bathroom to catch your breath. It’s the 10% that make you briefly forget that there are plenty of good, non-asshole humans around you.

In my own experience, I’ve had the most success flicking assholes out of my life by following certain guidelines. When encountering the asshole in your life, consider these tips:

  1. Recognize that an asshole is going to be an asshole no matter what you do, so the first thing you need to realize is their anger is not about you.  Their life is an ongoing flow of rage and negativity and you just happen to be next in a long line of people they are going to rage on.
  2. The best weapons against assholery are patience and kindness. Nothing makes an asshole lose their mind more than another person’s refusal to play their game. I personally believe that at the heart of it all, assholes are assholes because it’s the only way they know how to control their environment and/or feel important. Their power is only what you give them. Be kind, be you, love you, and trust yourself.
  3. There’s a temptation to question yourself after you experienced someone’s rage. Promise yourself that you will take accountability for the mistakes you actually made, but recognize the difference between someone looking for a solution versus someone who wants to just yell for 20 minutes. True story: I once had someone yell at me for 20 minutes over the phone because their health plan gym membership card said “middle name” but it only showed their middle initial. She was rude, sarcastic and of course, pissed. I let her speak, but I remained politely firm that there was nothing that would be done about the situation. After about 10 minutes, I asked, “is there anything else I can help you with today?” She went on ranting for another 10 minutes about how her middle name isn’t “E”, and after she got tired of ranting in circles and not getting a rise out of me, I responded with a pleasant, “well, I thank you for calling; is there anything else I can help you with today?” She finally got off the phone, and for once, I felt perfectly fine after a negative phone call.  It was a transformative moment for me, because it is my tendency to want to please everyone. At that moment I realized some people only want to be displeased, and they want to make you displeased too. Those are the 10%.
  4. Finally, if you are in a situation to do so, just ignore them. As they say on the interwebz, don’t feed the trolls. It sounds like such an elementary school approach to it all, but their behavior is childish.

The biggest challenge for me is when I see examples like the exchange I referenced above. It’s very strange – I am naturally shy and have that whole social anxiety thing going on, but all of that goes out the window when I see an asshole picking on someone. My gut desire is to fucking destroy them. But if I do that, then I’m playing into their game. I’m giving them the attention they crave while letting them control the situation. They win. Instead, take the best of who you are and share it with the people around you – take your compassion, your kindness and your goodwill to the people who will appreciate it as well as the people who haven’t had the opportunity to appreciate it. Randomly pay for a coffee or a toll, say “hello” to people you pass by on the street (people in larger metro areas will look at you suspiciously, but don’t worry about that – just keep at it, I am).

We’re not going to change the world with our kindness, but if we all work to remind each other that there are 9 of us to every 1 asshole, we’ll at least take 90% of our lives back to spend on the things we enjoy and the people we love.  That’s worth it, isn’t it?

Image courtesy of chrisroll/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Menacing Kitten Headquarters Melts Down, Cries Glowing Chernobyl Tears

No one is this happy.

As you know, I am moving. What you may not know is my shit is moving out six weeks before I do, nothing is working the way it’s supposed to, nothing is happening on time, everything sucks and hatehatehatemeltdowncry.

Allow me to back this up a little.

So, we put a bid on a beautiful home. Here’s a picture of it:

The walls, ceiling and crown molding are all plaster and I love it. Here is a picture of the crown molding:

We were supposed to close on said house last Friday. Our mortgage is going through a large banking outfit we will simply call Bells Cargo. We’ve used Bells in the past and had zero problems with them; since our last dealing with them, they instituted a corporate policy of spiking the water cooler with Ambien.  Our initial documents were way, way off: misspellings, incorrect zip codes, years of employment that only make sense if you have been a companion on the TARDIS, and financial numbers that didn’t add up. After a few iterations of documents, a checklist of things to correct and finally a “fuck it, I’ll just scratch it out” resignation, we signed off on a bunch of things. We did inspections and appraisals with three weeks to spare. Periodically, we’d get an email stating something like, “Bells Cargo needs this really important thing in half an hour that we knew about since God touched Adam’s finger, but we thought it would be really fun to wait until now to tell you this.” We panicked, cursed and delivered emergency documents. Things continued to move forward.

We set up movers to come out on Thursday for packing, Friday for loading. The move takes a few days, so we figured that would be a decent amount of time between the Friday closing and getting our stuff at the new house. I’m still not entirely clear why we chose to move the stuff out so early, leaving me with an air mattress and my keyboard to keep me company until the end of March, but I’m fine with it. I don’t need much, and my husband has suffered through rental furniture in his apartment for the past few months. At any rate, the movers seem to be good people who are on top of their shit. Chris booked his flight for the week with the intention to help with the move and get a few estimates to fix up our Arizona house. The movers called me a week out to confirm everything was set up, and called 24 hours before to confirm again. All was good.

Not long after the 24 hour confirmation from the movers, we get another notice from Bells: “That appraisal you reported to us three weeks ago? Yeah, we have this cool algorithm built into our mortgage program that says something like this:
IF AppraisalValue = BidValue, THEN wait >=3 weeks AND RETURN ‘HAHA Fuckers, Closing is delayed.’
And yes, consistent with our reps, our syntax is jacked up.”

So we call the movers and do a change order to delay moving by a week, because storing everything is crazy expensive. We panic, because there is a lot at stake when you get that type of message less than 72 hours before closing. We wait.

The next day, Bells lets us know, 80s style, “PSYYYYEEEK! Appraisal is good.” So…now what? “We want to look at three other random things that didn’t matter previously and can’t give you a timeline yet.”

Awesome.

On Thursday, someone who was supposed to come out and give us an estimate on fixing up the house told us he was double-booked and couldn’t make it out. I’m just adding this because it officially meant Chris came out here for almost no reason.

On Friday, we finally get the final sign-offs from Bells. Friday evening? The Escrow person tells us, regretfully, Bells didn’t send them the loan documents. Color us shocked.

On Saturday, we have an early birthday party for me with our friends. Everyone was amazing as always and I’m reminded how much I love my friends and am going to miss them. Late into Saturday evening partying, I had a drink that included cinnamon whiskey, Crispin hard apple cider, and some kind of schnapps in it. I think. It was very tasty. Someone placed a second one of these drinks in front of me. When a third came out, I vaguely recall telling someone I absolutely could not drink another one and recall a friend double fisting (or rather, double-strawing) the beverage along with his own. My awesome friend Steven was DD for the night and drove Chris and I home. I fell asleep within 30 seconds.

Early Sunday morning. 4:30 a.m. My stomach is killing me. I have cotton mouth, and decide to get a glass of water and powder my nose. This action was clearly too much for my body to handle, and I break out into a cold sweat. After urination is complete, I lie on the floor, lifting the bathmat so I can put my face against the tile. Ahhhh, cool tile. I feel like it is a small miracle I didn’t throw up, but kind of wish I did to get the cinnamon whiskey alien out of my stomach. I crawl back into bed. For two hours I have nightmares where I see drinks being placed down in front of me, and I’m crying out, “No, no! No more!” while still tasting cinnamon whiskey residue in my esophagus. Shot glass with something and lime. No! Tall glass with a straw. Nooo! Limes! Straws! Glasses! Booze! Noooooooooo!

I think I need to curb my drinking a skooch.

Later in the morning on Sunday, I’m feeling a little better despite a lingering taste of cinnamon whiskey I can’t lose. A carpet guy comes over to give us an estimate on replacing the carpet. We schedule them for next Saturday. So, Thursday – packing, Friday – loading, Saturday – Carpets. Okay. I feel like I should put my dog somewhere during all this and still don’t know what to do about that. She’s sensitive. Sunday afternoon, Chris removes a zillion wires and cables that are hooked up to the TV and drops them on the floor. He leaves for California. I organize the cables so they aren’t all over the place.

Monday. I was supposed to get my windshield on my car replaced. They have the wrong windshield and don’t call me back to reschedule. I go home and realize Chris didn’t prep any of his stuff for the movers – we’re not taking all of it, so I need to make sure the right stuff is put aside. I get on a ladder to lift another ladder off the garage wall. It’s heavy, awkward and I’m cursing up a storm. I organize his tool box. There is all sorts of shit around his tool box – screws, wood glue, multi-tools in multi-tools like some Voltron-style nightmare, and I get frustrated. I at least get his tool box to the point where it can close. Chris’ desk isn’t going to California. I have to get it out of his office so the carpet guy can replace the carpet in there, so I first have to remove all of the shit he left behind in the desk. There’s a lot of junk and it annoys me. I have to move one of his towers to get behind his desk and the tower is far heavier than you’d expect it to be. I also have to remove the top part of the desk, because it won’t fit through the door with the top on. I unscrew everything, but the top part alone is 150 pounds of particle board and awkward lifting and I realize I’ll break it and myself if I try to move it. There is a ton to do, and I crumple into a ball and weep.  My dog looks at me like, “bitch, please,” and goes to sleep in the living room. She’s so done with this.

I don’t know when our house is going to close or even when I’m going to get the paperwork to sign (which will need to be FedEx-ed to California when I’m done for Chris to sign). I don’t know if the sellers are even okay with the delay and I hope to god they are. I don’t know when my windshield will be replaced. I don’t know what to do with my dog or my husband’s desk. No matter how much you try and prepare, crazy things happen to throw you for a loop.

I hate moving. Cinnamon whiskey can suck it, too.

Top Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bay Area House-Hunting, Round ??

No matter where I live, I'll always love the homes in Alameda - check out my Instagram account, @themenacingkitten, for more pics of Alameda homes

So, First things first – there have been many rounds of Bay Area house-hunting I didn’t report on, because I was beginning to believe we were cursed.  One of the first things you recognize when looking for a house in the Bay Area is the region is in a little bubble where national economic standards and ways of living do not apply.  It’s kind of like those acropolises in Sim City that would sprout up before you got completely bored and unleashed every disaster upon your unsuspecting residents who already went for 5 years without water because playing God is hard. And kind of boring after a few days.

Anyway, there are two trends going on in the area right now: 1) There is nothing on the market and 2) The few houses that are on the market either go for tens of thousands of dollars over asking or stay on the market forever because they are really just one giant 80 year-old termite tube that will collapse into a heap of masticated wood dust when the next quake hits.

When we first started looking for a house, we really wanted to live on Alameda; it’s an old-fashioned mom-and-pop kind of place with independent book stores, great eateries, and the best shoreline in the East Bay. We love Alameda. Chris has been living in an apartment on the island since he started his new job, and has enjoyed 20-minute ferry rides for his commute.  He’s replaced the clogged, dusty streets of Phoenix metro with a relaxing boat ride offering views of pink and purple sunsets falling behind the hills of San Francisco. It’s not a bad life.

Before we could get pre-approval for a home loan up in Alameda, it seemed as if there were many houses we could choose from that met our needs.  Once we got approval and actually could put down an offer? Everything disappeared and got expensive. If you removed all filters on your house search, you’d find there were less than 25 homes for sale on the entire island at any given time.  Clearly, people love living there and have no intention of ever leaving. We literally could not find a house in fair condition for even 1200 square feet that was under $600,000.  In fact, one house we looked at was only about 1100 square feet and they asked for over $600k (it sold within a week or two). Most recently, we looked at a house that was 1900 square feet and asking $425,000.  Based on the area the house was in, it was clear this would be a fixer. If it was mostly cosmetic, why not? A similar sized house in better condition would go for 700-800 in that area. Sounds like a good investment, right? Upon viewing the house in person, we discovered:

  • The retaining wall sheared
  • Almost every step leading to the front door was wobbly and suffered from dry rot
  • The house still had the original electrical, complete with old-style fuses
  • There were huge holes/rips in the walls
  • Parts of the roof were bowed from water damage
  • Parts of the roof were missing from water damage, with a cute little kiddie pool to catch all the rain.
  • A minor point compared to all that, but they actually partially painted over the hardwood floors.

It seriously felt like the thing would collapse if you had 20 people in there at any given time.  We didn’t even bother to view the entire house. The house sold in about a week.

Needless to say, as much as we love Alameda and as much as we were willing to give up to live there, it quickly became obvious that it wasn’t a realistic option for us. We looked in a few other areas. The Oakland Hills were beautiful, but the hills would be a nightmare to drive everyday, and it is certainly not a walker-friendly area.  Orinda and Lafayette were far our of our price range. Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill briefly had homes in our price range, but the bidding went insane and it felt too far away from San Francisco. Castro Valley was a decent option, but we couldn’t compete with the bidding.

Enter San Leandro.  It’s an interesting city – parts of it are pretty rough, but parts are very charming in an Alameda kind of way.  The Estudillo Estates neighborhood really caught our eye – unique, historic homes in a very walker-friendly area.  For those in the Phoenix area, I’d liken the neighborhood to the Willo District, except it’s much larger. We were severely outbid on our first attempt at getting a house in the area, but I’m happy to say that we had an offer accepted on a different house.  We went a bit higher than we originally planned, however it’s a beautiful late 1930s-era home with lots of space and a nice backyard complete with two redwoods and balconies galore.  The walls and ceiling have plaster rather than drywall, making for gorgeous textured detailing throughout the house. There’s a little work that remains to be done in the way of earthquake retrofitting and the electrical, but we love it.  We’re less than a mile from the hiking trails for Lake Chabot, and only a third of a mile from a butcher, an organic grocery store (that sells raw milk!), and a few cute mom-and-pop restaurants. In addition to the old standby of Starbucks, there are two independent coffee shops within a mile – both have free wi-fi, one sells their coffee for a dollar after 10 a.m. How can you beat that? We’re a mile from the BART station, which is a 20 minute ride into the city. While we’d much rather go over the Bay via ferry versus going under the Bay via BART (yikes), it still beats driving.

We won’t close until late February (and I won’t make it out there until end of March due to my job), however all indications are pretty good so far. With all of the stress and drama I’ve experienced over the past year, I can’t tell you how much I look forward to closing this chapter and starting fresh in my new home.

Downton Abbey: The Season 3 Drinking Game

Here in the States, PBS aired the first episode of Downton Abbey, season three. I’m not sure of what to make of this season just yet – there was a lot of exposition in the first episode and not a whole lot of meat. Like, 10 seconds of wedding coverage? Hello? Not a big deal…I guess? We’ve only been on the Matthew/Mary Carousel of Guilt and Denial for two seasons now…the wedding wasn’t important or anything, right? The episode gave us a few hints of what plots are to come – the financial downturn of the estate, Mrs. Hughes’ certain potential cancer, Bates and his turn-of-the-century Charlie Brownism, Poor Edith and her own turn-of-the-century MarshaMarshaMarshaism, Branson and that whole ridiculous poison in the drink drama with the Downton equivalent of a Star Trek red shirt…

One thing is for certain in these times of uncertainty: we need a drinking game for season three. Grab a scotch or one of those newfangled cocktails the Dowager Countess disapproves of, turn on your TV and play along:

Take a sip…
…if you yell at Laura Linney, “stop your yapping and get on with the episode already!”
…every time someone says some variation of “adapting to change.”
…When the Dowager Countess insults a “foreigner”
…every time you think, “I fucking love Maggie Smith.”
…when O’Brien or Thomas are on a smoke break (I mean, they’re smoking, you should be drinking, right?)
…when someone says Poor Edith’s turn will come at marriage, and she responds desperately, “WILL IT?”
…when Poor Mister Mosely is passed over for someone better.
…every time Anna goes Pollyanna on Meestah Behhhhhts
…every time Bates is a freaking martyr and you’re like, “I liked you in Season One; now I’m like, what else is going to fucking happen to Bates? A piano falls on you after you push Lord Grantham out of the way? You want to save Bob Marley, so you declare that you, in fact, shot the deputy even though you totally didn’t? You eat a bad taco the night before you’re reunited with Anna?” Shakes fist,  “WHAT’S NEXT MEESTAH BEHHHHHTS? WHAT’S NEXT?”
Ahem.

Take a gulp…
…when you shamefully find yourself cheering for Harriet Jones Mrs. Crawley.
…when Poor Edith doesn’t appear sad and alone
…when someone doesn’t use the appropriate title or salutations
…when you don’t find Shirley MacLaine’s presence distracting (I love her, and I love her interactions with Maggie Smith, BUT – too much)
…When Lord Grantham does something bad/immoral
…when a lady is in the men’s quarters, or a man is in the ladies’ quarters (scandal!)
…when Lady Sybill becomes awesome again/indicates an interest in women’s rights.
…when Branson is dressed “appropriately”

Chug…
…when Thomas is being helpful
…when the Dowager Countess compliments America

Do you have any additions? Add them in the comments section below!

50 Shades of Dismay – Adventures in Spray Tanning

by Kirsten Benzel

I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution. I’m 28. I reasoned that the new year is nothing more then an arbitrary number and I’ll take care of business when it’s time and not when I have a champagne hangover and glitter stuck in my hair. Or maybe I just know deep down inside that I’m incapable of sticking to something unless I’m one hundred percent damn well good and ready, armed with a prepackaged, intellectual response to parrot during the week leading up to January first.

See, we paid our dues. We hired a trainer, did cardio, ate the right things, at the right time, in the right quantities. And it worked – mostly. I lost 30 pounds of fat and he gained 35 in muscle: keep the fat girl skinny guy jokes to yourself or I’ll poop in your Cheerios. All of that effort was still stacked against a 40 hour workweek in an office chair. Flat, rippled abs? Never happened. I’d watch the infomercials for whatever the trending workout was at the time while mentally screaming “Yeah! Yeah, bitch!! Let’s see you get through 400 emails in one day!”

We did the healthy lifestyle for four years and then fell off the bandwagon. Nine months after that we became Arizona transplants living in San Francisco … and my legs are translucent. My skin tone became a concern a week or so after I failed to roll my skinny jeans up my thighs. You do that “thing” where you start to look for a quick fix to tide you over until the diet starts working. That nine month lapse put me back further then I cared to face directly so a spray tan snuck on the To-Do list.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, emerged from our health sabbatical with the luminous complexion of Michelangelo’s David, looking like King Leonidas with just the faintest ghost of a pooch that could be chalked up to his girlfriend’s bad cooking from the evening prior.

How did I look? Gollum with a potbelly. Imagine Gollum in a snuggly bathrobe sporting giant bear claw slippers while shakily holding a coffee cup and you get the picture.

I was tired of being the same shade of white as the bed sheets and everyone said spray tans worked. A close friend at work. A coworker’s wife. An old therapist. I ignored the little voice in the back of my head that was squealing something about tanning beds still existing and being the primary source of income for tanning shops and if it was so easy then you’d know more then three people who had done it.

At the Salon-Spa a vivacious and suspiciously unbronzed blonde invited me into spray tan booth six.

“I really don’t want to come out of here looking like Boehner”, I said. She advised that I “totally wouldn’t” and she had gotten a spray tan and her friends were armed and ready to give her a hard time and then it looked so good they couldn’t give her any shit. Later on after the damage was done the little voice in my head snotily mentioned, of course her friends wouldn’t give her shit if they wanted to keep using the tanning beds at a discount.

The spray is made of three ingredients. It’s natural and vegan or some shit. The dye is made from green tint so you won’t turn orange.

Lies, the voice said later.

It’s all machine operated to take the human error out of it.

Some idiot sued for an uneven tan and now you’re in your birthday suit encased in a machine designed by lawyers!

It will take about two hours before you start to see the tan, she said. It’s like when you leave an apple out and it turns brown.

You’re spraying a chemical on your skin so air exposure kills it. This will be pretty.

You can get a bronzer for another $5 that makes you immediately tan.

Lock and load, I thought to Spray Tan Booth Six.

The event itself was uneventful and quick. I tried not to think of athletes foot and ringworm and other unknowns underfoot as I spun into Posture Two – a sideways Egyptian pose – in all my chubby glory. Perhaps I noticed some odd splotching on my calves while dressing. It’ll even itself out.

The fallout began later that night during sexy time.

“You smell like … barbeque.” my boyfriend said.

The following morning I rounded the kitchen corner and my boyfriends beautiful luminous eyes take me in, blink, and a snicker escapes.

“There’s just so many things I could say! And they all come so easily!”

“Fine. Since you think this is a riot I’ll just make this extra hysterical for you. Look:”

I showed him the half-inch line around my left ankle where I didn’t remove a pair of anklets before zero hour.

“So those got sprayed?”

“Yep. And so did my hair, because I forgot the hair net.”

He’s now cracking up as I’m examining the contrasted speckles on my right hand while trying to make a funny mental comparison and failing.

I showered. And used a pumice stone everywhere that wasn’t a mucous membrane.

“I can’t even imagine what color the water was in there” he said.

“Shut up. You’re stupid.”

I’m so glad I work at home and it’s January – shucks – and long sleeves are a necessity. This was supposed to be a quick little fix to add some sexy. Too bad it left the object of my affections doubled over, laughing his well-formed posterior off.

 

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2013 Bucket List: Get the Funk Out

Naturally, my bucket list is held in an ice bucket.

At the beginning of 2012, I decided to create a bucket list of things to accomplish for the year. Looking at the original blog post, I actually didn’t do so bad:

Start an international cooking club
Did I do it? YES! It was a hit, and I had a blast experimenting with different dishes – Kalua pork, ribollita, pots de creme, chicken molé … unfortunately, since we are in the process of moving, I had to discontinue my participation. My husband is currently recruiting Bay Area people to take part once I move up there, so hopefully we can start it up again.
What did I learn?
1. It’s okay to screw something up.  I totally messed up my garlic aioli. It was inedible. Surprisingly, I was okay with this; I had a back-up plan (gruyere sauce), and failing is a necessary part of experimentation.
2. A good party, even a food-oriented party, is about the people. Pretty design and delicious food is great, but the most important thing to do is to make sure everyone is relaxed and having a good time.  We had a ton of laughs with our friends over good food and wine.

Do a DIY/Repurposing project
Did I do it? Yeah, no. Bless all of you who have the patience and ability to do this sort of thing. I pretty much lost interest in this task within a month or two.

Make 100 hats for the homeless
Did I do it? Not really. I’ve made about 30 or so. It’s not bad, but it’s not 100.
What did I learn? Doing something – anything is valuable. And hands get all crampy when you’re knitting or crocheting constantly.

Do one thing I’ve been afraid or resistant to do
Did I do it? Yes! After a few chicken moments, I stepped out of my comfort zone a few times. I got braces – something I’ve always needed, but was hesitant to do. I’m an adult – it felt weird doing it at my age.  The cost is also astronomical, as most plans don’t cover adult orthodontia. I’m super self-conscious about them, but hopefully it will pay off when I’m done with them next February. I also submitted a few articles to various places – something I was afraid to do for a while.
What did I learn? I am an overthinker. Sometimes, overthinkers need to just cannonball into the damn pool rather than stand at the edge for 20 minutes.

Learn all three movements to “Moonlight Sonata”
Did I do it? I got the first one down…
What did I learn?
1. Don’t commit to all three movements until you have looked at the sheet music. Because the third movement? Holy shit.
2. After years away from the piano, I discovered that I still have that tendency to meander away from practicing to create my own music.
3. I’m okay with that.

Run a race and hike a mountain
HHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHahahaha….
Heh.
*sobs*
*Eats a piece of leftover port wine cheeseball*
nnooommmmm

Get my blog to average 100 visitors a day for a week
Did I do it? YES! Thanks to Jezebel and my beloved OK Go.
What did I learn? Quick story time: Just before OK Go retweeted and Facebooked my creativity post, I was dealt a pretty crushing blow at work. I expressed interest in an internal job I would have been FREAKING AWESOME in, and they gave me the “we’re looking for someone with more experience” line. Without even bothering to look at my resume. This was pretty crushing because my instincts (correctly) told me this position would have been my only real chance to have a long term role in the company. See, I’m in middle management and my company was absorbed by a larger company the year prior. What does that mean? Ginormous target on my back. Despite my ninja-style ass-kicking abilities on a number of projects, ultimately I was nothing more than a name to be crossed off.
I was pretty crestfallen and cried in a bathroom stall for several minutes. I returned to my desk, unsure of how I could get through the day without letting on how upset I was. No one wants to cry at work. There, I discovered the retweet and Facebook post. No, it didn’t change my life, but it got me through the day with a smile on my face. I knew it wouldn’t mean fame or riches or anything ridiculous like that, but seeing the warm responses from all involved reminded me that there’s a lot more to me than being a manager or a data analyst.  I deserve better than bullshit (so do you).  I need to keep reminding myself of that, even now.

What’s Next?
You will notice the title for this is “Get the Funk Out.” You will also notice that my posting schedule is all over the place.  I’ve got a lot going on in my life and in my brain. Rather than being Supergirl and doing it all whilst rocking that sex-ay red and blue unitard, Asshole Brain decided to be depressed, non-productive and unable to string a bunch of sentences together. Seriously, I feel like I’m getting dumber by the day. Damn you, Asshole Brain. So for 2013? I’m keeping it simple:

1. Get out of this funk. Especially by the end of March when my job is done. It’s a blessing I’m going to have the ability to take a little time off and I don’t want to waste it sleeping until 11am and watching The Doctors and shit. I have no idea how I’m going to do this, but I have to. If I want to have success outside of the 9 to 5, office drone BS, I absolutely have to get out of this and make the most of my time off.

2. Start posting my music online. I have a goal of doing the RPM Challenge next month. If I can’t make that happen, I still need to post something. I’m writing a decent amount of music right now and there is one song in particular I am really proud of. I don’t expect anything to come of it, I just feel like I need to put it out there and hope people who would like this sort of music can find me and enjoy my stuff.

3. And um, I guess I need to figure out what the hell happened to my Amazon Affiliates link? When did that happen?

So, that’s my 2013. Easy, right?

Help Me Understand

It’s easy to sit here and type out my opinions. It’s easy to let the rage and frustration I feel take over and shut myself off from the world until the latest tragedy becomes old news and we’re back to talking about Anne Hathaway’s crotch shot at a premiere or Lindsay Lohan’s legal troubles. I debated what I was going to write today. I’ve struggled with writing as of late, because I am not in a place to write funny and happy things. I’ve felt exhausted talking about issues, because there are too many people who don’t want to have a conversation.  They want to scream and plug their ears until they have their way. It’s just too much some times.

Suddenly, here we are. As I read my Twitter and Facebook feeds responding to a national tragedy, I realize that there is a way of thinking in this country I simply cannot comprehend. I need to understand this:

Help me understand why you think the real solution to preventing a tragedy is to arm kindergarten and first grade teachers.

I keep seeing this over and over. See, in my mind, I separate the right to bear arms from a mandate to bear arms. When I imagine a world where a kindergarten teacher feels they must carry a gun on them while they standing in front of a class of 5 and 6 year-olds in a suburban, sleepy Connecticut elementary school – and in this case, it would need to be a gun that could defend against a person in a bulletproof vest armed with a semi-automatic weapon – I don’t see a world of Freedom or Apple Pie or a God Blessed America with a Right to Bear Arms and a cherry on top; I see a world that is in a lawless, militant state; a state where no place is safe and every house has a panic room with steel walls that are a foot thick.

Why do I see this?

Because any world where a kindergarten teacher feels that they must arm themselves in order to go to work is a world where gun ownership is not a right, but a mandate. It is a world where a sweet 27 year-old with a winning smile and a gentle soul has to strap on a Glock in case a day of fingerpainting is disrupted by the possibility of engaging a madman in a gunfight. Wow. We really want to go there?

Since we’re all a fan of slippery slopes, answer me this question: say we allow teachers to bring guns to school. Say some of those teachers and administrators don’t believe in owning guns and choose to not carry. Say a gunman still enters the school and guns down people.  If the “fault” of the latest massacre is not allowing a person to bear arms in a school, who is at fault when an individual chooses not to carry? Before you bring up the argument of “well, derp, nice try, but someone would carry and they would Wyatt Earp that crazy mother fucker and shoot him down before anything happens,” let me remind you of something:

Several people had the right to carry a gun at the event where Jared Loughner shot and killed a number of people in Tucson. At that event, people either made the choice not to carry, or in the chaos, people forgot they were carrying or felt it would be ineffective. Keeping this in mind, can we agree that MOAR GUNZ isn’t really a solution?

While on this subject, I need your help understanding one other thing: Why is it when any challenge is brought up in regards to waiting periods, limits on arming those who are severely mentally ill, or simply disagreeing with a MOAR GUNZ philosophy, it is automatically assumed that people want to repeal the 2nd amendment?

Newsflash: Most people in this country don’t want to repeal the 2nd amendment. Check out the polls. It’s not going to happen. The problem is, we can’t even start the conversation about what we can do in a civil manner without the NRA cock-blocking the discussion with hyperbole, rhetoric and fear-mongering.  Can’t we have a civil conversation about this? Can’t we discuss why pro-gun advocates hate having a small waiting period before purchasing their guns, and why someone like me sees waiting periods as completely benign? Can’t we sit down together and attempt to come up with a solution that does not infringe upon the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping guns out of the hands of those who intend to use these guns to take away the rights of others?

Unfortunately, we all know the answers to these questions. For those who are responsible gun owners who do not want their rights infringed upon, I will tell you this: if you can come up with solutions that do not involve mandating gun ownership – be it developing a health care system that better supports the mentally ill, whatever – now is the time to share your ideas and be vocal on those solutions. Both sides want these tragedies to stop – if you can find a solution that doesn’t require me to carry a gun, I will stand by you and support your ideas and your rights.

Does He Like You? A Junior High Guide

[Note: While I'm pulling my hair out house-hunting, long-distance romancing and dealing with the other wonderful blessings befallen on me at this joyous time, enjoy this older favorite, originally published on August 28, 2011]

Let’s face it; dating is never easy.  The first lesson we Virgins to Life all learn, thanks to Head & Shoulders commercials, is you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  When we’re in junior high, we begin to not only become aware of the opposite sex, but we learn there is a delicate protocol one must follow so that first impression isn’t ruined by tomfoolery.  Armed with considerable peer research and an unfortunately high level of personal expertise in the gangly/flat-chested/awkward teen phase, I compiled this standardized guide to finding out and acting on the most important question you will face in your life: Does he like you?

Now, you may think this has a simple course of action.  Your instinct may be asking him for his phone number.  DO NOT DO THIS.  While there is the possibility you may actually get his phone number, this breach in protocol is far more likely to shift the universe out of your favor.  Seas will rise, volcanos will erupt, he will laugh at you and his friends will start a rumor that you are a slut.  If your name starts with an “S” or can even loosely rhyme with a body part, your chance of failure is exponentially worse.  And that will be the end of it.  Do you want that?  Look, I’m going to tell it to you straight: if you fail, you will never kiss that boy you like, let alone marry him.  And you know what?  Junior high school rumors are just like your “permanent record” – they will follow you through college.  You can’t escape them.   So, on to:

Step One: Identification of your crush

The Guy probably said a funny joke to you.  You realize he is kind of cute and seems sweet.  His eyes are kind of dreamy.  Good.  That’s a crush.  On to the next step.

Step Two: Is he looking at you?

So when you’re sitting there in class, look at him.  Is he looking at you?  No?  Well, keep looking.  Is he looking at you yet?  Not yet?  Well keep at it, sister!  Ooo!  Ooo!   He looked!  Now look away quickly.  QUICKLY! For God’s sake, don’t hold his gaze!   Look bored.  Ok.  Now look casually back at him…is he looking at you?  Repeat this process as needed until you are satisfied that yes, he looks at you on occasion.

Step Three:  Determining Astrological Compatibility

The next step is to find out his sign.  This can be pretty tricky, but through proper reconnaissance it isn’t too daunting.  The most common way to get it is to talk about birthdays or astrological signs with a group of people near him, and a trusted confidant can ask him on your behalf.

Once you have secured his birth date, consult the Bible for Teen Girls: “Love Signs” by Linda Goodman.  Yes, your hippie, ceramic-making aunt probably owned this book at some point, but despite the groovy 70s prose, it is quite useful for determining compatibility.  Proof?  It told me I was not compatible with River Phoenix, Brett Michaels, or the drummer from Stryper.  I was heartbroken at the time, but look at me now – was it not correct?  “Love Signs” saved me from a yellow and black attack.

Step 4:  Tarot Cards

So you’ve already dipped a toe into the dark side by messing with Astrology.  Why not dip the whole foot in and try out Tarot Cards?  Yeah, people say you’re summoning the devil, but like, you’re doing it for love.  That can’t be bad.  Plus, you listen to Stryper, so that has to off-set some of that evil, right?  Buy the deck, hide it from mom and dad and get to work!   Go on, shuffle them, cut them, lay them out…

The Death card.  Well… death doesn’t mean death.  It means…rebirth?  The end to something?  It could mean that he’s in a bad relationship and it’s coming to an end.  And you could help pick up the pieces.  Aww.  See?  Ok, keep on flipping.  Okay, yeah.  The Tower looks pretty scary.  But see, this is all about interpretation: maybe those people falling out of the tower represent falling…in love?  Next card.  Oh.  The Devil.  Well… that’s…it could mean… okay, let’s move on to the next thing, shall we?

Step 5: Ouija Boards

Yes, I know you heard that this is also a tool of the devil, but if it were, why would Parker Brothers make one?  Are the makers of Monopoly and Aggravation devil-worshippers?  If they are, why are they so successful?  Huh?  Go ahead, ask the Ouija Board if the Guy likes you.  NO, DON’T DO IT ALONE! HAVE YOU NOT SEEN “WITCHBOARD?!”  Oh, you haven’t?  Okay, go watch “Witchboard.”  If nothing else, it will teach you how to properly say Ouija.  I’ll wait here until you are done.

Okay, okay, calm down.  That didn’t end well, did it?  Yes, I know Patch died and the lady from the Whitesnake videos got all crazy, but she’s all right now, isn’t she?

 

Oh, um.  Yeah.  Okay, we are damaging your chances here with all the dabbling in the Dark Arts; let’s do an emergency next step to undo the bad luck we created from having you ask lesser demons if a boy likes you:

Step 6: Listen to Stryper Music and Throw Away Your Motley Crue Tapes

This is true: reading Stryper lyrics is just like reading a prayer.  It makes the Devil go back to Hell.  No, you don’t have to dress in yellow and black until God forgives you.  To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not sure where that whole thing came from.  Yes, I read the bible verse they put on their logo.  No, the yellow and black thing doesn’t make any more sense.  Just go with it.  Read their lyrics.  Feel better?  Ready to get see if he likes you?  Okay.  Let’s continue:

Step 7: Is he still looking at you?

Does he still occasionally look at you?  Do you casually avert his gaze?  Good.  You’re learning!  On to step 8.

Step 8:  The Amway Approach

This step is really tricky, because you need to have a few confidantes you can trust, and in the world of junior high girls, the odds are against you.  So here’s what you do: have a friend tell another friend that they heard he likes you.  That friend tells a friend, and that friend tells a friend, and it keeps on going until it gets to him, and you can find out if he laughs at the rumor, or is cool with it.  This works best when there is a long line of friends telling friends before it gets to him.  If you have too few, then it’s obvious you started this yourself.  If you have too many, then you risk becoming the class joke.

What?  He actually seems interested in you?  Congratulations!  On to step 9.

Step 9: OMG He likes you.

He likes you.  Oh my God.  His friend told you so.  His friend just walked right up to you and sweetly told you that the guy likes you.  Yes, the friend was really cute about it…he did look kind of shy.  But, hey, your guy likes you!  You’ve achieved success!

Step 10:  His friend is kind of cute.

Yes, he made a really funny joke about how the guy likes you.  Yes, he is good-looking and has chocolaty-brown hair.  But let’s talk about the next step here; the guy likes you, we still have work to do, we…

Step 11:  His friend seems really sweet.  The Guy is kind of a dork, actually.

You think so?  But why did you like him in the first place?  Oh, you feel a special connection to the friend because he talked to you.  You’ve gotten to know him, and now you really like him?  But you spoke to him once… ok… fine…

Step 12:  Is he looking at you?