Thursday, June 29, 2017

Please Don't Put Me First.

Which sounds better: "A disabled man," or "A man with disabilities?" On the surface, they both say the same thing -- there's the subject, a man, and he is experiencing disability. Beneath that, there's an entire web of social and linguistic nuance woven through those three or four words.

Person-first language is put forth as a solution to "othering." By emphasizing that a disabled or neuroatypical person is, first and foremost, a person, it seeks to de-emphasize that which makes them different from someone without those experiences. It's also a hotly debated topic, both by those to whom it applies and those who talk about them. It's not really standard language, but there are a lot of people who have perfectly valid reasons for preferring it. Like anything else pertaining to personal identity, I try to follow people's leads and use whatever language they're more comfortable with.

When it's applied to me, I absolutely hate it.

I was reading a forum I occasionally lurk on, and came across an exchange between two posters where one was lambasting the other for not using person-first language. Person A had typed a post mentioning "a disabled person," and person B lit into them for not using "a person with a disability" instead. Something about person B (who is not disabled) really got under my skin. I could feel the annoyance like an itchy shirt, but I wasn't really sure why. What is it that makes me so against person-first language? Adding "with" to a sentence seems inoffensive enough, right? So, I sat down to figure it out.

Obviously I'm not speaking for all neuroatypical or disabled people, there are plenty of reasons why others may find identity-first language inaccurate or offensive. Here's why I feel so strongly against person-first language for myself:

It paradoxically places more emphasis on the condition. Calling me a disabled person is short and descriptive. Calling me a person with disabilities requires an extra word and ungainly phrasing to accomplish the same thing. When I hear someone go out of their way to describe me as "a person with disabilities," that's exactly what it feels like -- they're going out of their way instead of using a perfectly ordinary phrase. It's not a whole lot of extra attention placed on my disabilities, but it's enough to make me cringe inside.

Seriously though, it does. The places I most commonly see person-first language are in English, where there's an expectation of where adjectives and nouns will fall in a sentence. (English speakers all follow grammatical rules that even dictate the order of our adjectives, though virtually none of us can remember being told to do it that way. We just do it.) I expect to hear the subject of the sentence after its descriptors. When someone's talking about a person and I hear the noun form of an adjective come after the subject, there's a split "Wait, what?" second in my brain that catches my attention. Not a big deal when you're talking about someone with brown hair or a blue shirt, slightly bigger deal when you're deliberately trying not to emphasize a disability.

It's not evenly applied. I am a "person with disabilities," but not a "person with cooking skill" or a "person who writes." Person-first language is only used for attributes perceived as undesirable, and couldn't be more transparent in doing so. Similarly, nobody would refer to my S.O. as a "person with good health." Why? Isn't he a person too, or does this condescension only apply to poor unfortunates like me? Is it really necessary to have that much reminding that I'm a person?

It's not that easy to remove. Living with a long-term, chronic disability is not the same as having, say, a sprained ankle. The situation I live with affects how I think, feel, and (to a lesser extent) behave in ways that being "a person with measles" or "a person with a broken arm" don't. My disabilities don't define my life, but putting extra words in between them and me like linguistic bubble wrap has no beneficial impact on my reality.

It sounds awkward. I fully acknowledge that this is probably really petty. But, like I said before, things that don't flow easily in conversation draw attention to themselves. Sometimes even things that are perfectly grammatically correct still lead to awkward prose. If the purpose of using person-first language about me is to emphasize me over my conditions, this seems counterproductive.

It's denial at best, and patronizing virtue signalling at worst. Saying "I see people, not race" misses quite a few important things, and so does "I see people, not their disabilities." The implication there is that there's something inherently dehumanizing in being disabled, that one has to consciously (and oh-so-generously) look past that to even see a person. It reinforces a disabled/able-bodied binary. It essentially reads as shorthand for, "I'm nice, but also willfully ignorant."

When all is said and done, the slogan of “See the person, not the disability,” is based on the premise that disability can be separated from the person, leaving only that person’s humanity. The problem with this line of reasoning, of course, is that disability is inseparable from humanity. We all have bodies that are diverse, that are created in ways beyond our control, that change without our consent, and that are vulnerable to age, to accident, to illness, and to all of the contingencies of life. So if you want to see the whole person, look carefully at the disability, because that is where a core feature of our humanity lies.
-- Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, The Problem With Person-First Language

Most of the people I see using it are those who are never on the receiving end. Another petty gripe, probably, but I'm kind of big on "nothing about us without us." It really grates on me to see some sanctimonious internet rando patting themselves on the back for using person-first language (or worse, correcting someone who doesn't) without any mention of whether or not the person or group they're talking about actually prefers they do so. While person-first language might seem fashionably socially aware, nobody is handing out medals for going against the preferences of a significant portion of actual disabled people.

It's not going to change anything. I am disabled, my brain is damaged. While neither of these things are all that desirable, needing accommodations for a disability is not inherently negative. Talking about people in what we perceive as negative states is an endless chase. No matter what names different conditions are given, they eventually evolve into adjectives used to describe bad things we want to distance ourselves from. This is because, at the end of the day, not being perfectly healthy kind of sucks. All of the language in the world is not going to make that go away. Does that mean we shouldn't try? I don't know. I wish there was a better answer than what we've got.

If you use person-first language out of a sincere desire to be sensitive to the identities of disabled people, I hope this hasn't made you feel bad. I think most people adopt linguistic constructions like this out of a genuine want to do good, but some are real dicks about it. Whether you choose to use person-first or identity-first language, it's worthwhile to explore your reasons for doing so -- is it because disabled or neuroatypical people have indicated that they prefer it, or because some (probably able-bodied, probably neurotypical) academic said it was "better"?

At the end of the day, I feel that person-first language inadvertently adds to the stigma it's trying to remove. By using unwieldy phrasing only for those attributes which are commonly viewed as undesirable, it does the opposite of emphasizing people first. I'll use it for someone who prefers it (or alternate if I'm referring to a large group) but, until healthy people get stuck being described as "people of good health and typical neurological function" in casual conversation, I'm not buying it.

I am disabled. I am visually- and hearing-impaired. My brain is damaged. I am a disabled, visually- and hearing-impaired, brain damaged person. I am also a writer, artist, lover, Pagan, cat owner, mineral collector, indoor gardener, taphophile, and folk metal fan. Anyone who can't see my humanity is not going to be changed by the word "with."

Do you use person-first language, either for yourself or others? Why or why not?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Have you seen how much bull semen costs, though?"

So, my S.O. and I got to talking about Red Bull the other night. Neither of us drink it -- he doesn't like it, and my heart would probably explode if I looked directly at a can of it for too long -- but somehow the topic of Red Bull and bull semen came up.

Somehow, long ago, there was a pervasive myth that Red Bull energy drinks contained bull semen. This probably has something to do with Red Bull containing taurine, an amino acid most people don't think too much about (but was one of the drink's selling points). Taurine was first found in cattle bile, hence the name "Red Bull," but theirs is synthetic. At some point, I think "an amino acid derived from cattle bile" took a spin through the Rumor Mill and became "Red Bull is just chock full of bull jizz, my dudes."

Anyhow! My S.O. and I were talking about a post he'd seen perpetuating the myth, and he was trying to dig up the Snopes article explaining why Red Bull being some kind of bovine spank sauce was, no pun intended, a cock and bull story.

Let me preface this by saying that I have a weird job (and no, it doesn't even involve masturbating cattle). I accept assignments from people I've never met or spoken to before, I write articles about them, I send them away, and money appears in my bank account. Most of these assignments are things I would never, ever think to delve into on my own, like the natural range of pine borer beetles. Or cow insemination.

So, naturally, my response to him was, "Never mind that. Have any of these people actually seen what a unit of bull semen goes for?"

Because, for real -- it's not cheap. The fact that there's no special substances found in bull semen and literally only one use for it (as this article points out) notwithstanding, who's gonna waste it on soda?

It's a lot like the "McDonald's hamburgers use ground earthworms as filler" story. I can guarantee it is only believed by people who have never had to buy bait or raise worms. Likewise, if you're shelling out actual money for units of bull semen to put in soda, you're going to end up charging a pantload more than four bucks a can.

Like the Snopes article about McDonald's points out, rumors don't have to make sense -- our imaginations get captured by the gross-out factor. Usually, though, even the most compellingly disgusting rumor doesn't really hold up when you look at its monetary practicality.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Suckered by a Candy Cult

So, while my computer was sitting in a small sad pile of burned parts, I spent most of the time I wasn't spending on Oxygen Not Included on reading blogs on my phone.

Long story short, I got completely sucked down the rabbit hole that is anti-MLM blogs. There's one entity in particular (it rhymes with Scamway) that seems to cross the line between "multi-level-totally-not-a-pyramid-scheme-guys-we-swear" and "four minutes away from buying a compound in Guyana" with regularity.

I'm not really down with MLMs myself -- their ultimate goal is to recruit more and more people into the MLM, so how can they be sustainable? Once everyone around you is an "independent business owner," who's left to buy anything? I will not knowingly involve myself with one or promote their products. That doesn't mean they don't kind of fascinate me, though, in the same way that Scientology and Aum Shinrikyo do. I hate that they exist, but I love reading about them.

I ended up tricked into attending an MLM pitch, once. My former room mate, we'll call her "Tina," had a birthday coming up. Her brother told her about an event going on at the venue he worked for, and got her pretty amped up for it. She described it as "a chocolate exposé," which had me confused. (Was chocolate caught in flagrante delicto? Canoodling with some celery at Coachella?) Still, I figured it sounded alright and it was what she wanted to do for her birthday.

When we got there, I knew something had to be up. In the middle of the tables in the event area were all of these little foil ziplocks, poised beside small plates of neatly stacked, waxy-looking chocolates.

Wait. Is this an MLM sche--

And, on stage, a portly man wearing an ill-fitting, off-the-rack suit. His smile did not reach his eyes, receded as they were into the plump hillocks of his round, red cheeks. His whole face had the peculiar beetroot color of someone wearing too much polyester under too many lights.


Still, it was for Tina's birthday. Maybe I was wrong. She, my other former room mate Morgan, and I sat down to see what was what.

"What" turned out to be a three hour sales pitch to rope us into pushing tiny circles of crappy weight-loss candy like the world's most disappointing drug dealers. We were complimented on our intelligence and ambition for deciding to attend and take part in this business opportunity. Clearly we were discerning people who cared about our health, and knew how completely impossible it was to lose weight without horfing chemical-infused candy by the fistful.

Doctors were the villains here, what with their diet and exercise recommendations and utter failure to prescribe vague combinations of "minerals" to treat their patients instead of actual medicine. But we were too smart for that, he assured us. This chocolate contained herbs and minerals, a veritable panacea for whatever ails you. And the signup costs were so reasonable, too -- after a nominal fee of a couple hundred dollars, it would only run us $75 per unit (how much is "a unit?" He never said) to stock up and we were guaranteed to sell out.

[caption id="attachment_3614" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Pictured: A totally-legitimate-and-not-at-all-unsustainable-or-scammy way to lose weight, the cult le-- *ahem* independent businessman promises.[/caption]

"After all," he said,  the edges of his grin showing too, too many teeth, "Everyone loves chocolate."

Walking out wasn't an option -- all of the doors were closed with people standing by them, which made me uneasy. The air was stuffy, thick with the greasy, cloying smell of cheap chocolate and heavy with the tension of an entire roomful of grown ass adults who weren't allowed to go to the bathroom. Luckily for us, there was an intermission an hour and a half or so into the pitch. We ducked out and went to a restaurant with more to eat than waxy circles of diet candy.

"So," I said, "I'm pretty sure we just escaped either a pyramid scheme, or a religion. Maybe both."

Like I mentioned at the beginning, they're interesting the way that the Branch Davidians or The Family are interesting.

Some of the stories coming out of Amway, in particular, are a combination of horrifying and gripping. Everything from "Independent Business Owners" (a title Amway gives to its commissioned salespeople, despite the fact that it does not help them register for business licenses, register business names, or have any authority to make someone a legal business owner) being told to sell their homes to invest in more products ("You can buy a new home later!"), to leave their spouses ("They're just holding you back!"), to develop new romantic relationships within the group.

Everything that goes on in cultic grooming seems to happen in MLM recruitment -- there's a period of love-bombing, there's jargon used to reinforce an in-group vs. out-group mentality, and people involved in the MLM are told to avoid those who try to talk them out of it. Scientology calls these people "suppressive persons" and demands they be shunned completely by its members. Amway calls them "dream stealers" and demands... pretty much the same thing. It's a bizarre, engrossing, stomach-churning ride.

If you aren't sure if a group is a cult or has cultic practices, this guide by the Cult Awareness + Information Center can help identify typical cult behavior.

This e-book, Merchants of Deception, is one frequently pointed to by people who've been burned by MLMs. MLM groups have attempted to discredit the book by claiming parts of it were made up, but this isn't the case.

This podcast by Robert FitzPatrick, Why MLM is a Scam, is a look into what MLMs are and why they are fundamentally not sustainable.

The Financial Jonestown: My experience with the Amway Motivational Organization (AMO) URAssociation, is pretty self-explanatory. It's also a heck of a read.

The MLM Syndrome: Dr. Doe's Investigation into MLM CONditioning is also fairly self-explanatory, but fascinating.

This blog, Married to an Ambot, is one woman's tale of the outrageous abuses of authority that occurred in the Amway group her husband was involved with. She doesn't pull any punches, so some of the posts may not be for the faint of heart.

I've seen people around me get caught up in both MLMs and cultic activities, and it's a frightening thing to see. I've witnessed the recruitment tactics first hand. If you're not sure if the business opportunity you're being presented is an MLM with cultic tendencies, see if you can get straight answers to any of these questions:

  • Will you need a business license? (Spoiler: If you are going to be a legitimate business owner, the answer is yes.)

  • Are you expected to make most of your money through recruitment?

  • If so, what happens once everyone has been recruited? What customer base will be left to buy the actual products?

  • Are you expected to spend your own money in order to be eligible for a commission? As in, are they expecting you to pay them to work for them?

  • If you don't make any sales, are you going to be stuck with a basement full of unsold stock? Don't accept "but you're guaranteed to make sales" as an answer.

  • How do the other people within the group talk about those outside of it? Beware of any group that consistently refers to outsiders as "losers," or indicates that anyone who doesn't join the group is doomed.

  • Are you being thought policed? Is there a strong emphasis on avoiding "negativity" or questioning the group's practices?

  • Are all of the meetings at strange times of day? It's common practice to insist on meeting late at night, for two reasons: These "business opportunities" don't actually grant financial independence, so the meetings have to be held after work hours, and sleep deprivation is a cult recruitment tactic.

  • Are you allowed to use the bathroom and eat when you need to? This is a big one. Denying people the ability to perform necessary bodily functions doesn't just demonstrate control over them and weed out those who are less susceptible to conditioning, it also helps lower their defenses. If you're at an event and you aren't allowed to leave it for any reason, get out.


As you read these stories, just keep one thing in mind: This can happen to anyone. Many highly educated, ambitious, and even otherwise successful people become absorbed into schemes like these. Being involved in a cult or MLM doesn't mean a person is stupid, just desperate.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The PNW Needs to Quit Hogging All the Good Cryptids.

If you watched or read the news yesterday, you probably know about the man who opened fire on a group of Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game. It's natural to expect someone writing a post the day after to say something about it, but I don't really know what there is to say and you probably don't really need some random blogger to tell you that shootings are sad. This event is a complex thing that isn't easily distilled into, "He was mentally ill," or "We're all on the same side, Democrat, Republican, or otherwise," unlike what many news outlets and politicians have said in response.
It's definitely too big for some blogger to give a cogent, worthwhile response to, so, instead, here's a thing I wrote about Bigfoot.

I'm not gonna lie, I am an unapologetic goofball when it comes to cryptids.

(For real, if any potential sponsors out there want to offer me a comped trip -- send me to the Pacific northwest to look for bigfoot. I will make sure you don't regret it.)

This is why, as much as I love where I live, I fear I will feel a small, perpetual twinge of jealousy that I don't live somewhere with better monsters. Even Chicago's been having Mothman sightings lately. I mean, what've we got? These nerds? The Goatman? Don't get me wrong -- a scientist becoming hideously mutated as retribution for his cruel experiments on goats is neat and all, but he's no Batsquatch.

My S.O. is from Ohio, and his feelings about this fact can best be described as "lukewarm." I'm forever finding things that we absolutely have to do the next time we visit the state, though. So far, I've got a visit to The Crystal Cave and the Heineman winery, camping in Ohio Bigfoot territory, and a trip through Loveland to see if we spot the Frog. (I realize this dramatically increases the odds of me dying in some kind of bizarre bad-found-footage-horror-movie-incident, but that is but one of the sacrifices I am willing to make to bring you the hard-hitting dumbass journalism you come here for.)

[caption id="attachment_3581" align="aligncenter" width="514"] Just look at this adorable weirdo. (Depiction by Tim Bertelink. CC BY-SA 4.0)[/caption]

I'm from Long Island. We basically have nothing cool adventure-wise, to the point where my friends and I used to think it was a neat idea to explore sewers for fun. (People got all excited about the Montauk Monster years ago, but the furor swiftly died down once it was discovered to be a super gross raccoon.) I don't really plan on visiting L.I. in the near future, which is good -- all of the really fun sewers are probably fenced off by now. The best I could do would be to camp out near the shore with my my fingers crossed and hope a globster floats up.

If you like cryptids and cryptid-adjacent things, you might enjoy giving these a listen: One is The Last Podcast on the Left's episode on Bigfoot, while, in the other, The F Plus Ridiculists explore the metaphysical powers of Hawaiian Sasquatch and their similarity to dolphins. I'll be sitting on my windowsill with binoculars and hoping Batsquatch makes a detour.

Are there any cool monster legends where you live? And can I stay on your couch while I look for them?


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What Is a Spinal Tap Like?

This question popped up in an online intracranial hypertension support group I'm part of, and it made me realize that it's a subject I haven't ever really talked about here. I've gone into what Diamox was like for me, things I do to manage my symptoms, and the like, but I never really touched spinal taps (or lumbar punctures, often abbreviated as LPs).

If you have intracranial hypertension, spinal taps will be a fact of life for you. You'll need at least one to be properly diagnosed, and possibly more to alleviate pressure spikes. The prospect of getting a spinal tap can be really scary for a lot of people -- the internet is pretty much chock full of forum posts titled some variation of "Do spinal taps hurt?", or "What's it like to get a spinal tap?", or "I need a spinal tap, and I'm scared" -- but I can say with confidence that taps are not nearly as bad as they may seem. It's completely legit to be frightened of the idea of them, but, in practice, they're really not that scary.

[caption id="attachment_3566" align="aligncenter" width="514"] They are a little gross to talk about, though, so here is a picture of a happy puppy.[/caption]

Why might I need a spinal tap?

If your doctor(s) think you may have intracranial hypertension, a spinal tap is the only way to confirm their diagnosis. During a spinal tap, a doctor removes some cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that cushions your brain and spinal cord) from your lower spine. While removing it, they also measure the fluid's pressure. If your pressure is above normal, your fluid doesn't show signs of infection, and an MRI or CT scan hasn't indicated the presence of a brain tumor, that pretty much solidifies a diagnosis of intracranial hypertension.

You might also need a spinal tap if you suddenly experience symptoms of elevated cerebrospinal fluid pressure. Some things, like hormonal changes, medications, or changes in elevation, can cause your cerebrospinal fluid pressure to go up quickly. In these cases, you might need a spinal tap to remove the excess fluid and reduce your risk of optic nerve damage, seizure, or stroke.

In my case, I had not yet been formally diagnosed when I began having high pressure symptoms. I went to the emergency room at UC Davis in California, and a doctor there performed my tap. It alleviated my symptoms, and allowed them to give me a diagnosis and start me on Diamox.

How are spinal taps performed?

Spinal taps usually go like this:

  1. You'll most likely be given an MRI or CT scan first, just to make sure there isn't anything that might complicate the procedure. If you have Chiari malformation, it may increase your risk of experiencing a serious herniation. The doctor will need to know about that so they can decide how to proceed.

  2. You'll be asked to lay on your side, with your knees drawn up to your chest. This lengthens your spine and widens the spaces between the vertebrae. It also ensures that the doctor performing the tap will be able to get an accurate pressure reading, as opposed to having you in a sitting position.

  3. The doctor will disinfect a spot on your lower back.

  4. They will then inject a local anesthetic into the area where they'll be working.

  5. They'll insert a thin needle between the vertebrae of the lower spine, below the end of the spinal cord.

  6. Fluid will be drawn through this needle, until either the doctor has enough for testing or your cerebrospinal fluid pressure drops to normal.

  7. If you're having high pressure symptoms, you might notice a sudden and very dramatic decrease in your symptoms as the fluid is removed. You might also feel kind of dizzy and disoriented.

  8. The doctor will remove the needle, and place an adhesive bandage over the spot.


[caption id="attachment_3568" align="aligncenter" width="513"] Still with me? Good![/caption]

Do spinal taps hurt?

Getting a spinal tap is like going to the dentist -- you're awake, you can't really see what they're doing, and some parts of it kind of suck. As long as you're properly anesthetized and the person performing it has a steady hand, drawing the  fluid itself is pretty much painless. The injections of anesthetic kind of sting and burn, and your head might begin to feel a bit weird while the fluid is being drawn, but the needle itself usually isn't all that bad. I felt mine a bit going in because we had to be a little light on the anesthetic, which hurt, but it was smooth sailing as soon as it was in place.

Afterward, you may have significant soreness in the area. Responses to a spinal tap can vary all the way from "I could've done this on my lunch break" to "I need to curl up somewhere for about three days or so." The one I had at UC Davis wasn't bad, but I had a lot of lower back and leg pain for a few days. Immediately afterward, I felt very dizzy and nauseated -- my brain needed a little time to adjust to having all of that pressure taken off of it!

Are spinal taps considered surgery?

Spinal taps are considered a procedure, but not actual surgery. That said, when a doctor asks me if I've had any surgeries, I make sure to mention them anyway.

What is aftercare like?

Aftercare for a spinal tap is, from what I've gathered and experienced, largely based on your symptoms. If you have a headache, lay flat and drink caffeine (I can't have caffeine, so it was laying flat and lots of icy cold headwraps for me). Don't soak in the bath until you're healed. If you experience loss of consciousness, seizures, or other serious symptoms, get thee to the ER with a quickness.

Sometimes, spinal taps don't heal properly right away. Cerebrospinal fluid doesn't clot, so blood platelets have to kind of seal everything off. If your doctor is a little too good at what they do, there may not be enough blood shed to do that. In this case, you may experience long-lasting headaches, symptoms of low cerebrospinal fluid pressure, or fluid leaking from the site. This can be fixed with a procedure called an epidural blood patch. Leaks aren't too common, but leakage can happen and there are ways to fix it.

What risks are associated with spinal taps?

Let me preface this by saying that literally any time something enters your body, whether it's a needle or a piece of food, there is a risk involved. Spinal taps may seem pretty hardcore, but they really don't have that many risks associated with them. It's logical to worry about things like, "Can I become paralyzed from a spinal tap?" but you are almost definitely going to be just fine.

If you're allergic or sensitive to the anesthetic, you might have a reaction. Make sure you go over all of your allergies and sensitivities with the doctors and nurses before your tap takes place -- I can't have epinephrine and have issues with most caine anesthetics, so I have to be pretty careful.

As mentioned under "What is aftercare like?", there's a risk that the site of the tap might not heal properly. Keep an eye on your symptoms and, if you experience any of the ones in the list, head back to the hospital for a blood patch to correct it.

If your pressure is very high, there is a small risk of herniation. This happens when the pressure inside of the skull forces brain tissue down into the spinal cord. Symptoms include severe headaches, nausea, loss of consciousness, seizures, and possibly death. The risk of this is small, and, while there's a chance it could happen, I have never (across six support groups) heard of it actually happening to someone.

Spinal taps are performed low enough that there really isn't a risk of paralysis. Even though the needle enters the spine, it is performed below where the spinal cord ends so the risk of cord damage or paralysis is vanishingly small.

Since a spinal tap involves puncturing your skin, there is a risk of infection. The injection sites are so small, though, that this isn't common. Keep the area clean and dry, and you'll be a-OK. You probably won't even need to replace the bandage they put on it.

[caption id="attachment_3569" align="aligncenter" width="513"] This pupper knows you're going to handle everything just fine.[/caption]

Things I wish I knew when I had my first spinal tap:

  • It's really not going to be that bad.

  • Don't watch videos of how taps are performed until after you've had one, they look super weird and it'll just make it easier to psych yourself out.

  • Have a comfortable place near a bathroom where you can post up until you know how you'll be feeling for the next few days. Try to avoid being stuck in an upstairs bedroom or too far away from a bathroom, just on the off chance that you'll have back pain or trouble walking the first day or so.

  • Showering might be difficult if you have a pretty bad post-tap headache or back pain. Have a container of wet wipes and a couple of sets of clean pajamas set up, just in case your regular hygiene routine is a little too much at first.

  • Have a way to entertain yourself while you're laying flat. Reading and T.V. might be tricky if you're having a lot of dizziness, so have a nice, long podcast playlist set up and ready to go.

  • Have some ginger ale, crackers, and other mild, nausea-soothing things available to snack on. Avoid eating your favorite comfort foods right afterward. You'll probably be feeling crappy and want to indulge a little, but the last things you'll want to associate with your favorite food are post-spinal-tap feelings.


If there's anything I missed that you think might be valuable to add, please let me know in the comments!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Gluten-free, Nut-free, Flourless, Vegan Cookies with Chemistry

Between my S.O. and I, our usual menu looks a little weird.

I can't have nuts, and he doesn't like eggs. We both try to eat a lot of protein, and I try to avoid cooking high-saturated-fat, high-cholesterol dishes because he eats out pretty often. Neither of us are vegan, but I look for vegan recipes when I need something that doesn't require eggs or butter. When I found this recipe for chickpea blondies from Ambitious Kitchen, I was stoked. I'd made black bean brownies before that turned out really good, so I thought these were worth giving a shot.

I was totally right.

I used honey and sunflower butter, left out the chocolate chips since we didn't have any, and added a scoop of coconut milk ice cream for a little extra indulgence.

They smell delicious baking, too. The batter comes out pretty stiff -- I find that, if you're using a blender to make them (like I did), you're best off adding the honey or syrup, then the chickpeas a bit at a time, then the nut butter. The batter was thick enough that, for my next go 'round, I thought I'd see how it did as cookies instead. I mixed up a batch with chickpeas, maple syrup, and sunflower butter according to Ambitious Kitchen's recipe, and, instead of spreading the batter in a baking dish, I dropped it by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet.

They turned out just as delicious as before.

Also, considerably greener.

I didn't notice the green at first. My S.O. and I each had a cookie, and everything seemed fine. When I went back to put the rest away, they were green. I panicked -- had we eaten some kind of contaminant and just didn't notice? Was the can of chickpeas at fault? I know copper or other metals can turn things weird colors, were there suspect metals in something I'd used? I scraped all of the cookies into the trash, just in case.

An hour or so later, I was elbow-deep in a Google search for "green cookies," "cookies turned green," and "can green cookies kill you."

As it turns out, my baking had fallen victim to something the sunflower seed industry has been struggling with for basically ever -- sunflower seeds are weird. There's a huge demand for sunflower seed oil, but virtually no demand for the sunflower seed protein produced from its manufacture. This is because sunflower seeds are pretty high in free chlorogenic acid, as are a lot of other things (green coffee beans, for one). When in the presence of heat and a certain pH, sunflower protein turns things green. It's a purely aesthetic thing, but, since the appearance of food is kind of a huge deal, sunflower seed protein has never quite caught on as a consumer good. It's trans fat free, vegan, low allergen, a "clean" food, and a good source of protein (though a bit low in lysine). It just looks a little funny sometimes, so nobody wants to buy it.

So that put my fears to rest, at least. Green cookies are not poisonous. Whew.

My next question was, "Why didn't the honey batch change?" followed immediately by, "Can I get it to do it again?"

As for why it happened with maple syrup and not honey, the answer probably lies in the pH. Much like adding lemon juice to raw apples or avocado prevents browning, the pH of honey may inhibit the development of the green coloration. Honey's pH ranges from about 3.4 to 6.1, but averages out at around 3.9. I'm no apiarist, but, from what I've read, this low pH is because of enzymes in bee saliva. The pH of maple syrup, by contrast, is much closer to neutral at around 5.15-7.25. With the addition of baking powder and baking soda as called for in the recipe, it makes for a pretty basic environment.

It also makes for some weird looking, albeit extremely tasty, cookies:

I mean it. They're surprisingly soft and cakey for a recipe with no eggs or flour. They'd be ridiculously indulgent with chocolate chips. They're also reasonably healthy for a dessert.

They do look super weird if you're not expecting them, though.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

It Has Been Less Than Two Weeks, and He Has Taken Control of My Life.

I want to preface this by saying I've had cats. I've had kittens. I've raised kittens to cats.

Kittens are playful -- sometimes they play rough, especially when they're teething, and sometimes they need to be taught when and how it's appropriate to play.

Pyewacket Poose is still a kitten, technically. A fifteen pound kitten, but a kitten nonetheless, with all of the energy and playfulness you'd expect... And then some.

[caption id="attachment_3513" align="aligncenter" width="513"] He's lucky he's cute.[/caption]

We bought him toys, but toys alone aren't enough. First, he sits and gently twitches the tip of his tail. The twitching becomes a whapping. The whapping becomes soft meows. Soft meows turn into dug up dirt and uprooted plants. He brings us his toys, jumping up and placing them at the foot of the bed to underline his point.

Play with me or you will never know peace again.

[caption id="attachment_3512" align="aligncenter" width="513"] "Do you think this is a game, woman?"[/caption]

I don't want to sound like I'm complaining about having a healthy, rambunctious kitten, because I love my big, playful, friendly boy. Averaging two and a half hours of sleep sandwiched in between whenever he decides playtime is over, and Kiko needs her antibiotics? Not as cool.

All kittens are playful, though not all of them are as demanding of one-on-one attention.Friday, he brought me his wand toy fifteen times. As long as I was still sitting up reading, using the computer, or looking at my phone, I was fair game. It was only when I curled up and pretended to sleep that he snuggled up next to me and stopped trying to excavate our yucca plants and throw things off of the top of the refrigerator for attention. He behaves when we're away, though -- no spilled dirt, no chewed-up plants, nothing. It's only when we're around and not entirely focused on him that he acts out. He doesn't care nearly as much for toys he can bat around by himself, playing with someone is where it's at.

Therein lies the problem. Since he's acting up for attention, giving him attention to get him to stop just reinforces what he's doing. Attempting to ignore his behavior makes him find new and more elaborate ways to erode my failing sanity.

So, we loaded up on enrichment toys (aided by a kitty care package from my S.O.'s mom) -- a wobbly mouse to fill with food, a ball on a round track, and a mouse that dangles over the top of the closet door. Unlike his regular balls and wand toys, they'll hopefully entice him more to tire himself out. That way, he can be rewarded for playing and not attempting to rearrange every plant in the apartment.

Have you lived with a big, energetic cat? What toys or other kitty activities helped keep them occupied when you couldn't directly interact with them?


j, Reads "The Wicked + The Divine" volume 1

Note: This post contains a couple of links to products that allow me to earn a small commission from their purchase, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for helping to support this site!

We have a couple of pretty great comic book shops here, so we occasionally pick up some new ones to check out now and then. Last time, my S.O. decided to check out Fantom Comics, from which he purchased a copy of the first volumes of The Wicked + The Divine. He hasn't had a chance to read it yet (the end of school kept him pretty busy!), but I went on a mini comic binge the other day and gave it a shot.

I wanted to like it. I really, really, really did. So many things in it are completely my jam!

Or should've been, anyway.

Don't get me wrong, the artwork is beautiful, and the premise is intriguing -- every 90 years, a pantheon of gods and goddesses are resurrected in the bodies of previously-mundane teenagers. The teenagers are given godlike powers for two years, then they die. In the interim, they are essentially the rock stars of their time. There are loads of homages to real-life personalities ranging from David Bowie to Rihanna. The cast is diverse, too, and the books don't shy away from the occasional drama and friction of it. Case in point, Cassandra (who is Japanese) calling Amaterasu (a red headed white girl) out for essentially yellowfacing as a Shinto deity.

Unfortunately, the writing itself kind of killed it for me.

I read about halfway through the book my S.O. purchased, and so was still firmly in "twenty minutes with jerks" territory. The pacing seemed uneven, but that's a forgivable flaw that's occasionally unavoidable in action stories. What really began to lose me was the dialogue.

Do you remember Juno? Specifically, do you remember the conversations? They were steeped in a clunky, quirky, twee badness the way only Diablo Cody could write. This is the other end of that spectrum -- rather than trying so hard to be cute and clever they might sprain something, the characters are in a competition to see who can be the biggest, edgiest badass in the whole wide room. It reminded me a lot of certain character types and behaviors I've encountered with novice roleplayers, and that's not really a good thing from my perspective.

I'm a big fan of precision profanity. It can be tremendously helpful at underlining how angry a character is, how utterly boned a situation is, you name it. Like salt, it enhances the flavor of whatever scene it's used in. It can be the cherry on top of a crowning moment of badass sundae. One of my favorite examples is this one scene in Cube:

The Wren enters one of the rooms. The atmosphere is tense, as it always is -- is the room safe, or trapped? There's no way to know for sure until you're inside it. Now he's in.

There's silence. Then a soft click.


The same goes for sexual references, though they're usually used to underline a character's sleaziness or debauchery. Unfortunately, neither profanity nor sexual references are enough to elevate dialogue that's bland or cringey on its own. Adding more of either of them does not make anything better, it just tends to scrub away any subtlety and nuance. A skillfully-wielded precision f strike is useful. Scattering them like edgelord parmesan is a recipe for narm.

Spongebob: Hey Patrick, what's that word?

Patrick: Kr-ab-s? Uh, isn't that that red, sweaty guy you work for?

Spongebob: No, not that word, that word.

Patrick: ...<dolphin chirp noises>? Oh, I know what that is! That's one of those sentence enhancers! You just sprinkle on anything you say, and whamo! You got yourself a spicy sentence sandwich!

Now, these are teenagers. They're teenagers suddenly elevated to godhood and granted both fame and unimaginable powers faster than they can develop the maturity and responsibility to temper them with. If the dialogue intended to convey the kind of sneering, painfully self-conscious contempt one might expect from immature people with greatness thrust upon them, it succeeded. Unfortunately, that degree of success does not make for especially memorable, interesting, or sympathetic characters -- it's a good thing all of the main cast have distinctive looks, because without them, I probably couldn't tell one from the next.

By the point I reached, I was actually pretty happy about the two year thing.

Does this mean the story has no redeeming virtue? No, there are certainly enough positive The Wicked + The Divine reviews (and possibly a T.V. show in the making) that can attest to that. Personally, I'm really a stickler for natural-sounding dialogue. I like retro comic vibes in the right environment, and I can dig on some cheesy superhero one-liners in the proper context, but, overall, I need to feel a believable flow between characters -- preferably ones whose heads I'm not looking forward to seeing explode.

Normally, I don't affiliate link to things I don't like. In this case, I'm very willing to admit that I may just not be the right audience for this series. Have I aged out of it? Possibly. Like I said, I didn't have any patience for Juno either, and people seemed to go nuts for it (even some older than me, though, so who knows). If your dealbreakers aren't the same as mine, I urge you to check it out.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Trip to The Crystal Fox

Note: This post contains some links to items that allow me to earn a small commission from their sale, at no additional cost to you. Product photos belong to their respective owners, and appear here via a URL preview widget. Thank you for helping to support this site!

Let me preface this by saying that my S.O. and I are in a mixed religious relationship. I'm Pagan, he's agnostic. We don't talk about religion much, but he's wonderfully supportive of all of my weirdness.

He also doesn't mind taking a day trip all the way out to The Crystal Fox in Laurel, Maryland, to go look at fancy rocks for a few hours. For Valentine's Day, he even got me this absolutely gorgeous rainbow-y smoky quartz.

D.C., as far as I can tell, is bereft of good gem and mineral shops. That means that, any time I need to re-up my stash, I end up having to go for a bit of a drive to do it. We make a day of it, picking a new restaurant to try each time (this time? Tastee Diner, where I had the best tuna melt I've ever tasted), and have a lot of fun in the process.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="513"] Unfortunately, we never remember to get a picture of the exterior when we go. Please accept my apology in the form of this artfully composed and not at all yanked from Google street view picture.[/caption]

The Crystal Fox itself has a feel not unlike most metaphysical stores I've been in. When a shop caters to people from a wide variety of belief systems, they tend to get this lovely treasure hunt atmosphere that I really enjoy. Incense wafts on the air, a store cat lounges in an aisle, and you're left to discover hidden gems both literal and figurative. Even though my S.O. doesn't go there for the same things I do, we both end up wandering wherever our eyes and attention spans take us. He always finds something cool there, and we meet at the register to excitedly show each other our finds.

[caption id="attachment_3489" align="aligncenter" width="513"] I'd probably give one of my favorite fingers for that cactus quartz cluster in the back. Okay, maybe second favorite.[/caption]

This time, we got a pretty awesome little haul:

He chose the set of three hand-carved boxes, the opalite, and some really, really amazing-smelling soap by Finchberry. I picked up my favorite stick incense, a blue lace agate (for gem elixers, which I'll probably get into in a future post!), the most perfect little Herkimer diamond, and a really lovely quartz point. The quartz is pretty interesting, too -- I found it in a group of different-sized quartz wands, so it took me a bit to realized just how special it was.

Though I don't really hold with most of what crystal books say about different types of quartz, pictures don't really do clear quartz justice so I'll appropriate some of their language for a description. It's a channeling quartz, with a trigger and some lovely little rainbows within. It has a lot of etching on the sides, which it what initially drew me to it -- I love getting lost in all of the tiny, tiny natural designs! It was only after some inspection that I found the neatest aspect of this stone, though:

... It's actually double-terminated! What initially looked like a ragged, broken-off end is, in reality, the beginnings of a cluster. This crystal most likely formed on its side, atop a larger stone (similarly to some of the crystals "piggybacking" on one of my morions) so the tip was free to form a normal termination, while the base is a group of smaller points surrounding a larger one. Both terminations are intact, and the "bottom" one even has a tiny record keeper mark.

In addition to that one, I also finally bit the bullet and picked up a Herkimer diamond. I've wanted one ever since I found out they existed, but they can be relatively expensive. While my bigger crystal above was about ten dollars, this tiny Herkie was nearly half that:

The Crystal Fox has a nice selection of double-terminated crystals from both Pakistan and Herkimer, N.Y., but only those collected from Herkimer and the surrounding areas are really able to be labeled as "Herkimer diamonds." They're quartz, not actually diamond, but they tend to be smaller, stouter, and harder (by about .5 on the Mohs scale) than other quartz varieties. The one I picked is technically a "dolphin quartz" too, due to the little crystal riding atop it. Somehow, though I'm not entirely sure of the chemistry involved, the smaller crystal is a bright, citrine yellow while the larger one is water clear with a few black inclusions -- most likely hydrocarbon. Energetically, Herkimer diamonds are considered very high-vibration stones. I firmly believe that every rock has its own distinct energetic fingerprint and any stone can be "high vibration" if you pick the right one, but I can tell you that this is a pleasant, almost effervescent little guy to hold.

Now I'm on a bit of a Herkimer kick. I'd love to get more to turn into rings and stud earrings! In the interim, browsing Etsy has been sating some of my Herkimer cravings:

Herkimer Diamond Studs

These earrings are absolutely gorgeous. Herkies are prized for their shape, so it's really lovely to see them used in their natural state. I have a cartilage piercing at the top of my ear, so I'm planning on getting a Herkimer diamond stud to add a little sparkle and magick. Source.

Herkimer diamond gemstone ring

I love jewelry with organic, branch- or bark-like forms, and this combination of an antiqued silver branch and raw Herkimer diamond is stunning. I think it has a witchy vibe, but it's subtle enough to work with almost any aesthetic. Source.

Herkimer diamond engagement ring

Planning on getting engaged? These rustic, lacey, two-tone rings make for a unique, affordable option. I'm not the marrying type, but I'd wear one anyhow. Look at that texture! Source.

Genuine New York Herkimer Diamond Quartz

If loose stones are more your jam, there's plenty of those, too. These are some beautifully-formed, very clear Herkies that won't break the bank. Source.