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What is LASIK Like?

What is LASIK Like_

What is LASIK Like?

H. Bradford

7/15/18

Earlier this week, I underwent LASIK eye surgery.   In the past year, I had considered it more deeply than in the past.  I figured that perhaps I would try to get it in a few years to mark turning 40 (as I am constructing a list of things I want to do to mark that milestone year).  However, a few things had prompted me to get the procedure early.  One, in April, one of my contact lenses (one eye) was back ordered for over a month.  This meant that I had to wear the wrong eye’s prescription in the back ordered eye (as I had run out of contacts for that eye but was able to re-stock the other eye) for over a month.  Two, in May,  I actually lost a contact lens while at work.  This meant that I had to have one of my housemates drive to my job with a replacement lens so I could see well enough to work.  Both of these instances made me consider moving my timeline ahead.  I ultimately decided to go ahead with LASIK because I found that I could qualify for reasonable financing, which made it possible for me to afford the procedure.


 

History:

I began wearing glasses in the first grade.  I remember that I actually WANTED glasses at the time, since I thought that glasses were cool.  Although I had mild vision problems, I remember lying on the vision test since I really, really, really wanted to glasses.  Yes, I lied.   I began wearing glasses, which as is turned out, was not all that I hoped it would be.  By the time I was in high school, I really hated wearing glasses, especially an exceptionally dorky pair that I had in 10th grade.  As it turns out, glasses can be expensive and after my parent’s divorce, I remember getting a cheap replacement pair that I really hated since that was what my mother could afford.  There is no shame on my mother or for being poor, it was simply a reality of my life and what we could afford. Thankfully, I was able to get into contact lenses in the 11th grade.  From then on, I wore my contact lenses every day and only wore my glasses for a few minutes a day (such as when first waking up or just before bed).  I wore my contacts without problem or incident, spare an inflamed cornea that I suffered in my early 20s.  I switched contact lens brands and the problem cleared up, spare one week of wearing an eye patch….which I also didn’t mind for the pirate aesthetic.


However, in the past few years I have traveled a bit more and started to feel a longing to be rid of both contacts and glasses.  In one instance, I remember traveling some very dusty roads in Namibia, which irritated my eyes.  There was also a dusty windstorm which also resulted in dust in my contacts.  Generally, wearing contacts during travel that involves camping, dust, wind, or water activities has been an inconvenience.  In my imagination, I began to think that I would be more adventurous if I simply got rid of my contacts once and for all.  This is patently untrue.  I am not adventurous because I am cautious by nature.  HOWEVER, I imagined going rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, camping, and other activities far more if only I was rid of contacts.  In my medical imagination, I began to associate LASIK with freedom and adventure.  Beyond this, almost everyone in my family has had LASIK.  This includes my mother, father, brother, and even my grandmother.  They are all advocates of LASIK, as it has worked out well for them.  Therefore, I felt confident that it would probably work out well for myself as well…

The Process:

I had not been saving for the procedure, as I had fantasized that it would happen at some far off time (in a fantasy world where I am better at saving).   I noticed that Weiss Eye Clinic in Hermantown offered financing for LASIK.  Before making an informational appointment, I checked to see if I would qualify for the financing option as that was no point making an appointment if I could not afford it.  I qualified online, so I made my appointment.


The first appointment was a consultation with a basic eye exam.  It was a short meeting which discussed how LASIK work and checked my eyes to see if I would qualify.  One important test was the thickness of my cornea, which was well above average and therefore eligible for LASIK.   Corneal thickness is important since LASIK reshapes the cornea.  I was told about some of the risks, which I had already read about online and didn’t feel particularly concerned about (I suppose since everyone I know who had the procedure did not have any major complications).   From there, I scheduled another eye appointment.  This was scheduled over two weeks from the consultation date, during which time I could not wear my contact lenses.


Not wearing my contacts was awful.  I hate wearing glasses.   I actually had a count-down on my bedroom calendar.  Each day, I checked to see how many days I had left on my calendar.   I have not watched a calendar countdown with such anticipation for the end since I was a child and my mother would hang up a cloth Advent Calendar with pockets for each day.  A stuffed mouse would sit in the pocket for each day leading up to Christmas, moving one pocket over for each passing day.   I was very aware that I was always wearing glasses.  They became sweaty and foggy with heat and temperature changes.  They always seemed to get dirty, so I would wipe them off multiple times each day.  It was my first time regularly wearing glasses since 10th grade.  I also felt that I couldn’t do physical activities.  I imagined them bouncing up and down on my face while running or just getting dirty and sweaty.  When I went for walks, a sudden rain suddenly became an enormous annoyance as once again, the glasses became unusable.  I know that people wear glasses without problem and actually enjoy wearing them, but to me, they are a facial prison.  I can honestly say I hated every day that I had to wear my glasses.  The only bright side was that I picked up a lot of overtime at my job.  I had 25 hours of it one week.  This made the time pass faster and made glasses less terrible, since I wasn’t doing anything public or active (just working).


After what felt like an eternity of wearing glasses, I had my eye exam.  It seemed like a regular eye exam, which generally tested my vision to make certain that the surgery would make the proper refractive correction.  I also had to watch a video and take a quiz about possible complications.  The only unusual aspect of the eye exam was a glaucoma test, which I have not had before.  My eyes were dilated for the test and remained dilated for several hours after.  This made for an interesting morning as I went about my day in the intensely…painfully bright world.  I went for a hike and imagined that I was a dark elf or some other mythical creature of a nocturnal world. I kept to the shadows of the trees, trying to avoid the sinister sunlight which I could barely endure.  After all, this was my first time leaving the dark, matriarchal comforts of Menzoberranzan.  (Yes, oddly I thought a lot about dark elves on the hike).  I don’t own prescription sunglasses, which may have helped.   I also went for lunch at Toasty’s, trying not to let the world see the fact that my pupils were giant lunar eclipses.  By the time that I had a work meeting a few hours later, the pupils were not quite as huge- but still large enough that I felt that I had to explain myself.  In any event, I was scheduled for the actual LASIK surgery about a week and a half after this exam.


It was smooth sailing until the surgery.  I thought little of it and had no anxiety prior to the surgery.  Oddly enough, I was not at all worried about having my eyes pried open and corrected with a laser.  My only worry was that I might get sick from the Valium I was given before the procedure.    I have emetophobia, so my main concern when entering a new situation is whether or not it will make me puke.  I did not suppose the laser would cause me to vomit, hence it caused no anxiety at all.   Thankfully, the Valium was awesome.  I don’t drink or use drugs, so I generally enjoy when I am given a medically sanctioned sedative.  I need to be sedated.  I am stressed out about the world.  I work at a domestic violence shelter.  I feel like I am living life in a meaningless hellworld where everything will die, everything is painful, and there is nothing I can effectively do about it.  Yay, Valium!


The procedure itself involved being given Valium, putting on medical booties and a hair cover, having numbing drops administered to my eyes, then laying out on a table.  While on the table, my eyes were clamped open in a way that I imagine is similar to a scene in A Clockwork Orange.  I was too numb and relaxed to mind.  While on the table, I looked up at the laser.   The procedure I underwent was Z-LASIK, which apparently is performed using only a laser and is marketed as bladeless.  I understand this to mean that a laser is used to both make a flap in the eye and reshape the cornea.  Thus, while on the table, a small flap was cut into my eye with a laser.  Once the flap was made, the cornea was reshaped.  From my own experience, it involved looking up at a red light.  There was also a green light, which I was not supposed to focus on.  The red light appeared diffuse with a focused red dot at the center.  I gazed up at the light, like looking into the eye of a mechanical angel or God.  There was a slight humming sound and accompanying odor, which was the smell of carbon atoms released from my cornea.  It was not an unpleasant or worrisome smell.  The whole process lasted less than a minute then was repeated on my other eye.  I did not feel any pain or discomfort, though I could feel that something was happening to my eyes.


My brother warned me that he could not see at all after his LASIK surgery.  However, I could see right away.  My main problem after the procedure was that I had trouble walking, as the Valium had made me unsteady.   After the surgery, I was instructed to sleep (as I would sleep through the pain as the drops wore off).  When I arrived home, I slept from about 10 am to 3pm (I took a Tylenol PM).   When I woke up, I could see generally well and didn’t feel too much discomfort, though light was shrouded in halos.  I could see well enough to drive….and felt well enough to go to a HOTDISH Militia meeting and a Homeless Bill of Rights event that evening.   My only error was that my night vision was not that great the first day and after both meetings, I went for a walk until dark, then had to drive home.  So, as a word to the wise, it is probably better to test your vision a bit more after the surgery.   I went to work the next day.


 

     After Care:

Aside from sleeping, I was instructed not to go into water (other than a shower) for two weeks, to avoid eye makeup for one week, to put antibiotic drops in my eyes for four days, wear goggles while sleeping, to avoid rubbing my eyes, and wear googles or sunglasses while doing outdoor activities that could result in a foreign object entering my eye.   I had an eye appointment the morning after the surgery and another following up will happen at one month, three month, six month, and twelve month intervals.  During the next two months, my eyes could change and adjust.  For now, my main side effects experienced have been dry eyes after sleeping, halos, and lessened night vision.  I have noticed that the halos and night vision has improved over the past few days.  I hope that they continue to improve as my eyes heal, since I work at night.  None of these side effects are severe enough that I regret having the procedure done, though I am still operating under the assumption they will continue to improve.


It is truly amazing to see with my own eyes for the first time since the first grade.  Each day, I still come home from work thinking that I have to take out my contacts.  It is great to wake up able to see and go to bed able to see.  I think this will also help on flights and at work.  Whenever I wanted to take a nap, even a short 15 minute nap, I have had to take my contacts out.  This is because they always became uncomfortably plastered to my eyes after even the shortest nap (which I sometimes use my break to nap).  This means that taking small naps on planes, buses, trains, or on work breaks has meant taking my contacts out.  It is great to sleep without taking out my lenses!  Flights are terrible because they have always dried out my contacts.  At least now I can see on flights without removing my contacts.  I also had the great realization that I can actually see in the shower.  This seems like no big deal, but it is neat to be able to see ALL of the time.  I think that it really does open up possibilities- especially in terms of water sport participation.  I hate water.  I am a coward when it comes to water.  But, at least I will be able to SEE if I choose to go rafting again or SEE if I do any activity that involves water in my eyes.  One of my goals is to try out more watery activities, even though I hate them…simply because I CAN!


 

Cost:

My procedure, including all of the follow up visits, cost $3,300.   My insurance covered a $400 eye exam prior to the LASIK, but insurance does not cover LASIK itself.  Weis Eye Center offers financing through CareCredit which is a glorified, medical credit card.  The main benefit of this card is that you pay no interest at all if you pay off the balance within 12 months.  However, due to other bills and spending goals, I opted to pay interest and finance the procedure over 2 years.  I could have chosen to pay it off in 3, 4, or 6 years, which obviously would have resulted in smaller monthly payments, but much more interest.  My hope is that I can pay it off in less than 2 years to avoid paying as much in interest (even though I will pay some).   I feel comfortable that this was not a terrible financial decision, even if paying it off in one year would have been more ideal.  With that said, I believe that insurance should cover the procedure.  While it is viewed by society as elective or cosmetic, I think that it is entirely reasonable to want functional eyes without the use of glasses or contacts.   I have found glasses and contacts to have many draw backs, especially regarding travel and physical activities.  I think that anyone who wants to have their eyes corrected should be able to access this (so, ideally, beyond insurance it should be a part of the services available to people if medicine was socialized).   Of course, each person has to weigh the risks on their own.  Dry eyes, halos, lessened night vision, or more serious complications are certainly worth considering.  And, not everyone hates glasses and contacts as much as I have disliked them.  Glasses can be fashionable and more comfortable than contacts.  And, obviously, I wore contacts for years without problems other than minor inconveniences.


     Conclusion:

It is entirely possible that some complication could still arise or that my minor eye problems will not correct themselves.  Still, to me, LASIK feels like freedom.  I certainly idealize it.  Realistically, I have not done a single adventurous thing since getting LASIK earlier this week (though I did SIGN up to do snorkeling on my upcoming trip).   But, I have enjoyed the everyday advantages of not wearing contacts.  Seeing all of the time is great!  Not having to touch my eyes or take out my lenses is also super!  I will be going camping next week, and it will be nice to be able to blindly navigate to a toilet at night or not have to fumble around to find my glasses in the dark.  So far, I have enjoyed the sum of the small, everyday advantages of not wearing contacts.  While I won’t magically become more intrepid it will at least give me one less thing to worry about.  With that said, I definitely recommend LASIK.

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Road Trip: Texas to Minnesota!

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Road Trip:  Texas to Minnesota!

H. Bradford

5/20/18

This year, my brother accepted a new job in Minnesota.  This meant that he had to move his family and belongings from San Antonio to Minnesota.  The move presented a logistical problem, as he has two vehicles but would have had to pay someone to move one of the vehicles north.  So, rather than have him pay someone to move his vehicle- I volunteered to drive it for him!  I thought it might be fun to travel from Texas to Minnesota on an epic sibling road trip.  I planned out some stops and a route for us.  Because of my work schedule (eight days on/six days off) I was able to fly to San Antonio and embark on this road trip without having to miss work.  Of course, the only problem was that 1.) I hate driving.  2.) I have never driven that far before.  3.) I have never really driven in major cities.  But…the lure of adventure outstripped my anxieties and the cross country odyssey began.  Here are some highlights from the cross country journey!


 

Day One/Two: San Antonio

 

Riverwalk:

I arrived in San Antonio in the late afternoon after working a night shift the day before (and a stretch of nine shifts in a row prior to the trip).  Although I was sleep deprived, I had just enough energy to explore the River Walk for a few hours. The River Walk is a well touristed area, but an easy place for a leisurely stroll and overpriced food.  I enjoyed eating Mexican food, observing ducks, and posing by The Alamo. In the past, I have had some misgivings visiting and posing by The Alamo, which is a symbol of Texan independence/statehood. On the other hand, it could also be viewed as a place where Mexico squarely defeated insurgent U.S.settlers.  Or, it could be viewed as a Spanish mission to educate or covert (i.e. acculturate/destroy) Native Americans into the Catholic faith. However one wants to remember The Alamo, a highlight was watching my brother convince one of the park rangers to take a photo with me by pretending to be a guileless tourist, rather than San Antonio resident for the past several years. Image may contain: 2 people, including Heather Bradford, people standing and outdoor


San Antonio Botanical Gardens:

It is hard to rank something like botanical gardens, since each is unique in their own way.  However, I will say that San Antonio probably has one of the best botanical gardens that I have been to.  A person can spend hours in the massive gardens, which features plants from several Texan regions, a pond, a bird observatory, children’s gardens, herb gardens, butterfly gardens, a Japanese garden, collections of ferns and citrus fruit, and much more.  The garden also offers a great view of San Antonio. I visited the garden while my brother was finishing his exit paperwork for the army. I focused on birdwatching, which is also great at the botanical gardens!

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The Missions:

After visiting the botanical garden, my brother and I headed off to see some of the San Antonio missions. Although I have visited San Antonio twice before, I had not visited the missions on my prior trips.  I was not entirely interested in them, since well, they are monuments to the conversion of Native Americans to Catholicism. However, since it was my last visit, I had not previously seen them, and they are World Heritage Sites, I thought there might be some value in paying a brief visit.  As such, we checked out two of the four missions. We visited Mission San Jose and Mission Concepcion. I would say that a highlight of visiting Mission San Jose was walking along the defensive walls of the grounds and imagining what life must have been like for the people who lived within the walls.  We paused to take a photo of the ornate, Rose Window, which was very popular with tourists. Otherwise, after walking the grounds, we headed over to Mission Conception, which was much smaller. The most notable thing about this mission site was the Native American murals. The ceiling of one part of the mission featured a sun with a mustache.  I like to think that the artist wanted to slip in some sort of subtle cultural resistance against Catholicism. No automatic alt text available.


Government Canyon State Natural Area

One of my favorite places to visit in the San Antonio area is Government Canyon.  In the past, I have spent many hours hiking the canyon area. A must see highlight of the hike is the dinosaur footprints, which are located about two and a half miles from the visitor center.  Unfortunately, each time I have visited the tracks have been submerged in water. Despite the algae, mud, and water, the shape of the tracks is generally visible without much imagination. From the dinosaur footprints, hikers can choose several other trails.  This time, my brother and I chose to take the overlook trail.

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Day Three:  San Antonio to Gainesville, Texas

On day three of the trip, we finally left San Antonio via HWY 281 towards Marble Falls.  This route was preferable to the congested and speedy I-35, which would have taken us through Waco Texas (and to Mammoth National Monument).  The easy drive took us through Texas’ Hill Country, past many things named after Lyndon B. Johnson. Our first stop was in Marble Falls for breakfast…


Blue Bonnet Cafe:

We stopped for breakfast at the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas.  I am not a huge fan of pancakes, but I will say that I had the best pancake I’ve eaten at this cafe.  It was fluffy, filling, and thick. I also appreciate that everywhere I ate in Texas had iced tea (at all hours) and that I was often offered a “to go” cup for my refill.  This is not the norm in Minnesota. In any event, the breakfast was a great start to the day, which says a lot since breakfast is my least favorite meal.

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Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge:

Following breakfast, we detoured away from 281 to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.  The visitors center was closed, but we went on to hike at the Warbler Vista.  Our goal was to see the elusive and endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler, which is endemic to Texas and only breeds in mature juniper forests.  We wandered along a jagged juniper lined hill trail. While we heard birds, we saw nothing for most of the hike. Then, towards the end of the hike, we decided to take a moment to investigate the source of a birdsong.  Sure enough, it was the Golden Cheeked Warbler!  I struggled to photograph the quick bird as evidence that I had seen the endangered warbler. The bird actually landed a few feet away from my brother, then zipped off to some nearby evergreens.   I was able to snap a photo. We saw and heard the bird a few more times before finishing the trail.  At the end of the trail, I saw two scrub jays, which were also a first time sighting for me. The Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is also home to the Black capped vireo, another endangered bird. We set off to the Shin Oak overlook, where the bird is sometimes found. However, we did not have any luck seeing this bird.   We saw an Indigo Bunting and many cardinals, which seem pretty abundant in the Texas Hill Country. Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, grass, outdoor and nature Image may contain: bird and outdoor


Dinosaur Valley State Park:

 

Our journey continued towards Dinosaur Valley State Park.  This brought us back along HWY 281 to enjoy more Hill Country scenery and small, Texan towns.  One of the more unique towns that we passed through was Hamilton, Texas. Hamilton features a Frida Kahlo themed Mexican restaurant and the grave of a man who claimed to be Billy the Kid.  Further along 281, Hico Texas hosts a Billy the Kid museum. We did not stop at these places as we lacked the time, but I think that they would have been interesting stops.


We drove on to Dinosaur Valley State Park, which is known for several sets of dinosaur foot prints.  When we arrived, the day was very hot. We were initially very excited to pose by the giant dinosaur statues and find the prints.  The excitement gave way to frustration. The park was very busy and the tracks were located in the water. We slipped out of our shoes, waded into the water, and crossed slippery rocks to view one set of tracks.  This was a lot of effort. I had imagined that the tracks would be permanently etched in mud turned to stone along a dry path. Nope. It is my understanding that all of the tracks are located in the Puluxy River.  There are times of the year when the river is drier and access to the tracks is easier.   Based on my experience, I would recommend bringing water shoes and preparing for some wading to access them.  I would also recommend a water proof camera or not bringing along anything that should not get wet.  On the other hand, the park is an ideal place to bring kids, since children can literally swim around with dinosaur foot prints. Image may contain: cloud, sky, shoes, outdoor and nature Image may contain: outdoor and water


After viewing one set of footprints, we decided to go for a hike.  Hiking on any of the trails involved crossing over the river (which is another good reason to bring water shoes or waterproof hiking boots).  My feet got wet in the crossing. The heat and wet feet added to my waning morale.   I was encouraged by the idea that we might see a rare Black capped vireo on one of the trails.  However, we didn’t see many birds and after driving all day, we didn’t have much energy for a long hike. Our final destination was still over two hours ahead of us, so we eventually turned around to plot the final leg of our day’s journey.

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Gainesville, Texas:

We spent the night on Day Three in Gainesville, Texas, which is located very close to Oklahoma.  The drive there was pleasant enough as we skirted around major cities and the associated traffic.  By the time we arrived, it was late in the evening and we were both tired. We didn’t do much sightseeing in Gainesville, but managed to drag ourselves to a Mexican restaurant not far from our hotel.  I ordered a vegetarian taco, which was stuffed with “mixed vegetables.” As it turned out, the mixed vegetables were literally the sort of mixed vegetables a person gets from a can or in a school lunch (carrots, corn, green beans, lima beans).  It was odd and disappointing.  Otherwise, we strolled around the historic downtown area and called it a day!


Day Four:  Gainesville, Texas to Wichita, Kansas

Day four took us from Gainesville, Texas to Wichita, Kansas.  We set out early, followed Interstate 35, and made our first stop in Oklahoma City to visit a few tourist sites.  Oklahoma has some lovely landscapes and I regret that we did not stop to take some photos as we pressed towards Oklahoma City.

Myriad Gardens and Bricktown:


This botanical garden was smaller than I thought it would be, but it was still a relaxing place to visit.  I enjoyed the small collection of unique fruit plants such as the blackberry jam plant (Randia Formosa) and fruit salad tree (Monstera Deliciosa).  Outside of the greenhouse, there was a park/amphitheater with ducks, irises, and a sunken lake. Myriad Gardens is located by the Bricktown Entertainment District.  My brother and I strolled around the area, enjoying the river walk along the Oklahoma River. I regret that I did not take more photos of Bricktown itself, which seemed like a pretty typical center of urban tourism.  Originally, Bricktown was an industrial area centered around the Santa Fe Railroad. Bricktown and neighboring Deep Deuce were once centers for Oklahoma City’s African American population, but this shifted with the decline of industries, construction of major highways, and desegregation of the city.  In the 1980s the area was purchased by a private developer and further gentrification was promoted by the city’s Metropolitan Area Projects (MAP) program. http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/bricktown-and-deep-deuce-oklahoma-city-1889 Image may contain: sky and outdoor


Museum of Osteology:

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the museum located miles away from Oklahoma City’s center in what appeared to be a neighborhood of warehouses, fields, and road construction.  It was also strange that the remote building was a private museum of skeletons collected by an individual.   It seemed rather eccentric that a person would collect over 300 skeletons, which he personally cleaned, and displayed for the public.  Despite the weird location and fact it was someone’s menagerie of the dead, the museum was actually one of the most memorable that I have visited. The displays were professional and scientific. The skeletons were generally organized by taxonomic families and featured interesting facts.  For instance, I learned that hedgehogs were no longer grouped in the order Insectivora (as it no longer exists).  All of the skeletons were real, with the exception of a collection of early human remains replicas. The center of the museum featured giraffe, whale, hippo, and elephant skeletons.  The gift shop was full of unique souvenirs, including unicorn skeleton bumper stickers, glow in the dark animal skeleton t-shirts, and toad skeletons encased in plastic.

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Chisholm Creek Park/Great Plains Nature Center:

Upon arriving in Wichita, we felt like taking a walk.  We had heard of the Great Plains Nature Center, but read that it was closed on a Sunday.  My brother searched for another nearby park and found the Chisholm Creek Park. As it turned out, the park WAS actually part of the Great Plains Nature Center and OPEN.  This was great luck! We hiked along the trails, which meandered through wetlands, forests, and prairie areas. I saw many birds, including two black crowned night herons, many tree sparrows, and great blue herons.  The park was surprisingly busy for a Sunday evening, with people of all ages enjoying nature. While we didn’t stay long in Wichita, Chisholm Creek Park was definitely worth a visit (and probably even better when the visitor center is open!) Image may contain: outdoor


Day Five:  Wichita to Sioux City, Iowa

Day five of our journey was packed full of driving, outdoors, and adventure.

Tallgrass Prairie Reserve:

Just over an hour away from Wichita on a farmland and meadowlark lined highway is the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.  This park is a small piece of the ecosystem that once spread across the midsection of country.  Only 4% of the US’ tall grass prairie remains. We arrived early and were immediately charmed by the hilly, grass carpeted landscape and socially awkward park ranger at the visitor center.  Best of all, the park is FREE to visit!  We set off on a trail that began near the visitor center, which took us through pasture and along a wooded river trail.  The small patch of woods hosted a large variety of birds, making for some of the best birding on the trip.  It also shaded us from the sun and provided a nice vantage point for viewing the prairie. We hiked for over two hours, ending just as the sun was gaining strength. If we would have had more time to explore, we could have taken a bus tour to visit other parts of the park and view the bison herd.  Instead, we had a long day of driving ahead of us, so we set off on back roads towards Topeka. I wanted to avoid toll roads, so we took a slightly longer route. The longer route gave us a nice view of the Flint Hills and smaller Kansas communities.

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Westboro Baptist Church:

I was not aware that the Westboro Baptist Church was located in Topeka, Kansas.  The hateful church is located in a quiet residential neighborhood. We stopped for the spectacle of seeing the infamous church and also for the opportunity to give them the finger.  We made the quick stop before taking a fast food lunch break in Topeka. Across the street from the church are two colorful houses. One is decorated in the colors of the Trans flag and the other is clad in rainbow siding.  The house with the pride flag colors is the Equality House, which has hosted weddings, drag shows, and fundraisers. The Trans flag house was purchased by an eight year old transgender child through crowdfunding.  There are many fast food restaurants located near the church, so we stopped for a quick bite to eat before continuing our journey. Image may contain: tree, sky, house, plant, outdoor and nature   Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, tree and outdoor


Indian Cave State Park:

From Topeka, we headed to Indian Cave State Park in Nebraska.  We arrived in the late afternoon, once again following rural roads.  I wanted to visit the park, since I thought it would be interesting to see petroglyphs left behind by Native Americans thousands of years ago.  There is also a ghost town nestled within the state park.


We found that the park was very expansive if not a little confusing.   The petroglyphs were located at the furthest end of the park, along a cliff face facing the Missouri River.  The rock wall is more of a cliff than a cave.  Still, the site is easily accessed from the road.  Unfortunately, many people have carved messages into the rock face over the years.  The petroglyphs are hidden within a mess of graffiti.  There seems to be little to prevent further desecration of the monument, so I would recommend visiting the park for the opportunity to see it while you can! Image may contain: outdoor, water and nature


After visiting the petroglyphs, we followed the road back to the ghost town of St. Deroin.  The city was abandoned after the Missouri River shifted and the town lost ferry service. Interestingly, the community was part of the Nemaha Half-breed reservation, who were a group of mixed ancestry Native American/European people.  The reservation ceased to exist in 1861 but some of the descendants continue to live in the area to this day.  It seems like a fascinating history, since they would have been outsiders to both societies and I wonder how modern descendants fare today.  For instance, do they identify with their Native American roots or do they want some kind of federal recognition?

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Finally, we explored a wetland trail near the remnants of St. Deroin, where we saw over a dozen Indigo buntings and my brother saw a bobwhite.  The trail offered a few of the Missouri River, as well its previous path by St. Deroin.


Sioux City, Iowa:

After a long day of driving and exploring, our final stop was Sioux City.  We didn’t arrive until after 9pm, so we really didn’t have time to explore.  My impression was that Sioux City seems to be a hub for semi trucks.  The only thing we did in Sioux City was share an appetizer sampler at Perkins, almost collapse from exhaustion when we arrived at our hotel, and complain about the news coverage of the royal wedding.


 

Day Six:  HOME!


Lake Crystal:

On our final day, we drove from Sioux City to our respective homes.  The final journey took us through Lake Crystal, Mn, where my brother picked up the rest of his family.  I stopped by the nearby Welsh Park, which is named after the second longest city name in the world. Apparently, many Welsh people settled in the area.  There was once a Welsh Methodist church and there is also a Welsh Heritage Orchard.  There is also a Welsh farmstead on the national register of historic places (Jones-Roberts Farmstead).  I don’t know the specifics of Welsh settlement in Lake Crystal, but Blue Earth and LeSueur Countries attracted a few thousand Welsh settlers who farmed in those counties.

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Pigeon Lake Rookery:

Continuing north, we stopped at Pigeon Lake.  Pigeon Lake is a wildlife viewing area, where a person can stop alongside the road and view several islands which serve as rookeries for pelicans, cormorants, and herons.  Without a spotting scope, it is hard to see the scope of the species breeding on the islands. However, even without a spotting scope, hundreds of birds can be seen dotting the islands. Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor, nature and water


Sartell to Duluth:  The End…

My brother’s final destination was his new home in Sartell.  We spent some time viewing the new house, which was still devoid of his belongings.  From there, my mother drove me back home to Duluth. Thus my road trip ended! I was exhausted, as I had driven over 1,400 miles and seen many things.  The next morning it was back to work for me.


It was nice to have the opportunity to go on a road trip with my brother.  I felt as though I had lived several weeks over the course of several days.  We were busy from the early morning to late night each day.  Even with a busy schedule, we didn’t scratch the surface of everything we could have seen!  There were bones, birds, dinosaur foot prints, petroglyphs, and hikes.  The “flyover” states have plenty to offer and I think that for as much as I dislike the US for its politics, racism, sexism, other isms, history, and place in the world- I can appreciate the US for our natural landscapes.

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Navigating Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Navigating Public Service Loan Forgiveness

H. Bradford

4/8/18

In 2007, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was launched under the Bush administration.  The program allows student loan borrowers to have their loans forgiven if they make 120 qualifying payments on their loans while working full time as a public servant.  This includes work for state, tribal, and federal organizations, 401c non-profit organizations, Americorps, Peace Corps, and some other qualifying non-profits. I did not learn about this program until about two years ago when I was faced with the reality of paying my student loans and spent some time looking through repayment options.  Since the program is not well promoted or advertised, many people are not aware that they may be able to have their loans forgiven. Had I known about it, I could have enrolled years ago and made some headway towards the 120 qualifying payments. This past year marked the 10 year anniversary of the program, which meant that the first cohort of enrollees in the program were qualified for loan forgiveness.  However, many found that they had not been making qualifying payments and would potentially have to start over. In all, only about 1000 of the 7,500 people enrolled in the program are expected to actually qualify for loan forgiveness this year (Lobosco, 2018). It is unknown how many, if any, have actually seen their loans forgiven, but the frustration of many borrowers has resulted in some lawsuits against loan servicers.  I have had my own frustrations and setbacks as I have tried to navigate the program. I will try to share some of the things I have learned along the way so that others can avoid the pitfalls that have thwarted so many borrowers.

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Direct Loans and Consolidation:


One of the criteria for loan forgiveness is that student loans must be Direct Student Loans (which confusingly are also called Direct Plus Loans and Unsubsidized/ Subsidized Stafford Loans.)   Payments on loans that are not Direct Loans (such as federal Perkins Loans and FFEL loans) do not count and so if you spend time making these payments, it will not works towards the 120 or 10 years of payments.  If you decide to consolidate these loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan, you will loose credit on any payments on the Direct Loans you had been making payments on.  Thus, if you make payments on loans that are not Direct Loans or make Direct Loan payments AND then consolidate all of the loans, and the payment clock will reset once the loans are consolidated. Therefore, aside from working at a qualifying institution, it is important to consolidate non-Direct loans into a Consolidated Direct Student Loan early in the payment process.  In general, it is best to consolidate all federal loans early in the payment process (since once they are consolidated into the Direct Consolidation Loan the 120 payments reset).  I made the mistake that some of my loans were consolidated and some were not.   This is because I had consolidated some of them years ago.   I accumulated additional loans which were not part of the consolidation.  Both of these loans were serviced by Navient with qualifying payment plans, which I made payments on for a year.  It  was my belief that some of the loans may not qualify for forgiveness after 10 years of payments.   Because of this error and to make certain all loans were forgiven, I reconsolidated the loans.  Consequently, I lost a year of payments towards my 120 qualifying payments.   Despite the loss of time, I figured it was better to start over and have everything forgiven than reach the end with only some forgiveness.  Thus, if you are entering the program, make sure that your loans are Direct Loans and that you consolidate early on if you have multiple loans!  There are some other entities that try to offer consolidation loans.  If your consolidation loan is through a bank or some other entity than the federal government, it will not qualify for PSLF.

(Originally, I wrongly wrote that only consolidated Direct Loans qualify.  All Direct loans qualify for the program- but in my case, I was unsure if my loans qualified and was making payments on consolidated and non-consolidated loans.  When I consolidated them I started over.  If you are confused on this matter, read the section on eligible loans: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service/questions)


 Qualifying Payments:

 

To qualify for student loan forgiveness, borrowers must make 120 qualifying payments.  This means that only certain payment plans meet the criteria for forgiveness. A person can qualify by making payments under a standard payment plan.  There are also several income driven plans (IDR) which include Pay as you Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay as you Earn (REPAYE), Income Based Repayment (IBR), and Income Contingent Repayment (ICR).  To qualify for IDR, I filled out a request form and submitted it with my income taxes. Generally, if a person qualifies for IDR, the payments are 10-15% of discretionary income, or income above 150% of the poverty line.  Borrowers must also demonstrate some sort of financial hardship, but simply having a high loan balance compared to annual income is sufficient to qualify. Each year, a borrower must submit new tax information and a new request form to qualify for the payment plan.  To apply for income driven repayment, you can visit StudentLoan.gov https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/ibrInstructions.action?source=15SPRRPMT


Not all payment plans are qualifying payment plans.  For instance, some borrowers were on extended or graduated payment plans.  These plans are NOT qualified for forgiveness, as borrowers found out the hard way when they tried to apply for forgiveness this year.  While these plans also lower monthly payments and are also government sponsored payment plans, they do not qualify for the program. However, the federal spending plan passed in March has made $350 million available to borrowers who made ten years of payments under these plans so that they do not have to restart the clock on repayment (Lenza, 2018).  Despite this recent provision, the funds are only available until they have been used up, so, it is best to either apply for these funds immediately if you have been on the wrong payment plan or switch over to a qualifying payment plan. Image result for public service loan forgiveness image Image from: https://blog.iontuition.com/qualifications-public-service-loan-forgiveness/

Employment Verification:

The heart of this program is employment in public service.  It is important to note that this does not have to be continuous employment or even employment at the same job.  For instance, if you make qualifying payments while doing a year of Americorps service, spend a year working at a for profit company, followed by a year of non-profit work, this would still count as two years of qualifying payments, even if the work was interrupted.  Of course, the year at a non-qualifying workplace would not count, even if payments were made on the student loans. Full time is considered an average of 30 hours a week or more, so it is possible to be a “part-time” worker in terms of hours and benefits, but still be considered full time by PSLF standards.


The program does not require individuals to submit employment verification each year in order to qualify in the end.  When I applied for income driven repayment, I checked a box stating that I worked in a non-profit. I figured this was sufficient for their tracking purposes.  It is…and…it isn’t. While a person COULD work at qualifying workplaces for the duration of the ten years, then, at the end of the 120 payments submit an employment verification form to prove this, it is better to submit this annually for a number of reasons.  1.) This program is under attack by politicians, so, officially enrolling in the program is a good way of getting grandfathered in should the program end. 2.) Your employer may not qualify- so it is better to know sooner than later. 3.) It is a way to keep track of progress towards the 120 payments and avoid any mistakes that will cost time and money by delaying forgiveness.


If you wish to submit an employer verification form, here is is.   Simply have your employer fill out the required parts, then you can mail or fax it to the Department of Education.  But, beware, submitting this form will set in motion a series of unfortunate events….


https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/public-service-employment-certification-form.pdf

Changing Loan Servicers: A Series of Unfortunate Events

While there are many good reasons to immediately submit the employment verification form, there is one major downside.  The major downside is that this will switch your loan servicer to FedLoan, which is the most unpopular and poorly rated loan government servicer.  The government has several student loan servicers including Great Lakes, Navient, Nelnet, and Fedloan. Despite the fact that they all oversee student loans for the government, only FedLoan is used for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  This means that once you submit your employment verification form, your loans will be transferred from your servicer to FedLoan. FedLoan has poor reviews for customer service, miscalculating IDR, delayed processing of payments, slow processing time for paperwork, etc.


I submitted my employment verification form in January.  In the meantime, I continued to make payments with Navient.  It took four months for the loan to finally be switched over to FedLoan.  And, when it finally switched over, I was given less than a week’s notice that my payment would be due!  Not only was my payment with FedLoan due in a week…it was for the full amount…as the income based repayment plan was not transferred with the loan.  While FedLoan had no problem transferring my banking information for automated payments from Navient along with the due date of Navient’s payment, the servicer was completely incapable of transferring my payment plan, even though I had renewed the payment plan in December.  The payment plan was not set to expire for eight months. Worse, I was expected to make a nearly immediate payment of over $1000. Yes, this was a nightmare.


To navigate this disaster, I submitted a renewal for my income driven plan on the same day that I learned my loan had been transferred.  This form can be submitted electronically on FedLoan’s site. Borrowers are also able to submit tax forms electronically on their website.  Despite my quick action, I read that FedLoan is notoriously slow and inept at calculating IDR. Some borrowers have had to wait three months to have their income driven repayment plans approved.  In the meantime, borrowers are expected to make full payments. I also called the next day and spoke with a representative, wherein I explained my situation and the surprise at the sudden high payment.  I was able to defer my loans for several months while the IDR is being processed. I actually asked to continue to make payments for the same amount that I made with Navient for this duration, but was told that these would not count as qualifying payments for PSLF.  Although I was approved for temporary forbearance, to make 100% certain that my checking account is not debited the full amount of the loan, I suspended payments for the month. This can also be done electronically on FedLoan’s website. Now, I am hoping that with this multifaceted approach, I can avoid some of the frustrations other borrowers have experienced.  My main piece of advice is to be observant and proactive.


I am still in the early stages of my relationship with FedLoan.  With time, FedLoan should provide me with a report on my payment progress towards the 120 payments.  I have not yet received the report, but I have read that some borrowers have found errors in how this was calculated.  Again, it seems like FedLoan is the shit show of loan servicers. But, I will say that the representative I spoke to was helpful and my forbearance was processed within 24 hours.  I also received notice yesterday that my IDR was processed. This means that it was processed within four days. While the new payment plan has not yet gone into effect, perhaps this is a kernel of hope that FedLoan may not be absolutely awful. Image result for fedloan

Other Information:


Currently, borrowers who do not work at work places which qualify for PSLP can still qualify for loan forgiveness.  Borrowers who make qualifying payments on their undergraduate student loans for a MERE 20 years can have their loans forgiven.  And, if you have debt from graduate school, you can see financial freedom after 25 years of qualifying payments! Hope springs eternal as there is the possibility that debt can be forgiven by retirement.  If it is not, delinquent student loan payments can be taken out of social security benefits (up to 15% of benefit). It is important to note that any student loan debt that is forgiven by the government is counted as taxable income.  It is also important to note that at this time, PSLF debt forgiveness is tax exempt (but 20 and 25 year forgiveness under extended payment plans is not). One final thing to be aware of is that marriage means that Income Driven Repayment plans are calculated with both incomes.  This changes payment amounts and may bar some people from qualifying for these plans. Thus, another piece of student loan repayment advice is to never get married.

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Conclusion:


Navigating Public Service Loan Forgiveness can be frustrating to say the least.  I am thankful for my education, but certainly wish that education did not require taking on such debt.  In exchange for my education, I am certainly willing to provide a service to society. Though, rather than creating debt that is escapable only through death, we should provide free public education from pre-k through Ph.d.  For those who are passionate about lifelong learning, there should also be free or low cost, varied, and plentiful continuing education programs, certificate programs, and trainings. We should all be passionate lifelong learners.  Instead, education is becoming increasingly private, expensive, and market driven- qualities that are anathema to creating a population with a zeal for expanding their human experience through learning. The present system is flawed in many ways.  At a basic level, it is bad for capitalism since it thwarts the reproduction of labor. If people cannot marry because of debt or must pay student debt into old age, there is a diminished ability to ensure the sustenance and continuation of labor. While I have no sympathy for capitalism’s continuation, the student debt system will inevitably cause crisis in capitalism as workers are increasingly burdened by loans.  PSLF is a small, relatively unknown escape hatch from student loan burden (which still requires 10 years of payments and a lot of hoops). But, for many people, it relieves them of the worst burdens of their debt as they provide various services to society. More must be done. This modest program must be defended, but beyond this, we should demand forgiveness of all crushing educational debt and quality education for all.

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Image from:  https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/senate-bill-would-provide-student-loan-debt-relief-070617.html

 

Sources: (not formatted correctly…)

https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/student-loan-ranger/articles/2018-04-04/how-student-loan-borrowers-can-requalify-for-public-service-loan-forgivenesshttp:

https://money.cnn.com/2018/02/02/pf/college/public-service-student-loan-forgiveness/index.html

Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed: Reflections on Being the Easter Bunny

Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed: Reflections on Being the Easter Bunny

H. Bradford

4/3/18


This spring, I saw an interesting opportunity posted on Facebook.  The post was a call-out for anyone interested in becoming the Easter Bunny at the mall.  Despite the fact that I already have two jobs, or three if you count subbing, I posted my interest and was interviewed later that week.  The interview was pretty informal, mostly consisting of questioning why I was interested in the job and trying on a giant Easter Bunny head.  With little effort, I was hired on for a two week stint as a costumed Easter Bunny at a mall kiosk for seasonal photos.  I thought the whole thing seemed silly and certainly would provide the raw materials for a good story.


The Costume:

The costume itself was hot and claustrophobic.  When I first tried the whole thing on, I felt a little overwhelmed by the sense of being trapped.  The trapped feeling came from the general heaviness and stuffiness of the head, which provided a dim and limited view of the world.  The head does not allow for adequate peripheral vision or the ability to look down.  The rest of the body is less challenging.  It consisted of oversized rabbit feet, baggy fur pants, a velcro velvety blue jacket, and furry gloves.  One thing that I appreciated about the costume was that the bunny looked intellectual, with round glasses and gold trimmed velvet clothes.   This was not a rowdy Peter Rabbit, but perhaps his pedantic uncle who is allergic to carrots (unless they are boiled) and whose favorite painting is Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.

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(My first time wearing the costume)

In any event, the costume could become hot.  Thankfully, there was a fan aimed at the bunny.  The only downside was that sometimes the fan upset children or messed up their hair, so it was turned away or tilted up, resulting in a sweltering rabbit.  On the upside, I tried to think what skills wearing the suit might translate to.  Paul (a fellow rabbit) said that maybe I would be more comfortable in a gas mask, since those are also claustrophobic.  I thought perhaps I would do better underwater (with a lessened sense of the space around me or a sense of confinement in a wetsuit or scuba/snorkel mask).  Yes, I want to believe that being the bunny better prepares me for revolution, apocalypse, or underwater adventures.


 

Gender:

The Easter Bunny was usually gendered as male by parents and children.  The bunny doesn’t have any specific gender markers, but might be viewed as male due to the blue velvet vest and jacket.  In a Twitter Poll, 80% of respondents believed the Easter Bunny to be male.  Though, velvetty anything seems pretty gender ambiguous in my opinion.  Only Paul suggested that the bunny could use they, them pronouns.  Otherwise, parents almost universally used masculine pronouns with the rabbit.  A few people inquired about the gender of the person inside of the costume.  For instance, a girl asked me if I was a girl bunny or a boy bunny.  An older woman asked one of the cashier/photography workers if the person inside was male or female.  I don’t expect that most customers would have the knowledge or experiences to envision the bunny outside of the binary of male or female.  I myself tended to gender the bunny as male, hence my Peter Rabbit’s uncle story.  I often wondered how parents felt about setting their child on the lap of the Easter Bunny.  Did the parents envision the person inside as male?  If so, how did this make them feel?  Male gender and sexuality is always viewed as more potentially threatening to children.  This is because we are socialized to view women as more “naturally” disposed for caretaking, more nurturing, and more invested in children.  Statistically, men are more likely to be perpetrators of child sexual abuse, though females make up 14% of the abusers of male children and 6% of female children.  With this in mind, I wondered how parents might react differently based upon their perceptions of the gender of the person in the costume.  As far as I could tell, most parents were extremely comfortable putting their child into the lap or company of a stranger in a rabbit costume.  This leads me to my next point…


Consent:

I was not able to speak as the Easter Bunny.  This made negotiating consent difficult.  As I mentioned, parents were pretty comfortable with placing their child in the temporary care of the Easter Bunny.  However, many children were not at all comfortable meeting the bunny.  It seemed that children over the age of two and under the age of five were often quite terrified of the bunny.  From a distance, they seemed excited.  As they grew nearer, the magnitude of meeting the bunny struck them- as well as the general weirdness of having to sit on this character’s lap or beside them.  This resulted in reactions ranging from shyness to terror.  Parents addressed this a number of ways.  A common tactic was to bribe the children.  Children were promised that they could ride the train, have candy, go to Build a Bear, or get a toy if they endured a photo with the bunny.  Parents also assured their children that the bunny was safe and nice.  This was done by approaching the bunny, touching its paw, high fives, sitting next to the bunny with the child in arms, and other tactics to increase the child’s exposure to the bunny and demonstrate that it was no threat at all.  Some parents threatened their kids, telling them there would be no candy or that they would go straight home.  A final tactic was to simply place the child on the bunny’s lap or on the bench, then run, hoping that the photographer would grab a few shots before the child inevitably ran away.


Parents played an important role in mediating the child’s consent.  However, most parents wanted a photo for their own collection of memories or to send to relatives.  They had a vested interest in forcing their child to endure a photo.  This put me in an awkward position.  When one parent placed a child on my lap, the child immediately thrust themselves off my legs and flopped onto the floor.  This resulted in more crying.  Since I did not want more children to fall over, I would hold them securely on my lap- a violation of their consent.  Parents encouraged this, even telling me to hold on tight to their child.  When I finally released one child, the crying boy wailed that he would never return to the Easter Bunny again.  I felt bad that many kids did not consent to being photographed with the bunny.  While I think that with time and patience, many frightened children would warm up to the bunny, the length of the line or impatience of the parents did not allow for this to happen in some cases.  In other cases, children naturally became more comfortable with the giant rabbit and ended up having a positive experience.  Thus, I can conclude that I think it is alright for parents to challenge their children to overcome their fears in a patient and supportive manner.  But, I do think it sends the wrong message for parents to threaten or force the encounter.


As for my own strategies for trying to make children comfortable, I would sometimes grab an egg for the children to hold.  This seemed to distract them from the frightening, giant rabbit.   I would also try to make the children comfortable with high fives and thumbs ups.  If kids rushed towards me (without showing fear) I might gesture for a hug.  I didn’t want to be a cold Easter Bunny with walls of boundaries, but I also didn’t want to make children uncomfortable.  I found that this was a little challenging to balance, as I naturally am more reserved when it comes to showing warmth and affection.


 

Working with Kids:

While I work with children at Safe Haven Shelter, I enjoyed my interactions as the Easter Bunny far more.  Within the context of the shelter, I am just me.  If a child is placed in my care, it is usually in the office, where there are computers, office supplies, and phone calls.  Thus, I always feel pretty stressed out about childcare at the shelter because 1.) I have nothing to entertain them with.  2.) I am in a room full of expensive or breakable things- i.e. computers.  3.) I often don’t know how long the encounter will last.  4.) I may have other work to attend to.  5.) I am not actually all that fun or interesting to children.  As the Easter Bunny, I was immediately fun and likeable.  Afterall, I am the one who brings candy and hides eggs.  On several occasions, I was able to ride on the mall train which was a grand entry and an opportunity for sort-of dancing.  While I could not speak, I could wave, gesture, high five, and pretend to hop.  In all, it was great to NOT be boring old Heather, who has nothing to offer children.  Really, being the Easter Bunny is the closest I will ever be to being a celebrity or God. Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting and child

(a photo of a photo- of my friend Jenny’s niece)

 

Labor:

From a Marxist perspective, all workers sell their labor power in exchange for a wage.  Labor power is not only labor (i.e. selling shoes, making shirts, paving roads, or other examples of the act of working).  It is time, work, along with the whole human being.  In short, every worker sells their work and time, but also their personality, body, and the sustenance the person (physical health, mental health, caloric use, bodily wear and tear, etc.).  My temporary gig as the rabbit was a “hobby” job or one that I did more on a whim than for my actual survival.  Therefore, I didn’t feel particularly exploited.  At the same time, I think it would be very hard to be the bunny all year long or as a professional job.  There are some people (such as Disneyland workers) who do not have the luxury of a two week gig.  Thus, I think it is useful to illustrate the way in which this form of work is exploitive (as all work is).


When a worker sells their labor power, they are selling themselves.  In the bunny example, the worker is invisible, hidden inside a stuffy, hot suit.  The sweat of the worker, the inability to scratch an itchy nose, immediately use the toilet, easily ingest water, move hair that has flopped into the face, to speak, to see beyond the periphery of the eye holes, etc. are all ways in which the body is subjugated in the sale of labor.  Playing the character is how the personality of the worker is subjected in the interest of the emotional labor of entertaining children.   The way in which work subjugates the body and personality of a worker is pretty obvious inside the confines of a costume.  Even other workers tended to ignore the bunny, sometimes neglecting to turn on or move of the fan.  The bunny can’t easily communicate needs.  Another hardship as the rabbit was a lack of a sense of time.  There was no nearby clock, so time could move quickly or slowly depending upon how many customers were visiting.  At the same time, the bunny was paid better than other workers.  Workers who were not the bunny were pretty adamant that they did not want to end up in the costume.  I believe that at some level they realized that the bunny produced more “value” in terms of labor output (i.e. had a harder job but also contributed more to overall profits).


But, a person does not have to be in a bunny suit to realize the bodily oppression of labor.  A waitress who has to smile and look pretty for more tips, a social worker whose stress or compassion is a strain on their mental health, and a janitor whose heavy routine deteriorates physical health are all examples of how labor is more than just our work and time, but our whole being.

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(A little house of capitalist horrors)

Conclusion:

I would say that the job was certainly novel.  Towards the end, I was happy that the season was over since my coworkers seemed worn out and the hours in addition to my regular work hours was making me weary and eager for free time.  It was a fun side job and more insightful than one might imagine.  While hidden in my costume, I had plenty to think about in terms of gender, consent, and labor itself.  There were fun moments.  I liked to make children happy.  I liked to play a character.  I liked the opportunity to be something other than the more serious and quiet version of myself that I sometimes am as an activist and worker at my other jobs.  I enjoyed eating at Noodles and Company at the mall and visiting the mall at all!  It was something different from my normal routine.  I was also happy to have stories to share with my friends, coworkers, and family.  I even had a several people visit me as the bunny.  If the opportunity arises, I may be the bunny again next year.  Being the Easter bunny made me feel more inclined to celebrate Easter.  I visited my family and even purchased myself an Easter basket full of candy I don’t need.  But, even the Easter bunny needs a little treat!   Anyway, we’ll see what next Easter brings.  And who knows, maybe I will be one of Santa’s helpers…

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https://www.quora.com/Is-the-Easter-bunny-male-or-female

Another Birthday Month

Another Birthday Month

H. Bradford

2/28/18

Well, February is ending.  This means that my favorite month is almost over!  I feel a little sad, as usually I meet February with such enthusiasm.  I often have a long “to do” list of birthday activities.  This month, I have found myself feeling sluggish, with less zeal for living.  There were some days that I felt downright depressed.  However, I still did my best to make the most of the month and celebrate my birthday in smaller ways.   This is fine.  Sometimes a celebration can look more like hibernation and the best gift is solitude and sleep.  With that said, it was a pretty low key birthday month.  Here are some of the highlights….


 

Sax Zim Birding Days:

On February 3rd, I braved the slippery roads and headed to the Sax Zim Bog to do some birding.  I was even able to convince Adam to come along with me.  Although the day was probably a bit long for him, I had a fun time.  We drove around and visited several bird feeders.  I even saw two new species of birds: snow buntings and Bohemian Waxwings.  I almost missed the Bohemian Waxwings, but happened to turn my binoculars to a tree.  I assume at first that they were Cedar Waxwings.  The two birds look pretty similar.  However, I grabbed my bird guide and was pleasantly surprised to see that the birds had a rusty coloration under their tails.  This meant that they were Bohemian Waxwings.  There are only three species of waxwings in the world (the other is the Japanese Waxwing).  There is always something magical about identifying a new species of bird for the first time.  There are many birds that I will confuse or forget, but I think I will always remember the plump and rusty Bohemian Waxwing.   As for snowbuntings, I have seen these birds before- but not since I began birding a few years ago.  So, they were a target species this year.   I have driven around looking for them throughout the winter, but finally spotted a huge flock of them.  They were too quick and white to photograph (as they blended into the field pretty well).

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The birds were pretty far away so the photo quality is not awesome.


On February 5th, I returned to the bog alone and added two more birds that day.  I was fortunate enough to find that a flock of Sharp-tailed grouse were active in the early morning.  Later in the day, I moved on to Virginia, where I found a lone Canvasback duck.  Both were new to the list.  I also believe that I saw a Boreal owl as I was driving through Cotton, but I did not have time to stop as I was on a main highway.  Thus, I was unable to add that bird to my list.

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Since those dates, I have done some birding elsewhere, but have been unable to find any new species of birds.  I have been trying to spot a long tailed duck and a spruce grouse- haunting HWY 2 and Agate Bay in Two Harbors.  My field trips have yielded nothing, but with some days off in the near future- perhaps I will find them.  Of course, birding isn’t about adding new birds to a list.  This is “listing.”  There is joy in seeing familiar birds and becoming better at identifying what is already known.  But, as a person who likes lists and obtains a sense of accomplishment from setting goals- adding to the list motivates me to go out more often.   This weekend, I will make my final winter visit to the bog when I go snowshoeing there with my mother.  This is how we celebrated my birthday last year (even though this runs into March…escaping the neat borders of my birthday month).

 


Bird Feeders:

One of the outcomes of visiting the Sax Zim Bog on February 3rd with Adam was that we were both impressed with how people living in the bog area set up public bird feeders.  These individuals welcome people to view birds on their property.  Feeders such as Mary Lou’s and Loretta’s attract both birds, but also large groups of strangers.  It is inspiring to see people open up their yards to strangers.  They also invest a lot of their time and money into maintaining these feeders which benefit both birds and people.  I wish that more communities broke down the barriers between private and common spaces.   This is something that the Solidarity House tries to do by offering a free garden, free books, as well as a variety of free goods on our porch.   After we returned from the bog, we decided to set up more bird feeders in our front yard.  I purchased two feeders and Adam purchased one.  I also bought some more suet.

Our efforts have regularly attracted birds to the yard.  Although we do not have a huge diversity of species in our small yard, we regularly have several cardinals visit the feeders.  I have also seen black capped chickadees, a white throated sparrow, white breasted nuthatches, a downy woodpecker, and dark eyed juncos in the yard.  I enjoy looking out the window and watching these birds.   While this isn’t an elaborate way to spend my birthday month, I will say that I have enjoyed my quiet moments at the window.   Holly, my roommate Elizabeth’s cat, also enjoys these moments.

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Owl Tattoo:

Another bird related highlight of the month was getting a new tattoo.  I reached my 300th bird in February, so I decided to get a new tattoo.  I determined that the new tattoo would be a snowy owl, as this was the first bird that I saw in 2018 and the last one I saw in 2017.  It has been an irruption year for snowy owls, so there have been more than usual in my area.  I had not seen one before this year, so seeing them several times this winter has been special.  I felt that the snowy owl was a good choice since it represents this year (due to more being around) and winter in general.  I also thought that the white contrasted well with the black of my raven tattoo.  Although the birds have different shapes, I wanted two birds that at least had a sort of imperfect symmetry with one another.

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Painting:

Another activity that I have engaged in this month is painting.  I have no training in painting or in art in general, but I have always liked creating art from time to time.  This month, I wanted to create a piece of art for an upcoming feminist art show called WTF!   So, I created a painting about how capitalism depends upon the bodies of women to function.  It is a little graphic, but it is meant to convey the idea that the reproductive power of women is used to create the next generation of workers.  Of course, the unpaid care work done by women also ensures the continuation of the working class.  The art show will begin on March 8th and it is my first time participating in a public art show!   The same day that I painted that piece, I also painted the windows of the Solidarity House to look like a forest.  I had promised Adam that I would do this a long time ago, but forgot all about it until recently.  We had several ovenbirds crash against the window and die last fall.  By painting the windows with a scene, we thought we might break up the empty space and prevent bird fatalities next year.   Additionally, I am trying to create a second painting for another feminist art show at UW-Superior.  The piece will also have a labor and feminism theme.  Finally, Jenny wants me to create a painting for an auction that Critter Harbor is hosting.  Critter Harbor is an organization that traps and neuters feral cats.  These cats are returned to the outdoors, but are provided with food and water.  Some may be rehabilitated and adopted.  I think this is all exciting, since it pushes me out of my comfort zone.  I know I am not a great artist.  I know I have a lot of room to improve.  However, I think that I should not be limited by self-doubt or imperfection.  If I want to paint, I should paint- skill or no skill.

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Trivia:

Every other Thursday for the past year, I have done trivia at Pizza Luce with a group of friends.  We usually do okay, but not often well enough to place.  On February 15th, we gathered for trivia again.  I wasn’t going to attend since I was dead tired from working for nine days in a row and nearly 95 hours.   It had been a hard day, I was extremely sleep deprived (I had slept about 3 hrs between a 10 hr shift and a shorter 4.5 hr shift and about 3 hrs before the 10 hr shift the day prior).  Somehow I pulled myself together enough to show up for trivia with my friends.  Well, we actually won first place at trivia- out of 24 teams.  I am glad to be friends with a bunch of smarty pants!

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Sleeping:

I am going to be honest and say that I have had a very strong drive to sleep this month- though this drive has not always resulted in actual sleep.   The drive to sleep has increased since the middle of the month.  On my actual birthday, I skipped an activist meeting so that I could get a little extra sleep before my 10 hour shift.  I don’t think I actually got any extra sleep, but it was nice to just stay in bed.  This week, there have been days were I have done little more than sleep, eat, and work.   Like usual, I am working an 8 day stretch of 10 hour shifts, followed by a bonus 9th day with a shorter shift.  I have typically had a high tolerance for work and moderate lack of sleep, but lately- not so much.   I slept 14 hours on one of my days off last week.   I have been taking power naps during my 30 min work break.   But, winter has been long.  February has been cold and we had three snowstorms in the past week alone.   Since I do have some very busy days, I think I am okay with allowing myself to indulge in sleep.


 

Activism:

Like every month, there is always a schedule of activist events.  This month, I have stepped back a little.  Nevertheless, some activist highlights of the month include a union steward training and getting elected to the E-board of my union local.  Another highlight was a small, but meaningful discussion on feminism and non-binary gender.  On February 10th, I participated in a Valentine’s Themed Letters to Prisoners event.  It was a fun event where several local activists sent Valentine Cards to prisoners.  Socialist Action organized a modest rally for Immigrant Rights.  This was followed by our monthly Socialism and Slice discussion group.  The discussion group has grown so large that we will have to seek out another venue.  I am also excited to help out with HOTDISH Militia’s Bowl-a-thon.   Yeah, I will say that this month I was much less engaged in political activism.  Usually, I have far more meetings and events to attend.  But, one my New Year’s Resolutions was to step back a little.

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Overeating:

I ate too much this month.  The downside of my birthday month is that I justify going out to eat with the line….Well, it’s my birthday month!  I ate a lot of Mexican food.  I treated myself to sushi and green tea tempura ice cream.  I had Indian food.  I really don’t want to think about how much I treated myself in the form of food.  It is little wonder that I have ended the month a little chubbier.  Now, as a feminist I should be fat positive.  I should allow myself to take up space, fully enjoy life, and not sweat my size.  That isn’t the case.  While I don’t obsess about it and have come to terms with the fact that I won’t be a thin as I was in my 20s, I am not a huge fan of the scale going in an upward direction.  On the other hand, I sure did enjoy all that Mexican food.   I guess March can be a month of moderation…


 

Zumba and a Sauna:

I wasn’t as physically active as I would have liked to have been this past month.  But, I at least took time to attend a zumba class and take a sauna.  Zumba is really a fun way to engage in fitness.  As for taking a sauna, I think it feels so primal and rejuvenating.


Hiking:

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to make sure that I hike, bike, run, kayak, etc. 365 miles this year.  I don’t think it will be that hard of a task, but it is not something I have ever actively tracked before.  Right now, I am behind on my miles.  But, February was both cold and snowy.  I ended up with fewer miles in February than in frigid January.  As of today, I have hiked about 47 miles in February and January combined.  Usually, these are pretty mild three mile jaunts.  Because I was falling behind this month, I was going to try to do five miles- in a snow storm last week.  This did not pan out.  It was cold.  Snow whipped my face.  The wind was wicked.  I made it about two miles total.   This snow storm was followed by two other snowstorms later in the week.  While I should have 59 miles by the end of the month to keep on track, I will likely end the month 10 miles behind.

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Birthday Party:

I had a low key birthday party on February 17th.  Years ago, in my late 20s, I would host giant, extravagant birthday parties with pinatas and trivia.   For the most part, I have smaller, less involved parties in recent years- if anything at all.  I already do a lot of planning and preparation for Marxmas, so I have lost the energy to host two large parties so close to one another.   But, honestly it was nice to hang out with a few people without a whole lot to do.  Jenny hosted an Arbonne Party for her birthday in January.  I actually did the same this year- since I wanted the free protein powder (which costs $60 a bag in their catalog).  Yep, so I had a product presentation themed party.  This was an unusual choice, but it wasn’t bad.  We had some snacks, soaked are feet, and listened to a presentation about products that I don’t NEED but somehow felt compelled to buy because well…it’s my birthday.   I think that “it’s my birthday” can be a bit of a dangerous mantra- since it has encouraged me to be excessive all month….

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Airfare:

I worked on my actual birthday, but one thing that I did on my birthday for myself (aside from sleeping) was book my flight to Romania.   I will be visiting Romania in late August, spending some time in Romania, Moldova, Macedonia (with a day trip to Kosovo), and then ending in Iceland before heading home.  I am trying to hit a few European countries that I have not yet visited- but I think that all of them will be interesting.  I will be gone for about three weeks.  I am excited for an adventure in the lands of Ceausescu, Vlad the Impaler, break away semi-autonomous states, the social construction of Alexander the Great, and geothermal wonders.


 

Black Panther:

Another highlight of the month was seeing Black Panther with Dan.  I love Marvel movies, even if they are predictable and cautious.  Black Panther was unique in that it was set in Africa with few white characters.  It had great costumes, engaging characters, and a story line that wrestled with racism and colonization.  Now, I would like to write a longer review.  I will say that I wasn’t satisfied with the political conclusion that the best bet is to work within system to uplift the oppressed through charitable institutions.  I felt that the character Killmonger had some great lines and was far more politically relateable than a princely and privileged isolationist (or was until the conclusion of the film).  Killmonger wanted to arm the oppressed- even though his vision of revolution also involved an expansion of Wakanda as an empire.  That is the annoying thing about Magneto/Killmonger type characters is that revolutionary philosophies of liberation are often coupled with authoritarianism/supremacy in comic book movies.  There are many visions of how to overthrow systems of oppression and radically alter society- yet so few are represented.  It creates a villainous strawman out of radical politics.  Oh, and another very annoying aspect of the movie was the fact that the CIA character was a good guy!  Come on!   The Wakandan characters are very aware of colonization and slavery, but somehow the United States- and the the CIA no less, ends up playing a heroic role.  Never mind the assassination of Patrice Lamumba, support of the coup against Kwame Nkrumah, support of Mbutu Sese Seko, assisting in the arrest of Nelson Mandela, fighting MPLA in Angola, supporting the overthrow of Gadaffi in Libya, etc.  But this was a Marvel movie and these tend to fetishize secretive organizations (i.e S.H.I.E.L.D) and align the good guys with America.  Still, I did enjoy the movie and I don’t want to take away the joy that Africans and African Americans have experienced by seeing positive representations of Africa and Black people.  Also, I did enjoy the movie and feel it is one of the better films in the Marvel universe.


Conclusion:

Well, there you go, that was my birthday month.  There were some positive things, such as fun times with loved ones, birding, painting, visions of travel, time spent outdoors, trivia, and activism.  There were some not as positive aspects of the month, such as over-eating and sleeping too much/too little.  Looking back, I think I made the most of my month without exhausting myself trying to zealously seize each day.  Yes, there is a limited amount of time in a lifespan.  Birthdays are a good reminder of that.  But, I guess if from time to time, I want to just spend a whole day in bed or eat Mexican food three days in a row- that’s okay too.   It would be cool if I ran 4 miles on my birthday or did one celebratory thing each day of the month- but that would be exhausting.  Despite some lows, I think the month had a good balance of fun, friends, work, and hiding from the world.

100 Resolutions for the New Year

100 Resolutions for the New Year

H. Bradford

1/30/18

I like making New Year’s Resolutions.   In the past few years, I have had about 50 resolutions.  I accomplish about half of them.   And, to be honest, my New Year’s Resolutions tend to be more like a a giant “to do” list.  So, many of the things on the list are things I hope to do over the year.  Another portion of items on the list of resolutions are things to track.  For instance, last year, I tracked the books that I read, birds that I saw, and political events that I attended.   This year, I am going to be even more ambitious and have made a list of 100 New Year’s Resolutions.  (I am a little short of 100 in case I think of anything important to add to the list).  Some of this requires data tracking.  Some is more like a check list.  There is no science behind this.  I don’t expect that it will make me a better person.  Perhaps, it just creates a weird frenzy in my life to check things off or write down data.   But, I think it does shape the year and gives me things to think about or plan.  Here is my 100 Resolutions for 2018!


    1. Travel to Romania and Moldova:  This will be my big trip of the year- in late August.  I will visit a few other countries as well on this trip.

 

  • Take an additional trip:  I am not sure where else I will travel, but I would like to take a mini trip somewhere….

 

 

  • Read 30 Books

 

 

  • Read a Classic Non-fiction (among the 30)

 

 

  • Read a Classic Fiction (among the 30)

 

 

  • Read a socialist feminist book (among the 30)

 

 

  • Continue Ballet Lessons

 

 

  • Attend Yoga Classes

 

 

  • Play Soccer in the Fall or Summer

 

 

  • Take up Fencing Again

 

 

  • Run a 5K

 

 

  • Try Fat Tire Biking

 

 

  • Go to Two New State Parks

 

 

  • Try Paddleboarding

 

 

  • Go Camping Four Times

 

 

  • Go Snowshoeing

 

 

  • Go Skiing

 

 

  • Practice Violin

 

 

  • Study Russian

 

 

  • Study Spanish (so it is easier to travel to Central and South America)

 

 

  • Study Romanian (for my trip)

 

 

  • Find 50 Geocaches

 

 

  • Add 50 New Birds to My Life List

 

 

  • Substitute Teach

 

 

  • Visit the Planetarium

 

 

  • See a Meteor Shower (this did not make my list last year, but was on it the year before)

 

 

  • See the Northern Lights

 

 

  • Create a Painting

 

 

  • Celebrate International Bog Day

 

 

  • Celebrate International Squirrel Day  (I already failed at this goal!)

 

 

  • Write a poem about each book I read this year.

 

 

  • Get a Snowy Owl Tattoo

 

 

  • Get an additional tattoo

 

 

  • Take saunas for self care

 

 

  • Plant a tree

 

 

  • Attend Zumba

 

 

  • Do Polynesian dance with my DVD or in a class

 

 

  • Watch a Classic Film

 

 

  • Plant a Free Garden

 

 

  • Attend 50 Political Events 

 

 

  • Keep a Food Log

 

 

  • Try a Vegan Challenge (1 week?  1 month? Every Monday?)

 

 

  • Really Clean my Room

 

 

  • Donate 2 bags of clothes

 

 

  • Get rid of one tote bin of belongings

 

 

  • Try to survive one month on the USDA food budget challenge

 

 

  • Try to spent Less than 10% of my income on food  (yeah, yeah, I eat out too much…)

 

 

  • Attend the ballet

 

 

  • Attend a musical event

 

 

  • 365 Mile Challenge (hike, bike, swim, kayak, canoe, etc. 365 miles in one year)

 

 

  • Volunteer

 

 

  • Write 50 Blog Posts

 

 

  • Regularly Floss

 

 

  • Reduce Junk Food 1/2

 

 

  • Try a New Activity

 

 

  • Regular Dr. Visit

 

 

  • Regular Dentist Visit

 

 

  • Regular Gyn visit

 

 

  • Save Seeds

 

 

  • Successfully Dehydrate garden produce

 

 

  • Visit a New State

 

 

  • Visit a National Park

 

 

  • Attend an artistic event

 

 

  • Visit the Museum of Russian Art

 

 

  • Finish Book 5

 

 

  • Promote the Christmas Spider tradition

 

 

  • Focus on a Fungi of the Year

 

 

  • Focus on a Butterfly of the Year

 

 

  • Focus on a Spider of the Year: White Lady Spider

 

 

  • Attend a Conference

 

 

  • Hang out with someone new

 

 

  • Hang out with someone old (someone I haven’t spent time with for a while)

 

 

  • Send Valentine’s Day Cards

 

 

  • Focus on a Fern of the Year: Lady Fern

 

 

  • Focus on a Tree of the Year: birches in general?

 

 

  • Learn to Make Jam

 

 

  • Learn to watercolor

 

 

  • Grow in Domestic Violence advocacy

 

 

  • Grow as a patient educator

 

 

  • Try something new each week

 

 

  • Make a travel album

 

 

  • Start buying for x-mas in July

 

 

  • Do something towards teaching re-licensure

 

 

  • Try a new fitness class

 

 

  • Try a new food

 

 

  • Put more money away for retirement

 

 

  • Buy a kantele (this has been on my list for a long time, but I don’t really need any new hobbies…)

 

 

  • Read the news each day (already failed, so perhaps just try to do it more often!)

 

 

  • Try a new restaurant

 

 

  • Create a podcast

 

 

  • Go Shooting

 

 

  • Take a self defense course

 

 

  • Write an article for S.A.

 

 

  • Write something monthly for the Northern Worker

 

 

  • Take vitamins

 

 

  • Study Finnish (I have to many languages on my list, but we can dream…)

 

 

  • Learn to identify 50 birds by their song

 

 

  • TBD

 

 

  • TBD

 

 

  • TBD

 

 


There you go!  I am sure I will fail at some of these resolutions.  Perhaps others will create new patterns in my life.  A few will just continue the trends that I have already started!  Overall, I am always hoping to be a healthier, more knowledgeable, broader, more creative, and more traveled person each year!  I hope that 2018 is a great year.

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2017: Year in Review

2017:  Year in Review

H. Bradford

1/26/18

It is hard to believe that another year has ended.  When I stop to think about it, this felt like a marathon of a year.  I feel tired.  I would say that it was generally a good year.   At the same time, I have the creeping sense that something in 2018 will go amiss.  I suppose it is simply the regression to the means.  I have had several good years, but nothing exceptionally good (or exceptionally bad) lasts forever.  So, while I have an ominous feeling about the future, I will take a moment to reflect upon the past!  And, I can only hope that 2018 continues the stretch of happy years.


 

154 Political Events:

I think that this year will mostly be remembered for the flurry of political events that I attended this year.  In the end, I attended 154 political events this year, including meetings, marches, protests, vigils, etc.   I basically did something related to activism every 2.37 days this year.  In 2016, I attended just under 90 political events.  Suffice to say, the presidency of Donald Trump has been the catalyst of a great deal of organizing, such as the Women’s March, March for Science, and Climate March, Immigrant Solidarity Marches, etc.   But, there have been plenty of local issues that have warranted attention as well, such the program cuts at UWS, Homeless Bill of Rights, Graham Garfield domestic violence case.  The largest expansion of social movement organizing was in the area of feminism this year.  Unfortunately, there is next to nothing in terms of anti-war activism.  I suppose war is just normal at this point, seeing as we have been in Afghanistan for 16 years.  I appeared on the news several times for organizing/participating in various events.  I was even interviewed by a British socialist newspaper.  I spoke out at a county board meeting and also did a radio interview about domestic violence.   So, I think that it was a big year of activism and I was in the spotlight far more than what is normal for me and this challenged me to be less quiet and introverted.  Looking back, I can be proud of this and I am sure in the years to come I will remember this as a time of dutiful activism.   For now, I am a little worn out and disappointed.  There are massive, startling, systemic problems.  Activists are rising up to challenge some of these- but so much more is needed.  Most importantly, we need a political program capable of energizing and emboldening social movements beyond the status quo of our dual capitalist political parties.

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A sign I made for the Climate March- one of the 154 events that I attended last year….


Central Asia Trip:

A major highlight of the year was that I spent most of June in Central Asia.  It was an extremely fascinating part of the world.  I saw astonishing things, like the Gas Crater in Turkmenistan, Ashgabat-Turkmenistan’s white marble capital, the remnants of the Aral Sea, Kiva, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent.  Honestly, this was one of my favorite trips in my lifetime, simply because of all of the surreal and strange things that I saw.  The world is always different and new, with many things to see and learn, but this part of the world is not heavily visited by tourists.  It felt unique and much more remote than other places I have been.  The trip also challenged me since it involved some bush camping and dry, hot conditions.

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Camping in the basin of the Aral Sea


Continue Birding:

I saw over 200 species of birds this past year.  I was very engaged in birding throughout the year.  Highlights of my birding include attending an International Migratory Bird Day bird count at Wild River State Park, attending Hawk Weekend at Hawk’s Ridge, birding at the Sax Zim Bog for the first time, various return trips to both Hawk’s Ridge and Sax Zim Bog, birding at Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge, and casually birding in the Caribbean and Central Asia.   I am impressed with the number and variety of birds that I have seen this year and that my birding skills are slowly growing.  There are a number of species that stand out, but I was most impressed with seeing a Northern Hawk Owl and Great Gray Owl at the Sax Zim Bog as well as a pair of Spectacled Owls in Costa Rica.  Interestingly, my very first bird of the year for 2018 was a Snowy Owl and the last for 2017 was also a Snowy Owl.  I guess it is a good year for owls!   Otherwise, Rosy Starlings, Red-billed streamertail hummingbirds, Yellow-crowned night heron, and Pied-Billed Grebes (since they are cute) are some of my other highlights for the year.

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New Job:

In December, I applied for and began a new part time job.   I already work full time at domestic violence shelter, but on a whim I decided to apply for an additional part time job as a Patient Educator in the field of reproductive health.   I will say that it is pretty exhausting working two jobs.  But, back in my late 20s I worked four jobs, so…I know I can handle this.   Really, I am pretty excited about this new position.  I often feel that I am stagnating or that I don’t do enough- so this is a great opportunity gain new knowledge and skills.  It is also a new way for me to learn more about reproductive health and an expansion of my feminist activism.   I enjoy learning new things and this really is a wonderful opportunity.   The job itself is unique.  I do not have any experience working in the health field, but I have enjoyed challenging myself to pick up new information.  Plus, I get to wear scrubs.  I have some awesome sloth scrubs…as well as Ninja turtle and dinosaur scrubs.  You know, because wearing fun scrubs is also important….


Raven Tattoo:

This is a pretty minor detail, but I got a new tattoo this year.  I decided that when I hit my 200th bird, I would get a new bird tattoo.  I chose a raven.  I really love the tattoo.  Now, I am just one bird away from my 300 th bird.  What will I choose for my next tattoo?  Perhaps a snowy owl?

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Blue Hair:

For many years I have kept my hair black.  This year, I decided to mix it up and dye my hair blue.  Thus, I have had blue and black hair all year.  This is another minor detail, but I have enjoyed the new color.  It has inspired me to wear more blue (rather than my typical red and black).  The only downside is that dying my hair black was far easier and took far less upkeep.  Nevertheless, I am getting the hang of it.


Try Two New Activities:

Every year, I try to attempt at least two new activities.  This year, I tried geocaching and snorkeling for the first time.  As far as geocaching goes, I think it is a fun distraction and something easy to do when I am hiking.  I began geocaching in March and by December I had already found 100 caches.  As for snorkeling, I am not a water person.   I don’t like swimming.  I don’t like being wet.  I am not a strong swimmer.  I get sea sick.  Water and me are not friends.  But, I don’t want to live my life entirely in fear (even if I am not always ready to dive right into water sports).  So, I went snorkeling for the first time.  It was sort of neat.  I was surprised by how many fish I could see from the surface of the water.  I was also astonished by how salty salt water actually tastes (when I accidentally dipped my head a little too low for a closer look at a fish).   I would go again.  I am not in love with the water, but it interested me enough to give it another go.  I saw some sort of parrot fish, which was a pretty sight.   My goal is to try snorkeling again when I (hopefully) visit Iceland in 2018 (as tourists can snorkel between the North American and Eurasian plates meet).  As for diving…hmm…well, baby steps.


Four New State Parks:

In recent years, I have tried to visit a new Minnesota state park each year.  This year, I visited four new state parks.  I visited St. Croix State Park, Wild River State Park, Savannah Portage State Park, and Mille Lacs State Park.   At least two of them I visited when I was a teenager, but since that was so long ago, I will count them as “new.”  They are new to my adult life anyway.  I also visited Copper Falls State Park in Wisconsin as well, bringing the actual total to five.  With the exception of Copper Falls, I visited all of these state parks by myself.  These solo adventures were a peaceful escape from work and activism.  I enjoyed Savannah Portage State Park the most, since I liked hiking around the lake, hiking the continental divide trail, and walking along the bog walk.

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Solo Camping Trips:

I went on several solo camping trips to the previously mentioned State Parks.  The first adventure brought me to Wild River State Park, where I hiked and birded for International Migratory Bird Day.  I later went on a trip to Mille Lacs State Park.  It rained during this camping trip, which I undertook shortly after my trip to Central Asia.  Oh, it was also plagued with flies.  I also went camping at Tettegouche State Park- where I went on a wildflower guided hike and hiked the second tallest peak in Minnesota (not that impressive, I know.)  Finally, I went camping at Savannah Portage State Park, where it also rained, but I still had a lovely time hiking and enjoying the autumn leaves.   My solo camping trips gave me a small dose of adventure and independence, offering escape and peace of mind.

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Bog Awareness Week:

I celebrated the heck out of Bog Awareness Week.  I did more for Bog Awareness Week than for…Christmas.  But, bogs are cool.  I went to Savannah Portage State Park’s bog walk, I participated in Sax-Zim Bog’s Bioblitz, and I convinced my friends to head to Cable, WI with me to check out a bog there.  I bogged myself down with bogs.  A highlight of bog week was realizing that Pitcher Plants produce flowers.  I had never noticed this before.

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A pitcher plant at Savannah Portage State Park


Color Run and Pride 5K:

This year I tried the Color Run for the first time.  I love it, since it is not timed.  Although it is crowded with enthusiastic runners and walkers and the que to begin is pretty long, it was a fun time.  Various parts of the run are marked by groups of people who douse the participants with colors.  There are also foam bubbles, unicorn mascots, group dancing, and medals for everyone.  I loved it.  I also ran the Pride 5k.  The race was rather hot.  It was timed.  But, I did it!  Even if I did it terribly, I ran it and hopefully next year I will do better!

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At the start of the Color Run!


 

Go to the Ballet and Continue Ballet Lessons:

Speaking of things that I am terrible at…I continued ballet lessons this fall.  Continuing ballet lessons was one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2017.  Another resolution was going to the ballet.  Well, I went and saw Stravisnky’s Firebird.  It was super.  I enjoy Russian folktales and liked how Koschei the deathless was portrayed.


Write Poetry:

Last year, I began writing poetry.  My goal was to write two poems, but I ended up writing at least two dozen poems.  It is a neat experience, since I never really cared for poetry when I was younger.   I often objected to it because it was too flowery and emotional. A lot of poetry takes itself too seriously.   I try to look at it differently now.  To me, poetry is just a short story.  A story about a moment, an emotion, a passing idea.  It expresses what narrative does with frugal words but ample meaning.


33 Books:

To many of my friends, 33 books is a light reading list for the year.  However, 30% of Americans do not read a single book in a year.  The average number of books read in a year is 12.   This average is skewed by some super readers, as the median number of books read each year is 4.   All of the books that I read this year were non-fiction, which is something that I hope to change in 2018.  The BEST books from this list include The KKK in Minnesota  by Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America by Mamie Till, An Environmental History of Russia by various authors, and Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici.  I read four books about witches, eight books about Central Asia in preparation for my trip there, four books about the Caribbean, including two about Puerto Rico, two few books about mycology, two books about birding, and several books on a variety of topics.  I will say that I came out of 2017 with greater knowledge of birds, mushrooms, Central Asia, the Caribbean, and witches.  I would love to read 50 books in a year, but with my work schedule, other hobbies, and activism schedule, it would be difficult.    

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Some graffiti on a bridge in Superior


Create Four Works of Art:

Another resolution for 2017 was to create at least four works of art.  I did this by dabbling with watercolor (the results weren’t awesome, but it was a start!).   I also painted four bird houses for the Solidarity House.  Beyond that, I framed some photos that I have taken.  I will say that I am not especially great at watercoloring or photography, but it is worthwhile to shamelessly create.  Through practice, I would like to improve my skills in these areas.

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This watercolor painting is still wet!  It depicts a magpie, mulberry tree, and fountain in Ashgabat.


Study Russian:

One of my goals was to continue studying Russian, or at the very least brush up on it from time to time.  Generally, I am not at all disciplined at studying languages.  There were a few times throughout the year wherein I tried to teach myself some new words or review some old ones.   Traveling through Central Asia helped me to brush off the cobwebs in my brain and try to remember how to speak some Russian.  I was able to communicate a few times, so knowing some Russian was certainly pretty helpful.  An elusive goal is to attend the Friday night Russian table at Sir Ben’s.  Alas, I lack the confidence to go!  I feel so foolish and incompetent when I try to string together what I remember.  Still…I sort of worked on this goal, at least by using Russian on my trip.


Attend Yoga Classes:

Attending yoga classes was on my resolution list for the year.  I squeezed in some yoga at the very end of the year.


Go Snowshoeing and Cross Country Skiing:

I did not go cross country skiing a single time in 2017.  As for snowshoeing, I only went twice.  But, the two times that I went snowshoeing were pretty awesome!  Back in February, I went for a full moon snowshoe hike organized by UWS.  I did not go again until Christmas Eve Day, when I went snowshoeing along a trail at the Sax Zim Bog.   Each year, I try to make a point of doing both of these activities so that I can better embrace winter.

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Snowshoeing over some icy, sand covered mounds at WI Point.


New Car:

A major event of the year was purchasing a car in March.   My car is a Volvo V70 and I love it!  It is the first time that I have purchased a car/financed a car loan all on my own.  I like my car.  I like having reliable transportation and my car took me on many adventures this year- such as the camping and birding trips.  I will say that the car is not great in the winter and since it is very low-set the passenger door bumps against the curb.  However, I am generally very happy with the car.  It has a moon roof and heated seats- which seem pretty luxurious compared to other vehicles that I have owned.

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Not my actual car- but similar model, year, and color.


50 Blog Posts:

I actually wrote 77 blog posts in 2017 and had between 350 and 1000 viewers each month.  My goal was to write 50.  The numbers don’t matter all that much.  However, I do like sharing my writing and opening up myself to others in this way.  I have had quite a bit of feedback that people enjoy reading my blog or at least find some of the posts interesting.


 

Texas/Caribbean Trip:

In November, I went on a cruise to the Panama canal, which also visited Jamaica, Aruba, Curacao, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia.  I really wanted a vacation that felt like a vacation- where I could de-stress from the 150 political events I had attended/everyday stress of working with survivors/victims of domestic violence.  In other words, I wanted a super easy trip.  To that end, I went on a two week cruise.  It was really wonderful to relax and feel a true sense of easy escapism- even if cruises are consumerist monstrosities.  I saw many birds, especially in Aruba, which was an added bonus for the trip.  I have a lot of happy memories from the trip.  Once the trip was over, I spent a half a week visiting my brother in Texas.  We once again hiked at Government Canyon and visited the Botanical Gardens.  These are two of my favorite places to visit in San Antonio.  My brother will be moving to Minnesota in May, so this will probably be my last opportunity to visit him in Texas!

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Two spectacled owls in a public park in Costa Rica


Union Organizing:

Another highlight of the year, which also relates to my political events, was being more active in my union.  I have been a union steward since November 2016 and this year, went through contract negotiations in October.  I will say  honestly that contract negotiations was extremely stressful.  I worked night shifts, then would have to spend the morning to early afternoon in negotiations.   It was hard to fall asleep after negotiations, then return to work for another night shift.  Negotiations themselves were tense.  The whole thing felt very intense.  I was not overly fond of being on the negotiations team, but it is an honor to have the privilege of fighting for the interests of my fellow workers.  I feel that the negotiations went well and the contract was better because of our hard work.

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Loved Ones:

I often do not highlight this, but my year would not have been as great without my loved ones.  Yeah, I am not the gushy sort.   I am fortunate to have had some good times with Adam and Lucas.  We went to Copper Falls together as well as on an adventure to explore the bog near Cable, WI.  Of course, they also attend many political events with me.  Adam probably went to 200 political events last year- but unlike me, he does not keep a tally.  Another great friend is Jenny, who is my collaborator in feminist and bisexual activism.  She pushes me to show my emotional side-but being a rebel- I usually stubbornly resist this.  Dan is patient and supportive- sometimes even partaking in my adventures with some coaxing.  Lonnie always offers a fun time when I visit him in Texas.  I enjoy our long hikes together and that he humors my interest in birds and plants.  I have wonderful coworkers, some of whom I have attended fitness classes with, invited to trivia, and invited to political events.  They tolerate my eccentricities and listen to my newest ideas.  This year, I went to the State Fair with my mother.  I was crabby the whole time- as I was deprived of sleep.  But, she did not let my bad mood get in the way of a good time at the fair.  There are many others, like Chris, Angie, Amber, Carl, Jared, my grandma, Tiffany, Alexa, and many more.  I can be a real weirdo and anti-social turd.  I am fortunate to have people to enrich my life.

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How to Be a Sneaky Secret Santa

How to be a Sneaky Secret Santa

12/31/17

H. Bradford

The internet is full of tips of how to figure out what gifts to buy for a workplace Secret Santa gift exchange, but there are not a lot of pages with advice on how to be a sneaky Secret Santa.  That is, what if you want to put extra effort into hiding your identity as a Secret Santa or want to make the gift exchange itself more mysterious?  This holiday season I felt like being a little extra sneaky in our Secret Santa gift exchange at my job.  Here are some ideas of how to add a little ho, ho, ho to the average ho hum gift exchange:

The False Flag:

I did not set out to do anything special this year for our annual Secret Santa gift exchange.  However, I became aware that one of my co-workers was disappointed that she had not yet received a gift from her secret Santa.  Worse, she believed that I was the negligent party!  I didn’t want her to believe that I had forgotten to give her a gift (over a week into the exchange), so I concocted the idea that I would give her a secret Santa gift- even though I was not her actual secret Santa.  This spiraled into the idea that I should give a gift to another co-worker who had been pretty vocal about having been forgotten in the secret Santa exchange.  From there, the idea grew even bigger…


The first rogue secret Santa gift to my coworker “S”  was designed to be a false flag.   Well, not in the very literal sense.  A false flag is a an operation that is designed to appear that another group, organization, nation, etc. has carried out the action.  In this case, I wanted to make it obvious that I was the person behind this Secret Santa gift.  The idea is that by doing so, I would mask my other actions and confuse my ACTUAL secret Santa recipient  into believing that I was “S”‘s secret Santa.   I wanted S and my other coworkers to think that I was her Secret Santa even though I was not her actual secret Santa.   It was false evidence meant to distract from my actual activities.  While it does not quite fit the military or cyber definition of a false flag, I will use that term since I used my identity in one context to conceal or distract from my identity in the other context.


My first false gift involved a Scavenger Hunt to find two gifts hidden in my work place.  This Scavenger Hunt comprised of a message left on her desk, a second clue with a gift, and a final gift hidden in a hard to find location.  The clues in the Scavenger Hunt were written in three foreign languages and also provided GPS coordinates to the final gift.  Since my coworkers know that I like to travel and that I also do geocaching as a hobby, the Scavenger Hunt was purposefully made to make them believe that I was the Secret Santa behind “S” ‘s gift.   I think that this worked out pretty well since “S” sent a group email thanking the Secret Santa for the scavenger hunt and gift- which was helpful in making everyone aware of the ruse.   My only regret was that the Scavenger Hunt may have been a little too difficult.  It took two days to find the final gift (since reasonably most of my coworkers would not be able to use GPS to find a location in the workplace).

Big Idea: Pick someone to be your fake secret Santa gift recipient and provide obvious clues that you are the one behind this false gift.  Better yet, provide clues that lead everyone to believe that another one of your co-workers is behind the gift!

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The Informant:

Early on in my Secret Santa schemes, I enlisted a co-worker who works on the night shift with me to provide me with information and collaborate.   I don’t often speak to all of my coworkers, but “C” the informant, is much more social and closer with them.  She had a lot of great information that I would never have had access to.  For instance, many of my coworkers had confided in her who they had been paired with in the Secret Santa gift exchange.  I took notes based on her information (which helped me to plan my own actions).   Aside from providing me with information, “C” helped me by writing notes for me.  Obviously, I didn’t want to use my own handwriting when writing messages to the recipients of my gifts.  Therefore, I had her write some of the notes for me.   This was also useful as it might have led coworkers to believe that SHE was their Secret Santa (a distraction that benefited us both). Big Idea:  Enlist a trusted coworker in the schemes.  However, be careful, as they could spill the beans to your other coworkers!


Disinformation:

There is always the chance that “C” would tell others about my Secret Santa shenanigans.   To avoid that, I told her that I was “S”‘s Secret Santa.  Since she had already told me the gift exchange pairs that she knew, I knew that she did not know who “S” ‘s real secret Santa was.  So, I pretended to be “S” ‘s secret Santa when talking with “C” so that she would spread disinformation if she happened to tell others who I was paired with.

Big Idea:  Strategically plant false information.

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Dead Drop:

One of the challenges to being a secretive Santa is that workers have set schedules.   I have a very predictable and repetitive schedule wherein I work for eight days on and six days off.  Anyone with deductive reasoning can start to figure out who their secret Santa is or is not if they pay attention to work schedules.  For instance, if a gift always appears in the morning or afternoon, there is a good chance that it is from someone working one of those shifts.  If a gift only appears on weekdays after 10 am, it is easy to start to narrow down potential secret Santas.  Because I have six days off, I had to be a little bit creative about what to do about the long stretch of days that I am not at work.  I had two solutions to this, but I will only share one of them, which was the Dead Drop.   Basically, on the last night of my stretch of shifts, I hid gifts within my work place.  These had to be good hiding spots, as they would have to remain hidden for several days.


My first Dead Drop a hidden a gift card behind a poster in our office.     The other hiding spot was in an empty metal dresser in the maintenance room.  Finally, a third gift was hidden within our staff conference room.   With the gifts hidden in the shelter, I could choose the time and day that the secret Santa gift recipients would learn of their gifts.  This liberated me from relying on my work schedule.   However, this meant that I had to create secret communication channels to let my co-workers know about their gifts.

Big Idea:  Hide gifts to avoid reliance on a schedule or in-person exchanges.

 


 

Create Secret Communication Channels:

To inform the gift recipients of their hidden gifts, I had to create secret communication channels.  The first one that I created was a fake email account.   I used the fake email account to email “L” about the hidden gift card.   I did this at noon on a day that I did not work.   I figured that noon would be a good time, since as a night shift worker, she might conclude that I would be sleeping at that hour.   Using the fake email account, I sent an email to her which provided the following clue:

She is the one with the cheerless eyes,

 

She is cloaked in porpoises,

 

But what is her purpose or plan?

 

There are many things that start with the letter P

 

Look beyond the painting,

 

Hiding behind Patricia Wyatt

 

You will find a surprise or a disappointment.

The clue was meant to lead her to the framed poster in the office, behind which the gift card was hidden. Image result for patricia wyatt art she dreams in the rhythm of the waves

This is a copy of the poster that we have hanging in the office.

Several days later, I used a friend’s phone to inform another gift recipient (N) that she would find the gift in the maintenance room.   I felt that N would not be offended by getting a text from a mysterious number, since she seems like a pretty good sport.  I would not advise this method for a coworker that you don’t know well or who is not as into the gift exchange, since they may feel violated by a mysterious text message from an unfamiliar phone number.  In my case, N seemed pretty happy to be informed about the gift and intrigued rather than threatened.   My friend has a phone number from out of the area, which added to the mystery.  I made sure the friend immediately deleted the number from the phone and that it was someone that I could trust not to misuse the phone number.


Finally, I used my secret email to email my supervisor to make an announcement at the beginning of our staff meeting.  The supervisor was told to announce that an anonymous source had informed her that there was a gift hidden in the conference room.  Staff searched for the gift at the beginning of the staff meeting, which was turned over to the gift recipient, who also happened to be “N.”   Again, using a fake email to email a supervisor is only advisable if the supervisor is a good sport and on board with the Secret Santa gift exchange.  My supervisor happens to love the holidays and likes to coordinate the gift exchange, so I wasn’t too worried.  The only downside was that my coworkers had a hard time finding the gift, so I had to pretend to help them find it (to avoid taking up too much meeting time).

Big Idea:  Use a fake email, alternative phone, posted message, or other employees to create secret channels of communication.


 

Data Smog:

As my Secret Santa operation evolved, I eventually decided that I would give gifts to all of my coworkers.  Some would be elaborate, such as the scavenger hunt, hidden gifts, poems, anonymous letters, thoughtful cards, etc.  Some would be low-key, such as small gifts that randomly appeared in staff mailboxes with nothing more than a note that it was from Secret Santa.   I decided that I would try to give everyone a gift as a matter of fairness but also Data Smog.   Data Smog is the idea that it is hard to determine what is true or false when there is too much information to sift through.  By providing a lot of information and gifts to everyone, it would be hard for anyone to know which gifts were from a Secret Santa and which were from me, Rogue Secret Santa.   In the last two weeks of my Secret Santa operation, I mostly gave out subtle, anonymous gifts.   On Wednesdays, when all of the staff were gathered for a meeting, I chose to do a more elaborate gift exchange. Big Idea:  A variety of information, including obvious clues that it was Rogue Secret Santa as well as subtle, anonymous gifts given without fanfare was meant to obscure my actions.


Puzzles, Poems, and Messages:

One of my favorite parts of my Secret Santa operation was devising a number of poems and messages for my coworkers.   For instance, prior to our regular Wednesday meeting I baked two dozen cupcakes and set them on the table along with a typed message.  The message told my coworkers to eat the cupcakes and that under some of them, they would find a letter that spelled out the name of the coworker whose gift was on the table.   Everyone helped themselves to the cupcakes, eventually spelling out the letters in the co-worker’s name (which could be found on the bottom of the cupcake wrapper).   The gift itself included a Finnish language Christmas card and a poem by the famous poet, A. Leppanen.   There is no Finnish poet with this name.   I wrote the poem, but attributed it to a fake Finnish poet.  (The recipient of the gift had a Finnish background).   I created several poems or rhymes during the course of my secret Santa operation.   Each used a different style.   For instance, when “L” complained that she had been forgotten by her secret Santa, I provided her a small gift and the following typed Haiku:

Forgotten no more. I was called out for neglect.  Santa is Sorry

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Miscellaneous:

Aside from the techniques listed above, I tried to remain sneaky by keeping notes of my activities.  This helped me to keep track of what I had done, who I had given gifts to, how they reacted, and plans for the future.  This aided in the timing of my gift giving and make sure that no one was forgotten.   I typically typed my messages to my coworkers, as this disguised my handwriting, but on two occasions I had other people write my messages (one was C-the informant, and the other was my housemate).   I also used pre-made Secret Santa labels that I found on the internet, with one of my Secret Santa gift recipients.  Generally, I tried to be consistent.  For instance, I typically used decorated brown paper bags and printed labels for my gifts to N. Big Idea:  Take notes to keep track of your activities, use a variety of styles of packaging and messaging.  Avoid using your own handwriting.


Conclusion:

My Rogue Santa activities did concern some staff.  A few staff were worried that they had the wrong name in the exchange or were somehow doing the gift exchange wrong after mysterious gifts appeared from the Rogue Secret Santa.   The panic meant that my supervisor had to send an email warning staff not to worry and that there were some pranksters in their midst.  I genuinely enjoyed watching as the staff discovered their gifts, especially if they liked them.   I also enjoyed some conversations with staff.  For instance, one of my coworkers told me about a poem and gift card she had received.  She was convinced that they came from B., our supervisor.   I had to laugh a little to myself.   I also enjoyed doing little things such as hiding bags of candy under the seats of my coworkers before a staff meeting and making them the cupcakes.  My actual Secret Santa recipient did not know that I was her Secret Santa!  So that was also fun.  The main drawback is that I can only be a Rogue Secret Santa once!  Next year, if I do anything tricky, they will all know that it is me!  Another drawback is that because I bought at least a small item for each of my coworkers, it was a costly little operation.   While I won’t be playing the role of a Rogue Secret Santa next year, hopefully this list of ideas inspires someone else to make Christmas a covert operation.

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Embracing Winter Solstice

 

Embracing Winter Solstice

H. Bradford

1/21/17

In an earlier post, I discussed feeling down about winter and some strategies of overcoming seasonal shock (as I prefer to frame winter blues).  Winter does come as a bit of a shock.  Thankfully, I have adapted to winter and there are even some days that I thoroughly enjoy it.   Today was one of those days.  It was the winter solstice today, so I woke up eager to make the most of the day.  I wanted to celebrate the shortest day of the year.  In a way, there is something almost instinctual about wanting to put the darkness behind me.  It is a primitive drive of yearning for light and warmth.  Yet, here we are- still very much in the early half of winter.   I could hardly sleep- even after coming off of eight consecutive midnight shifts.  This is how I made the most of Winter Solstice.

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This photo was actually taken last week during a snow storm- but reminds me of hardship and beauty of winter.


 

A Winter Walk:

After doing a few errands, I went for a winter walk along the Lake Walk, a paved path along Lake Superior.  The temperature was about 28 degrees F, so comfortable enough to make outdoor activity easy.  The lake itself is still open and was deep blue and wavy today.  There were others out and about, jogging and walking as well.  Although the clouds were heavy and gray, there was a prettiness to the day.  Winter seemed to have a weaker grip on the Northland today, despite yesterday’s fresh snow.  There are many people out to challenge it.  Even ducks and gulls actively defied winter by floating on the steely waves.  As I looked back at the Lift Bridge, taking in all of the gray and white, I felt happy.  That summer version of myself- that person who begins dreading winter around the 4th of July- seemed weak and foolish.  It isn’t so bad!

Yoga:

I have not been to a yoga class at all this year.  I know this because attending yoga classes was one of my many New Year’s Resolutions last year.   Well, 2017 isn’t over yet!  Two of my co-workers from the domestic violence shelter met me for an hour yoga class at Essentia Health.   It was my first time attending fitness classes there!  Also, this month the fitness center is offering discounted day passes.  A day pass only costs $3 and gives a person access to the fitness center, fitness classes, pool, and sauna!  Wow!  I purchased 20 passes and may buy some more since it is such a great deal.


Anyway, the class was perfect!  The fitness studio has large windows which overlook Lake Superior.  Since the class began at 4:15, I was able to watch the sunset (or at least the dimming of the light and transition to darkness).  The room itself was dimly lit, illuminated by battery operated candles.   Throughout the class, the instructor adjusted the heat.  Needless to say, the room had a warm, peaceful ambiance that perfectly matched the quiet, thoughtfulness of winter.   I can’t say that I was awesome at the class.  But, I really enjoyed the bear pose.  This also seemed symbolic of winter- as bears hibernate in the winter (spare an angry bear that attacked three people in Northern Minnesota two days ago).   The Greek word for bear is Arctos- which we find in the word “Arctic.”   While Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are easy to spot year round, because they are circumpolar constellations, they are more easy to see in the winter because of the darker and longer nights.   Thus, bears are very deeply connected to winter.   The class itself had some challenging moments, but was generally relaxing.  I felt the class feeling that I had purged my insides of a lot of stress and negativity.

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I thought a lot about bears and winter during the yoga class…

Sauna:

After the yoga class, I used the sauna at Essentia.   There is really something special about saunas.  Because I am mostly Finnish, I feel that taking a sauna harkens back to some distant, primitive part of myself passed down from generations.   In the deepest reaches of history, there were distant relatives who 2000 years ago took saunas- back when they were a sacred and ritualistic part of life.  Of course, sweat baths are not unique to Finland- so they are a tradition to many people.  On the solstice, it is a way to embrace warmth and feel renewed.  It is a way to reconnect with the past.  I expected that I would be disappointing by the sauna at Essentia, but I found that although it was small- it was pleasantly hot.  Unfortunately, I had a meeting to run to- so I was only able to enjoy it for about 15 minutes.

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A Finnish wood carving of a Sauna scene.

The County Board Meeting:

I raced from the sauna, dressed, and drove back to the Superior government center for the county Board Meeting.  I literally ran from my car to the meeting room- with less than five seconds to spare before the meeting started.  I guess I took up a bit too much time at the sauna.  The reason for the race to Superior?  Well, the County Board was scheduled to vote on a resolution regarding the cut to 25 programs at UW-Superior.  I  have missed other meetings due to my work schedule or conflicting events, so it was important that I attend today.  I arrived in time to listen to the Chancellor of UWS defend the suspension of 25 academic programs, comparing them to products that were not selling.  I felt incensed by her words, so I volunteered to speak.   Mind you, I had no intention to speak before the board nor had I prepared ahead of time.  So, I just stepped up to the mic and spoke from my experience.   I am an alumni of the sociology program (a program that is being cut) and went on to get a Master’s degree in sociology.  I wanted to make the point that education has qualitative value that is hard to measure.  It is more than a product, like Big Macs or ceiling tiles- it enriches the human experience and our communities.  This issue is bigger than UWS.   UWS is symptomatic of a larger, business model of education that seeks to shrink education- or for there to be less education or fewer people with access to education.  The vote was an opportunity to take a stand against a larger trend in society wherein education is diminished.  I know that I did not collect my thoughts perfectly, but I was proud of myself for speaking up.  In the end, the County Board voted 13 to 3 in favor of a democratic process for determining which programs are cut.


Bentleyville:

I have already visited Bentleyville three times this winter, but I thought that it would be a great way to celebrate winter and add some more steps to my step counter.   So, after the county board meeting- I went home, debriefed about the meeting with my roommate, then returned to Duluth to stroll along the light displays.  It was my best visit to Bentleyville this season since it was far less crowded.  I felt that I could take my time and really take it in.    Bentleyville is free-with free cookies, marshmallows, and hot cocoa.  I love it, since I see people from all walks of life wandering around and enjoying the lights together.  Granted, I think that I am the only solo adult who haunts the holiday display.  Most visitors are families and couples.   Oh well!  Once again, I enjoyed embracing winter and the darkness by surrounding myself with light.

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Trivia:

Twice a month, I get together with friends and play trivia at Pizza Luce.  Tonight, I was short on a team- so I joined up with a group of UMD students.   We didn’t win at trivia- or even get third place- but it was still a fun time.  My friend, Jenny, arrived a bit late and joined the team.  While this wasn’t specific to Winter Solstice, it was still a fun addition to my day of celebrations!


The Samovar:

The grand finale of the day was opening a package that I received the other day.  I ordered myself a 1988 Soviet Samovar from Ebay.  This may seem like a frivolous purchase, which- it is- but I enjoy drinking tea and have a fond memory of drinking dozens of cups of tea from an antique samovar at a dacha during my first trip to Russia.   My hosts seemed so proud of their samovar- which was old enough to be heated with charcoal.   My samovar is electric.  I pulled it out of the package, while my roommate, Lucas- a lover of antiques- watched the pieces emerge from newspaper and packing plastic.  It was beautiful.  It was perfect!  I had looked over several Soviet Samovars online.  Many were ordinary, with a bronzed finish.  This was one special because of its black and gold enamel folk motifs.  It did not seem as industrial as the others.  Because of the folksy currant and golden leaf design, it seemed that it was timeless.    I have never been to Russia in winter, but to me, it seems like a place where Christmas, cold, and darkness must last forever (owing to the old/new calendar, continental climate, and latitudes of some places).   In a way, this object seems to resonate warmth as it invokes Russian history and culture- and quite literally, it creates warmth by heating water.  It is only a material thing, but it was love at first sight!

Well, there you go!  It was a pretty great day!  Maybe winter isn’t so bad after all.

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Beating the Winter Blues

Beating the Winter Blues

H. Bradford

11/30/17

It seems that winter came early this year.  Although I have lived my whole life in either Wisconsin or Minnesota, winter still arrives with shock and disappointment.  This year, it seemed to begin on October 27th with our first snow storm of the season.  The following weeks remained fairly cold and that initial snow didn’t melt until mid-November.  Daylight Savings Time, which sets the sunset back an hour, only seems to worsen the onset of winter, since suddenly it is dark at 4:30 pm.  I escaped for two and a half weeks to warmer climates, so this only added to my “season shock” this year.  (I have coined my experience season shock- which is like culture shock- but about seasonal adjustment).  Yes, upon returning home after visiting my brother in Texas- I felt demoralized by the cold and darkness.  He will be moving back to Minnesota next year.  I wanted to warn him not to.  It is miserable here.  This place is a cold, dark hell.  In some mythologies, it might be akin to the imagined land of death- white, sterile, and quiet- where bones crack in the cold, snapping like icicles off ledges.  My work schedule of night shifts makes things worse- since I live in the the long dark space between sunsets and sunrises.  I felt crabby, lethargic, and disappointed.  Well, I really don’t want to be that way!  So, here are some things I have done to make the most of winter and try to changed that attitude.


Bentleyville:

Each year, Duluth features a free light show- with free cookies, hot cocoa, popcorn, marshmallows, costumed characters, bonfires, and more!  I have gone twice already this year.  Perhaps, this will even be the year that I finally try to volunteer there.  While winter isn’t awesome, I will say that the darkness creates the canvass for stunning light displays.   I can relate this to the concept of Metaxu (from Simone Weil and Plato), which roughly describes things that separate us in some ways but connects us in others.  Darkness separates us from the visual world.  Night is bothersome since it makes it harder to enjoy the outdoors or do activities that we might enjoy during the day.  In this case, while darkness connects us to the beauty of light displays.  These displays would not be a pretty in daylight.  So, in this way, the darkness connects us to beauty and light.   Plus, there is so little that is free in capitalism!  You can’t complain about free cookies, hot cocoa, popcorn, and wholesome fun!  I think that Bentleyville is wonderful.

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The Night Sky:

Following the same logic as the last point, the darkness of winter and the long nights make it an optimal time of year for stargazing.   While I have not gone star gazing yet this month, I do plan on rescheduling a Feminist frolic for the planetarium and trying to catch the Northern lights (which are predicted to make an appearance early next week).  So, one great thing about winter is that it is a nice time of year for enjoying the night sky.


Birding:

I was a little sad to see all of the birds migrate.  While I was on my trip, I was reminded of all of the birds that were gone for the winter.  I even saw some of the species of birds which had migrated south!  However, on Sunday I drove to Two Harbors to hike around and do some geocaching.  I actually saw quite a few birds.  There were a few Common Goldeneye ducks, diving and bobbing in Agate Bay.  I watched them, getting a closer view than I’ve had of that species.  I also saw a NEW species of duck- a female Harlequin duck.  I was surprised, since I didn’t expect to see many new birds this winter-if any at all.  I think that it was a good reminder that there are still plenty of birds around.  On December 9th, the Sax Zim Bog will open to winter visitors and host a few birding/nature hikes.  I hope to attend.

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Geocaching:

I tried geocaching for the first time in March.  While it isn’t the most educational hobby, it is fun to search around for these hidden treasures.  I am not great at it, but it does bring a sense of accomplishment to me each time I manage to find a hidden container.  While I don’t do it all of the time, I decided to go geocaching on Sunday in Two Harbors and Monday at Pattison State Park.   Today, I found my 100th cache.  I think that winter is a great time to geocache since there is less foliage and vegetation to thwart my view of the caches.  Also, there aren’t any wood ticks.   It is also a nice hobby for winter since it doesn’t compete with birding as much (since there are fewer birds out and about).

Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor and nature  Just a photo from Pattison State Park, where I geocached earlier in the week

Winter’s Solitude:

On Monday, I went to Pattison State Park for hiking/geocaching.  I was the only at the park.  The park office was closed and the parking lot was desolate.  It was wonderful to haunt the park, wandering the trails as the only soul on the premise (there were park service people somewhere, but I didn’t see anyone at the park office and there were no other park visitors).  In the summer, parks tend to be busier.  The beach would be full of swimmers and the tables occupied by picnic-ers.   On Monday, it was only me.  It was wonderful.  I enjoyed it too much and kept reminding myself of the moral lessons of the Twilight Zone (don’t wish for people to go away.  You might lose your contact lenses).  It was a really enjoyable time.  This is something to really be thankful for- a whole park to myself!  I found a few caches and enjoyed the waterfall (the tallest in Wisconsin- though that doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment for a waterfall).

Image may contain: sky, tree, cloud, outdoor, nature and water    Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor, nature and water

Embracing the Indoors:

During the summer, I sometimes feel guilty for sleeping during the day after a night shift.  I feel like I am missing out on a beautiful, sunny day.   In winter, while I still feel like I am missing out on sunlight, this is unavoidable.  So, I guess that if nothing else I can embrace the season because the cold and darkness give me a good excuse to stay indoors.   In my ideal world, I would use this wonderful indoor time to write, read, study, create art, try to practice violin, do fitness DVDs, or any number of other hobbies that I could explore.  But, this is not my ideal world and I am not my ideal self.  I haven’t done many if any productive indoor hobbies lately.  However, I have embraced the indoors by taking advantage of indoor fitness classes.  While I am not a member at any gyms, I have gone to a few fitness classes with my coworkers Kaila and Katie at CSS.   I have attended a dance cardio class and a barre class.  I also try to do a ballet class through Sterling Silver Studio in Superior.   Since it is cold outside, I may as well embrace the indoors by attending indoor fitness classes.  Walking on a track or treadmill is no substitute for a walk outdoors, but it helps to combat the cooped up/inactive feeling that I dislike about winter.


Embracing Winter Hobbies:

Snow does allow for winter hobbies.  We don’t have any snow at the moment, but maybe later this winter I can go cross country skiing and snow shoeing again.  There are other winter hobbies I could try as well.  One of my goals is to try out a fat tire bicycle this winter.  We’ll see if I finally try one out this winter…


Embracing Warm Things:

One positive thing about winter is that it makes warm things far more enjoyable.  I can definitely say that soup, hot tea, hot cocoa, or generally any hot food or drink is much more pleasant in the winter.   Even if I don’t have a cold, Throat Coat is my favorite and most soothing hot tea by far.

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Embrace Seasonal Sweaters:

I like being warm.  A fun way to stay warm is with seasonal sweaters.  The other day, I went to Goodwill and bought a few seasonal sweaters.  By seasonal, I mean the sort of sweaters that an elderly woman might wear- with snowmen, mittens, cats, or cardinals on them- some are embellished with sequins, tiny rhinestones, and puff paint textures.  Having an arsenal of winter themed sweaters/sweatshirts helps me get into the mood of winter.  It is hard to be grumpy when you are wearing a sweatshirt of three snowmen sharing hot cocoa.

Image result for sweatshirt with snowmen

I don’t own this sweater, but it represents the spirit of winter whimsy.

 

Season Shock:

The reason that I feel that I experience “season shock” rather than seasonal affect disorder is because my experience is more of an adjustment issue.    I feel that the transition to winter is disappointing because it means a loss of freedom, outdoors, health, light, and warmth.  It means that life is harder- since the weather is harsh, the day is short, the roads are icy, cars need to be warmed up, and illness spreads more easily.  Adjusting to the “new normal” of winter isn’t an easy process.  But, I don’t feel that for me, it is a form of depression.  To me, the difference is that when winter hits, I want to be active, I WANT to be outdoors, I WANT all of the fun of fall and summer.   Winter is an insult to my drive to live and experience.   When I am actually depressed, I don’t want to do anything….and don’t even want to want to do anything.   I think that by being intentional, setting goals, and taking advantage of the 40 degree weather we’ve had lately has helped me escape my winter funk.   But…we’ll see how it goes when the temperature continues to decline next week- and we see highs in the teens….

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