Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Duggar-Dillard nuptials...

Just a few thoughts on the latest episode of 19 Kids and Counting.  There are in no particular order.

1.  Erin Bates Paine's piano playing reminded me a bit of Liberace playing with broken fingers or Richard Carpenter at Christmas time.  It was a bit too fancy and overwrought for my taste... and too loud.

An example of Erin's playing.  She really likes to embellish.

  2.  I actually did get a bit choked up watching, though the build up to the ceremony was a bit tedious.  Weddings make me verklempt.  At the same time, I'm glad my wedding is long over with.

3.  WTF was Michelle Duggar wearing?  That dress was a monstrosity.

4.  I truly like Jill and Derick.  I hope they enjoy a long and happy marriage.  I used to think Jill was a bit of a Kool-Aid drinker, but she has really blossomed into a beautiful young woman.  And Derick doesn't seem like a dipshit.

5.  It'll be interesting to compare this wedding with Jessa's, which will happen on Saturday.

6.  Did JimBoob really lead Ben Seewald around by the tie as if he were a dog on a leash?  I think that's a sign of things to come.  Hope Ben's been to obedience school.

7.  I think it must be exhausting to be a Duggar.  They're forever doing shit... scavenger hunts and counseling and family meetings...

8.  I suspect the older kids are going to be married off apace now, but at a steady pace so that the ratings can be sustained.

9.  I'm dying for one of those Duggar kids to break loose and live life on their own terms.

10.  I think Jill borrowed one of Michelle's ugly button down blouses with the cap sleeves.

11.  Does Michelle have osteoporosis?  She looks really short.

12.  All in all, it was a nicer ceremony than Joshie's.

And these are unrelated, but I wanted to share them because they're kinda funny...

Sexy ebola nurses and a nurse who is "sick" over a forced quarantine...

Ebola is all over the news these days, thanks to the sudden and unwelcome presence of it in the United States.  Naturally, peoples' reactions to Ebola have varied.  Some have attempted a lame attempt at humor by turning the ebola scare into a money making Halloween opportunity.  I read at least one article yesterday about the so-called "sexy Ebola nurse" costume available for sale.  Some enterprising folks have combined a timely news story with sex and voila, controversy is born...  And I suspect that there have been a few sales of the costume, if not for those who'd actually wear it, then for those who can see that there may be a market for it when it's either banned or discontinued.

I'm not sure how I feel about the sexy Ebola nurse costume myself.  I don't tend to wear sexy clothes and donning something billed as "sexy" isn't really my style.  I doubt I could pull it off.  I guess I don't care if other people want to wear it.  While I don't think Ebola is a laughing matter, it doesn't offend me if others want to poke fun at it.  Maybe I'd feel differently if Ebola affected me personally... like it does nurse Kaci Hickox, who went to Sierra Leone for a month to help take care of Ebola patients.

Last week, Hickox came back to the United States after her West African adventure.  A forehead scanning thermometer in Newark indicated that she had a fever, so she was immediately quarantined in New Jersey.  The "tent" she was placed in was apparently very uncomfortable and unpleasant; moreover, she didn't actually have a fever.  Hickox raised a ruckus, so she was sent home to Maine, where she has been asked to stay inside her home.

Hickox maintains that she's not sick.  She tested negative for Ebola and says she doesn't have a fever. Therefore, she doesn't think she needs to stay cooped up in her house for three weeks.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.  I do think there's something to Hickox's claims that people are a bit hysterical about Ebola.  I can't really blame them for that, though.  It's a scary disease that kills quickly and most people have no idea how it's spread.  I have read that one can only get Ebola after contact with body fluids and it takes up to three weeks for the virus to incubate.  Public health officials are asking Kaci to stay put for safety's sake, but Kaci maintains that she shouldn't have to do that.

I'm guessing that Kaci Hickox probably isn't sick and a lot of what she says does make sense.  However, she may want to stay home for her own safety.  A lot of people are upset with her and think she's being selfish.

I, for one, am of a mixed mind about it.  I can certainly understand how a quarantine might be inconvenient, depressing, and annoying, especially for one who isn't actually ill.  And I do worry that this health scare going on right now may lead to people's civil rights being violated for frivolous reasons.  I think enforced quarantines can lead to a slippery slope that can cause a lot of problems.  At the same time, as a health worker, I think Kaci Hickox should have more empathy for the masses.  Most people aren't particularly knowledgable about how diseases are spread.  Ebola is a scary viral illness with a high mortality rate.  Three weeks may seem like forever if one is confined, but the reality is, it's not a long time.  If it were me, I'd probably just stay home and be glad I wasn't forced to be in a hospital.  But then, I stay home a lot of the time anyway.

Kaci Hickox says she's going to sue over this quarantine business.  I suspect by the time it gets to court, we'll know whether or not the authorities were right to "detain" her.  I guess I don't blame Kaci for being upset.  At the hospital in New Jersey, the least they could have done was give her some items to make the two day stay more comfortable rather than just forcing her to stay in a tent with nothing to read. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A review of Sacred Road: My Journey Through Abuse, Leaving the Mormons, and Embracing Spirituality...

Those of you who regularly read this blog-- and I know there are a few of you-- know that I enjoy reading "ex Mormon lit".  I have a couple of huge lists of books I've already read and reviewed which I'll link to at the end of this post.  I can't say that every book about leaving Mormonism tempts me, but many of them do.  I especially enjoy reading books about missionary experiences since I was myself a Peace Corps Volunteer.  While the Peace Corps and a Mormon mission are not really the same things, strange experiences in exotic countries can be somewhat universally appealing.

Anyway, I just finished reading Todd Maxwell Preston's 2013 book, Sacred Road: My Journey Through Abuse, Leaving the Mormons, and Embracing Spirituality.  This book was not about a Mormon mission experience.  I still found it interesting in a "Peace Corps" kind of way because Preston is not American.  He hails from New Zealand, a place I've been wanting to visit for a long time for the scenery and the wine alone!

At the beginning of his book, Preston explains that his parents were not born Mormon; they were converts.  Preston was born March 7, 1973 in Hamilton, New Zealand, the fourth of ten children.  When he was six years old, his family moved to Utah for the first time.  As he grew up in his large Mormon Kiwi family, they would move back and forth from New Zealand to Utah several times.  As I read about the major moves Preston's huge family made, I couldn't help but think about the logistics of it.

I have lived abroad four times in my life.  The first time, when my dad was transferred to England with the Air Force, I was too young to remember what went into making the move.  The next time, I went to Armenia-- just me and a couple of suitcases.  Then there were two moves to Germany.  Each overseas move has been complicated and somewhat difficult, despite the fact that each time, there was a job to go to and logistical and financial support.  From what I gathered, Todd Preston's family didn't have that.  Perhaps it makes a difference if you have family to help you, but the cost alone would be daunting for family of Preston's size.  And add in the fact that Preston and his siblings were school aged, I imagine it was a lot of upheaval and confusion for them, especially since one move to Utah lasted only a couple of months!

Making matters worse was the fact that Preston's father was very abusive and Preston apparently wasn't one of his favored children.  Consequently, he was treated very badly by his dad, who insisted that Preston adhere to the many strict tenets of Mormonism and used abusive methods to make sure he did.  I got the sense that Preston was a bit of a free spirit being forced to be a square peg in a round hole.

Preston went to school in Texas to become a chiropractor.  He was not the only one in his family to take this route.  Two brothers joined the profession before Preston did and they had a practice together in Utah.  Preston writes of marrying a good Mormon woman and quickly starting to have kids, perhaps before they were really ready for the job.  Though I got the sense that he dearly loves the four daughters he had with his first wife, I also got the sense that going to school, trying to establish a practice, and living with Mormonism was very difficult and stressful for Preston.  It was so difficult, that Preston finally had to let go of the church, along with his marriage and even his career.

My thoughts

For the most part, I enjoyed reading Sacred Road.  Given that Mormonism is such an American religion, I was curious as to why it would be embraced by people who come from New Zealand.  I'm not sure Preston answered that question for me, but I did appreciate his very personal story of what growing up Mormon and Kiwi was like.  I wish Todd Preston had spent more time writing about his coming of age years and explained more as to why there were so many moves back and forth to New Zealand.

Preston's book seems to be mostly about his relationship with his father and how it affected him and less about Mormonism, although I do believe that Preston's father used the church to abuse his son.  The fact that the church can be used in such a manner is why I dislike Mormonism as much as I do.  I know that many churches can be used in a similarly destructive way, but the Mormon church happened to personally affect me and, more importantly, my husband.  So I have a lot of empathy for people who have been damaged by it, even as I understand that many people grow up Mormon just fine and happily continue to embrace the belief system.  I think it's great when people find a belief system that works for them, but I know that not every belief system works for every person... and I appreciate people who are brave enough to write about their experiences, especially when what they have to say isn't positive.

I notice that some reviewers have panned Sacred Road because they think Preston confuses his father's abuse with church abuse.  It's true that even if he hadn't grown up Mormon, Preston very likely would have been abused by his father.  However, Mormonism made an effective tool for abuse, particularly since Preston's dad seemed hellbent on rising through the ranks and attaining status and power within the church.

While I've never been LDS, I have discovered through several different sources that it's really hard to rise to the higher echelons of the church if you're a convert, which Preston's parents were.  But that doesn't stop people from trying.  Mormons are expected to do a lot, give a lot, and pray, pay, and obey a lot.  Those who can't or won't get with the program are definitely subjected to pressure.  Add that to the stress of living with an abusive parent and you have a very difficult situation which leads to trouble down the road.  And indeed, Preston does write about his trouble-- a failed marriage, a crisis of faith, temporarily losing his career and the financial stability that comes with that, and, I suspect, damaged relationships with his children and other family members.  The book ends before readers find out what's at the end of Preston's "sacred road", though a note at the end of the book reads that he moved back to New Zealand, remarried, and had at least a couple more children.

I think Sacred Road could have been better than it is, but that doesn't mean I didn't like the book or get anything of value from Preston's story.  I think it helps to know something about Mormonism before you read this, since I don't think Preston really explains much about what Mormons believe, nor do I think he explains enough about why being Mormon factored into his journey.  Overall, I would recommend this book to interested readers.


Ex Mormon lit list part one

Ex Mormon lit list part two

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bill's interesting comparison of dealing with ISIS and treating heartworms...

Last night over dinner, Bill was talking about a conversation he had with someone about how ISIS needs to be dealt with.  He thinks dealing with ISIS should be akin to ridding a dog of heartworms.

Bill and I have actual experience with heartworm treatment.  In 2003, we adopted a purebred beagle named Flea.  Flea was heartworm positive when he was rescued.  The lady who picked him up had him treated, but due to money issues and perhaps time issues (she also had other pets, jobs, and a small child), she never took Flea back for the second, much milder part of the treatment.  Consequently, Flea's heartworms were never cured.

We adopted Flea thinking that he had been completely treated and was clean.  However, because I was nervous about the heartworms, we had him tested again.  The test came back positive.  We were pretty poor at the time and we lived in northern Virginia, where everything is more expensive.  The vet thought that maybe the test was a false positive, since Flea had recently had the first half of the treatment.

A few months later, we were going to have Flea's teeth cleaned.  A sharp eyed vet tech looked through Flea's records and noticed the positive heartworm test.  She called the hospital that supposedly treated him and discovered that while Flea had undergone the rough first part of the treatment, he was never brought back for the second part... the part where the baby worms are killed off.  And so the infestation was never fully cleared and by the time he got treated again, he was really infested with heartworms.  Fortunately, we got him treated and he was completely healthy after about six weeks.  Then we got him a sidekick, our beloved MacGregor.  Flea and MacGregor are now at the    Rainbow Bridge.



So Bill thinks the way we deal with members of ISIS should be the same.  They need to be obliterated, including the young ones.  I was a little surprised by this revelation from him, since Bill is usually a fairly gentle guy, despite his military service.  I'm not so sure how easy it's going to be to obliterate ISIS anyway.  I just read on CNN about Jordan Mattson, a former soldier who decided to go to Syria to fight ISIS.  

And I have also read about three two Colorado teens who tried to join ISIS.  And the girls from Vienna who went to join the cause, too...

With all these civilians jumping into the fray on either side of the fight, things are bound to get very complicated.  A lot of people are going to die... and a lot of them will die in a gruesome way.

I'm really glad Bill is not in the Army anymore, though as a retiree, he is subject to recall for the next 20 years.  The chances of him being recalled are slim, but there's always a chance.  Of course, the company he works for is sending him to Africa, though not to places where Ebola is prevalent.  That's yet another scourge that needs obliterating.  

Repost of my review of Escape from Camp 14

I went through a phase a few years ago and read a bunch of books about North Korea.  This morning, I read an article on CNN written by Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known person to grow up in and escape a North Korean prison camp.  He has been labeled "human scum" by North Korea's leaders.  They claim that his description of what life is like in a North Korean prison camp is a pack of lies.

I found Escape from Camp 14, Shin Dong-hyuk's book, extremely fascinating.  Aside from having an amazing story to tell, Shin Dong-hyuk is a talented artist.  You can see some of his drawings on the CNN article, though I must warn that they are basically artistic depictions of how prisoners are treated in North Korea.  Some people may find them disturbing.  I did find them a bit graphic, yet I also marveled at Shin Dong-hyuk's talents and I'm glad he is now free to share them with the rest of the world.

Growing up and escaping North Korea's Camp 14...
Jul 12, 2012 (Updated Jul 13, 2012)

Review by knotheadusc in Books

Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Fascinating story. Horrifying. Haunting drawings.

Cons:Horrifying. Occasionally depressing.
The Bottom Line: Be grateful you don't have to escape Camp 14.

For the past few years, I've been fascinated with stories about North Korea, one of the world's most opaque countries. That's why I felt compelled to read journalist Blaine Harden's new book, Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West (2012). This book is the true story of a young man named Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born and raised in Camp 14, an oppressive North Korean political prison and later managed to escape. Though I had a feeling that parts of Escape from Camp 14 would probably depress me, I figured that ultimately the story would end on a somewhat triumphant note. And again, I think oppressive regimes are oddly fascinating.

Who is Shin Dong-hyuk and why was he raised in prison?

Shin Dong-hyuk was born in 1982, the second son of parents who had somehow managed to be allowed to get married. Shin's parents didn't marry because they loved each other. They married because they were being rewarded for doing something good. Sex between inmates at Camp 14 was forbidden, except between married couples. After their wedding, the happy couple was allowed five nights together; then they were separated and Shin's father was allowed to visit periodically. Shin's older brother was born in 1974 and by the time Shin was old enough to remember much, he had already been sent to live in a boy's dormitory. When Shin was still a very young boy, he too was sent to live in a dorm. It wasn't too big of a deal, though, since Shin didn't have much of a bond with his mother, anyway. They were too busy working to form a bond.

In North Korea, people who commit crimes against the state are severely punished. So are their families. A person who gets caught doing something illegal will go to prison and so will his or her parents, siblings, and any children. The whole family pays for one person's actions; consequently, there's a lot of peer pressure to be on one's best behavior. Shin was born in the prison and never knew any other life, mainly because two uncles tried to escape North Korea back in 1951. Shin's childhood was spent working, starving, and being beaten and indoctrinated. He spent those years fearing for his life; for the punishment for disobedience was being shot on the spot. When Shin accidentally broke a sewing machine, he paid for it by sacrificing part of a finger.

When Shin was 13, his mother and brother attempted to escape Camp 14. Shin overheard their plans. Like any good North Korean prisoner, Shin felt compelled to alert the authorities. Not alerting the authorities of an escape attempt meant being shot. The guards were able to stop the escape attempt and Shin was rewarded by being tortured and interrogated. Then, he and his father were forced to watch as his mother and brother were executed. He was not sad to see them die. He thought they were selfish for putting him in the position to have to tell on them.

It took Shin months to recover from the injuries he suffered while he was being tortured. During that time, he met a man who told him about life outside of the camp. Shin was fascinated that there was a world beyond the electrified fence. But he also knew that the fence was deadly and would kill him if he tried to flee. And if he was caught even thinking about escaping, he would be shot.

Years later, Shin met another man who told him more about the world outside the fence. Shin found himself obsessed with the notion of escaping. With his new friend's help, Shin hatched an escape plan and successfully escaped the political prison in 2005. Harden relates Shin's amazing story of breaking out of the North Korean camp and eventually making it to South Korea, then the United States.

My thoughts

Whenever I start to feel badly about my own life, all I have to do is remember what Shin Dong-hyuk has already endured in his 30 years on the planet. He grew up starving, friendless, and without much of a family, imprisoned for crimes he had nothing to do with. Against all odds, he broke free to go to a new country that for most of his life, he had no idea even existed. Adjusting to that new life in rich, opulent South Korea was extremely difficult. And then when he went to the United States to tell other people about his life in Camp 14, he had a hard time adjusting... and relating to other people.

Harden's done a great job with Shin's story, maintaining an objective yet compassionate tone as he describes the atrocities Shin and other prisoners endured. It makes any problems I face seem trivial. This book took a long time to read and was, at times, a bit depressing. It's not pleasant to read about innocent people being starved, beaten, and brainwashed. However, I have to admire Shin's courage for escaping, even as he experienced guilt knowing that his father would certainly be punished for his escape... and the man who came with him on his break for freedom ultimately ended up being killed by the electric fence. Shin used the man's body to insulate him against the electricity-- without that dead body, Shin never would have made it to freedom. He's paid a price, though, through constant nagging guilt. At this writing, Shin Dong-hyuk is the only person known to have managed to escape prison and defect from North Korea.

At the end of this book, Harden includes drawings Shin did that depict the horrors of Camp 14. I found the crude drawings haunting and horrifying. There are also photos.


I would definitely recommend Escape from Camp 14 to anyone who is interested in North Korea or likes true stories about overcoming adversity. This is not a happy book, but I found it fascinating to read and I definitely rooted for Shin Dong-hyuk.

Recommend this product? Yes

Monday, October 27, 2014

Blast from the past...

A guy I met as I was leaving Peace Corps service seventeen years ago is now working for the government.  Last week, he contacted me on Facebook to ask where in Germany Bill and I live.  I told him and it turned out that he and Bill are both going to a conference this week.

Aside from marveling that my past professional life is now mingling with Bill's present professional life, I was just amazed at yet another opportunity to see an old friend.  I actually didn't get to know Erik really well, because as I was leaving Armenia, he was just getting there.  But while he was in training, we did hang out a bit.  He said he thought I was funny!

We met for lunch yesterday and talked for a couple of hours.  Hopefully, we'll get to hang out again as the week progresses.

I don't know what it is about me, but I have an uncanny knack for running into people I used to know or people who know someone I know.  It's very strange, because it's not like I was ever a very popular person.  But it's happened to me more times than I can count... I'll see someone I haven't seen in years in some random place or I'll bump into someone and we'll start talking and realize we have a mutual friend or something.

This visit with Erik was planned, since we knew he was coming to Germany.  It was still a lot of fun. I love catching up on gossip.

In other news, the other day, Bill thought he heard one of the neighbors tell him in German to take our dogs with him while he was running errands.  I wouldn't be surprised.  There's a guy who lives near us who thinks we leave them alone all the time.  We don't.  I'm with them about 90% of the time.  They do bark, but their barking isn't excessive.  They bark if they see an animal or people they don't know, or if someone rings the doorbell.  They sometimes bark when they play.  That's about it.  Their sessions seldom last longer than a minute or two, unless we're out in the woods and they're on a scent.

The neighbor guy can kiss my ass.

Perhaps I should leave one of these on his lawn.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I know how this feels...

I used to feel like this a lot... still do sometimes.

I grew up with three much older sisters.  I remember seeing them obsess over their figures when they were teenagers.  They used to go jogging all the time and always talked about dieting.  I can remember being in second grade and being lectured about my body by one of my older sisters, telling me that I needed to get into the habit of exercising and dieting so I wouldn't be fat.  I remember her telling me that I'd never been the optimal skinny size...

Me at twelve...

Me at five...
I can remember being obsessed with my body and weight from the time I was about eleven.  I was not obsessive enough to develop a full blown eating disorder, though I sure tried for a long time.  It took many years to stop trying so hard to be someone I wasn't.  But I would be lying if I said I didn't fantasize about simply cutting away the fat.  I know it wouldn't work with a pair of scissors... but I often wish it were that easy.  I used to starve myself all the time, sometimes to the point of passing out.  I can't do that anymore.

Last night, I was looking at the comments from a video posted by  It was a video about a beautiful woman who doesn't have the body size preferred by most people.

She's pretty and healthy, but people still feel free to comment on her size...

There's always some jerk who assumes that because someone is a certain size, they are "unhealthy".  I've said it before and I'll say it again.  There is no way one person can know anything about another person's health status unless they happen to be their doctor.  And even if they are a doctor and have examined the patient, it would still be hard to know.

I think what's really going on is that people are offended by someone who is overweight.  They see it as slovenly and lazy and they feel justified in criticizing that person for not "working hard" to fit a certain aesthetic appeal.  The issue is not concern for a person's health.  The issue is that they just want fat people to go away and stop offending them.  But they can't just tell someone that they look disgusting, so they couch it in "concern" for the person's health.  The reality is, they have no way of knowing what that person's health status is.  

I have been overweight for many years.  Yet I have never been hospitalized.  I've never had surgery.  I have not taken any prescription drugs of any kind since February 2004... and those were antidepressants, which I took in part because I was depressed over who I was.  I can walk for miles.  I rarely get sick and when I do, I usually bounce back quickly.  Sure, I avoid doctors and if I went to one, he or she would probably lecture me and maybe even give me some pills to take so I might present numbers that are more within their definition of a "healthy" realm.  You can't tell me that I cost someone money due to my body size.  At this point, I almost never use the health care system.  

Yes, it's true that I may soon end up with a chronic disease of some sort that could be related to being heavier than I should be.  However, I am already entering the second half of my life, when many people develop chronic diseases or health issues.  I'm no different than any other person in their 40s.  I may live to be 100.  My granny did and she was a size 14.  Or I may die at 81 like my alcoholic father did.  Or I may die sooner than that for any number of reasons.  The point is, some yahoo on the street doesn't know if I am healthy or not.  They only know if they find me appealing to look at.

I think it's sad that people feel that way and think they have the right to be cruel to others.  I think it's sad that the girl in the picture above wants to use scissors to cut away the extra flesh.  I know how it feels.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

My chipper mother...

Last night, Bill and I went out to eat at our favorite Greek restaurant.  But before we went, I talked to my mom.  She was in a good mood and was about to head to the pool for an exercise class.  She said she'd gotten tickets to the symphony and even managed to renew her passport.  She said she was hoping to take a river cruise, maybe even in Germany.  And if she does, she said she'd like to visit us.  I told her we have a spare king sized bed and a fold out futon that she and Bill's mom have a standing invitation to use.

Mom still hasn't gotten the religious music CD that I made for her.  Things can take ages to get to and from the U.S. using the APO system.  She said if she likes anything on the CD and wants me to change my selection for dad's memorial service, she'd get my sister to get in touch with me.  Apparently, when she plays the other CD I made, she cries.  I imagine the religious one will make her cry even more.

It would be easy for my mom to get in touch with me herself, except my mom doesn't use computers.  She never learned how and never had any desire to use one, even now that my dad is dead and can no longer bug her about teaching him how to send an email.

That was something my dad drove everyone nuts over.  We'd show him how to send email and access the Internet over and over again and he'd always forget.  Sometimes he'd send me an email begging for help sending email, not realizing that he had just successfully sent one without help.  He even hired a local computer guy to come over and teach him, but it never stuck.  Before long, the guy stopped answering my dad's calls.

Mom said there was a package waiting for her that she needed to pick up.  She said it was either the CD I made for her or her prosthetic boob.  I was amazed as she very casually told me that she wears things that are "puffy" now, to hide her missing breast.  But with the prosthetic boob, she wouldn't have to do that anymore.

I guess if you're going to get breast cancer, it's not so bad to get it at age 76, right after your husband dies.  I'm certain my mom would have preferred to avoid the whole experience altogether, but she sure is maintaining an upbeat pragmatic attitude about the whole thing.

Anyway, I hope she's able to come see us in Germany.  I don't think my mom has ever really been here, except for when she was in transit somewhere else.  I think she'd like it here.

What's not to love?