Friday, December 29, 2017

Øystein's Sweater, and the Lunacy of Modern Fashion

When I was a kid I spent a year living in Norway as an exchange student. At the time, knitting was all the rage among my female classmates. I tried to take it up, really I did, but apparently I lack the knitting gene. While others find it meditative and relaxing, I fear for me it just led to cursing and frustration.

Anyway, one of the boys in my class was named Øystein. He was quite memorable - tall and lanky with copious locks of flaming red hair. A true vision of your prototypical Viking.

Øystein played the tuba, and was a bit of a class clown. That way my interpretation at least. Not being fluent in either the language or the culture, sometimes it's hard to tell. At any rate, there was a running joke among the girls in the class about Øystein's sweater. You see, he only had one. Or at least, he only wore one... every single day.

One day, one of the girls offered to knit him a new sweater. Øystein gave her a somewhat puzzled look and replied with complete innocence: "Nei Takk, Jeg har en genser, Jeg!" Which translates to: "No thanks, I have a sweater, I do!" The entire class erupted in laughter, but it's still unclear to me whether he was trying to be funny, or if he simply couldn't fathom why anyone would possibly need more than one sweater - I mean, you can only wear one at a time, right? Either way, no new sweater was forthcoming, and he continued to wear the same one every day until the winter was over.

I love that story. I think of it frequently, and it puts things into perspective when I read a blog post about wardrobe size, or when I see commercials for clothing stores, or whenever I hear someone obsessing about fashion. 

To be honest, fashion has never really been "my thing." It's not that the younger me didn't try, I just never seemed to be able to pull it off. In the end, I'd always end up spending a bunch of money, and wasting a bunch of time in front of mirrors trying things on, all the while growing less and less content with the way I looked.

And, you know, I really think that's the whole point. OK, bear with me here, as I'm about to get exceedingly cynical, but it seems to me that the entire fashion industry is built upon a horrifically cruel premise.  You make people feel bad about their bodies, so they'll go out and spend ridiculous sums of money buying some new piece of clothing in order to make the bad feelings go away.

I know there are plenty of women out there who will vociferously disagree with me, but I really think that an industry which profits off of giving people a poor self image is just plain evil - to say nothing of skin and bones fashion models, or people in third world countries employed at slave wages toiling away in sweat shops producing the clothes in the first place.

When your really think about it, it's sorta crazy how far the world of fashion has diverged from the actual purpose of clothing.

And even when the styles are less ridiculous than the "thong jeans" pictured above, they keep changing what's "in" every year or two, so people will feel obligated to keep up with the times by continuing to buy their products.

Seriously, once back when I was still working at the music school, a bunch of us were sitting around waiting for a meeting to start. One of the young women was complimenting another on her new boots. She then proceeded to say how ashamed she was of her own boots because they were last year's style. It took great effort for me not to scream, "You're a single mother who has trouble putting food on the table and keeping a roof over your children's heads for God's sake, why the hell are you concerned about whether your boots are last year's style or not!!!"

Of course, I didn't say anything, but it does make me both sad and angry to see people spending crazy amounts of money fighting the hopeless battle against their own insecurities - a good chunk of which have been manufactured by the very industry that wants you to spend the money in the first place!

And don't EVEN get me started about the incredible wastefulness of an industry which produces garments designed to be worn a few times and then discarded. Grrrrr....

I mean, where do people get the idea that it's somehow gauche to be seen wearing the same thing more than once? I recently heard that there was a great stir because Kate Middleton wore the same suit for her family Christmas photo that she'd worn on several previous occasions. Seriously? Do people really pay attention to this sort of thing?

You know, when I quit my job about 10 years ago, one of the great reliefs was that I no longer needed the sort of wardrobe that I used to... not that people in the world of folk music are deeply into fashion, but when you don't have to be applying for grants or schmoozing potential donors, the bar for what's considered "presentable" lowers considerably.

And then the carpet beetles struck a few years ago, and I had to basically pack everything into airtight containers unless it was getting worn frequently enough to be washed every week or two.

So while minimalism was never really my goal in terms of clothing, in the past few years I seem to be embracing the Øystein school of fashion. Seriously, at this point my winter wardrobe (excluding bike wear - which I sorta think of as "equipment" rather than "clothing") consists of 4 pairs of sweat pants, 1 pair of jeans, 3 smartwool base layers, one sweatshirt, a fleece jacket, and yes... ONE sweater!

And you know what, it's sorta wonderful. I basically wear what's clean until it's all dirty, at which point there's enough to fill up the washer (if you include the bike wear and towels) so I throw it all in there and start over again. The only real downside I can see so far is that stuff wears out a LOT faster when you wear it that frequently. But you know what, that's OK. Once the holes in xyz item have gone past the point of no repair, I'll turn it into a rag and fetch something "new" out of storage. Eventually, I'll have to actually buy some replacements, but that's what the thrift store is for, and at the rate I'm going it will be a good long time before I have to go there!

Now, I'm not saying that I think everyone should strive for Øystein status in the clothing department. Different lives will undoubtedly require different sorts of wardrobes. But, the next time you're frantically pulling things out of the closet in the midst of a wardrobe crisis, I'd simply ask you to remember this: You are not Kate Middleton, and nobody really cares what you wear... at least nobody who's opinion you ought to care about does.

There's a wonderful little footnote to the Øystein story. Of all the people I have crossed paths with in this little life of mine, Øystein has become one of the most successful and even famous - well, famous as tuba players go.

It warms my little fashion-hating heart to know that his wardrobe, or lack thereof, in no way hindered his magnificent success. And who knows, maybe it even contributed to it. Because when you're not worried about stupid stuff like fashion, you've got a lot more time, money and energy to devote to the things that really matter in life.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Thoughts on Income, Wealth, and the End of the World

So I've been taking a break from the endless home improvement projects around here. And since the weather is cold (no bike rides), and my Denver Broncos are out of the playoffs (less motivation to watch football), and I can't stomach any more sappy Christmas movies, I've had plenty of time to waste cruising the interwebs collecting interesting tidbits of information, and letting them all stew in this little brain of mine. Consider yourself warned!

Now, originally, I was gonna provide links to all of the articles that caught my eye, but I couldn't find them all, so you're spared the reading assignment. You'll just have to take my word for it that this mishmash of facts and information, which seems to have congealed in my little brain, actually came from genuine sources - not just something I pulled out of mid-air.

So first, (OK, I did actually find a source for this one, though it wasn't the same article I originally read) I read that researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have calculated that climate change poses a 5% chance of human extinction by the year 2100.

Um.... let that sink in for a moment...

That is a truly terrifying statistic! 5% is like 1 in 20... and they're not merely saying there's a 5% chance of significant climate change... they're saying there's a 5% chance that 82 years from now there will be no more people left on the planet. Like extinct, dead, nada, zippo, zilch, good bye, stick a fork in the human race, we're done for.

Now, the Scripps Institute is not some sort of fringe organization... and they're not using crazy Guy McPherson assumptions either. Their numbers are coming straight from the IPCC, whose predictions are broadly considered to be very conservative among climate change scientists.

OK... so here's the next little tidbit - this is the one I really wish I could find the source for, but somehow I seem to have lost the link. Anyhow, I read about a study where they looked at a large group of people and calculated what their "carbon footprints" were - meaning how much carbon dioxide they emitted through their day to day activities. They then gathered all sorts of demographic data about said group of people - things like age, religion, race, political affiliation, marital status, and a whole slew of other stuff.

Interestingly enough, of all the demographic categories they looked at, the one that had the SMALLEST correlation with their carbon footprints was... wait for it... whether or not they considered themselves to have a "green" lifestyle! In other words, they could find little measurable difference in the carbon footprints of people who said they were concerned about the environment and trying to live in an ecologically friendly manner, and those who thought that global warming was a hoax.

The demographic category which had the strongest correlation to carbon footprint? You guessed it, income. Their basic conclusion was that wealthy people just lead high carbon lifestyles. They live in big houses, drive big cars, fly all over the world, and just generally emit a whole bunch of CO2. And even when wealthy people said they were concerned about the environment and trying to "live green," they generally weren't willing to make the sorts of changes that would really have a meaningful impact.

OK... next piece of data. This one came from a presentation given by Kevin Anderson, a respected climate change scientist. It's no secret that people from different parts of the world have very different carbon footprints. Yes... we here in the US are the worst offenders. But here's the tidbit that struck me: within each individual country, it is the top 10% (economically speaking) who do the vast majority of the emitting.

This graphic wasn't from Anderson's talk, but it illustrates the point he was making

Now, here's the final little tidbit. (And I do have the link for this one.) It was an interesting little article about a personal finance blogger by the name of Derek Sall who has come up with a somewhat unconventional way to determine your personal wealth. He says it has nothing to do with your income per se, and everything to do with how long you could last if you lost your job tomorrow. Here's his little "Wealth Scale."

  • Less than a month: Broke
  • 1-3 Months: Teetering
  • 3-6 Months: Satisfactory
  • 6 Months - 2 Years: Well Off
  • 2-5 Years: Wealthy
  • 5 or more Years: Ultra Wealthy
You can probably guess that he's preaching to the choir here, but I did find it somewhat amusing that according to Mr. Sall, I am in the Ultra Wealthy category! Not bad for someone who, judging by income alone, would be considered barely above the poverty level. 

OK... so that's what's been sifting around in my brain the past week or two... and when you put all that together and stir, here's what I come up with.

Saving humanity from climate change cannot be achieved via the Great Green Guilt Parade. Instead, we ought to focus on teaching people to live beneath their means. 

Crazy as it might seem, that little revelation gave me quite a bit of hope. I have long believed that the moralistic approach to environmentalism was a losing game. It's not that I don't think it is immoral to leave future generations a planet that's uninhabitable, I just think that when push comes to shove, moralism has a pretty poor track record in terms of actually changing human behavior.

But if the goal is learning to live happy, contented lives on less money - rather than all of this "greener than thou" nonsense - I think there's a much greater chance of success. I mean, think of the possibilities! All we have to do in order to save humanity is convince people to work less, rest more, save their money, and enjoy being "Ultra Wealthy." Sounds like a recipe for a much healthier and happier society, if you ask me - that is certainly my own experience when it comes to living with less.

So what do you think? Can frugal living save the planet?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Reflections in Late December

So, winter finally got here... sorta.

It snowed last night for the first time since, I dunno... September maybe? It was only about an inch, which leaves us WAY below the 2 feet or so that has normally fallen by this point in the season. But the temperatures took a nose dive, and it does at least feel a bit more "normal" for this time of year.

Not that I'm complaining about the warm weather we've been enjoying - it's been a bike-filled fall, and I've enjoyed every moment of it. Here are some random photos from rides we took this fall. I left them higher resolution than I usually do, so you can click on them for bigger versions if you like.

The other day we were near the spot where the first 2 photos were taken, when we ran into a young woman from Venezuela. Chatting with her certainly put things into perspective. If you're not familiar with the situation down there... well, let's just say it's rather grim. The way she put it, "You can be killed at any moment - that's just the way it is."

It was a good reminder for me, that even though it feels like things are headed off the rails in the political arena here, we're still vastly better off than the majority of people on this planet.

The cold weather probably means we won't get much biking in for the rest of the year, but that's OK. I've already broken my personal best for miles (just over 3200 for the year) so I'm quite satisfied with that.

In other news, CatMan and I watched It's a Wonderful Life the other night.

Oh, how I LOVE that movie. Talk about another gratitude reminder. We always think that the good stuff is somehow "out there" - but in reality it's all right here.

Anyhow, a dear friend of mine lost her beloved cat yesterday. As she and I were talking about it all, It dawned on me that it was 13 years to the day since I lost my sweet Mow kitty. I'm feeling a bit sad thinking about it.

So I'll leave you with a picture of my beautiful Mow-girl, and a story that I wrote years ago about her passing.

Wishing each and every one of you the very best this holiday season.

The Best Christmas Presents I Ever Received

It was Christmas time, and my beautiful cat was dying.

Her name was Mow. I had wanted to name her Emma, because I thought that a beautiful cat deserved a beautiful name. But the man I was living with at the time had known a dog named Emma, and lest the two become inexorably confused in his psyche, Emma was out.

He wanted to call her “Bunny Butt”. Bunny Butt?!?!?! Well, in his defense, she was a Manx, and in place of a long feline tail, she did have a cute little bunny-like nub. Still, I thought she deserved better.

We went round and round for weeks but were unable to reach a consensus. Finally our little kitty took matters into her own paws and named herself “Mow” (like meow without the “e”). In retrospect, “Mao” might have been a better spelling since she ruled the household with an iron paw!

But at this point, her name didn’t matter, it only mattered that my best friend in the entire world was dying. She truly was my best friend. She had seen me through so many difficult times… the ending of the above-mentioned relationship, and some very difficult situations with my family and at work. Through it all, she was my constant companion, always there to lick my forehead when I needed cheering up, or cuddle with me in bed if I was lonely.

The last years had been difficult. A little stray cat who came to be named Daisy had wandered into our lives, and although she was a sweetheart in her own respect, she and Mow never saw eye to eye. I tried for years to integrate the two of them, using every trick in the book, but for all of my efforts I was never able to get them to the point where they could be in the same room without bloodshed.

When Mow was diagnosed with kidney disease, hyper-thyroid, and maybe lymphoma (the vets disagreed) in April, I decided that it wasn’t fair to put her through any more trauma, and resigned myself to having a divided household. Mow was the upstairs cat and Daisy had the garden level. In my heart, I knew she didn’t have long to live, but I hoped against hope that she would make it to Christmas.

The months dragged on and she grew steadily weaker. I tried every medicine and diet and therapy I could find, shelled out a huge portion of my life’s savings on veterinary specialists… but then on Thanksgiving Day she started to cough, and I knew it wasn’t good. An X-ray confirmed the cancer in her lungs. She was far too weak to survive surgery, and even if it were to be successful it would only extend her life a matter of a few months at best.

So that was it… my little friend was dying, and I was a wreck. I was wracked with guilt… what had I done wrong? Had I fed her the wrong food? Used the wrong kitty litter? Failed to notice some sign I should have seen? I was afraid to leave the house. What if I returned home to find she had died all alone and afraid? But most of all, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle her death. Would I have to have her put to sleep? How could I ever make such a horrible decision, and how would I know?

I finally decided that I would just have to let her tell me when it was time. She had managed to tell me what her name was, so I figured she would let me know when she was ready to go.

The days grew shorter, and my little friend spent more and more time sleeping in her various “nests”… under the coffee table, under the recliner, in the linen closet. I tried to comfort her, but she grew more and more withdrawn. I missed my little friend terribly, and she wasn’t even gone yet.

But then, about a week before Christmas, I was lying in bed worrying about her, when all of a sudden I felt the familiar thump of her little paws as she jumped up onto the bed. She hadn’t joined me in bed for several weeks, and I was pretty sure that she never would again. Yet there she was, purring and scratching at the covers with her familiar little barking meow.

I lifted up the covers and arranged the pillows to make her a little “tent” just how she liked it, and she settled down making “spoons” with me just as she had every night for so many happy years. I rubbed her belly as she purred and I quietly cried. I don’t think I slept at all that night, not wanting to miss even a second of her precious gift.

Two nights later things got really bad, and I knew the end was here. She was so weak that she couldn’t walk but a few feet before collapsing, and she was starting to have real difficulty breathing. I decided that if she made it through the night I would take her in the following morning to let my suffering little friend finally rest. So I curled up next to her, and tried to comfort her the best I could.

A few hours passed, when suddenly, she got up. I put my hands out to catch her if she wobbled… but she did not wobble. She walked… no she actually marched over to the screen door that I had rigged at the top of the stairs to keep her separated from Daisy. She clawed at the door and mewed at me insistently. “She must be hallucinating” I thought to myself, and went to pick her up. But she pawed at the door again.

Tentatively, I opened the door and let her go down onto the landing. Daisy, whose interest had been aroused by the pawing at the door, was on her way up the stairs. I prepared to snatch little Mow out of harm’s way, but to my utter surprise, there was no growling, no hissing and no signs of distress from either cat. Instead, the two touched noses and sat together on the landing, purring quietly for about five minutes. Then they both stood up and rubbed faces briefly before Daisy went back downstairs.

That was the first and only time that they were ever together in that way. It was as if Mow was making her peace with Daisy in her final hours. It was another amazing gift from my amazing little kitty.

I took my sweet Mow upstairs and cradled her in my lap. She died in my arms about an hour later. And when the event that I had so feared for so many months finally came to pass, I was amazed to find that there was incredible peace in her passing. The worry, the struggle, the guilt, the fear were all over. I held my little friend, thanked her for filling my life with such love, and told her that I hoped she could still feel the love that I had for her. Her final gift was letting me be with her at the end, and sparing me the agony of having to have her put to sleep.

Years have passed since then. Daisy died a few years after Mow, and they are buried together out in the garden. I now have three beautiful cats who all get along wonderfully. But every year when the holidays draw near, I remember the events of that Christmas, and the wonderful gifts that Mow bestowed in her final days. They were truly the best Christmas presents I have ever received.

In the end, she didn’t quite make it to Christmas. She died on the solstice, the longest night of the year. In my heart I think she was telling me that the dark nights were over and it was time for the light to return again.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Trying to Get Right with Light

So... an interesting thing happened a month or so ago. Windows 10 installed a major update on my computer, and with it came a new feature: Night Light.

It's basically a setting that allows you to set up a schedule to automatically filter out the blue light which supposedly prevents your body from producing melatonin, and thus, keeps you up at night. I wasn't really expecting it to have much of an impact on me, but boy was I wrong!

A few days after installing it, I started noticing something I've never really experienced before... evening drowsiness.

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you probably know that I am a life long night owl. Every few months I vow to reform my ways, but I just always feel wide awake at night, and it's really, REALLY hard to force yourself to go to bed when you feel more alert the later it gets.

I mean, seriously, I've been fighting this issue my entire life. And I don't just mean my entire adult life... I've been battling with bedtime as long as I can remember. At some point early on in my childhood my mother just gave up, and decided to let me stay up as late as I wanted. I think she thought I'd just inevitably get sleepy and the problem would correct itself, but what really happened was that I was just tired all the time, and had and impossible time getting out of bed in the mornings.

Honestly, it almost felt like my body was just wired wrong or something - like I was meant to live on a planet with 28 hour days or something. There's even a name for this syndrome, it's called "Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder." Anyhow, over the years I've tried sunlight therapy, full spectrum lamps, forcing myself to get up earlier, forcing myself to go to bed earlier, "sleep hygiene" routines, melatonin supplements, and pretty much anything else I could think of. None of it ever worked, so I had basically come to the conclusion that his was just something I'd have to live with for the rest of my life.

But suddenly, here I am, actually feeling tired at night! What a revelation! Could it really be that simple?

Anyhow, I did some reading and discovered that there is some evidence to suggest that people with chronic night owl syndrome like me are simply much more sensitive to artificial light than your average bear. Hmmm... 

Suddenly I recalled a visit to the eye doctor where I was told that I was not a good candidate for Lasik surgery because my pupils were too big. Hmmm...

Well, long story short, I decided to make a concerted effort to avoid exposing myself to artificial light - at least blue spectrum light - in the evenings.

I got some special light bulbs designed to filter out the offending blue rays...

I installed an app called "Twilight" on my television (it's and Android TV) - which does pretty much the same thing the Windows Night Light settings do.

A friend bought me a Himalayan Salt Lamp - which is supposed to help you sleep. They claim it works by emitting negative ions, but I think it might have more to do with the reddish light it emits:

And I even bought some LED candles to use at night instead of turning on the overhead lights. I have them scattered throughout the house, and once your eyes adjust, they are plenty bright to see by.

The results have been nothing short of life altering. I don't think there's any risk of me becoming a morning person, but I've actually been going to bed 2-3 hours earlier and getting up closer to 9am than noon for the first time in my adult life. And the thing is... I'm not struggling with it. I mean, usually when I try to reform, it's a matter of will power - I have to force myself to go to bed when I'm not sleepy. But this time around, I'm actually getting sleepy before I go to bed.

I don't want to get ahead of myself here, because I've tried and failed soooo many times before, But I am honestly hopeful that this time around it might actually stick. And I have to say, these short days of December don't seem nearly so horrible when you can actually get up in time to enjoy a few more hours of daylight.

So I'm wondering, has anybody else out there had any experience with this sort of thing? I'd love to hear what has and hasn't worked for you.