Purge is the word

I don’t know quite when it started, but sometime in the last few weeks, without talking about it, Haak and I moved into moving mode – we are getting shit done. Things on the to-do list for months or years are being nailed down [and oh, that only took AN HOUR?].

In five short weeks, we will be moving back to Australia after three years of living in Montana. I have this image of us flying into a Sydney dawn as we have so many times before, pointing out the water to the kids and trembling with the anticipation of hearing Australian accents all around, seeing the vegetation, smelling the air.

But the more times we do this, the more nervous I get. We’re 35 this year. We’re not travelling twentysomethings anymore. There are two kids to consider and shouldn’t we be working on our future security?

It feels now like I’m about to do a huge bell flop when I imagine looking down on Sydney. Here we coooMMMEEEeeee!

In between checking off our to-do list,  Haak and I  pace anxiously and snap at each other. We’re not leaving for over a month, so you could say this was premature. But the desire to beat the clock, to somehow be halfway moved now so we can enjoy some lake time before having to complete the move has overcome us.

It won’t work, of course, but after doing this a few times, I do believe in decision fatigue and getting some of those tiny decisions made before we hit that point makes sense.

There is always that one box when we’re unpacking that has all the things in it we just couldn’t make a decision about and you can tell: it’s stuffed carelessly with all the fucks we didn’t give, about to board the plane.

Moving countries is really the same as moving across one country but somehow produces a higher anxiety level. There is no driving back to get something you forgot and no overnight courier service to Australia.

When we get on the plane in five short weeks, we’ll each have a bag and that’s all. Some clothes, a book, some toiletries. The kids will stuff every available space in their bags with rocks and broken plastic toys and toilet rolls.

Just like we were going on a week-long trip.

In some ways, I love the purge – although I’m not a collector by nature [and Haakon is often firmly rescuing things I’ve put in the thrift store pile or recycling] our moving cycle ensures that all those weird things that add up over the years are eventually looked at, and reconsidered.

When I woke up this morning, it was with a clear idea of looking in our top most kitchen cabinets for items to purge. In the backup tea department, I found iced blueberry green tea powder.

I’m sure I didn’t buy it. It sounds disgusting. So how the heck is it there? Flotsam and jetsom tea that happened to be spinning past and get stuck in our orbit. Space junk.

As we move towards the final pack up, the concurrent using up and rationing become more intense: Can we live without cinnamon for a month? what about baking soda? a drizzle of maple syrup is all that is left. I’m certainly not going to buy a whole half gallon again, but can you buy the right amount of syrup for four possible pancake weekends?

And how can I use up the full jar of celery salt and half a kilo of coriander seeds I seem to have?

With these questions comes a curiously morbid desire to bequeath things to people I love. While Shawna loaded the cement mixer, I solemnly left her all the good tea I won’t drink in five weeks.

A bottle of oyster sauce will go to someone who raved about my greens with garlic and oyster sauce, our walnuts to Madeline for her delicious walnut bread. The end of a ten-pound bag of split peas to my mother-in-law, who makes excellent soup.

And then, in a flurry of decision fatigue, we’ll stuff all the odds and ends of food in a box and guiltily leave it on Shawna and Ben’s porch, or with Haak’s parents, so they can hold onto that full jar of celery salt, never using it, and give it back to us in three years.

Sometimes the continuity of space junk can be comforting.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

What do you use celery salt for????

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The first bread I remember well was a huge round white Italian loaf that came in a paper bag and was bought at the Ainslie shops in Canberra, the city where I was born.

On my fourteenth birthday, mum took me to Canberra for a shopping trip and we stayed in a little hotel and I spent all morning toasting slices of bread and eating them with sliced ham.

Yesterday, I needed to make some breadcrumbs for a chicken parmigiana I was making for a catering gig with a local fly fishing outfitter [Kootenai Canyon Anglers]

Good bread like that crusty Italian loaf has been hard to come by in Troy, Montana until recently, with several local bakers at the farmers market now selling excellent loaves.

But the market is only on Fridays, so I went to the store and stared for a while, trying not to breathe in the sweet chemically smell of the bread aisle.

A sea of soft white and brown bread looked back at me, bread I knew would turn to a gummy paste in the food processor.

I needed a dry, open-crumbed bread – the type of bread for which breaded foods were invented to use up, along with the classic old bread dishes like Panzanella, Fattoush, bread pudding and that Spanish soup with bread and almonds.

There’s a casual assumption that such bread can be found in the US – a food mag I subscribe to, Bon Appetit, often ends a recipe with “serve with crusty bread,” as though such a thing is easy to find.

But crusty bread is harder to find than other hard-to-find ingredients. Sumac, leaf gelatin, nigella seeds and Korean chilli can be ordered online, while fresh bread is a purely local delicacy.

Recent trips to Denver, Colorado and Seattle, Washington showed me that finding good bread is not a rural problem.

At the farmer’s market in Arvada, Denver, there were superb fresh peaches and melons whose stems were still dripping from where they had been pulled from the vine. But I knew at first glance that the bakery stall was baking quick yeasted bread – puffy oversized croissants with no visible layers and fat white “French” loaves prevailed.

Trips to two huge supermarkets and a natural grocer also yielded zero loaves of crusty bread, and we were content with an organic, seeded loaf which somehow still had the same texture as soft white bread.

[If you can, support your local bakery or farmers market baker instead of buying supermarket bread – you’ll avoid the chemicals which mean bread can have a best by date three weeks in the future]

Apparently, Christopher Columbus brought sourdough culture [a tangy, tasty wild yeast used exclusively before commercial yeasts overtook] with him on the boat in 1492 – but the American bread situation has gone steadily downhill since then, to arrive at this:

hot dog

What makes Americans so fond of pappy white bread? is it a history of dental problems that make chewing a crust too difficult? a love of commercialisation? or is it just that when Columbus’ sourdough was abandoned, people forgot what good bread tastes like and they’ve never remembered?

It’s ironic that there is at face value so much choice around bread in this country. Visit any diner and order a breakfast plate and the waitress will drill you with options for your accompanying toast:

“We have wheat, white, sourdough, English muffins, bagels, rye, marbled rye …”

But the bread all tastes the same [except when there is a caraway involved].

Rye bread often has a tiny percentage of actual rye flour, and is not even made brown with the traditional sweetener – molasses – but is coloured with caramel dye.

Of course, there is a time and a place for pappy white bread. Soft white bread is popular in Australia too – and sometimes it’s the best bread for the job, as it is in the case of fairy bread [an Australian tradition for birthday parties – heavily buttered white bread covered with sprinkles and cut into triangles].

At home in Australia, at our monthly market in Candelo,  the primary school still sells fat sausages on a stick and hamburgers with grilled onions, sliced tomato and shredded iceberg lettuce sandwiched between buttered white bread, which they’ve done since the early eighties.

No other bread would do for the price, and I still think about how my teeth made drag marks in the thin white bread.

When we first lived the USA, Haakon used to make bread for us – a quick, yeasted half white-half wheat [wholemeal, in Australia] everyday bread that filled the hole and was infinitely better than anything you could get at the store.

I sometimes rolled the loaves in sesame seeds before they baked to add a crunchy coating.

When we ran out, or I was alone for awhile, I bought sourdough English muffins to eat with my breakfast egg. They were white and slightly sour tasting, but not actually sourdough – just another soft, white bread.

I’d toast them to the point of burning, seeking a bit of crunch and chew.

Around that same time, I started playing with a no-knead bread recipe, which relies on an overnight ferment, wet dough and extremely hot bake in a dutch oven to achieve a thick brown crust and nice air pockets.

I found making the recipe for one loaf tiresome, but I took some of the methods of making no-knead bread and applied them to Haak’s yeast bread recipe. I would make the dough very wet, add just a half teaspoon of yeast, and let it sit as long as I wanted – a long, slow ferment made for complex flavour without having to tend to a culture in the fridge.

This method works well for pizza dough and other flatbreads too – just make the dough and let it sit, either at room temperature for a few days, or in the fridge for up to a week.

But without the steam from a lidded dutch oven, achieving a crust was impossible, even when I used a steam bath [a tray of hot water in the oven while the bread bakes, used when making crusty bread like bagettes].

In my quest for breadcrumbs yesterday, I found a plastic bag with something small and hard in it – the end of a good, crusty loaf from my friend Madeline’s Farmer’s Market stall – but it was powdery and blue.

And then! another bag. Another partial loaf. And this one smells as it should: of wheat, salt and sour.

After my catering dinner is made and delivered, the kids are in bed and it’s finally dark, I salvage what’s left of Madeline’s bread and toast it to eat with a slice of leftover prosciutto.

Amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

*** You can find Madeline with Mads Breads and other artisan bakers at the Troy, Montana Farmer’s Market on Fridays between 3:30-6:30 ***

 

 

 

The homebirth aisle

Way back in 2006, Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein made the documentary “The Business of Being Born,” which details how the US medical model of birth is designed to serve insurance companies, not women or babies.

The film offers the idea that birth in the USA could be different, with more psychological support and continuity of care – factors that have been proven to provide better birth outcomes and lower rates of intervention.

Considering how popular Lake and Epstein’s film was, I’m continually surprised that I keep hearing less-than-fabulous birth stories.

But for ten years, and still, I keep hearing versions of the same story the filmmakers’ outline: “my husband and I were content with the “failure to progress”-Pitocin-epidural-cesarean labor and birth we had. We handed ourselves over to the medical hospital model, saying “I don’t know anything about this, and you guys [hospital staff] do.”

In the end, the surgeon who pulled their healthy baby out was nice, and the woman’s recovery was speedy.

And the best they can say about their child’s birth was: “it all worked out OK.”

Meanwhile, at my local supermarket, cashiers have started asking everyone “did you find everything you needed?” at check out.

It’s a level of customer service I find grating at times [If I hadn’t found everything I needed, I would still be walking around your giant store muttering “salt, salt, wine.”]

But it makes me think about all the things women and their families are missing in our current birth system.

I’ve eagerly asked women I meet to tell me their birth stories for over ten years now, and while I begin with high hopes for each new mom, by the time they’ve told me how they were induced, the shift change, that one nurse who was a bitch and how it all ended: “the baby was in distress, we had to get him out. I couldn’t do it anymore,” the buzz of new life is all but gone.

There is no pride, no glow, not even an it-was-hard-but-good, just a kind of trailing off as they listen to their own stories in the retelling.

I think they, like me, don’t really know whether it was all necessary – or safe. These women suspect what the numbers show: that maternal death in the US has risen along with intervention rates.

In the USA, figures from the Center for Disease Control [CDC] website show that maternal death and average rates of cesarean section have both doubled since 1985.

Maternal mortality figures get thrown around to show how the US is failing as a western nation, but I never took in how fast numbers are rising until I sat down to research this week.

The CDC website reports that in 1985, 7.2 out of every 100,000 women died from complications of pregnancy and birth, and by 2015, [the latest year shown] that figure was 26.4 deaths.

Although changes in reporting may account for some of the increase in maternal deaths, the CDC also notes that: “the reasons for the overall increase in pregnancy-related mortality are unclear.”

This is pretty bad, America. More women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth, despite advances in technology, and we don’t know why.

Some clues can be found in the statistics – the leading cause of maternal death in the USA is disease – cardiovascular [15 per cent] and other diseases [15 per cent] and these figures are likely not linked to medical intervention.

11 per cent of deaths were from haemorrhage, which could be vaginally or during surgery.

But the next highest causes of maternal death is sepsis and infection at 12.7 per cent and thrombotic pulmonary embolism [blood clot], which accounts for 9.2 per cent of all deaths.

Surgery is a risk factor for both infection and blood clots, which means these women likely died after having a cesarean, and the two statistics together would mean that the majority of maternal deaths were post surgery.

Arguing that medical intervention continues to make birth safer for women past the World Health Organization’s recommended 10 per cent surgery rate starts to sound like my three-year-old daughter’s logic this morning:

“When you are sick, you should eat lots of chocolate bunnies. That will help.” [Good try, Callie!]

If we can agree that birth in the US is not where it needs to be, I hope we can agree as well that the fault is systemic, and doesn’t often rest with individuals – I  know medical staff are good people trying to get through another life-and-death shift on half a chocolate doughnut and a string cheese, and that protecting the hospital and themselves from litigation is a priority.

But the reason so many women have unsatisfactory births, and why maternal mortality is so high compared to other western nations runs deeper than just litigation.

Birthing women still don’t understand that because giving birth is something that happens uniquely to women, it’s also a unique pocket of sexism which is often unrecognized because it is ubiquitous and disguised as medical assistance.

The sexism that results in many women having an overarching feeling that they failed at giving birth is the same sexism that means women are victims of male violence and lower pay scales.

It is possible to take charge of our births, and yet most people I know do more research leading up to ankle surgery than they do before giving birth, choosing instead to “leave it in the hands of the experts.”

But a woman who is totally in charge of her birth is a woman who comes out the other side knowing how strong she is: a force to be reckoned with, ready to face the trials of parenthood.

A few days ago, I was standing around a hot fire talking with a lively woman who has had four home births. This woman is both tiny and powerful and she told me that in every one of her births, she thought she would die.

“Having that story – the story of feeling like you are close to death and then being so much stronger than you thought and coming out the other side, is the story of birth and it’s what bonds you to your baby. You already feel like you’ve died for your child, so you are prepared to do it again,” she told me.

The women who are rescued from the pain and work of labour unnecessarily – those 16 per cent who are excess to the WHO’s recommended section rate – miss out on knowing their own power.

I had two homebirths, my son in 2011 and my daughter in 2015 [and yes, I also thought I would die, at least at my daughter’s birth!] Both were born in Australia and both births were attended by the same qualified midwife, and each time we were hospital ready in case of an emergency transfer.

I will never forget noticing our midwife tucking her emergency equipment into a corner when she arrived for my son’s birth and covering it with a pretty piece of fabric, a move clearly designed with my physiological well being in mind. She knew she had to give every indication that I could do it, that everything would go well.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my births did go well.

I hope I live to see the day that the US gets its maternal mortality numbers in line with other western nation’s, and indeed, that all women have a birth story they can’t wait to tell.

A story that echoes all the great human stories of triumph in the face of adversity.

And a time paying customers in the business of birth receive customer service at least as good as they do in the supermarket.

So that when your provider asks you after the birth: did you find everything you needed? you can check it off:

Alive/healthy baby/power/dignity.

If your last birth didn’t make the cut, check in the homebirth aisle next time.

**** you can stream “The Business of Being Born” on Netflix ****

 

A little light propaganda

I stayed in a hotel over the weekend and did what I always do in hotels in the US – flip between Fox News [Republican] and MSNBC [Democratic].

Both channels were discussing recent changes in immigration policy, and this is roughly what they were saying:

Fox news anchor: I just don’t understand – democrats wanted Trump to take back his policy of separating children from their parents at the border, and now he has, they’re STILL mad.

Fox then moved on to a brief headline: Economy is growing under Trump administration.

MSNBC anchor: Trump will never admit that he caved after hearing the ProPublica audio of screaming kids and reversed the policy. But Republicans will not return the 2000 kids they have already taken under this policy.

MSNBC then showed clips of screaming kids with arms outstretched and blurred faces.

Same day, same news.

Except that it’s not news, America. None of this bullshit is news.

And yet many, many Americans watch cable news shows for hours a day – if 15 minutes of each makes me mad, imagine how riled up most Americans are every day.

I like to think of myself as a lone wolf, processing information with a clear and logical mind, the master of my own opinions, and I bet most of you do too.

But I see changes in myself when I’m living in the left-leaning Bega Valley in Australia, or here in conservative, economically challenged Montana.

My environment affects how I see the world, at least a little. I’m grateful to have had the experience of living amongst the Americans who voted for Trump, and having some inkling of why. The rest of the world still seems confused.

Here, I can see it’s hard for people to care about refugees – our lives are so uncertain, they seem to say, we don’t have time for this shit. Generations of poverty and hard physical labour have not added up yet for my fellow rural Montanans, and there is so much perceived shame in accepting disability payments, government healthcare or food stamps, which many families rely on.

These are the white, working-class people who voted for Trump – the folks who want their dignity back, a shot at the American dream of  1950 that so many are now competing for.

At home in Australia, people have the time and headspace to fight other people’s battles – to care about refugees and non-violent communication and quality of life. At home, people’s basic needs are always met, and basic needs overflow into a strong pleasure culture.

Just as who we’re surrounded by changes our worldview, what we’re absorbing by way of news is creating our worldview, whether we like it or not.

If you don’t feel like you know where to go for facts anymore, you’re not alone. It could take hours to fact check one person’s daily media consumption.

And it seems the US’ model for news is spreading – when I searched BBC news and two Australian news channels, ABC and SBS, I couldn’t find any news about US immigration like I remember from my childhood: good old put-you-to-sleep factual news.

International news covering the issue tended to be critical of Trump, and emotive, with soft music and lingering images of children crying.

I’m decidedly affected by images of children being taken from their parents – like any parent, my mind immediately jumps to my kids, in a strange country with a strange language, separated from us.

I think we should argue and analyze and debate and protest and take action to stop asylum seeking or immigrant kids being separated from their parents ever again, and then go further in guaranteeing human rights for immigrants.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

But I don’t think we should rely on our news programs to do this arguing and analysing for us – because they are so, so biased, especially in the US, where news channels are actually blatantly affiliated with political parties.

Do the arguing and analyzing yourself, preferably around a table with a mixed group of people and a good attitude.

Because it’s not news if it comes with a political message.

It’s propaganda.

We all like having our beliefs validated – so if you want to watch MSNBC or Fox News, acknowledge what it is you’re doing and tell your friends “I’m off to indulge in a little light propaganda.”

 

What are your favourite news sources? I’d love to hear. Thanks for reading!

 

*** the image I used above is of Lee Lin Chin, a fabulous Australian news anchor ***

 

It’s 2018 – why is female sterilization still performed more than vasectomy?

 

Sterilization [either male or female] is the most widely used birth control in the US [36%], followed closely by female hormone treatments such as the pill [30.6%].

But permanent birth control – sterilization – is vastly different for men and women in terms of cost, risk, and recovery for the patient.

According to come quick research via the Mayo clinic website, the risks of female sterilization [tubal ligation] include: Damage to the bowel, bladder or major blood vessels, reaction to anesthesia, improper wound healing or infection and continued pelvic or abdominal pain.

According to the same website, the risks of vasectomy are very low, and none are potentially life-threatening, unlike damage to the bowel or reaction to anesthesia.

So why is female sterilization [tubal ligation] still performed in the US two thirds more than male sterilization [vasectomy]?

Our family has benefited so much from Haakon’s 2015 vasectomy that I wanted to tell our story as a way to look at some of the reasons vasectomy may not be as popular as it should be.

I can’t remember how the idea that Haakon would have a vasectomy after our second child was born came up, but I know it seemed like a natural progression to me:  I’ve had two babies and lots of genital involvement around birthing [not to mention years of periods and pap tests before the babies, and after], and a vasectomy was an opportunity for something medical to happen in his body.

Although I was mildly concerned about Haakon’s vasectomy – I don’t like the idea of someone cutting into anyone’s junk any more than most people, and there is the risk of permanent complications with vasectomy – I never considered that I would, instead, have tubal ligation.

From Haak’s perspective, as a man who is pragmatic to a fault, his initial research about vasectomy made it clear that to suggest I would have the surgery instead of him would be “foolish,” he told me.

But here in Montana, I hear this all the time from women: “I was in there anyway [hospital, to have a baby] so I told them, just go on and tie my tubes. I wish Tom/Mike etc would get a vasectomy, but he would never do it.”

[About half of female sterilizations occur within 8 hours of giving birth, according to the national center for biotechnology information]

My assessment of how often female sterilization is performed over vasectomy is backed by figures provided by the national center for biotechnology information in 2008. According to their website, 27 per cent of sexually active women in the US rely on female sterilization as birth control, while 9.2 per cent rely on vasectomy.

Although the information I found online is dated, all the US-based reports I found drew from the same study, which also notes that “Overall, the sterilization rates for men and women have remained constant over the past 40 years [since 2008].”

Why is this, I wondered?

The fact that the numbers of female sterilizations are higher than male is probably influenced by the number of babies born via cesarean section – the US center of disease control and prevention website says that in 2017, 31% of all births were cesareans.

When a woman is already having major abdominal surgery and wants a permanent form of birth control, having a tubal ligation performed at the same time makes some sense.

But where sterilization is sought in stand-alone cases, vasectomy is not only faster and cheaper [“best $300 we ever spent,” says Haakon!] than tubal ligation, it is much safer for the person being operated on.

One of Haak’s co worker’s, Shannon, recently had tubal ligation surgery. I spoke to her on the phone 11 days after her surgery, and she was still using a back brace to protect her bruised stomach muscles.

She had also developed anemia and a blood clot near the surgery area which is not life-threatening but is hard and painful.

“I’m still in pain,” Shannon said, “I keep asking the doctor if this is a normal recovery because they told me I would only have to take it easy for a week afterwards.”

Shannon and her husband had been talking about permanent birth control for years, she said, and he had wanted to have a vasectomy but a history of hernia surgery made them both concerned about how suitable vasectomy would be in his case.

“Now that he’s seen me go through this,” Shannon told me, “he wishes he’d gone ahead with the vasectomy.”

Although Shannon and her husband were well informed and made the best choice for them, its clear that in most cases, tubal ligation carries higher risks than vasectomy.

Despite this fact, I do not want to minimize the risk of chronic pain or long-term implications for a person’s sex life, which is associated with vasectomy in rare cases.

Shannon’s youngest child is now 10, and despite her long and continuing recovery from the surgery, Shannon told me her only regret is that she didn’t do it sooner.

Having access to permanent, relatively safe birth control is indeed a treat – after muddling through ten years of using various temporary contraceptives, like condoms and the pill, Haak and I were both 100% ready to say goodbye to the possibility of pregnancy scares and all the organization required to avoid them.

And so it came to be that one sunny winter’s day in Moruya, NSW, I was waiting at a coffee shop across the street from the doctor’s office where Haak was having his vasectomy done. Callie was almost six months old, and I ordered and sat in the courtyard breastfeeding her.

My parents happened to be passing through, and they arrived at that moment.

“Should I order Haakon coffee?” Dad asked.

I paused to answer, and looked up from my half-finished flat white:

And saw Haakon, bounding down the steps of the doctor’s office. A similar image to my very first memory of him, when he was tanned and 20, and bouncing across a lawn to meet me.

“Couldn’t they do it?” I asked sympathetically, imagining that the doctor was called away or held up in some way.

“It’s done,” he answered, beaming.

And that, my friends, is the kind of after-effect of a life-changing surgery you will almost never get. Haak wasn’t even in the chair for 15 minutes and was enjoying a coffee in the sun 5 minutes later.

He still likes to tell people that the worst part about having a vasectomy was shaving his testicles in preparation for the surgery.

“The chafing from the stubble growing back was intense,” he told me this morning when I asked what he remembered most.

Haakon was “sore for a couple of days,” he recalled. He took no painkillers and was back at work three days later.

Although it’s hard for me to say if Shannon and Haakon’s recoveries are typical of the surgeries they had, it’s clear to me that something deeper than a pragmatic weighing up of the costs and benefits is in effect when heterosexual couples begin to research sterilization – something that culminates in many making the decision for the woman to undergo surgery rather than the man.

Hearing versions of the “I wish Carlos would get a vasectomy, but he would never do it,” conversation over the years has made me realize how our society ensures that the only genital sensations men have are pleasurable – and that women support this idea as much as men do.

It’s certainly been said before, but I’ll say it again – we seem to be stuck, as a society, in a pattern of accepting at face value a woman’s responsibility for all things reproductive, from unintended pregnancies and childcare to buying the condoms.

But it’s 2018 and vasectomy just might be the way forward – a way to revolutionize our relationships and sex lives.

Haak

 

I found information for this post from these sources:

CDC website, stats about cesarean rates: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/delivery.htm

NCBI website, articles about rates of sterilization: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2492586/

Mayo Clinic, basic info about vasectomy and tubal ligation: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/vasectomy/about/pac-20384580

 

Thanks for reading!

The nearest thing

I saw an online article from my hometown newspaper, The Bega District News, this morning. “Police hunt for armed man,” was the headline, and the first sentence: “police are searching for a man believed to be armed with a knife and hammer.”

As I followed the story over the course of the day, a tragedy became clear – this man had fatally stabbed a woman and seriously injured another man.

But it’s terrible – my first response reading the headline was to laugh. A HAMMER???

I laugh because I’m so enculturated to Montana and the US now, that anything less than guns blazing seems like de nada.

The hammer detail reminds me of what I wrote about in All we have to do is nothing: kids having strong feelings and irrationally lashing out, with whatever’s closest to hand.

What’s at hand here in Montana is guns. The gun you see in this image I found on a friend’s porch a few weeks ago – the contrast of metal and the pretty cover was captivating, but the reason the gun was there pragmatic: it was on hand for shooting squirrels nesting under their house.

Around the same time I came across that gun, I went out for a short hike in a cedar forest with our family and Haakon’s parents. In the car park, as we gathered sweater’s and hat’s, as it is cool in the cedars, a young couple were also getting ready to hike.

The guy busied himself strapping a handgun to his right thigh while the woman put granola bars in her pockets.

These moments happen so often here that I’m almost used to them, but somewhere in the back of my mind, the Australian in me is still confused: why the gun to hike in a fairy-glen? For an instant, my mind jumps to the worst scenario: maybe he brought her here to kill her. Maybe he will kill us all.

This guy probably thought he was protecting himself, and others, against bears [and lions! wolves!]. The problem here is that HE knows he’s a good guy. HE knows he’s a good shot.

I have none of that information.

All I know is that he feels unsafe for some reason, amongst the giant trees, the ferns, the crystal clear creeks.

Study after study has shown human fatalities in bear attacks are lower when we carry pepper spray, not guns. Pepper spray has a wide range compared to a bullet and can spray up to 30 feet, so a panicked hiker need not be accurate to let the charging bear known he is not worth messing with.

Last night I was in the woods, but high above the bears: lucky enough to be drinking wine in a treehouse with a bunch of lovely women.

One woman, Jen, I had only met once before, and I got to hear a bit of her story. Jen grew up in the nearby town of Libby but had most recently been living in New Mexico with her husband and daughter.

One of the reasons she had moved back here was because there was a shooting at the school where she worked as a middle school math teacher, and she thought it was less likely to happen here.

Is it? I don’t know. Our school community has recently formed a safety committee and held public meetings to discuss whether or not to arm teachers at our school’s.

“Arming teachers is not the solution,” Jen said last night “but having armed security guards is a deterrent.”

I kinda think if you are desperate enough to think that going to a school to shoot kids is a good idea, you are past assessing risk or caring about the threat of your own suffering, or death.

I am in awe of Jen, although I only just met her, for marching her students to safety on the day of the shooting.

“Some of them were crying because they saw the two who died, they saw it happen,” Jen said.

Mostly I admire how much she still wants to teach math, and be in schools.

This morning, Haak and I stood by the stove together in the pale sunlight, waiting for coffee to brew, and while we waited I told him Jen’s story.

“I just read that so far this year there are more people who have died in schools than in the US military,” Haak told me “so skip high school and go straight to the military – it’s safer!”

We lean towards each other, laughing in short, sad bursts, because what else can we do?

Next time Atticus goes to school, in Australia, I’ll worry about him losing his backpack, or breaking an arm falling off the monkey bars. I’ll worry about him being so excited he runs into a pole and gets a concussion.

I’m so relieved I won’t have to worry about him being shot at school anymore.

When someone is having so enraged, so irrational they could just pick up the nearest thing and use the force against anyone nearby, what do we want that thing to be?

A few months ago, I interviewed a handful of locals about the gun’s they own. A neighbor of ours, a very good man, told me that in his collection of 17 guns, he has a shotgun he keeps behind the bedroom door in case of intruder’s.

While I was there, he went to check on it. He came back, holding a gun: “actually, there were two back there,” he chuckled.

Guns are everywhere, man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can we imagine better social media?

I started this blog partly because social media was leaving me unsatisfied – Facebook, long my stand by for messages, video chat and getting basic soul feeding news about the place we are not living, seems to be be giving me less and less of what I want.

What do I want? I want what I think everyone wants from social media, and from relationships in general – to be connected, acknowledged and appreciated.

But with our back-and-forth lifestyle, keeping up with social media takes on a new importance – heck yes I want to see pictures of my cousin’s brand new baby, or know that someone I know moved into or out of the area.

I want to know who’s building a house, who lost a parent and who is receiving awards at work.

I also need to see those casual snaps of your dog which show a corner of town I’m missing, a tree or shrub, something normal from the other place, to sooth my homesickness.

But Facebook feels like it’s going down the tubes.

Although this is not the first time Facebook has been in the spotlight for breeches of privacy, CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s appearance in US congress in April to address his social media companies role in the presidential election felt different.

Zuckerburg faced accusations that he allowed a data firm used by Trump during his campaign and election, Cambridge Analytica, to use information from 50 million Facebook users without their permission.

You get the sense from Zuckerburg’s comments and interviews throughout the scandal that he has no idea how to control what he has created [a feeling parents of two year old’s can relate to!].

Most of us know that Facebook has our basics – age, gender, location, occupation, and that it targets ads towards these factors [which is why I get bra ads that say “do you have relaxed breasts?” why yes, I do!] and makes stinking zillions of dollars – a business model known as ‘surveillance capitalist’.

But what feels different is the possibility that our info was used for political influence. US politics is messy business, and if Facebook influenced the results of the last presidential election in any way except one user sending another user something [meme, article etc] then I’m very uneasy.

If something we think is absolutely our own – our political beliefs – has actually been twisted by timely, and possibly untrue, information, then Facebook has become the monster Zuckerburg fears.

Un sure about Facebook, I recently re activated an old Instagram account.

Glossier than my life is, Instagram all the same has its strong points – mostly that it seems to not breed the kind of contemptuous political memes as Facebook. It’s hard for people to start an online brawl over a close up shot of dandelion fluff.

But fluff or politics, it’s all the same in the end – many people don’t know that Facebook owns Instagram [since 2012], and despite the apparently different ways the two sites engage their audience, the end result is that one company owns all our information.

There is, however, a clear demographic split between Facebook and Instagram.  Facebook is hosting more and more of my parents generation, even their parent’s generation, while if you want to keep up with your teenage or under 30 year old friend’s, you’ll find their Facebook account exists but is not active.

But before you imagine young people have realized the fundamental flaws of social media and are joyfully living life free from the bounds of social media, check Instagram – where under 30’s post every day, and it’s a beautiful glimpse, hungrily eaten up by grandparents who joined Facebook to keep up with their young people, only to have the young people jump ship.

This demographic shift has happened gradually, and it’s hard to remember now that Facebook was started by a college aged kid, and designed for college aged kids.

When I first opened a Facebook account in 2006, I was working at a summer camp in Maine. I don’t remember any Australian friends being in Facebook to start with – it was designed for the people I was working with, American students in their early 20’s – but it sure did take off fast.

Since Facebook’s business plan depends only on having information to mine, it may not matter if the average age of it’s users is 20 or 60, as long as it still has a critical mass.

I’m not convinced either Instagram or Facebook has what I’m looking for – which makes sense, since my age neatly places me between the two loose age groups [almost middle aged!].

Instagram specializes in aesthetically pleasing images, macro shots of the items or experiences we value, enhanced with filters to give a glow.

And perhaps there’s something in it – I stepped away from a party to take this shot of poppies in the late evening sunshine. But although I was away from what was happening, somehow that action of taking a photo helped me be more present [this picture is not edited – at all. And nor did I post it on Instagram].

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So maybe it’s not the beauty of Instagram that intimidates – maybe one of the reason’s I’m uncomfortable with it is that it neatly knocks a few layers of people in my life out: those who don’t have smartphones – older people who haven’t figured out smartphones yet, and people who can’t afford a smartphone, or don’t live in a place with reliable cell service.

I’m not quitting yet though – I love the connection I get sometimes from my social media sites, and, like a rat receiving random rewards, I keep coming back for more!

Thanks to all who are reading, following and engaging with this blog. These interactions have deepened my social media experience so much in the last few months.

Tell me, what do you want from social media?