Christmas Loot

For Christmas this year, we went to Barry's parents' house on Christmas Eve and then had a video call with my parents on Christmas Day.

I haven't seen my parents in person for a full year now. It's technically doable, but it would involve driving an hour and a half each way, which is awfully far to go with no very safe way to go indoors and use their restroom. Plus, my parents live in a rural area where their local stores do not offer curbside pickup, so they're still shopping inside of stores regularly and are thus at higher risk of getting sick than Barry or I are. Plus they're old and therefore need to go to doctor appointments regularly.

(Barry and I are getting all our groceries via curbside pickup in the grocery-store parking lot, supplemented occasionally with mail orders when we don't receive significant amounts of what we had ordered. And we have canceled all our doctor and dentist appointments for the duration of the pandemic, with one exception: I have an MRI breast-cancer screening scheduled for this coming Monday.)

I also hadn't been inside of Barry's parents' house for the entire duration of the pandemic, until Christmas Eve. Barry's parents live only about a 15-minute drive from Barry's house (where I also mostly live these days . . .), but also, Barry's parents have a little two-room bungalow that is a wholly separate building from their house, separated from their house by a mere eight- or ten-foot wide walkway that the roof extends all the way across. This bungalow has its own separate kitchen and bathroom, so for the duration of the pandemic, Barry has been using the bungalow to cook our food when we visit, while Barry's parents use the actual house to cook food for themselves. Then we've been sitting outside, usually in that little walkway between the buildings, so as not to breathe the same indoor air as one another. And as far as I'm concerned, it's worked extremely well. (Barry's parents have been getting all their groceries delivered directly to their door, and additionally they always wait 15 minutes for the deliverers' contaminated breath to disperse from the air before they even open the door to bring the food inside, so in that sense they're being even safer than we are. However, like my parents, they are old - pretty much identical ages to my parents - so they still need to go to doctor appointments regularly.)

But Barry's dad - despite how he keeps repeating to us on nearly every visit that if he ever catches COVID-19 it will "definitely" kill him - has been wanting to take fewer precautions as the weather gets colder. He first suggested eating together indoors for Thanksgiving, but we didn't actually end up going indoors together at all on Thanksgiving. Instead, for Thanksgiving, we just relocated to eating around the outdoor fire pit to stay a little warmer. And we wore warmer clothes, of course. Anyway, for Christmas Eve, Barry's dad brought up the idea of going inside again, and since both of Barry's parents assured us that they hadn't interacted with anyone but each other since a doctor appointment on December 9, and Barry and I also hadn't interacted with anyone but each other in all that time, we agreed that this should make it safe to go indoors together. So, for the first time since pre-pandemic times, we went indoors together and shared food together. (It was only the four of us. It's only ever the four of us, because Barry's brother and half-siblings live out of state.)

I didn't really want to be indoors. I do trust their word about how long they had isolated for, so it wasn't that I thought we were at any significant risk of getting sick. It just didn't feel necessary to me to (sort of) break the "rules" that way; staying outside did not seem to me like it had ever been any significant hardship, so why not just keep doing it, so as not to set ourselves up to become hypocrites when we wish others would follow the rules better? I also found the decisions about which other rules to follow and which other rules to disregard to be very random and strange. Barry's parents seemed to feel that we should continue to stay six feet apart at all times (and thus they still haven't hugged their own son for the full duration of the pandemic), but that there was no need to wear masks even when not eating. I feel like one quick little hug would have been a lower risk than going maskless indoors for a couple of hours. But I deferred to their judgment. We are all fine, as expected.

I do find it a greater hardship not to be able to see my own parents in person. My father is losing his hearing; he recently had it tested and confirmed that he needs hearing aids, but he has not acquired any hearing aids yet. So I'm unsure how much of the video call he can even hear, and the sound quality is such that I don't always understand some of the words myself. Also we are all a bit socially awkward and tend to end calls a whole lot quicker than we would end an in-person visit, so I don't actually get as long a conversation with them as I would normally get. But hey, at least we're dong video calls now; I didn't even start getting that much contact with them until September.

The difference in our parents' pandemic situations makes me very aware of economic differences in the pandemic experience nationwide. Barry's parents have more money than my parents, and this largely determines who lives near grocery stores that offer home delivery or even curbside pickup and also who owns a house with a separate bungalow so their children can safely visit.

Anyway, we opened presents at Barry's parents' house on Christmas Eve and then opened additional presents on the video call with my parents on Christmas Day. We took the presents that we gave to each other to Barry's parents' house and opened them there. Barry's biggest present was a 3D printer from his parents. There was some confusion with one of his parents' gifts to me, however: his parents had seen his online wish list and not mine (they do not necessarily bother with holiday gift exchanges, so we were not particularly expecting gifts from them and thus did not make a point of sending them our wish lists), and on his wish list they noticed that he had asked for bath bombs. They were convinced that the bath bombs must surely really be for me, because, I guess, bath bombs are only allowed to be for women? But I discovered at four or five years old that I was allergic to bubble bath, and I have not been inclined to try out any bath bombs or bubble baths ever since then just in case they might contain whatever ingredient I'm allergic to. Also the idea just doesn't seem appealing to me? I'm happy with showers; sitting in a bathtub doesn't sound significantly fun to me. Meanwhile, we have a friend (my former housemate/lodger) who has become totally obsessed with making homemade bath bombs and giving them away to all her friends, and so we have received bath bombs. I do not want anything to do with these bath bombs, so Barry uses them. And he decided he liked them well enough to want more of them, and so he asked for storebought bath bombs on his Christmas wish list. So, on Christmas Eve, when I opened the gift wrapping and found a box of bath bombs addressed to me, we were both momentarily confused, and Barry explained that I am not girly so the bath bombs were for him, and his parents looked confused because they did not think their son was girly, and then they were apologetic because they thought they had gotten me a nice present and it turned out not to be for me at all. But they did also get me some hand lotion, which I will at least actually use, and in any case, I wasn't particularly expecting to receive presents from them at all.

Now, here is my usual list of all the gifts I received. I received the following books:

  • When My Brother Was an Aztec (poems) by Natalie Diaz (from my parents)

  • Where the Dead Sit Talking (novel) by Brandon Hobson (from my parents)

  • The Back Room (novel) by Carmen Martín Gaite (from my parents)

  • The Folded Leaf (novel) by William Maxwell (from my parents)

  • Coal Run (novel) by Tawni O'Dell (from my parents)

  • There There (a novel) by Tommy Orange (from my brother)

  • The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

  • Calendar Boy (short stories) by Andy Quan (from my parents)

  • Ceremony (novel) by Leslie Marmon Silko (from my parents)

  • In the Eye of the Sun (novel) by Ahdaf Soueif (from my parents)

And I received the following other stuff:

  • a bunch of chocolates from all over the world (from Barry)

  • a bunch of fleece-lined slipper socks (mostly from Barry, plus one from my parents)

  • egg-poaching trays to be used with Barry's sous vide (from Barry, wrapped with a tag marked for me to open it and then give it to Barry so he could use it to make me more gifts)

  • an electric toothbrush (from Barry, in a box containing a pair - one black and silver, the other white and gold - wrapped with a tag marked half for me and half for Barry - I chose the white and gold one as Barry knew I would)
  • a felt sack designed for planting strawberries in it (from my parents)

  • a fluorescent yellow "cooling" hat (from my parents - you soak it in water before putting it on and it uses the water to make you feel cooler; I have in mind using it for summer gardening)

  • some goat milk-based hand soaps and lotions (from my in-laws)

  • bath bombs for Barry, due to confusion (from my in-laws)

I gave Barry an expansion pack for the board game Wingspan, a complete DVD set of the TV show Torchwood (a spinoff of Doctor Who), and various clothes. It was a good holiday.

And so far, our social circles have not suffered much from the pandemic. A couple of our younger friends caught COVID-19 from their shared roommate, but they recovered well. A couple of my older relatives caught COVID-19 from who knows where, and the man (a cousin of my mom's) was hospitalized for nine days as a result, but they both seem to be recovering well now also, and they are sufficiently distantly related that I didn't even hear they were sick until after they had already largely recovered. A few single acquaintances or more distant friends of mine have caught COVID-19 but have also recovered by the time I even found out about their illnesses. Several more of our friends have lost jobs, or intentionally left their jobs because the pandemic made their jobs unsafe. But considering how many people nationwide and worldwide have been suffering, both economically and healthwise, we've been remarkably well insulated so far - which I suspect is yet another sign of how much protection money and education can offer. I'm just hoping our social circles remain safe, because we both have parents in the 73-76 age range, and we don't want to lose any of them. Nor do we want to lose anyone else! But our parents are the people we know who are probably most likely to be vulnerable if they get sick.

I would be plenty worried about the two of us ourselves if we had more exposure - not so much worried about dying, but definitely worried about long-term organ damage and such. But we both already worked from home long before the pandemic started, so my only serious worry for us has been fear that I could be laid off because of the crashing economy. And I think I'm starting to feel less worried about that than I was in spring and summer. It's certainly not impossible that I could be laid off, but for a while there, I felt like it was impossible that I wouldn't be laid off, and that doesn't feel true anymore.

So . . . maybe things are looking up for 2021? Let's all hope so.

Our Wedding! (Part 2: The Actual Day)

. . . The next day was our wedding day. We had until 1:30 p.m. to prepare for our wedding. I think we actually stuck pretty strictly to our planned schedule! I'm not sure who helped keep us on schedule. The photographer probably helped some. Probably also our hosts and our parents.

I immediately put on my full wedding regalia. Everyone else waited until closer to the time of the ceremony for at least some of it, and my mother advised me that I also ought to wait to put my cape on later, so as not to get it dirty before the ceremony. I said no - I was only going to get to wear this outfit once in my entire life, and I intended to wear it for all I was worth for the whole entire day. So that's what I did. And it was just fine, and I was glad of having worn it all day long.

On the morning of our wedding, Barry made some incredibly delicious scrambled eggs with a large bar of Velveeta melted into the middle of them and served them to everyone present who wanted some. The people present at that time were our hosts, their family, my parents, me, our officiant, the best man, and the best man's girlfriend. I enjoyed the eggs very much and felt privileged to be marrying the maker of such delicious scrambled eggs.

2019-04-13 Shiloh morning.jpg

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Our Wedding! (Part 1: Preparations and Rehearsal Dinner)

Although I've put it off for an entire year, I really do want to get around to writing about getting married last year. And also about our honeymoon, but that will have to wait still longer, for a separate entry. Here's hoping I can get through it all fairly soon, finally, after a year of delay. It is a little strange looking back at this biggest and fanciest event of our lives now that large events like this are no longer allowed, and now that our incomes are in extreme jeopardy from the economic crash, and so on. A year ago was a happier, easier, more innocent time. But I'm very glad we had it, very glad we got married at a time when all of this was still possible. A bit sad that we didn't also manage to sell my house back when house-selling was still easy and brought in more money - but hey, you can only do so much at a time, and getting married was what we managed to do. Selling my house, not so much. But we'll figure something out. For now, it's time to reminisce about getting married!

Barry and I were married on Saturday, April 13, 2019, near Santa Rosa, California, at the house of some friends of ours. These friends were originally Barry's friends, whom he got to know just months before his first wife dumped him, and thus about a year before I met him. They friends are rather wealthy and own three houses; the one we were married at is the one they bought most recently, in 2017, and is not their primary residence; they use it primarily for entertaining large groups, although their daughter and her fiancée live full time in an in-law apartment on the property. It has many bedrooms that just stand empty until there are guests staying the night; it's a little like a hotel, and they've seemed to really enjoy opening it up for any big party we wanted to organize there, even before we got married there. So they were among the very first people we told about our engagement. They immediately asked where we were getting married, and we responded by asking if we could get married at their house. They got so excited over the prospect and started asking so eagerly about what else they could do to help that I felt obliged to assure them that providing a venue was plenty of help already and that they should not feel a need to overexert themselves by offering even more than that. In the event, however, they also provided (and fully funded!) our rehearsal dinner, taking our immediate families and some of our wedding party out to dinner at the exclusive country club near their house. It was hugely expensive, I'm sure; I'm rather glad I never have to know exactly how hugely expensive.

We sent invitations to 57 people; 39 of them accepted, so when adding the two of us and the photographer, we planned for 42 people. One of the guests was unexpectedly delayed and then canceled entirely after our wedding was already underway, so we ended up with 41 people and one empty place setting.

Barry and I both poured a huge amount of planning into our wedding, and it was all extremely collaborative and extremely personalized to represent the identities of both of us. We designed and created the invitations ourselves; Barry created a design based on my ideas (a paper gatefold, with a lupine blue butterfly on a lupine flower in front of the gate, and a wooden insert inside the gate with the text of our invitation engraved on one side and a lupine flower engraved on the other side) and lasercut the paper and the wood for both the invitations and the envelopes we sent them in, while I composed the text printed on the invitations and hand-addressed the envelopes in calligraphy, using a postage stamp we found that had a closely related blue butterfly on it. The invitations contained a link to our wedding website, which told our story as a couple, which we wrote very collaboratively, trading edits back and forth for weeks. After the invitations went out, we also co-wrote the entire ceremony, not just our vows; we traded edits to this back and forth for weeks as well, and after we finally agreed on a draft, our officiant (an old friend of Barry's, who is a "reverend" in the Universal Life Church and also an atheist) added still more suggestions, comments, and questions, so we traded additional edits back and forth with him for a few more weeks after that. And then we also collaboratively co-wrote the program and other paper items handed out in gift bags.

And of course, we also collaboratively planned all the details of our clothes, the food, the drinks, the cake, the tables and chairs, the tablecloths and other décor, the dishes and silverware, the schedule, the entertainment, the song selection, and even our choice of last name. Barry lasercut wooden place markers with people's names on them to go on the tables at the reception, as well as wooden table numbers, wooden food labels for the buffet table, name stickers for our favor/program bags, engraved wooden dice box wedding favors, and wooden plant labels for my table centerpieces. I planted nine different white ceramic pots with native plants to be our table centerpieces, created custom native seed packets for each guest's specific neighborhood, and printed out the details of each seed packet's contents and some botanical trivia about each guest's neighborhood.

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Annual New Year's Survey!

I'm a little later than usual with this survey, but I've been working on it, and I guess I'd better hurry up and get it posted before we get any deeper into 2020.

1) What did you do in 2019 that you'd never done before?
Got married! Changed my legal name! Went on a honeymoon! Got in a high-speed car crash! (Went spinning the wrong way across a freeway!) Seriously contemplated having a mastectomy! Some of these things were vastly more fun than others of these things.

2) Was 2019 a good year for you?
The first half was significantly better than the second half. But overall, yes.

3) What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?
A cancer-free year and the election of Elizabeth Warren as our next president. (Sadly, that last one is looking less and less likely by the day, so I guess I should also specify that I'll settle for Anybody but Trump. My second choice is Bernie Sanders, and my third choice is Anybody but Biden and Trump.) I might also like to buy a brand-new house, but I'm willing to hold off on that if the right one doesn't present itself. Selling my current house is pretty important though; even if we don't get around to buying a new one, I'd at least like to finish moving into Barry's current house while we shop for a better one to move into together.

I'd like to note that I did get in 2019 the most important things I was actively wishing for a year ago, including a marriage certificate and impeachment. I was also wishing for a different president, but no such luck yet on that front. (Grrrrrrr to the United States Senate.)

4) What was your favorite moment of 2019?
Holding Barry's hand while stepping out the front door of our friends' house at the moment our wedding ceremony began, when I couldn't see our family and friends properly because my eyes suddenly filled up with happy tears.

5) What was your least favorite moment of 2019?
Being informed that I had breast cancer all over again.

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Arizona! Day 4: Grand Canyon

It's time for me to hurry up and finish writing about our Arizona vacation two months ago, so I can move on to writing about other things! So here we go on Day 4, the final day.

On Tuesday morning, December 18, Barry and I woke up in the AirBnB we had spent the night at, just outside of Flagstaff. It was called the Mod Lodge. The blurb about it on the AirBnB site reads, in part, as follows:
The big red house at the base of the San Francisco Peaks contains within its walls Mudshark Recording Studios, the oldest running recording studio in Flagstaff in action since the mid 1970s. This historic Northern Arizona landmark was started by Phil Gall and has been recording local and regional artists for over 30 years! There are many tales in local folklore of visits to the studio by members of the Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead to Steve Miller and Linda Ronstadt.

It's a family's house but also doubles as a recording studio and has apparently been used by fairly prominent musicians for many decades. The original owner died recently, but the new owners are carrying on the business. The man of the house told us that he has worked for years with Tony Visconti, David Bowie's producer. Upon hearing that I'm a huge David Bowie fan, he told us some stories about Tony Visconti and some stories that Tony Visconti had told him about David Bowie. Mainly he told one story about how, in 1974, Tony Visconti and David Bowie and John Lennon were together in a room (John Lennon was a guest songwriter/backing vocalist on David Bowie's song "Fame" at the time) and David Bowie warned Tony Visconti not to mention Paul McCartney because it would set off John Lennon ranting about how angry he was at Paul McCartney. But Tony Visconti had recently produced Paul McCartney's album with Wings and was really angry because Paul McCartney hadn't credited him properly on the liner notes but had just printed "Thanks, Tony," with no last name and no indication of what Tony's role had been. So Tony Visconti complained to John Lennon about Paul McCartney doing that. And then John Lennon jumped up and said he'd been working on a song that had been reminding him of when he and Paul were kids and he'd been thinking of inviting Paul to work on it with him, but now that Tony Visconti had reminded him of what a jerk Paul was, he'd decided again not to invite Paul to work on anything with him ever again. And so David Bowie told Tony Visconti, "You just prevented the Beatles from getting back together!" and continued to blame Tony Visconti forever afterward for having prevented the Beatles from getting back together.

He told us that story just before we left. I guess I'm getting a little ahead of myself, though, because I should start with when we woke up. This was the view from the enclosed patio adjacent to our room.

Mod Lodge AirBnB

Mod Lodge AirBnB

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Arizona! Day 3: OdySea Aquarium and Lowell Observatory

On Monday morning, December 17, we were still in our hotel room when Barry got a phone call from OdySea Aquarium in the desert. Barry had bought us tickets to go there on Sunday, but since the open hours listed on Google were not accurate, we did not arrive until after it was closed for the day. Barry had then inquired about whether we could exchange our unused Sunday tickets for Monday tickets. They called him back Monday morning to say yes, we could get in on Monday with our unused Sunday tickets.

So, after helping ourselves to another elaborate and delicious buffet breakfast at our hotel and packing all our stuff into the rental car (because we would not be coming back to this hotel the next night), we drove to Scottsdale to visit the aquarium. OdySea Aquarium in the Desert could equally well be called OdySea Aquarium in a Shopping Mall. It was an anchor store of a large mall. There were kids sitting on Santa's lap and kids playing in a pile of snow that had been manufactured for them with a snow machine or perhaps hauled down from Flagstaff. There was a candy shop that we walked through, though we didn't end up buying any candy. There was also a place called Butterfly Wonderland that I decided we should visit if or when we go back to Arizona again. We looked around its gift shop, but the full Butterfly Wonderland experience was quite expensive, and we didn't have enough free time to spend there to justify the money.

Mostly we just spent our time at the aquarium. We saw fish! We even petted a lot of the fish. Or at least I did. Barry is more fish-averse and only petted a couple of them. But here is Barry petting a fish.

Barry at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

And here I am petting a ray.

me at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

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Arizona! Day 2: Riparian Preserve and Superstition Mountains

Since our hotel room didn't have a refrigerator, we ended up not being able to eat the food we had brought back there from dinner at the Desert Botanical Garden; we were too stuffed to eat any more of it until the next morning, when it would no longer have been safe to eat.

The hotel did, however, serve quite a good breakfast buffet of its own. A lot of hotels claim to serve breakfast buffets but make only the minimal effort to technically qualify as providing a "breakfast" "buffet." This one did the job properly though, with everything from cereal to waffles to bagels to muffins to a choice of red or green apples, plus a wide variety of spreads (peanut butter, jelly, butter, strawberry cream cheese . . .) and beverages (orange juice, coffee, milk . . .) We were quite satisfied.

Our first stop on Sunday morning, December 16, was the next used bookstore, the Bookmans in Mesa. As at the Bookmans in Phoenix, I read some riveting first pages in the autobiography section but then tore myself away and restricted my actual purchases to the fiction section. This time I picked up three books: Intrusions by Ursula Hegi, The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls, and Miss Grief and Other Stories by Constance Fenimore Woolson. I first discovered Jeanette Walls via her autobiography, which is much in the same genre of the autobiographies I was passing over during this trip. However, I don't remember disliking her by the end of it, and in any case, what I bought by her this time was fiction. I haven't read the latter two books I got from the Mesa Bookmans, but I did read Intrusions and enjoyed it very much. Intrusions is a novel into which the author keeps intruding to tell about her experience of writing the novel, and the characters, in turn, keep intruding into the author's life. It was published in 1981, and it felt to me very much a novel of 1981, with a distinctly 1981 tone to its feminist take on the difficulty of trying to raise children and also have a career. It felt very dated and very second-wave, but it was also brilliantly written, and I greatly admired the writing skill that went into it.

This second Bookmans declined to buy any of the books that Barry hadn't been able to sell to the first Bookmans. But Barry still had store credit left from the first Bookmans and used that to buy my three books for me.

Then we went to look at Barry's childhood home in Gilbert. Barry stopped the car by the curb, and we just sat and looked at it for a minute or two. Then we moved on again. We also stopped to look at the nearby canal. Then we stopped at a CVS pharmacy to buy some bottled water in preparation for a hike.

The hike was at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. This reserve is located very close to Barry's childhood home, but it wasn't there when Barry lived there. Barry's dad said it used to be a water treatment plant back then. But now it's a scenic natural preserve with numerous ponds - though a few of the ponds were drained of water when we were there. There was a long, winding bridge over a corner of one of the ponds that allowed us to get close to the ducks gathered there.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert

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Arizona! Day 1: Desert Botanical Garden

So, Barry and I went to Arizona! We came back a month ago already, but it's taken me this long to write up the trip. And even now, I'm only writing up one day at a time from our four-day trip. The rest is coming soon . . . I hope. Wedding planning is keeping us busy! Wedding planning is now my all-purpose excuse for all delays in all things. Possibly including delays in wedding planning itself.

Barry grew up in Gilbert, a suburb of Phoenix that was somewhat out in the middle of nowhere at the time (in the '80s and '90s), but that now blends seamlessly into the Phoenix metropolitan area. He lived there until he went away to attend college at U.C. Irvine. I grew up in the Sacramento area and had never been to Arizona in my life, so we had been vaguely talking for a long time about Barry taking me to see the area where he grew up. The trip needed to happen in winter, because it is 120 °F in the Phoenix area in the summer, and we wanted to be able to walk around outside without dying of heatstroke. We had decided sometime early in 2018 that this winter would be the time for such a trip. On Sunday, November 11, as I was leaving Barry's house after a weekend we spent there together, I mentioned to Barry that I had some vacation time to use up before the end of the calendar year and that it would therefore be convenient for me if we could take that Arizona trip before the end of the calendar year - especially so I could save my 2019 vacation time for honeymooning instead.

I mentioned that in Barry's driveway, just minutes before I left. Only one hour later, when I arrived at my own house, there was an email already awaiting me from Barry in which he had already planned out our entire Arizona trip, including plane tickets, hotels, restaurants, hikes . . . he'd already worked out a detailed schedule for everything we would see and do on each day we were there. I was extremely impressed by how quickly he'd managed to plan such a detailed itinerary. Oh, and then there was the fact that his itinerary called for visiting not one, not two, but three different used bookstores in the course of our four-day trip. "They're not just any used bookstores," he insisted. They were Bookmans Entertainment Exchanges, an apparently quite important phenomenon from Barry's childhood, and it was apparently quite important to him for us to visit not only the Phoenix one but also the Mesa one and also the Flagstaff one. Clearly there are reasons why this guy is the right person for my English-major self to marry.

Barry's itinerary also called for making two separate trips to the same botanical garden on the same day - once in daylight and once after dark. Even being as much a gardener as I am, I thought this seemed a bit much. This fiancé of mine can be rather eccentric! But if Barry wanted to spend that much time with the same set of plants, far be it from me to tell him that plants are boring and we should hurry up and go do something else already. So I just told him he was rather strange and then cheerfully agreed to go along with his strange itinerary.

So, on Saturday, December 15, we got up at 5:30 a.m. to head to the airport. It was the first time I had boarded an airplane since I was thirteen . . . 29 years ago. My first taste of the post-9/11 airport experience. And once we were finally in the air, I could see the ground for more of the flight than I remember being able to do when I was thirteen. My memory of flying to Washington, D.C., when I was thirteen, is of being able to see the ground only for a short period just after takeoff and a short period just before landing; I recall the view being obscured by clouds for virtually all the middle of the country. This time, though, the skies were clear for a larger percentage of the trip. And Barry gave me the window seat so I could see as much as possible!

Here is the view from the plane window while we were still sitting on the ground at the Sacramento International Airport.

Sacramento International Airport (SMF)

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Yosemite, and We're Engaged!

Barry and I went to Yosemite for the second time this year, from October 28 to 31. A certain exciting moment happened there, which I already gave away in the title of this post, but I'm going to try to stick to narrating this in chronological order.

So, I sort of decided in advance of this trip that I really wanted to get engaged during it, and I was probably going to be pretty seriously disappointed if I didn't get engaged during it. This was obviously problematic, because setting up an arbitrary deadline that required Barry's involvement and not even telling Barry about said deadline was clearly unfair to Barry. I tried to prepare some ways I'd be able to stop myself from being disappointed, but I had a feeling I'd probably still end up feeling disappointed anyway. So, taking a different tack, I tried to give Barry some advance warning. In a way, I already had: we'd agreed about two years ago on a time frame that we both felt would be an appropriate point for getting married ("in the third year of our relationship") and we'd arrived at that time frame; we'd subsequently agreed that we both wanted to wait for our most sickly and elderly pets to die first, and they both had died; we'd discussed engagement rings and I'd picked one out and told Barry about it a month or two earlier; we'd made several preliminary house-shopping trips; and I'd asked Barry, on one of the occasions when he was at my house earlier this fall, whether - since there is significant stuff I want to do to my house before we sell it - we could get married first and deal with house buying-and-selling afterward, and he'd said yes. So all signs were that we weren't on wildly different pages. But I still hadn't gotten Barry to specify what he wanted as an engagement ring, nor had he even gotten around to figuring out what size he wears. So it was hard to see how I could prepare a magnificent proposal for him when I couldn't possibly present him with a perfect ring. Also, frankly, it's very confusing to try to subvert the patriarchy by, if you are a woman, getting down on one knee before a man. It's just a weirdly submissive-seeming position to try to claim as a feminist act, you know? So I resorted instead to just dropping an inordinate number of hints, while also feeling bad about only communicating through hints, because in general I'm a great believer in just being bluntly direct about everything so as not to run any risk of misunderstandings.

This is why, on the weekend before our Yosemite trip, when I was saying goodbye to Barry in his driveway, I mentioned to him that according to the Internet being sprayed by the mist of Bridalveil Fall is supposed to improve your chances of getting married, and suggested that maybe I should take him to Bridalveil Fall while we were there. Then I also told him that if he really wanted to get me to stop looking at houses for a while (since we weren't really ready to buy yet), getting me focused on planning a wedding would probably be the one thing that would achieve that.

"So much pressure!" Barry replied, grinning. He must have gotten the hint, because apparently it was the day after that conversation that he placed the order for the engagement ring I'd told him some weeks earlier that I wanted.

And then it was the following Sunday morning, and we were stuffing everything into Barry's truck to go to Yosemite. I had printed out a bunch of directions to all sorts of places in and around Yosemite - more places than I really thought we were likely to have time to see - as backups in case the GPS on Barry's cell phone let us down. Barry had purchased some new rectangular bins to pack our equipment into, and he took a few minutes to work out the quirks of how to stack them and lash them to his truck's ladder rack so as to maintain a clear line of sight for himself. Then we were on the road! We listened to the mix tape I'd made a few trips ago, for our trip to Howard Creek Ranch Inn in 2017, of my favorite songs from various eras of my life; and we alternated it with some podcasts Barry wanted to listen to - primarily one called My Brother, My Brother, and Me, which involves three brothers intentionally dispensing bad advice to people. We stopped in the small town of Mariposa, where I bought Barry some gas, and then we entered Yosemite via the Arch Rock Entrance. We set up camp at the site I'd reserved for us, North Pines Site 103. There was a motorhome adjacent to us on one side, which was kind of nice because the people generally stayed inside it where we didn't see them, and there was a family of four from some European country on the other side of us, with children aged about one and four years old, speaking a language that resembled German but probably wasn't quite German. The one-year-old was a bit loud for a person in general, but probably rather quiet for a one-year-old. Here is our campsite, with Barry's yellow and black bins, my camp stove, and Barry's tent.

North Pines Site 103

Our campsite was directly on the Merced River, near the bridge over the river. You can see the bridge a bit at the left side of the photo above, but you can see it better in the photo below, which shows the view from right next to our tent.

Merced River from North Pines Site 103

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Br*tt K*vanaugh

Research has repeatedly shown that ethnically and otherwise diverse teams are better than homogeneous teams at challenging each other's perspectives and thoroughly weighing all the data to arrive at the best possible decisions. (If you're not familiar with the data, run a Google search on "diverse teams research.")

The Republican Party right now is severely lacking in diversity. That is why the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee have been and still are being incredibly slow to realize they should not confirm Brett Kavanaugh. I'm still not sure whether they will figure it out in time; they may indeed go ahead and confirm him. But because they are such an all-white, all-male club, if they do confirm him, they will do so without properly grasping the full consequences of doing so.

Simply put, it is practically impossible to imagine the Supreme Court continuing to be regarded as a legitimate authority worthy of respect by anything more than 50% of the nation's population. We already have Clarence Thomas, credibly accused of workplace harassment by Anita Hill, and we already have Neil Gorsuch, whose seat should properly have gone to Merrick Garland. That these things have been, to a certain degree, accepted may lead some people to conclude, wrongly, that confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh will also be accepted, even after - what, five now? six? - reported separate incidents of him committing sexually assault. But the difference here is the critical mass to alter the decision-making. With Kavanaugh on the court, the court will be ruling in an extreme far-right way on virtually every case that comes before it. And although that would still upset every left-leaning American even if Kavanaugh were the choir boy he pretended to be on Fox News, being upset by the outcomes of court cases doesn't always lead to considering the court itself illegitimate. What will indeed lead to a good 50% of Americans considering the court illegitimate is the combination of both constant far-right court verdicts and the knowledge that at least two of the justices have been credibly accused of sex crimes plus an additional seat on the court was stolen from Merrick Garland. With all of those factors added together, it will be completely impossible for the court to retain anything resembling its former sheen of legitimacy.

Knowing this doesn't solve the problem, of course. Having 50% of Americans cease to regard the Supreme Court a legitimate doesn't somehow automatically strip the court of its legal power. But it will be a major change that the nation will have to grapple with for quite some time. And the Republican senators who will make the decision about whether to confirm Kavanaugh or not do not even see it coming.
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