Tax Prep

I’ve been using tax-preparation software to do my taxes for years, and I don’t want to do it anymore. I want someone else to do it. Even with the software, I end up intensely frustrated: partly because I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do, and partly because the tax forms every citizen MUST fill out should not be so complicated that a college-educated citizen can’t figure out what to do EVEN WITH helpful guiding software. Plus, we got a follow-up question on our financial aid forms from a college Rob applied to, which brought to light that I may have failed to take a large deduction I could have taken last year and the two years previous.

Anyway, that brings us to now. Here are the two options I’m considering:

1. My friend has just this year made this same decision about having someone else handle it, and she got a recommendation for a local accountant who does tax preparation. My friend says this woman seems very nice and competent. Upside: the personal recommendation; I can picture getting to know her and having her get to know me, and having that make taxes easier. Downsides: her office is in a dark and slightly scary location; I don’t actually know anything more about her; one day she would retire and I would feel stressed starting over with someone new.

2. There’s an H&R Block near me. It says “walk-ins welcome.” Upsides: I can just walk in, I don’t have to make the scary call for an appointment; feels more anonymous; it’s a big company which makes me feel less like I have to personally check their credentials. Downsides: They’d care less about my business, I would guess, but maybe not, I don’t know.

But notice how many of these upsides and downsides are based on guessing. I don’t really know anything about this. I am hoping for input. ANY input: differences you’ve found in costs, differences you’ve found in quality, anything you know about the differences between hiring an accountant and going to H&R Block, and also between those two things and any third or fourth option I haven’t considered.

[By the way, we are having some trouble with posting comments and commenting. I have Paul looking into it, and he is figuring it out, but it is taking time and he still has to get in touch with the website…host…or whatever, and then they have to fix whatever the issue is on their end. So you may notice weirdness for awhile with: new posts not showing up; edits not showing up; comments not showing up; comment fields auto-filling with weird information. The only solution I have right now is to hard-refresh, which on my Mac is done by holding down shift and command and then pressing R.]

Owl

Last night we had a little drama involving an injured owl.

Paul noticed there were two cars pulled over on the road outside our house, and two people in the road who were guiding traffic. At first we thought they were protecting a large cat sitting in the road, but then the cat took brief shallow flight and we realized it was an owl.

Paul went out with a flashlight to see if he could be of any assistance, but one of the people was already on the phone to the police, and the police were contacting Animal Control. The other person kept gently approaching the owl so that it would gradually retreat into our driveway, and this was a successful idea. The children and I watched all of this from the window, rapt. Paul came back in and joined us. “If you’re wondering if you’re visible from out there: yes.”

Two police cars arrived, and two officers got out and joined the gathering. They shone their flashlights on the owl, which gave the window audience a nice view of it. Paul went back out. He came back in, saying the officers had asked if we had anything that would serve as a Temporary Owl Containment Device; everyone was a little worried the owl would suddenly fly back out into the road. I first offered the cat carrier, but looking from cat carrier to owl it was clear we needed something larger and more vertically-oriented, and ideally something that could be sneakily placed over the owl instead of requiring any of us to engage more personally with the wings and talons and beak. Rob found a big plastic bin, but it would have to have air holes put into it and we were trying for speed. Paul thought of using one of our laundry hampers, turned upside down; they look like this:

(image from Amazon.com)

This turned out to be just the thing: the owl had some vertical space and a little wiggle-room, and plenty of air, and could see out—but he could not fly into the road. We put an electric lantern on top, to make the whole thing more visible: we were a little worried that whoever was coming for the owl would try to pull into our driveway, or that someone else might pull into the driveway just to turn around or something.

One of the police officers left at this point, considering the scene secured. The two people who’d originally stopped to help also left. The remaining officer stood vigilant. At one point he crouched down to look at the owl, perhaps offering a comforting word.

You have to picture me weeping gently this ENTIRE TIME, with the children saying “MOM. MOM.” I was so touched by the whole thing. People stopping their cars to help, and then doing the best they could to direct traffic! The police, arriving on the scene! The existence of experts who could be called on a Sunday night to come out and take custody of an injured owl! All these citizens working together to help!

The guy from Animal Rescue arrived with a cat carrier that didn’t look much larger than ours, and then completely impressed me with his smooth and casual owl-handling. It was dark and I was at a distance, but it appeared to me that he lifted up the laundry hamper and extracted the owl in one smooth gentle movement, no flinch or fuss, despite the owl attempting to cling to the inside of the hamper. He held the owl up and examined it a bit with a flashlight, and felt its wings. Paul reported that the guy said there was no blood, and that the wings didn’t seem broken, so he didn’t think it was a serious injury.

This is the part that amazed me. Have you ever tried to get a cat into a cat carrier? It is no easy feat. But this guy got a WILD OWL into the cat carrier, and he did it in one easy swoop: one moment he was holding the carrier in one hand and the owl in the other, and the next moment the twain were one.

He said he would take the owl to an owl rehabilitation center nearby (fresh weeping at the idea of such establishments existing, and people working in them), and most likely bring the owl back to release it into the same neighborhood. He didn’t think it would be more than a few weeks.

We are HUGELY hoping that we will be aware in advance of this homecoming, and can see it happen, and can hear an update on what the injury was. But I am not counting on it. It seems more likely that the animal rescue guy would just show up sometime with no fuss, extracting the owl from the cat carrier in one easy swoop.

Advice Requested: Winter Boots and Russian Textbooks

I need to buy new winter boots. I have had my old ones for about 12 years. They are L.L. Bean, slip-on style, and they were excellent boots (comfy, waterproof, warm without being too hot, grippy soles) until last year when something changed with the rubber on the bottom of the boots and it stopped being grippy and is instead hard and slippery. Clearly that is not what is needed in a winter boot.

I looked online at L.L. Bean to see if they still had the same type of boot, and they do not (these are probably the closest equivalent), but also I saw their prices and now am willing to branch out, brand-wise. Do any of you have boots you’d recommend? I don’t have anything particular in mind other than grippy soles (I fall easily enough as it is, without adding slippery soles), which makes it both harder and easier to make suggestions. Like, I liked the slip-on style, but I don’t think I would mind switching to laced. It would be nice if they were cute, but my old ones were not cute and that didn’t bother me. My old ones were the lightish brown of construction boots, but I don’t mind switching to a different color. My old ones were shortish, but I don’t mind the idea of trying taller. Just: GRIPPY SOLES. GRIPPY. And I guess fairly waterproof, since I use them for shoveling and for walking in snow/slush. And durable, so I don’t have to do this too often.

 

Also, William is learning Russian online. He likes languages and wanted to try something with an alphabet different from ours, so that’s what he picked. He said just now that he thinks he needs a textbook or something, because sometimes the online source will say something he’s not sure is right; I think the actual story is it appeals to him to have a textbook. His birthday is coming up, and teenage boys are very hard to buy for, so if anyone can recommend any sort of Russian-learning book, I would be very glad to hear about it.

Changing My Cartilage Piercing for the First Time

It has been awhile since I had my cartilage piercings done: I had the first one done in July of last year, and the second done in August. I still love them. The only thing I don’t love is that I’ve continued to sleep on my side, which mashes the earrings. Every morning when I wake up, they look a little puffy, and one of them is tipped up diagonally. I think the tipped one must also have been pierced a little crooked, but maybe not, maybe it’s that the cartilage is softer or I sleep more on that side or something.

Either way, I felt uneasy about squashing them like that, and I don’t like how one keeps being tilted, so I went back to the piercing place and asked if there was anything I could do. They recommended flat-backed earrings, which have little discs on the backs instead of the familiar curly nubbin. I bought six of them, because they were on a buy-2-get-1-free sale.

I went home and I braced myself for the unknown and possibly gross. I was nervous about changing them: I’d read that it was more challenging to change a cartilage piercing than an earlobe piercing. I got everything I’d need: the saline spray, some rubbing alcohol in a soda-bottle cap to sterilize the new earrings and clean the old ones, some little cotton pads to wipe the ear clean.

I took out the first of the old earrings, which was hard to do. I know how to take out ear-piercing earrings, which snap-lock in place, but the cartilage is so much more rigid than the earlobe, and there was less room to get my fingers into position, and I was nervous it would hurt, and I was nervous I’d do it wrong. But I got ready, and then I pulled, and the earring came unsnapped as expected. What was not expected was that the ear around the piercing immediately puffed up both front and back: an alarming little lump on both sides. Hm. That doesn’t seem right. Or was that lump already there, and I hadn’t seen it because the earrings was there? It was hard to say.

I chose one of the new earrings, and tried to take the flat backing off of it. I tugged and nothing happened. I twisted and nothing happened. Finally I thought to twist the STUD part of the earring—and it unscrewed. Uh oh. This meant that the earring post needed to go into the piercing from the BACK, and then the stud would get screwed back on. I didn’t know how that would work, but I know people change their own piercings all the time, so I proceeded on faith.

I got the new earring ready. I bent my ear-shell forward and…it was clear I was not going to be able to put an earring in from the back. No way. I couldn’t even see where to put it. And the earring post was SHARP, so I was not inclined to start stabbing it around hopefully. And the whole thing seemed gross and scary, and I was worried something was going to hurt. But the earring was out, and a new earring had to go in, and no one else was home, and I couldn’t think of anyone else who would be willing to do it even if they’d ALL been home. I was on my own. Like Indiana Jones, basically.

The first solution my panicky brain came up with was to forget the whole thing. Never mind! Let the piercing heal up! Failed experiment! But I didn’t WANT to. I LIKE those piercings. I am not really a badass in any way, but I have badass aspirations if I can ever stop crying and cringing at everything, and those piercings feel like a step in the right direction. Plus I think they’re pretty. So here was my next thought process:

1. An earring has to go into that hole.
2. It has to be the kind of earring that goes in from the front.
3. I could put the original earring back in, but that’s discouraging and solves nothing.
4. What I wanted originally was SMALLER gold balls, like the ones in my second earlobe piercing.
5. I DO HAVE more of those smaller gold balls.
6. They do go in from the front.
7. Seems to me that we have a plan and it is time to stop dithering and spring into action.

Like Indiana Jones, I sprang to my room and got a pair of the earrings, which are sterile until unwrapped. I unwrapped them. Should I put them in the rubbing alcohol, even if they’re sterile? I mean, they’re unwrapped now, so are they still sterile? For how long? Well, let’s not sit here fretting about it, let’s just pour a little rubbing alcohol into the palm of my hand and give the earrings a quick dip.

I was worried that the earring wouldn’t go in: as I mentioned earlier, I’d read that it could be more difficult than with an earlobe piercing. I was further worried that the post would be shorter than the freshly puffy width it needed to bridge. I got the post through with only a little stabby fumbling: ouch, ouch, ouch, okay there we go. But only a teeny bit of the post stuck out of the back of the ear. I took the backing, I put it against that little point, and I shoved it on; it snapped into place with only a slight and brief pinch. It was in. It did not continue to hurt; it felt fine.

Now I had one large gold stud and one small. The question was: proceed, or leave well enough alone? It bugs me to have things uneven, and the first one had gone fairly well, and so INTO THE FRAY. Indiana Jones would have done the same with HIS cartilage piercings. I will stop mentioning him now.

I prepared to remove the second earring. I braced. I winced. I applied the pull-apart pressure. Nothing happened, and I felt like I didn’t have a good grip on it; the angle felt weird. I tried again, with more resolve and a better grip, and this time it snapped out. The ear had a lump like the first ear did, but this one looked less like it was new and more like it had been there all along: smoother and the skin looked more normal. I’d thought I seen a lump when that earring was still in, but I hadn’t been able to tell for sure. I know that can happen with cartilage piercings, and that the lump can linger for kind of a long time (like, a year), and it didn’t look scary in any other way so I’d figured that was the situation.

I put the new earring in, and got the back into position. But this time I couldn’t seem to get a good grip: the stud part kept slipping to the side as I tried to hold it steady, and I was nervous to apply a lot of pressure and then have it slip. I tried various things: using a bit of paper towel to hold the stud part steady, changing the angle of the ear flap, switching hands around. At one point the earring slipped out and I had to put it back in again. I was getting nervous and sweaty. And then I did get it, and it snapped into place. Huge relief.

I still have my saline spray from last time. It is surprisingly expensive, but it helps: I first bought the H2Ocean from the piercing place because I didn’t want to argue with them about it (it’s one of their huge mark-up items, so they really push it), and when it was all used up I tried the kind of saline they make for contact lenses, which I was sure was exactly the same stuff. I don’t know WHY it didn’t work as well, and maybe it’s because I’m suggestive, or maybe it’s because the ocean spray is literally better in some way, or most likely it’s because the cheaper saline wasn’t a propelled spray so I dribbled most of it down my shirt, but anyway I ended up buying a larger bottle of H2Ocean from Amazon. (The piercing place sold me 1.5 ounces for $7; Amazon has 4 ounces for $10-12.) And when I brought it out to use it in this story, for my fresh cartilage earrings, it didn’t work: it just wouldn’t spray at all. I tried removing the nozzle and cleaning it, squiggling into the crevices with a toothpick. I tried turning the nozzle different directions. I tried pressing really hard while clenching my teeth and saying “SERIOUSLY??” Nothing worked. I used the cheaper saline instead, getting saline all in my hair and down my shirt. Later I had Paul look at the H2Ocean, and he said he didn’t know why it was broken (we suspect a child tampered with it) but it WAS broken. It is a testimony to my H2devotion that I ordered ANOTHER $11 bottle of it, to have on hand in case the fresh earrings caused the piercings to go south.

But they have NOT gone south. They are still a little puffy, but not alarming-looking. They don’t hurt. No fluids are emerging from them. The one that seemed to puff as soon as I took the old earring out is still kind of shiny and the earring looks pressed in because of the swelling, but the other one (the one that had seemed to have a little lump all along) looks the same as normal. And even the first one doesn’t look bad or scary, just a little puffy and pink as if maybe I squeezed it and disrupted it and poked it and squeezed it again, and as if it were a little puffy to begin with and that’s why we started this whole thing.

The new earrings don’t really Solve The Problem per se, since they still have the regular non-flat backings. But the gold-ball part is about half the size of the ones I had before, so although they do still get squished when I sleep on them, there is less metal to press into skin. And I prefer the look of them: I thought the old ones were too big. So I am basically happy, though a little squinty about the $20+ I spent on six flat-backed earrings I can’t use on my own.

The last time I went to the piercing place and asked for advice about earrings, the clerk gave suggestions and then said something like “Unfortunately our piercer is off today, so he can’t change them for you.” So my IMPRESSION is that if I ask, the piercer CAN change them for me? I don’t know if there’s a cost to this, and I don’t know if he can change them for me if I bring back earrings I bought on another occasion. But when I had the piercings done I noticed a Tip Jar in his room, so perhaps it’s the kind of thing where he does it and there is an understanding that I will leave a little something in the jar? Do speak up if you know how this goes. Also do speak up if you have figured out how to change a flat-backed earring yourself.

New Jeans

I was stuck in traffic for a little while yesterday, and I got distracted by how many people in the opposite lane were on their cell phones. I checked each car in the line: texting, texting, texting, not texting, texting, texting, not texting. Then there was a longer stretch of cars containing people who were looking at the road and I started to feel more positive about things again—and had to slam on the brakes as I nearly hit someone because I was counting how many people weren’t looking at the road.

********

The jeans I used to like at Lane Bryant were replaced awhile back by a new version that seems made for a completely different body type than mine: they squeeze hard in some places but fall down in others, so that I feel unhappy and uncomfortable and uncute. Also the inseam is about three inches too long so I have to roll them up, and I feel as if I finished with rolling up my jeans somewhere around college. I went on eBay and found a couple of used pairs of the ones I liked, but finally even those had worn out to the point of rising panic. The holes in the thighs were so large, I had to sit as if I were wearing a skirt.

I’d heard many good things about Torrid, so one day when the wind was right and my spirits were high and I was able to imagine facing the try-on session as long as I could get lunch afterward in the food court, I headed for the mall. I took samples of three different styles of jeans with me to the fitting room—and to my incredulous delight, every single pair fit great and looked good. One pair was slightly less good, so I took the other two pairs to the register—and the clerk manipulated coupons and deals until I ended up with one pair free. I practically FLEW home on wings of jeans happiness. I had expected a trip of torment, and instead had found easy success.

As soon as I got home, I put the jeans through the washer and dryer. Then I put a pair on, and took all the stuff out of the pockets of my tattered jeans to put into the new jeans—and the new jeans had no pockets. No. Pockets. The pockets were fake. They LOOKED like pockets, but there were no pockets. I looked at the second pair: that pair had pockets, but they were about a third the depth of regular pockets: instead of being able to put my cell phone in there, I could only fit half of my cell phone, and only if I turned it the long way.

It was a crushing betrayal. You will understand, I think, when I tell you I sank deep. What was the point of anything. Who even cares. I considered purchasing a fanny pack. Etc.

With time comes healing, and eventually a glimmer of hope returned. It was a small, faltering flame, but I nurtured it well until it grew. One night, after making the mistake known as “We should finish off this bottle of wine or it’ll go bad,” my eye fell on one of the several sale emails I get per day from Roaman’s: the particular email offered a buy-one-get-one-free clearance section. In a flash I was sifting through pages of jeans with elastic waists, and plus-sized jeans modeled by non-plus-sized women, and pants cropped to exactly the wrong length between capri and ankle, and tight pre-ripped jeans with those familiar rolled cuffs favored by Co-ed Swistle.

I persevered, and I was rewarded: I found several pairs of jeans that APPEARED to be nice, normal jeans that a thin woman would wear, available in my non-thin size. I added one of each to the cart.

Then my eye fell on these:

(image from roamans.com)

It was hard to tell, especially with the shirt tucked in. Were those fashionably, refreshingly light, a swing of the pendulum back from the dark-and-darker options, or were they reminiscent of the bleached denim of Swistle Youth? The embroidery made me feel happy, but would it look silly? The model appears to be wearing cowgirl boots; does this mean the embroidery has a country vibe rather than the flower child vibe I would prefer? Well, I had three pairs of plainer jeans in the cart already, and it was buy-one-get-one-free, so the embroidered ones would be free. The last of the wine kicked in, and I pressed the button to complete the order.

When the package arrived, I let it sit for almost two weeks. Schrodinger’s Jeans: as long as I didn’t open the package and observe the jeans, maybe they would fit AND be cute AND have pockets.

This past Friday night, I was in a teary slump. Everything was terrible. Nothing was okay. This is the perfect mood, in my experience, for doing crappy tasks: if I’m down in the misery pit, I might as well do something that would have shoved me down there anyway. I tried on the jeans. The first pair fit, was acceptably cute, and had pockets. REGULAR pockets. The second pair fit, was acceptably cute, and had regular pockets. The third pair fit, was acceptably cute, and had regular pockets.

I left the embroidered pair for last. I tried them on. I looked at myself in the mirror. I went immediately to the website and tried to order more pairs, but they were sold out in my size. I have worn them every day since. I love them.

“Bootcut” is not the correct descriptor word, I’d say; they are more of a flare. They are fairly fitted through the thigh, and then they just wing right out free and happy, with way more embroidery than shows in the picture: there is a whole triangular inset panel of it. I will demonstrate, with a picture taken in my dark computer room, literally in a mirror, with my size 11 sneakers for scale:

(They are a little less fitted in the thigh in this photo: I was all the way to the end of day two of wearing them, so they’d loosened.) The cuffs are deliberately frayed. They are light, but not as light as they looked on the site. The whole effect, I’d say, is of a pair of extremely awesome jeans purchased quite awhile ago when flares and lighter denim were in fashion. I love them so much. I am not kidding when I say I am getting a lump in my throat thinking about how one day they will wear out. And they have REGULAR POCKETS.

As I am writing this, most sizes have sold out and they are only available in 12w, 14w, 16w, and 18w. I am not sure, but if I think back to the days when I balanced right on the edge between W and non-W sizes, what I’m remembering is that a W adds a size. That is, I believe a 16w is more like an 18-non-W? I think the transition went 14, 16, 16w/18, 18w, 20w, etc., but I am not positive about this, so check the measurements. What’s throwing me is that usually I don’t see 12 or 14 with a W—but it’s a site aimed mostly for plus sizes so they may want the sizing consistent. I bought the same size I wear in Lane Bryant and Torrid, and the fit was right.

College Application Frets and Complaints

We went to a financial-aid info meeting at the high school this week. If you have not yet attended a college-planning meeting at a high school, let me assure you of this: there will always, always, ALWAYS be at least one parent who uses the meeting to brag about their child. They’ll raise their hand to ask a question, and somehow the setting-up of this question will require a little humblebrag. And if the leader says, “Has anyone received any MERIT-based aid?,” this parent will pipe up “With every single package!,” as if we might want to take the opportunity for a little smattering of impressed applause.

Anyway. We have only heard back from one of the dozen colleges Rob applied to, so it was a little unsettling to hear so many other parents discussing all the acceptances and scholarships. The speakers told us how lucky we were that this was the first year for the new earlier admissions process. I can’t think about it too much, or I start envisioning a future with two piles of letters: one a pile of acceptances, all from expensive schools, none with any financial aid offers; the other, a pile of rejections. Perhaps a third pile of “Oops, you did something wrong with the application, so you paid the application fees but didn’t actually successfully apply.”

I have a tip, incidentally, if the whole college-planning stage is still ahead: don’t put off the things you will need to spend money on. Replace the windows, paint the house, fix the roof, replace the ancient car that will give out any day now. They don’t expect you to sell your house or car to pay for college, but they do expect you to clear out the savings account—and “But that’s earmarked for braces/windows/garage” butters no toast.

Oh, oh, oh! Another college-application-related thing. So, I don’t know if you’re familiar with this rumor or if it’s even true, but the idea is that acceptances come in a BIG envelope (because they send you a bunch of other materials), and the rejections come in a regular business envelope (because it’s just one sheet of paper). In the last month, we have received TWO big and SEVEN small envelopes from colleges he’s applied to, and NONE of them were acceptances or rejections. They have all been things such as reminders that we can check application status online, reminders about deadlines to apply if we have not already done so, and advertising materials. This seems tone-deaf to the point of cruelty. They MUST KNOW that right now students and their families are opening mailboxes every day with pounding hearts, so WHY OH WHY the terrible fake-outs??

Swistle’s First Protest

Have you seen that picture of a guy at a protest holding up a sign that says “Not usually a sign guy but geez”? That is basically my position. I’ve never been to a protest, not because I haven’t objected to things before but because protests and signs and chanting have not been my thing.

But geez.

We are deciding right now, as a country, whether we’re going to shut people out of our country (including people begging for our help escaping an enemy we share) based on race and religion. That idea fills me with cold horror. So I vote no. And to be more precise, I vote HELL NO. And when what you want to say is “HELL NO,” a protest is a good place to say it.

Here were my anxieties, before the protest:

1. What if there’s not enough parking at the subway station.
2. I don’t know how to use the subway.
2a. I don’t know how to buy a ticket.
2b. I don’t know how to tell what direction the train is going.
2c. I don’t know how to switch lines, or if I need another ticket for that.
2d. I don’t know where to get off the train, or what to do after that.
3. The whole finding-a-place-to-pee situation.
4. I hate cities.
5. I have trouble with maps. How do I find where the protest is?
6. Should I make a sign? What should it say? I feel self-conscious.
7. What if I hate the feel of being in a big crowd?
8. What if things get violent?
9. What if we all run at once and people are getting trampled?
10. Do I have to worry about other people knowing I’m there?
11. Do I really have to leave my phone at home? But what if I need it?
12. Will there be repercussions for this, for me or my family?
13. What if no one else shows up?
14. GOING TO A PROTEST AT ALL, THE WHOLE THING

I think it helped that it happened fast. I debated about the women’s march for weeks, and eventually talked myself out of it. Afterward, I wished I’d been a part of it. This time I had less time to think, and also I could remind myself of my previous feelings of regret.

Also, Rob and William said they wanted to go with me. This increased both my anxieties and my interest in going. It added these anxieties:

15. What if they get hurt?
16. What if there are repercussions for them—colleges, jobs, etc.?
17. What if we get separated in the crowds?
18. Wait, but now we REALLY NEED our phones.
19. I don’t really know what I’m getting them into, and one of them is a minor.

Well. But we went. We did bring our phones. We turned off location and turned off the phones and we password-protected the lockscreens; according to protesting tips lists that may not have been enough, but that is what we did.

We made a flappy uncertain effort at signs, using half-size posters we keep on hand for school projects. I felt self-conscious about what I wanted to write in large letters and then hold near my face, and spent a fretful half-hour looking through pictures of other protests for things I felt reflected my thoughts on the topic. We ended up with signs that fell well within range: ours weren’t as funny or creative or clever as a lot of the signs we saw, but there were people there with signs written on the torn-off upper half of a pizza box, so.

I wanted a sign without a stick, and on flexible paper I could roll up, to make it easier to bring on the subway. But TONS of people on the subway had rigid signs with sticks, and that worked just fine, and that kind of sign is WAY easier to use AT the protest. We made a note: next time we will favor rigid signs with sticks.

I’m sorry, yes, that was two paragraphs just about making the signs. Those of us who’ve been in the “not really a sign girl” category have a bit of a learning curve to deal with.

We did find parking at the train station. On a weekday that station can easily reach capacity, but it was a weekend. It was surprisingly full for a weekend, but there were spaces. We found an ATM-like machine that said it sold tickets, and I managed to figure out how to buy some. I bought adult tickets for Rob and William when probably they could have had student tickets, but I was in no frame of mind to figure out the details. I noticed that at other machines, people were asking other people how to work the machine; this gave me a happy feeling that I could have help if I needed it. No one seemed to be impatient. When I went to another city on a weekday once, the people behind us in line were reaching around and saying, “SIGH, no, like THIS,” which is helpful in its own way but also a little flustering.

There were bathrooms at the subway and we thought we’d better take any chance. In line, a girl started talking to me in a friendly way: “Not as busy as last week!” (she meant the women’s march, I assumed). And I said I hadn’t been there last week but I’d heard it was amazing, and she said “SO AMAZING. But this is looking good too!”

I joined Rob and William in the hall outside the bathrooms, and I suggested my plan: ditch the three pages of subway maps and directions, and do this by the “follow other people who have signs” method. Rob was not a fan of this plan. I persevered, and I was correct: it made the whole thing easy. We knew already which train to get onto at the start, but if we hadn’t known, we could have followed. Then we followed people off that train and onto a different line (i.e., a different train route), and then we followed them when they got off at a stop, and then we followed them down a couple of city blocks, and then we arrived with them at the protest.

I don’t know how many people were there, but “lots.” There were helicopters flying overhead, and I saw overhead photos later and it looks like just hella lots of people. I was glad to find that big crowds don’t freak me out—but if things HAD felt too close, it would have been easy to get more on the outside of the group for more air: most people were trying to get further IN.

We weren’t close enough to be able to hear the main speakers, even though they were REALLY YELLING into a microphone. (The protest was larger than expected, and we were kind of around a corner.) So that was a little boring, to stand there listening to what we couldn’t hear. Periodically the speaker would, apparently, start a familiar chant, and then the crowd would join in. Some of the chants made me feel self-conscious: I am not naturally inclined to yell things that start with “Hey hey! Ho ho!” and then add a rhyming line. But okay, fine, I did some of it. And I liked other chants better. There was one with a very catchy rhythm, almost song-like, where a few really loud people in the crowd would yell “SHOW ME WHAT AMERICA LOOKS LIKE!” and the whole crowd would yell back “THIS IS WHAT AMERICA LOOKS LIKE!” and I kept getting choked up. …It’s a lot better when you can hear it. I’ll bet they sing-chant it at all the protests now, so you can hear it if you go.

It felt good to be in a big crowd of people who felt the way I did about the situation. That is just always going to feel nice.

It was fun to see all the signs: there were a lot of good/funny/clever ones.

I’d wondered how we’d know it was over, and whether there’d be a mad dash for the trains. The way we knew it was over was that someone with a really loud voice said “Thank you all for coming, be safe!” and there was some cheering and then we all started walking back to the train. Probably there were some people walking briskly to get there ahead of others, but I didn’t have that impression of the crowd as a whole: casual strolling, lots of chatting. We were able to get onto the first train that arrived after we did, though it ended up being crammed full—but the subway had arranged extra trains, so there was another one coming along in 2 minutes and another one coming 2 minutes after that. It felt as if everyone (police, subway) was VERY familiar with how to deal with the extra crowds, no big deal, all in a day’s work.

I would have been more nervous about the packed-full trains (we are STANDING UP on a moving vehicle and all crammed together with strangers), but everyone else was so yawningly chill about it (reading paperback while swaying, or chatting with someone else, or literally yawning while looking out the window) and that calmed me. Also, in both directions I was right next to someone holding a sweet, calm, well-behaved little dog in their arms, and in both cases the owner said it was okay to pet the dog’s soft little ears, so in both cases I did. A calm soft dog ear is even better than a worry stone.

I was glad I’d gone. And I felt so much better getting the first one done: for me the worst part is not knowing how things will go and not knowing how to handle all the logistics. Even if the next protest I go to is in a completely different location, I’ve still learned a lot of the basics and will be much less nervous next time. And when you are in a very low-power situation, it is nice to be able to say you DID do some of the things you COULD do.

Appetizer Recipes for People on Diets

Oh, hello! Let us say you are going to a wine-and-appetizers get-together with friends, but it is January and so some of you are eating less cheese dip and brownies than usual. And let’s say you would like to bring something that is not too depressing, but also that people CAN eat. Someone else is already bringing fruits and vegetables. My only idea so far is a bag of Smartfood Delight popcorn (35 calories a cup), so the comments section can only go up from here.

Round Robin

Are you familiar with the concept of “round robin” letters? I have no idea if this is the sort of thing where everyone knows it duh, or not. Wikipedia, I notice, says that round robin letters are Christmas newsletters; I don’t think that is true, though perhaps it’s another usage of the term. I could have clicked the citations but I am eager to get back to The Good Wife: I just finished the first season and that is a cliff-hanger I would like to get back to.

This is how a round robin works. Let’s say you have a friend group of four, and Friend A starts it: she writes a letter, and she mails it to Friend B. Friend B reads the letter, writes his own letter, puts both letters in an envelope and mails them to Friend C. Friends C and D do the same, and Friend D mails the whole packet back to Friend A, so that Friend A receives an envelope containing four letters: her own plus three more. Friend A reads the three new letters, then takes her own letter out and writes a new one and puts it in, then mails the packet on to Friend B. And ’round and ’round it goes: after the initial start-up, where it is just one letter and then just two letters and so on, the envelope will always have four letters in it.

Everyone can also put in photos, or newspaper articles, or recipes, or whatever, and each person just takes their own stuff back as it comes back around to them. (This system requires participants who will not lose things, and who will not put a letter in a pile of mail and not get around to it for months.)

Anyway. I just mention this concept in case it could be useful at some point. One of the things I like about it is that in order for one to start, it isn’t necessary for EVERYONE to have EVERYONE’S addresses: if one person sends to one address they know, and THAT person sends to one address THEY know, you can build a circle pretty quickly. It works even better if some people in the circle have access to photocopiers, and/or can be the hub of several circles.

Oh! That reminds me. Our old and much-loved printer finally went into well-deserved retirement, and we had to replace it. The old printer was a Brother brand printer, and so we got another Brother. This one:

(image from Amazon.com)

Brother DCPL2520DW Wireless Compact Multifunction Laser Printer and Copier [edit: it also scans]. It is excellent. We print to it from four desktop computers and two laptops. I do not know how that magic works; I have my own personal IT guy who takes care of that. But one of the things I like best about it is that it’s ALSO a regular old photocopier: you lift the top, put your piece of paper in, and press a button. It’ll even do double-sided copies. This is the ink we buy for it: one-pack or two-pack.

I don’t have many basic throwback life skills, as we’ve discussed. But if the need arises I can put out a double-sided newsletter, yo.

Republic

My social-media input is so divided right now. It’s hard to triage all of it, isn’t it? It’s hard.

I’m overwhelmed, and one set of people in my life is saying “IT’S BECAUSE THE WORLD IS ON FIRE AND WE’RE ALL GOING DOWN IN FASCIST FLAMES UNLESS WE TAKE STRONG ACTION RIGHT NOW!!!!” and the other set is saying “For GOD’S sake, this happens every four years, RELAX already!!” And I absolutely know which side I believe, and I am absolutely at a loss to explain it to the other side. I have voted in a number of elections, and sometimes my choice of candidate has won and sometimes my choice has lost, and I have always felt it does not deeply matter one way or the other, and yet this time I believe it deeply does.

It is different. It is hard to say why it’s different, to people who don’t think it is different. My mother has reminded me more than once how other people freaked out when Barack Obama was elected. How to explain the difference in type and cause of freak-out? How to explain why this isn’t exactly the same way someone else felt when Obama was elected, with the expectation of exactly the same “and everything was fine” results? I remember people saying society would fall apart if Obama won; how is that different from my fears now? How to explain the whole thing to someone in my Facebook newsfeed who says that protesting an assault on democracy is the same as making an assault on democracy, and that everyone needs to get over it / give him a chance? How to explain to someone that NO, it’s YOUR news that’s fake news—when they think MY news is fake news? How to explain that the two things are not equivalent, even though it feels like they are? How to explain it to people who think there is no problem here and that the new president hasn’t even done anything yet?

Well. I don’t know and neither do you, or else it would all be explained and everything would be fine. But in the meantime, I’m panicking and directionless. Thank you to those of you who sent me links to places giving direction, but for some reason I find those make me panic even more. It reminds me of when I heard that we can go right ahead and recycle that piece of paper, and we SHOULD, but in the meantime a business just dumped 10,000 pounds of paper in the trash: we like to say individuals make a difference, but for most of us that isn’t true. We get an electric car to reduce our carbon footprint, and a business adds to the air the exhaust of a hundred thousand gasoline engines every day. Certain individuals, certain organizations: those will make the impact here. The rest of us have to wait and see what they will choose to do, and add our individual pieces of paper to make our own proportionately tiny difference, in the hopes that all together our tiny inputs will add up to one impactful action—and in the meantime, those tiny inputs will make us feel better, by making us feel as if we’re helping. That’s basically what a republic is and does: we all do our tiny part, to give others the power to make big decisions for us.

Today I’m going to Target. I’m taking a Maeve Binchy book with me, and after I shop I’m going to go out to lunch and read my book. When I come home I’m going to write a letter to one of my senators, even though I don’t think it makes a difference, despite people saying it does. I’m going to fold laundry while listening to The 451 podcast. For the time being I am not going to research any more “Ways You Can Help!” organizations: I have set up the monthly payments to the ACLU and a couple others who have more impact than an individual, and I am going to hope that the people who are in charge of preventing the loss of our republic will do so.