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new friend

Latest addition to my friends list is petrini1 who I met in the Little Free Library Stewards' group. The group lives on another website that shall not be named.

She likes writing about authors, and the little free library tourism adventures of her Jane Austen action figure.

This is so not hard to figure out. In fact if you asked me to come up with the perfect formula to enable under-the-radar perverts I don't think I could do any better than the following:

Step 1: Brainwash a person from childhood to believe that "others" are the problem: gays, feminists, non-christians, welfare recipients, anybody who "ain't from around here". If you're not one of those things then you're doing alright!

Step 2: More brainwashing: unquestionable authority is good for people. Men and women should fit into strict gender roles with power structures clearly defined, the husband is responsible for all decision making.

Step 3: Keep your teens from dating, tell them that God is the only thing you need in marriage so why talk about it or even get to know the person you're marrying? Does he go to your church? Does your father approve? Then ladies what more could you want!

Step 4: scandal? I'm SHOCKED!

no check that, I'm faking being shocked. always, guys.

sorry about the celeb news commentary, you can all get back to your real lives.

environmentalism and parties

How much do you consider the environment when making day to day decisions (what to buy, what to throw away or recycle, etc)? For the environmentally conscious, what's one simple thing that is environmentally friendly that you wish more people would do?
You know what's one thing I wish people would do? Stop with the paper plates and throwaway party cups.

We like to have parties. I hated the bags of trash that would happen - paper plates, cups, forks. If you have ten people over they will easily make a bags of trash that you're leaving the party to take out. So I just stopped doing the throwaway thing. I bought packs of reusable plastic cups, like stadium cups. They come in packs of 4-6. I set out sharpies and told our friends that YES you can still write your name on that cup, and if you come back to our house maybe you'll find it next time, and if you don't come back well someone else will just cross your name out. Or pretend to be "angie" today. No big deal!

We set out our real plates and real forks and told everyone to just keep track. And life was so much nicer. No giant bags of trash. Yes we had dishes to wash but we have a dishwasher, and a load of just basic cups and plates is the easiest to run.

Some of those cups with names on them we've had around for years and they make for great memories. There are cups where little kids scrawled their name at age four, and now the handwriting is much improved but the ugly early writing is cute. When we're not partying we stack up the cups and keep them in a closet, no big deal, but when people come over we get them out and we've got plenty.

web design rant: down with big sliders

Dear web designers: remember splash screens? You'd go to a web page and instead of seeing the content, you'd see a giant logo to get you mentally ready for all the awesome you're apparently supposed to get ready for and a tiny text that says "click here to enter our page"? Splash screens were bad for everybody's experience and quickly went away.

Well they've been replaced with something even worse: the big slider!

You know what I'm talking about... giant images that take up most of the real estate on a home page that transition between one another in a slideshow sort of format. So if I as a visitor do see something that catches my eye, it's usually gone by the time I realize I have to click on it. Then I'm either waiting for it to come back or clicking some tiny arbitrary dots with no text to help me find the right one again.

stooooop for the love of all things friendly.

Do web designers think that we want to just sit and stare at a home page? Immerse ourselves in "the experience"? Do they think we have nothing to do?

Show me the gdamn headline and let me click on what I want. I am not enticed by your giant rotating images, I am inconvenienced and annoyed.

Last summer I had to email a local church because I couldn't find the date for their kids summer bible school event. I found the signup page, and the place to pay for it. I didn't know when it was happening - seems like crucial information. They replied that I was supposed to wait for the 5th big slider on their homepage and the dates were on the graphic. Oh that's nice. So, not googleable, not on the signup page, not copy/paste-able... just wait for it?

Big sliders deserve to be sent to web design hell right along with splash screens, popups, the blink tag, and animated GIF backgrounds. They are painful and need to go away.



Sometime when you're sitting in a meeting, look around and try to spot guys playing with their facial hair. Rubbing their fingers through it, twisting it, just petting their faces.

I'm not knocking it! It looks fun actually, I'd totally do it too. We all need something to fidget with. I'm kinda jealous.

Most guys say that if they were women, they'd be playing with their own boobs a lot. Boobs are soft and squishy and most everyone I talk to likes them. They are fun to feel. But it is not socially acceptable to play with your boobs in a staff meeting.

When we're pregnant we get to rub our bellies and that's fun, at least for a few months. It's big and round and firm and sometimes it moves. It's just cool to feel and its ours, all ours. But then the baby's born and we go back to being normal people with nothing really interesting going on.
Little Free Library As many of you know I am a big supporter of little free libraries, have played a part in building a few and love to visit them to see what's around to read. The people who ask me about building them tend to be like me... they think books should be super easy to get to, and reading should not require buying stuff. So I tell them there are three steps to building a little free library:

1) Design or build a little cabinet-size structure that can hold books
2) Slap it up in your yard
3) Register it at littlefreelibrary.org to get a neat sign and be shown on the worldwide map.

And a high percentage of the time, the person I'm talking to cringes and says "Register? I heard that costs money! What's the point, remember I'm a person who hates buying stuff? I've made the library, I can make a sign that tells people it's for books, why are you involving THE MAN here?"

Oh trust me friends, you will not find a cheaper engineer than me (ask my husband!) And I understand that building a place for free book exchange does call in to question the need to send someone money.

But I still registered my little free libraries. Immediately, enthusiastically, and I want to list out my reasons here for posterity's sake so that I can point to this post and avoid typing the same things over and over.

Why I Registered My Little Free Library

1) It's not that much money
Really this was the first reason. When I told my friends I was building my first little free library they loved the idea, they were willing to lend me tools, scrap lumber, garage space, labor. I could have spent money on that but I didn't. So with the money I saved, why not pay for registration? At the time I'm writing this post registration is less than $40, gets you an official wood sign and on the map... $40 is really easy to raise if you're strapped for cash! Have an open house and take donations, ask your friends. People are willing to give if you've got a simple purpose and a dream. Skip a night out at a restaurant, that'll do it right there. You're supporting a non-profit organization, yes it's a 501(c)(3), just do it.

2) It's their idea!
I did not randomly dream up the idea of offering books on my front lawn for free. I got it off the internet. And I believe that when someone has a great idea they deserve some credit, not just for legal reasons but because I'm a nice gal.

And after using their big idea, I used lots of little ideas they provided too. The official site also has tons of resources - design plans, tips, a steward's network, news. So if you're not using their ideas well maybe you should be! Why reinvent the wheel? Let's all do this together and help each other out.

3) I'm part of the network
Last month I posted up about our Little Free Library Road Trip where we crossed two states leaving books in all these different communities. Well those were all mapped, registered libraries. If your library is totally independent, then only the people in your own neighborhood who happen to see it will be able to contribute. Your books won't get swapped as often. If there are no sci-fi fans in your neighborhood, no one will get to try being one because your library will never get sci-fi books. If you have a surplus of books no one will ever swing by and move some to another library, if you have empty space no one will stock it up. Registered libraries get more traffic, more diverse visitors, and a more frequently rotated stock of books.

And for people who don't find my library from the map, who just walk by, I feel like that official sign I've got is like an advertisement for Little Free Libraries everywhere. There's a website where they can learn more. They're invited there to make their own - don't have to knock on my door and ask if you can take my idea, nope, just go for it!

So those are my quick reasons why I tell people yes, you should send in a little money to get an official sign and be on the official map. I love cheapness but don't be cheap, be good. And be part of something.
I accomplished something this week: finally got to a new years resolution to make my spacefem.com homepage mobile-friendly. It was a struggle, friends. I wanted to keep it simple but the world seemed... not simple. I wondered if I should go to wordpress or install some other huge CMS. I found all these templates with "installation instructions".

Finally I found this tutorial by Mat Helme: Create an Absolute Basic Mobile CSS Responsive Navigation Menu

It involved abandoning my very long held menu > submenu navigation. but a very high percentage of my visitors now come directly to sub pages through links and searches - it's rare to start out at the homepage. and if there's any confusion there's a search box on top of the page. so I made it work, and here it is today: Read more...Collapse )

what keeps me back from thrift stores

We had a thread on spacefem about getting rid of old college textbooks and a few people mentioned thrift stores. I didn't like the idea because I really wanted some place that would make sure my textbooks found the best home they could find, so a more textbook-oriented company, even if it's for-profit, seemed better. Thrift stores do throw out items, recycle them, or let them set on the shelf for very long amounts of time... the goal is to do the most eco-friendly thing possible.

We should give organization more credit for being a sustainable behavior.

This even happens at the level of our own houses. I feel very bad whenever I have a nagging feeling that I own something, but can't find it, and now I need it, so I might have to buy a new one. Materialism is something I fight against all the time. I do not want to create the need for more stuff made in factories. If a can of beans gets lost it can expire before you get to eating it. If a book gets left on the basement floor it gets moldy and no one wants to read it.

Kids toys are the worst. A puzzle is fun, and cheap, but if you don't take care of it and a few pieces get lost it's now worthless and you might as well throw it away. For it to keep its value, you have to put all the pieces back in the box.

So it is with the rest of the world. If I buy a pair of womens jeans size 10 tall I don't want to have to send them to a thrift store, what are the odds they'll go to another person as tall as me? They'll be bought up my somebody, sure. Then they'll shorten them. Then the tall person a few states away has to buy a brand new pair. So I do the work of ebay or try to find some site that adds data to the junk, doesn't just throw it on a shelf.

"Donate" is too nice sounding a word for bagging up the things we don't want and sending them to a thrift store. I do it, but I don't feel good about it. There are so many of these stores and they're stuffed with the things Americans don't want. They're not all good. The Salvation Army is anti-gay There was that news two years ago about Goodwill paying its disabled workers less than minimum wage because "it's legal", when their own CEO made $750,000 a year.

I've been trying to go into the thrift stores I donate to and make sure they're trying. I favor the ones that sort the baby clothes by sizes and keep the matching shirts and pants together for kids outfits, that put a little effort, maybe charge a little more but that's okay.

Being green means finding ways to not buy stuff, and prevent everyone else from buying stuff, as much as you can.

could've had two full weekends

Original weekend plan: drive to topeka for my niece's first birthday, yay! But we got a text from my sister that the party was off, poor baby has a stomach bug and was throwing up everywhere. So send them good thoughts. Of course, as I told her, I've thrown up on my birthday before and that's when we know the party is going great.

New weekend plan: Well there's other birthday parties all the time!

First we went to Wichita's Chalk Art Festival - an annual event where you bake in the sun for art. It's half fun, half miserable, but kids tend to remember the fun and I want to support it so off we went.

Photo gallery... here's the 2yo in an airplane I made:

The whole thing is a benefit, and there was a tent making balloon animals for donations. 5yo wanted a pink puppy. I also asked them to make one for her little sister so we wouldn't have a fight, I said "It can be really simple, she'd practically be happy with a snake."

The balloon animal lady replies, "Oh we make a really fantastic snake!"

I said, "Uh... I would hope so?"

But no seriously it had eyes and kinda coiled and everything so okay, there is some style to a balloon animal snake!

And finally Josie randomly decided to draw a big Totoro that I thought was adorable:

After chalk art fest we went to a friend's fifth birthday party... as I mentioned, there's a kid birthday every weekend, with my niece's party moving to next weekend all it's doing is making us miss a different set of kid birthdays here.

And at night, the YMCA was having a kid pizza party that they do every other weekend and marc and I were actually sad that we were going to be out of town and couldn't take advantage of it to have a date night. With the new plans, date night was back on! We went to the movies and saw Trainwreck and it was funny - not enough of a romantic comedy spoof, it was more of just a romantic comedy. But worth the tickets, we had fun.


Oh first off let me say, last weekend we took our 5 year old camping but left the 2 year old at camp grandma's. We're driving away to go swim in a river and I turn around and ask Josie, "Are you missing your baby sister?" She just raises her eyebrows at me and says, "No." Then after a pause she says, "I miss our dog."

Two days later they're happily reunited and playing in their room together and I hear the baby screaming.


When the screaming subsides Josie yells back, "It's not me! She wants to take her dress off but she can't!"

Marc yells, "That's okay! Help her take her dress off!"

A second later we hear Olive screaming again!

And Josie yells, "WELL NOW SHE DOESN'T WANT TO!"



Whenever there's a high profile product safety case in the news, someone asks engineers this question:

"Didn't you want to make your product as SAFE AS POSSIBLE?"

And here's how we respond:

Ghostbusters - When someone asks you if you"re a God, you say yes

I just read a wonderful article in The New Yorker about automotive safety (The Engineer’s Lament: Two ways of thinking about automotive safety. By Malcolm Gladwell), and the fundamental difference between engineers and everyone else in the world.

It was about cars - the exploding Ford Pinto, the sudden unintended acceleration of the Toyota fleet, and why these cases were so controversial and sparked so much public outrage. In both cases, people looked dumbfounded at the manufacturers and said "You knew something could be an issue, why didn't you jump to correct it immediately?" And the engineer answer is that we were evaluating whether our fix would definitely work, whether our fix would have saved the last people who were injured in X accident, how likely the issue is to happen again, whether there's a workaround... and everyone hates us for talking about those factors.

I can say this since it's in the New Yorker: there is no such thing as exactly 100% safe. Maybe we can show something like "catastrophic failure condition liklihood less than 10-9" - which, as the article says, makes everybody glaze over then shout "why are you a-holes throwing these numbers at us when we just want you to FIX IT!"

There's a spectrum. Someone could argue that the failure of a coffee maker on our airplanes would deprive the flight crew of caffine, making them sleepy and unable to avoid hazards to the aircraft. And we debate them on that point, so we won't have to install 17 independent power sources to boost the reliability of the coffee maker. We will do exhaustive testing to ensure that the coffee maker won't catch on fire, and our customers will not like the cost of even that testing but we insist, and that's the other half of why nobody likes, or "gets" engineers. We deal with a billion parts, the public hears about two. And on those two we're either too conservative or not conservative enough, every time.

At the end of the day, the only thing I can ever say to convince someone that we are doing the right thing is to remind them that we're all in these vehicles, our families are in these vehicles, we are dedicated to meeting our standards. And the industry leaders who make the standards are also dedicated to setting us up to have safe products, because it's their families in the cars and airplanes. We didn't go into these jobs as a short term money grab. We know people won't buy unsafe products. We want them to be safe.

But when you talk about "what's safe?" That's a question that I'm sorry to say, can't just be simple.

Little Free Library Robin Hood Road Trip

Some of you know that I am a big fan of Little Free Libraries - those little cabinet-like structures built to hold ~20 books in some random nice person's front yard. They're all over the world now and the trend is growing like crazy!

Well this year, I'm happy to say the LittleFreeLibrary.org site re-vamped their map page. It used to list every LFL on the planet and took FOREVER to load, but now you can narrow the list by city or state. So it makes road tripping so much easier! And yes I confirmed that if you're on a road trip, you can leave "city" blank, just put in a state, and the filter will be happy.

Here's the map of them all:

Here's what I like to do:

1) Visit libraries in my area to see who's got a surplus of books - some of them are loaded up like slide lock puzzles, crammed shelves of books with more books shoved on top. This tends to happen to LFLs in "nicer" areas, hate to say it.

2) If a library is "basically full" it's considered impolite to borrow more than 2-3 books. But if it's crammed full? I don't feel so bad about taking a few more. Especially ones they probably won't miss... beat up paperbacks, western fiction, reference books. Trust me you are doing them a favor. Kids books are considered premium so only take those if it's really crammed or you're really going someplace in need.

3) Then on your next road trip, plot out some new libraries. Take a box of books, either from LFLs in your area or from your own collection, and stop at as many LFLs as you can. Bonus points if it's a library in a crappy tiny town - I've found that those are the ones most likely to have more space.

And keep the circulation going. If you want, grab more books from those libraries and take them back to your town just to get some new titles in there. Most LFLs have a stock that changes fairly regularly but not all. If you're in doubt about whether it's okay to take books, knock on the door of the steward's house or shoot them an email to ask how they're doing (many of their emails are on the LFL map website).

My Five Year Old at The Book Barn in Columbia, MO

Maybe you'll find something awesome to read, maybe you'll find something downright silly like that coffee table photo book we found of the Jonas brothers tour, either way you'll hopefully get to see some really cool new library designs and share your love of literature with more awesome people from around the country.

Happy reading!
Marc and I got married when gay marriage was IMPOSSIBLE in Kansas. Being gay rights activists, I mentioned to our friends that we were contemplating whether it was really right to get a legal marriage when not everyone could do it - maybe we should have just have the ceremony but sign no Kansas papers, as a symbol that the government should not be allowed to define what marriage is.

But my gay friends told me to get legally married. "Own it," said the guy next to me, "Whatever you can get in this world, and use it for good." It was brought up that if Marc and I saved on taxes by being married, that was more money I could donate to the cause of marriage equality! And really that's the story I think of when people get defensive about privilege. Yes I definitely did/still have straight privilege and that was an obvious case where I was about to benefit from it. I had the right to get married, whether I took it or not. I had the choice - that's a huge privilege, and there was no way for me to not have that choice, and there was no way for me to exchange it and give that privilege to my friends Tom & Mike even though they'd been together 20 years and Marc and I had stuck it out for barely two.

Sometimes when you point out privilege people get really defensive about it. It usually happens when they're saying something wrong. There's this conversation:

Person A: "I don't think black people get followed around in stores like criminals, and if they do what's the big deal they can still shop, I haven't seen it being a problem. I don't think it's worth talking about."

Person B: "Well you're white, you might not notice it as easily because it doesn't happen to you. You can easily choose not to see it, or you could be in a store with no black people. When a black person goes shopping, they have no choice but to be in that minority situation every time and deal with the stereotypes that come along with it, they experience what it's like for black people buying groceries 100% of the time they go out. They don't have the privilege of ignoring it. You do."

Person A: "Oh, so I don't matter? I should just shut up? Well EXCUSE ME for being white! I didn't choose this you know. And I'm not privileged! My life was hard, I grew up poor, I got beat up too, every day bad things happen to everybody! Why are you saying I have it so EASY, am I just supposed to go live under a bridge to even this all out? Here, take my shoes, I wouldn't want the PRIVILEGE of my feet staying warm to offend anybody!"

You get the idea. But the point is, person B wasn't calling person A a "bad person", they only thing they're mentioning is that person A might not be the authority on racism because they aren't in a place to experience it.

That blind spot, that lack of first person experience, is bound to happen. And it'll happen whether the white person A is shoeless, poor, gay, or female... circumstances are not apples and apples, they don't add up or cancel each other out. You can't return the fact that you were born white. And it's true you didn't chose it. Everyone knows this. They're not looking for an apology for being white and it's really dismissive to act like that's what the issue is.

When someone says you might be wrong because you're privileged, the thing to do is step back and start taking your own experiences with a grain of salt. Thank them for their perspective. Be a good listener. If you've said something offensive, apologize for what you said and try to do better. And not in the non-apology, "I'm sorry if you were offended" kind of way that puts it back on them. Try the "I'm sorry I spoke without considering all sides of this story. I'm glad others were here to share their viewpoints and help me learn."

You can't be everybody. It doesn't matter if you're discussing life or car maintenance - someone in the world knows something you don't. You can't make up for it, deny it or feel sorry about it, at least not in a way that helps. All you can do is respect the stories that are the most different from yours, because those are the ones that will lend perspective, and get you out of the isolation that keeps you from understanding whole situations.

Don't apologize for who you are, apologize for the mistakes you make. Then be an ally - someone who is appreciative of being called out, who owns their privilege, and uses it for good.

Is that so hard?


friday 5: happiness

1. Are you a happy person?

2. What is happiness for you?
I've realized it's a few things. I am completely, totally content and happy under the following conditions:
1) I'm outside
2) Sitting down
3) Surrounded by the people I love
4) Who are all laughing, having a wonderful time
5) But not talking to me
6) Temperature is 75-83 °F
7) And not too sunny
8) And I'm a little drunk

3. What do you think is the color for happiness?
This is a pretty good one:

4. Do you think that happiness lies within you? Or does it depend upon other people and external things?
I think it can lie within you. I've had busy crazy hectic times when I realized I was happy. I think it depends on what's changing, keeping life interesting, feeling needed.

5. Can money buy happiness?
If used correctly yes I do think money can buy happiness. But not always in the ways we think. It can't be bought at the mall, that's one thing I know for sure. But it can sometimes be bought at the theater.
Out in the world in a pile of donated books I found this book called The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children and I thought oh, I've got one of those! Of course I do love Josie, but starting from about four days out of the womb she's been a tough kid who tends to completely lose her mind over very trivial issues.

This is the kid who flips out if she can't find the exact outfit she wants to wear. She can't look for her shoes because she's too busy throwing a tantrum about the fact that they're not in her immediate view, right now. She loves to draw, but will crumble up a throw a paper if she messes up a single line. At mealtime she has to have the plate she wants.

And there was my favorite time that she threw a tantrum because her graham cracker didn't break exactly along the perforated line.

I've read lots of parenting books, thanks to Josie.

In my mind, I try to roll with a lot of this because I want her to be an independent, opinionated woman who stands up for what she wants. I'm pretty sure this will happen. But I also want her to deal with the world and learn that not everything can go perfectly all the time.

This book reminded me in many ways of The Happiest Toddler On The Block by Harvey Karp. Both authors argue that what we're dealing with isn't EVIL CHILDREN but developmental issues. In Happiest Toddler, the issue was mostly around language - toddlers get frustrated with life and a lot of adults go into "now remember when we talked about sharing..." mode where they want to lecture in paragraph form their expectations, and a little person who's brain is in anger mode just cannot process that, they don't feel heard and they get more and more upset.

Same with older kids. The developmental issues aren't all about language, although that's a big one, there are other skills that contribute to problem solving and flexibility. The idea of The Explosive Child is that we have to help our kids understand that 1) their concerns are being heard and 2) there is a way out of this.

So if your kid asks for pancakes and you make her pancakes and then she says "I wanted sprinkles in the pancakes not on them!" a lot of us adults want to fire back with an equal amount of inflexibility... "tough shit kid, eat." and the kid explodes.

Instead, this book recommends
1) Stating the child's concern back to them You want sprinkles in your pancakes. How come? What's up?
2) Stating your concern, honestly I'm worried that we'll waste the pancakes I already made and we don't have time/ingredients to make more right now.
3) Working together on a solution What could we do?

Maybe you'll end up freezing the pancakes for another day. Maybe you'll agree to put sprinkles in the pancakes tomorrow - that's a big thing, don't be vague about timelines, be certain, these kids need structure.

A lot of adults might read this and think it's more important for the kid to learn that he's a kid and you're an adult and you get to be the boss and if he doesn't like it, he gets punished. But that doesn't work for developmental skills. It would be like punishing a kid for not getting his multiplication test right, when you know there's an obvious way to work on this. Punishment might work for motivation, but a lot of these kids do want to communicate, they want to be in a happy family and work out their problems, they just can't.

I worked with a guy once who said that when people get angry at a meeting, the thing to do is go to the whiteboard. Start writing down everyone's concerns, so it's clear they're all out on the table. We treat each other like that as adults... but it's still not automatic for everybody, many people in this world have a first priority of "make sure I'm heard". So it will be good for a kids' future if you train them in the process of hearing everybody out, then being flexible about solutions.

As for my own kid - reading this book did make me appreciate that my child is really pretty well behaved, maybe because from the start I avoided the "I'm the boss" style of parenting that does not set an example of cooperative problem solving. Many of the examples in this book are about kids with serious, diagnosed issues - they get violent, they explode and can't calm down for hours, etc. Watching Josie this week I saw several examples of her calming herself down, we don't have to completely talk her through it. It helps if we give her time. And when I think back, she's done better this year than last year and the year before that. I'll give her credit.

friday five

1) If you had to eat nothing but CEREAL for a week, what types would you eat?

Like, only one kind of cereal? Well right now the box I have is Life. It's pretty good. Sometimes I also really like chocolate crunchy balls or peanut butter crunchy chocolate balls.

2) Have you ever bought candy/cereal/snack JUST for the PRIZE inside?

When I was a kid, yeah... but I don't think they do that anymore. I still buy kid cereals all the time - cocoa pebbles or rice crispies or count chocula. But there are no prizes.

Once when I was a kid the cinnamon toast crunch boxes had a mail-in where you could send in box tops and get glow in the dark star stickers. Didn't even have to pay shipping and handling! Which was awesome because I had no way to pay anything... but I had access to postage stamps. So I got a STACK of those star stickers.

3) What is the earliest you have ever been drunk?

When we go on float trips we start as soon as we hit the water. So, 8 or 9 am. It's totally acceptable to have jello shots for breakfast out there.

4) Name one thing you have taken apart and could NOT put back together.

I can't think of anything, mostly because I am REALLY determined to solve the puzzle of putting something back together if I see that it's been taken apart, but certainly if it was taken apart by me. I would have to try everything.

5) Three musketeers or three stooges?

Neither... The THREE AMIGOS!

when small town tourism goes bad

I am constantly asking myself what the difference is between the tourist attractions that make it, and the ones that clearly do not. It just seems like somebody's name should be on a poster forever if they mismanage places that could potentially be so cool. It should be a black mark on your business record - you should be required to be along for the ride to fixing the place and getting it back on track and making people happy again.

In 2012 we stayed in the Ramada in Hutchinson Kansas and were thrilled to discover that it featured a space-themed indoor waterpark... apparently here's a photo of what it was like in its heyday:

But we got to have no such fun, because the main kids pool was drained, and the pool as a whole had very restrictive hours for a hotel. You know how most hotel pools are open tons of hours so you can have a morning swim before checkout? Not this one - and the staff was really confused when we complained, just "It is what it is".

And just to add insult, they left the bright lights in the pool room on 24x7, not caring that our very sad three year old could CLEARLY see that there was fun behind those locked doors.

And now that hotel is no longer a Ramada, it's the "Atrium Hotel and Conference Center", the hotel has no real web presence, so all you see are angry facebook posts from people who stayed there hearing there was a fun indoor water park but they found out it was closed or restricted.

Hutchinson is home to the amazing Kansas Cosmosphere, a treasure of the midwest that's always growing and featuring new exhibits and staffed with space enthusiasts. So a space-themed water park could have really added to the draw there. I wonder who's idea it was? Did they talk to the Cosmosphere for advice? Had they ever run a hotel with a pool before?

What went so horribly, horribly wrong?

I also wonder this about the now-defunct Springfield Aquarium, which Marc and I saw something like a decade ago, but then it "closed for remodeling". And there it's sat now for about eight years.

And we don't wonder about Wild West World, the theme park north of Wichita started up by a religious fundamentalist who swindled investors for money. The theme park remains. Closed. A sign to any family that drives by that we just didn't get it right.

Land was cleared, resources were used, taxpayer money was often spent, and then... what? We all just forget and let these places rot, start up a new project and never pass along the lessons? It's too depressing.


why couldn't there be female minions?

I try not to be a picky militant feminist killjoy, honestly. I don't try to find fault with every little thing I see. I realize the Despicable Me minions, soon to be featured in their own special movie, are just supposed to be cute and funny and lovable. So I shouldn't overthink.

But it really bothers me that there's no female minions. I watch Despicable Me with my kids, who love the minions, and it's just another example to me of the way males in this world just get to "be" and do whatever, but females can't. We have to be FEMALE.

The worst part is that the minions were introduced in a way that could have been very gender neutral - but then they were given names: Dave, Stuart, Kevin, Jerry, Tim, Mark, Phil. All traditional male. White male, I might even say... they couldn't even sneak in a "Tony" or "Darnell". Nope, that would have been too easy.

It would have also been very easy to name a minion "Sally". But they didn't. Probably because the illustrators would have assumed that Sally has to wear a bow or have sparkle fairy wings or just basically somehow not fit in, because you can't just have a woman be part of normal life, that would be insane! It would be this huge controversy, proof that those evil feminists have infiltrated the movie industry and are ruining everything, right?

A minion named Megan wouldn't have to wear a bow, guys. She could just be. She could go on a heist or drive a getaway car or go on any crazy adventure, we could laugh at her silly antics.

Instead, we get the male minions dressing up in feminine outfits as comedy, because it's just so darn funny to cross into gender stereotypes, like when Phil dresses as a maid to do housework.

Giving every minion a traditional male name just really irritates me. It says that the normal world is made of and for men, and everybody else has to have a good reason to be there. It says that you can't have a character who's female unless they can come packaged with stereotypes. And it says that we can laugh at men, but women can't be funny or entertaining.

Am I being too picky? I know someone will say I should relax, it's just a kids movie. Minion names are a really simple thing. Well if they're so damn simple why didn't anyone think to name one after a girl? If it was really simple we'd never have to say anything.

independence day activities

Busy holiday weekend as always, the rundown went like this:

Friday was July 3rd, I had the day off. We moved the guinea pig cage out of my sewing room and into the dining room so I can reclaim my space. I love the guys, but with the hay and everything if they're in a room where the door is closed all day it means all the allergens are concentrated and waiting for me when I go in to sew, and I basically can't just casually go in and sew anymore. So they've moved. And then I sewed and it was awesome. Josie helped me some, she can take pins out and lay fabric out straight. Olive is no help.

In the afternoon we packed up and went to Hutchinson Kansas. Marc was DJing so we got a free hotel room and we could wander around and enjoy Hutch Fest - which I'm afraid to say wasn't something we'll probably go back to but we appreciated the visit. It was just kind of strange, there was a car show and barbecue cookoff and the organizers were saying we'd eat so much barbecue but I've been to barbecue cookoffs before, in my experience the competitors are there to compete and maybe give out a sample here and there but not feed families. I was hoping for food trucks or something, because it's a festival? But no. So we went to the anchor inn, which is this mexican buffet restaurant that's very well known as being the pride of Hutchinson, and that was great. We got back and the other volunteer types we'd talked to who were also expecting to be fed had sent friends out for Subway.

The girl scouts had some simple carnival games so I gave them $10 to support the girl scouts and that was fun for Josie. There was a big huge pile of sand somewhere with little toys hidden in it that the kids could dig around in and they had a blast there. There was one face painting booth with one lady face slowly painting faces by herself and I had to talk Josie out of that line, which was rough because Josie loves face painting but I can't sit for 45 minutes waiting for it to happen.

So Hutch Fest was fun if you live in Hutchinson I guess and the next day there were supposed to be fireworks and the fairgrounds is a great place for that. I will say that Josie and Olive loved the dance music at least, lots of DJs playing house and drum and base, the kids got glow sticks and little Olive especially danced until almost 10pm... and then she stopped.

The next day we drove back to Wichita. We went to the YMCA to go swimming for a few hours. Then we went to a cookout at a friends. Great food - ribs and brats and deviled eggs. Marc made fry bread. Lots of kids were lighting off fireworks in the driveway. I told Josie not to let the little boy light them all off, she'd kinda stepped back when he said "I'll light them for you!" I lit a punk just for her and she had a great time lighting smoke bombs and little flowers and fountains. Not 100% safe for a five year old I know but she just loves them.

Olive fell asleep in my arms and we drove home.

Sunday we were lazy. I reorganized the kitchen drawers. The kids painted. Then we went to a grownup birthday/cookout, Josie and Olive were the only kids there so it was calm. We were out in riverside and went to the park to play croquet.

It's fun that we got to hang out with so many different people every day, and the kids just went along and had a good time wherever. I feel like July 4th is the last day that people celebrate summer - after this, we start getting tired of the heat. But this holiday weekend was everything it was supposed to be.

Happy Independence Day, Victor

Happy Independence day, Victor. You feeling independent? I’m feeling independent. I’m feeling extra magical today, Victor. Like I could make anything disappear. Houdini with braids, you know? Wave my hand and poof! The white people are gone, sent back to where they belong. Poof! Paris, London, Moscow. Poof! Berlin, Rome, Athens. Poof! Poof! Poof! Wave my hand and the reservation is gone. The trading post and the post office, the tribal school and the pine trees, the dogs and cats, the drunks and the Catholics, and the drunk Catholics. Poof! And all the little Indian boys named Victor.

- Smoke Signals, 1998. Screenplay: Sherman Alexie

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