missroserose: (Balloons and Ocean)
It's the first real cold morning of winter (15 degrees in Farenheit, -9 in Celsius, At Least Three Layers And All The Winter Accessories in Ambrosia), and I decided to skip yoga class before work because I'm having a hard time convincing myself to go out before it's absolutely necessary. So now that I have two whole hours free, I thought I might wave to my LJ friends and reassure them I made it into the new year just fine.

Biggest laugh of the morning: Women Having A Terrible Time At Parties In Western Art History. "maybe if i keep covering more of my face with my hands/he’ll forget i’m here/and go away"...oh man. Vivid memories of working circulation in my college library, and certain patrons who thought they'd try to chat up the cute girl behind the desk.

It's been a quiet first week of the year. Our holiday plans fell through somewhat - we'd intended to go to a dance/concert with some friends, but they had an emergency and had to cancel. Since we already had tickets, and I had an outfit all picked out, we decided to go anyway; people-watching was fun, but ultimately we just weren't feeling it and decided to hop a train home before the rush. And really, that was okay; we got back and sipped some leftover sparking wine and went to bed. I guess this is officially The Year We Are Old.

Since then we've mostly been hanging out at home, partly due to holiday budgetary hangover and partly due to Brian having come down with a cold (Brian, dismayed: "I was working nights all month and barely left the house! Where did I get a cold?") I managed to fight it off successfully with a combination of Emergen-C and taking it easy for a few days, but given that next week he's going to be commuting to/from a client site in the suburbs, I think our plans to take down Christmas decorations are getting delayed a week.

Other than that, though, things are good. I have a longer and more thoughtful post percolating on finances, long-term goals, social/generational trends, and luck, but the upshot is, we're finally at a point financially where we're able to seriously save for a home of our own. I've honestly doubted for a long time we'd ever reach that point, since the places we wanted to live (i.e. urban environments with good transit and lots of restaurants/attractions) tend to be quite pricey, and historically we're more prone to want to enjoy our money than sock it away; but thanks to hard work, good social connections, and some excellent luck, it's looking like we may be able to start seriously house-hunting (or, more likely, condo-hunting) in a couple of years. We'll see how it works out - make plans and the gods laugh, after all. Still, it's a nice place to be.

I don't have any New Year's resolutions as such; most of my goals are continuous (keep up with yoga/healthier food choices to keep my mood issues in check, keep an eye out for new career opportunities, keep learning new things to avoid getting stuck in a rut, et cetera). But a theme that's been coming up in my life lately has been practicing gratitude without anxiety or entitlement. I have a lot of friends who did not have a great 2015, often due to factors entirely beyond their control; I know that someday that might be me (in cases involving death of a loved one, someday it will be me, unless I die first). And I also know a lot of people - including me, sometimes - who have trouble appreciating when things go well because all they can focus on is how temporary it is, and how things are bound to go wrong eventually. So I've been working on holding that sense of gratitude, and the vulnerability it entails, and being gentle with the part of me that wants to get caught up in worrying about the future. Similarly, there's the part of me that's terrified of becoming an entitled white person, who subconsciously believes they're owed their privilege and success simply because they've always had it; it's partly why I get so uncomfortable in the suburbs, where there's a high percentage of people with that mindset. So I'm trying to be gentle with that part of me as well, acknowledging its existence and reassuring it through various means (staying socially aware, donating when I can and without feeling guilty for not giving more, practicing compassion towards others even when they're doing things I disagree with or find inconvenient). It's a tough balance to strike, and man, is it difficult to practice self-love towards the parts of your personality you don't like. But it feels like important work, so I'm going to keep at it.
missroserose: (After the Storm)
It's kind of amazing, how the spectre of upcoming Major Financial News has a tendency to rearrange your priorities with some alacrity. To wit, today I was quoted over two grand for the upcoming tooth extraction. Admittedly, that's worst-case - before insurance and with full anesthesia. Insurance should at least cover a few hundred, and if I can tough out my usual tooth-related squeamishness for a few minutes - anyone have a Valium I can borrow? - I can save $800 on the cost of the anesthesia. But still, that's a pretty eye-popping number. And that's not even getting into what the implant's going to cost, or even the temporary cosmetic spacer. (Which, I am informed, insurance usually does cover. Which surprised the heck out of me, but I'm not going to complain, because I'm vain.)

I'm lucky, in that it's a hit we can absorb - not easily, perhaps, but it's doable. And I don't want to sound like I'm ungrateful; just about anything's better than having a tooth that regularly has half of its mass pop out of alignment when you bite down the wrong way. But I find myself regarding things like our restaurant bills and impulse purchases rather differently. A friend wants to come visit and I've been meaning to take him out to the local theatre! ...but upcoming tooth bill. The Lyric has inexpensive tickets to Capriccio! ...but upcoming tooth bill. A friend of mine has a role in Perseverance's upcoming production of one of my all-time favorite musicals, which just happens to be running right when I'm going to be in Alaska for Thanksgiving! ...but upcoming tooth bill. (That last is the big bummer of growing up in the country's largest state; swinging by to visit friends in a 'nearby' town necessitates either three days of driving and a ferry ticket or else a $125 ticket change fee to Alaska Airlines.)

Ah well. I'm still feeling pretty good despite the frustrations. So I can't think of a better way to finish than with this video a friend posted on my Facebook page awhile back - one of the best buskers I've ever seen. I am completely in awe of anyone willing to even attempt to cover Nina Simone, and she just knocks it out of the park like she's not even trying. I get chills every time I listen to it.

missroserose: (Warrior III)
Well, "Anchorage, ho!" three days ago, anyway. First class on Alaska Airlines, too - thanks, Mum! Eight-plus hours of flying is so much less stressful when you have enough room to move about in your seat. And proper food. And free drinks. (Though I cut myself off after two, and was glad I did - when I hit my layover after the first four-hour flight, I felt slightly nauseous and hungover, likely due to the combination of alcohol with drastic altitude/pressure changes.) I even, for the first time since I was a kid, managed to doze a little on the second flight - normally I can never sleep without being properly curled up on my side, but the seat was just big enough for me to make an approximation of it. And wi-fi on planes, ridiculously overpriced as it is ($21 for a day pass? Seriously, Gogo?) still may be one of the world's greatest inventions. As studies have repeatedly shown (usually in the context of trying to multitask whilst texting or talking on the phone), electronic communications are nearly as good as narcotics (and far more predictable/healthy/legal) for removing our minds from our surroundings. Which, when you're talking about cramped confines and recycled air and enforced sedentariness for hours at a time, is precisely what you need to make it bearable.

I came up to help my mother while she underwent a minor surgical procedure, and I'm glad to say that that part of it has gone very well - she's recovered quickly and is mostly off even the low-grade Vicodin they prescribed her. Really, the hardest part was sitting with her in the recovery room, which was just a little bit emotional. At one point I was singing to her, and she was helping me remember the words to "Feed The Birds" (from Mary Poppins, which she used to sing to me when I was young), but she kept drifting in and out from the drugs, and what with the resemblance to a death scene in a movie, I ended up a bit verklempt with the weepies. Still, she came out of it fine, and so did I.

On a happier note, my mother's yoga studio has been kind enough to let me use her subscription while she's recovering. They practice a lot of core-strengthening vinyasa yoga, which I'd never tried before, but holy crap - during the first session I went to, I could practically hear my body howling "YES! THIS! THIS IS WHAT I'VE BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU I NEED!" I'm not even exaggerating. It was challenging, but not overwhelming, and felt goddamn good - I've been to two sessions now and have regained almost all the lung capacity I've lost from not having the staircase at the end of our street to climb every day. And I feel like I'm two inches taller. I've known for a while that I need to improve my core muscle strength, both to help posture and to keep my back from tweaking, but (as with so many other things) I don't do so great when I'm solely self-directed. I'll do a bit here and there, but if I have a class to go to or someone expecting me, I'm much much more likely to keep with it. So having someone direct a whole series of exercises for precisely what my body needed was a fantastic experience. Even if I'm sore in places I didn't know I had muscles.

The downside is that, if I want to keep doing classes, I'm basically going to need to join a studio, which is expensive in Chicago. CorePower Yoga (which has a studio right in Uptown, about a mile from my house - easy to get to via walking or transit) is running a Groupon for a month's subscription for slightly less than half-price; it's still $70, but Mum bought me one, and offered to help with the cost if I like the place and want to keep going there. I hope I do like it, because I think it might be good for me psychologically, too; if I have a class to go to, I'm much less likely to plop down on the couch with my coffee early in the morning and not move again until mid-afternoon. Which I've been known to do. Occasionally.

Meanwhile, after hearing rave reviews from both press and friends, I've been playing with Duolingo. I do like the "gamification of learning" concept (achievements and in-game currency that unlocks silly extras works just as well for reinforcing good habits!), and when I read about how the inventor funds the program (rather than selling ad space or people's personal information, he sells the individual translations people do in aggregate as a translation service for websites with multilingual branches. How ingenious is that?) I decided I'd give it a go. From both an app and a game standpoint, it's remarkably well designed; the interface is clean and easy to use, and the rewards come often enough to be an encouragement but not so often that they lose any sense of intrinsic worth. As to language-learning, I can't really speak to its efficacy vs. other methods (since I've always been too intimidated by the work involved to try learning another language - which, I guess, makes this method infinitely more efficacious than any other!), but I really like that it's geared toward encouraging consistency rather than intensity of study. It never scolds you for failing a lesson, or for failing to progress quickly enough - in fact, it has a feature where, when you finish a particular section, it encourages you to review it regularly to strengthen your knowledge. Rather than reward you solely for progressing along the tree, it also gives you XP for successfully-completed lessons, and when you do a lesson over (which you'll almost certainly have to do unless you're crazy-good at picking up terms and syntax), it doesn't give you a reduced XP award - and, in fact, if you manage to get through a lesson with a perfect score, it gives you a significant bonus. My favorite moment so far, however, was when it got to be 3:30 in the afternoon today and I hadn't logged any time, and I got a cheerful email going "Hey, check out this five-day streak you've got going! Want to see it get to six?" Seriously, it does a great job exploiting all the same triggers that MMORPGs and advertisers do while encouraging people to do something useful.

My goal is modest - I just want to get to where I can read books in a given language, since most of my multilingual friends say reading in a different language regularly is the next best thing to constantly speaking it around you. Though, since I picked Italian, I may have to settle for listening to opera. Or maybe I can read The Name of the Rose in the original? I suppose Umberto Eco might seem slightly less pompous that way...

I miss Brian a lot. I've been reading to him via Skype or Facetime or just the phone (whichever we can get to work at the time), and he's been showing/telling me all about the delicious things he's been cooking. I'd almost think he was doing it to spite me, since he's cooking more now than he has in the past couple weeks combined, but I know it's more that it fills his time and he finds it soothing. Maybe if he eats enough I'll be able to convince him to come to one of the beginning vinyasa yoga classes with me. One hour burns 238 calories, according to my tracker!
missroserose: (Balloons and Ocean)
Things are still very much outstanding on the hospital-bill snafu, unfortunately, but I'm doing my best to just not worry about it at the moment.

That said, I'd like to comment that my frustrations and generalized anger towards the medical profession is not inclusive of optometrists or dentists. My experiences with them and their billing have been universally neutral or outright positive; their billing practices tend to be far less opaque, and their prices far more connected to something resembling reality. For instance, I just called my dentist's office about a bill I wasn't certain about; I've had one particular filling that's fallen out a couple of times, and it looked like I was being charged for replacing it despite the fact that it was less than a year old. The receptionist looked at the bill, pulled my chart, apologized for the error, and fixed it, taking a $190 bill down to a $25 bill. No runarounds, no "I'll have to kick that up to my supervisor", no "you have to wait seven to ten days for an itemized billing", nothing.

I realize that this is probably at least partly due to their being a smaller clinic with a much smaller range of services, but FFS, Copper Queen Community Hospital is not exactly large. And yet their billing department is still completely divorced from their actual caregiving services (I suspect it's outsourced to a company in Phoenix, since I have to call a 1-888 number to reach them). Tell me that's not a recipe for errors and frustration.
missroserose: (Not Amused)
Some time ago, a friend commented lightly that I seem to have some issues around the medical profession, and that perhaps I should seek counseling for that. While I understand that she meant well, I must assume she and I have had fairly differing experiences with the American medical care system. Since as near as I can tell, if you don't have issues with the American medical care system, chances are you need counseling.

A little less than ten years ago, I went to the emergency room in Juneau for a dose of Plan B. (Funny thing how condoms always seem to break on a Saturday night, so all the community health centers and doctors' offices are closed the next day.) The price tag, for two pills and a fifteen-minute chat with a doctor, was $158.08. (Cripes, I cringe at my younger self.) Which, at the time, equated to more than half of one of my meager paychecks (working part time at the University library), and was especially grating as, if I'd waited a day, I could've gotten the pills for free (or the next best thing), but their chances of being effective would've been proportionately lower. Fortunately I had a good boyfriend who paid half the cost, and my mother helped me cover my share.

A couple of months ago, I went to the emergency room here in Bisbee after slicing the tip of my thumb half-off. The nurse gave me some soapy water to soak it in, then the doctor stuck it back on with some Dermabond (medical superglue) and wrapped a bandage around it.

Total charges to my insurance? $1,985.

Obviously I'm a little flabbergasted at this. But I reason that perhaps they've mis-billed me, or gotten my account mixed up with someone who had to go in for a biopsy, or something, so I decide to wait for the itemized bill.

Wait, "itemized bill"? You mean, like, where we tell you exactly what we've charged you for? Where we volunteer information that could potentially cost us money, especially given the prevalence of incorrect billing in the medical industry? Ha! You must be joking, says the billing department. Here's your statement. Your share is $558.05. Pay up.

So I call the number on the statement, assuming that I should at least be able to have someone tell me what I've been billed for.

Oh no, says the operator, I can't possibly read you that over the phone, despite having just asked you for about ten different pieces of information to verify your identity. But I can have them send you an itemized statement. You know, like the one any other sort of company would have sent you first thing. You should receive it in seven to ten business days. Then if you have a charge you want to dispute, you can call this number, or if you feel something's been mis-priced, you can call that number.

What's really worrisome is that between that, and the month and a half it took them to send me the goddamn bill in the first place, and the week I was on vacation, exactly how long do I have until they send my bill to collections?
missroserose: (Show Your Magic)
Let's have a little thought experiment.

Let's say that you, as a normal person, come across a blog post on the Internet. Not from anyone you know - perhaps a friend of a friend, or something that's been spread around a few social networks. In the blog post, someone who finds themselves in a really awful situation financially is asking for help, and perhaps offering whatever small thanks they can in return for donations.

Now, you consider yourself to be a compassionate, generous person (whether you are or not doesn't matter - we're all subject to the Lake Wobegon Effect, where we all think that we're better than average when it comes to desirable traits). But for whatever reason, you decide that this post, heartbreaking as it is, isn't something you feel inspired to donate to. Perhaps you're still paying off your Christmas spending. Perhaps you're saving for a vacation. Perhaps something about the person's story seems bogus to you. Perhaps you (likely subconsciously) figure you don't know this person and therefore aren't likely to get much in return from helping them. Perhaps things are just financially tight and you don't feel like you're in a place to hand out money. Perhaps you're afraid that if you give money to this person, you'll have to give the same amount to the next plea for help, and so on, and there won't be any left for you. Any number of reasons, many of which are perfectly valid. It's your money, after all.

The problem is, we're all socially conditioned (to an extent) to want to be generous and compassionate. Partly so that other people will think well of us, and partly because it's how we want to think of ourselves. So when you don't wish to contribute, which your conscience tells you is greedy (because really, how many of us first-worlders honestly can't spare $10 to help that mother in need?), you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, mentally. Your self-perception is clashing with your actions. In psychological terms, you're experiencing cognitive dissonance.

There are several ways to deal with this uncomfortable state of affairs. You can:

[a] Donate anyway, thus quieting the worry that you're not as generous as you think you are
[b] Abandon the ideas of generosity and compassion as virtues you aspire to
[c] Find reasons why the author of the blog post isn't really in need, thus proving that it's not you who is greedy, it's the person asking for handouts

Obviously, none of these options are ideal. If you go with [a], you'll feel like you've been manipulated into giving away money despite your better judgment, which doesn't make anyone happy. if you choose [b], you end up like the Randian libertarians, proudly claiming that anyone who struggles financially must be there because of their own choices and has no one to blame but themselves, despite that being patently untrue.*

Ergo, [c] is by far the easiest option, and therefore the one most people take. Because if that's what you're looking for, it's never difficult to look at someone's story and find reasons why they aren't really deserving of help. Maybe they made some poor financial decisions. Perhaps something about their story doesn't add up, and therefore they're probably a scammer and you'd just be throwing away your money anyway. They're probably just like that couple you read about the other day, living in a million-dollar mansion and collecting welfare.** And even if they are genuine, why can't they go to a charity/get public assistance/etc. etc.?

Obviously there are significant flaws in this line of reasoning. No one is perfect; no one is going to always make the best decision 100% of the time. Sometimes a decision ends up being a poor one in retrospect, sometimes we make an objectively poor decision because we value something about it more than the society at large says we should. There's no such thing as the poor person who's done everything right, just as there's no such thing as the rich person who's there because they did everything right (Randians, take note of #6 on this list). Outside influences and just plain luck both play a huge role in people's life circumstances, far greater than we pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-conditioned Americans like to believe. But we tell ourselves (and each other) that these things must be true, despite knowing nothing about the specifics of a person's situation or being in any place whatsoever to judge them, because that makes us feel better about ourselves (and each other). And since we weren't going to donate anyway, what's the harm?

To answer that question, let's try another thought experiment.

Let's say that, through a combination of bad luck and poor decisions, you've ended up scraping together pennies from between the couch cushions to make certain you've enough to eat. You're sure (or praying, anyway) that this is a temporary poverty, that you'll be able to climb back up that mountain of unpaid bills and get back to your usual middle-class life, because you certainly aren't poor. But a boost to get you through this spot could make the difference between making it up that mountain and getting buried beneath it. Perhaps you don't qualify for assistance, or perhaps you simply can't get past the "only poor people need public assistance, and I'm not really poor" mental roadblock. For whatever reason, you're desperate enough to put up a blog post asking for help.***

Lots of people read it. Some of them pass it around on their social networks. Some people send you some money, money that might help you have electricity and water next month. Lots of people don't, for any of the above (and, again, perfectly valid) reasons. Some of those people who don't donate nonetheless post encouraging messages, offering other means of help or even just moral support.

And then, as the link gets passed around, and people further from your immediate social network read it, you start to get the negativity. People who've never been part of your life before going on about how you should have done this, or shouldn't have done that, despite having no idea what situation you might've been in when you made those decisions. You know that you should just ignore them, these people are talking out of their ass, but nonetheless they're powerful enough to wipe out all the good feeling generated by the previous encouraging posts - people are simply wired to respond more strongly to negative feedback than positive. Even if your decisions are worthy of questioning, chances are you've already gone over and over them in your mind as things got worse for you, so other people pointing out your mistakes is only going to increase the endless self-questioning and adrenaline and fear that's part of being in desperate financial straits.

Look, everyone. It's easy to be an all-singing, all-dancing, all-knowing jerk. It's easy to assume that the people asking for your help wouldn't actually need it if they just worked a little harder. It's easy to think that the people begging for money on the street are all drunkards who'd just spend your spare $5 on booze instead of food. It's easy to write a self-righteous comment about how they should've just done xyz and everything would be better. It's easy, and it leaves your self-image intact, and it makes you feel virtuous. But all of that comes at the expense of the person with the the least to give - i.e. the person in need.

Thing is, I'm not saying we should all donate every time someone asks us to. There are so many worthy causes, so many people in need, that even if we wanted to we wouldn't be able to give to all of them. And we're human, too - just as the person asking for help might have made a poor financial decision that contributed to their current state, we might look at their post and think "I'd like to help, but I'd really rather buy that professional-quality hair straightener I've had my eye on"****. It's our money, and ultimately no one gets to decide how we spend it but us.

So here's what I propose for option [d], which is a little harder than option [c], but ultimately makes everyone happier: Stop judging yourself.

You might think the answer is "stop judging others", but if you look at the chain of logic outlined above, you'll see that judging others lies inherently in self-judgment. You judge yourself as greedy for wanting a hair straightener (or whatever) more than you want to help someone, so you turn around and judge the person asking to alleviate that. But instead of making yourself feel better at their expense, you can do something that's a little bit harder, but that makes everyone happier: Stop judging yourself.

And when you do, you'll realize there are lots of ways you can contribute to making someone in a dire situation feel better that don't cost a cent.

Instead of assuming the homeless man with the sign is a drunk and hurrying past him, smile and make eye contact.*****

Instead of writing comments claiming the mother with medical bills should take her kid out of private school and then everything will be hunky dory in her world, write something encouraging to her. Or spread the link around.

Instead of judging yourself, accept that you're human, and won't always do what you imagine to be the "right" thing. Find other ways to contribute, like writing a blog post persuading others to choose a mindset based in hope and abundance rather than fear and scarcity.

Virtue isn't a zero-sum game. No one's going to think less of you for not donating to a particular person or cause.****** But a smile or a kind word costs nothing, helps a person in a bad place feel like the world isn't completely out to get them, and makes everyone who sees you feel better besides.

It's difficult enough for someone to ask for help when they need it. Let's make it an occasion for hope, not despair.

----

*Judging by my admittedly unscientific surveys of various message boards, this mode of thinking has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past few years. I have a theory that this likely stems from the sudden impoverishment of a large section of the American populace and therefore rise in neediness over the past few years, which has thus inspired guilt in many people who haven't lost their jobs and/or aren't struggling financially. It's sad that so many people have gone with that option, but at least a little hopeful because it means they were feeling guilty in the first place, which means generosity as a virtue hasn't fallen completely out of fashion.

**Which is likely a misleading story in and of itself - what if that couple lost all their money in the economic crash and are underwater on their loan so they can't sell the house and under loads of debt? Would you really begrudge them a few hundred dollars a month so they and their children could eat?

***And if you think you'd never be that desperate, I can only congratulate you on your self-reliance and hope that you're never in a position to find out otherwise.

****Guilty, yes I am.

*****You'd be surprised how many of them will smile in return, even when you're not giving them money. When you're at that social level, just having your existence acknowledged is a gift.

******And if they do, it's more a reflection on their own self-judgment than on you.
missroserose: (Show Your Magic)
Let's have a little thought experiment.

Let's say that you, as a normal person, come across a blog post on the Internet. Not from anyone you know - perhaps a friend of a friend, or something that's been spread around a few social networks. In the blog post, someone who finds themselves in a really awful situation financially is asking for help, and perhaps offering whatever small thanks they can in return for donations.

Now, you consider yourself to be a compassionate, generous person (whether you are or not doesn't matter - we're all subject to the Lake Wobegon Effect, where we all think that we're better than average when it comes to desirable traits). But for whatever reason, you decide that this post, heartbreaking as it is, isn't something you feel inspired to donate to. Perhaps you're still paying off your Christmas spending. Perhaps you're saving for a vacation. Perhaps something about the person's story seems bogus to you. Perhaps you (likely subconsciously) figure you don't know this person and therefore aren't likely to get much in return from helping them. Perhaps things are just financially tight and you don't feel like you're in a place to hand out money. Perhaps you're afraid that if you give money to this person, you'll have to give the same amount to the next plea for help, and so on, and there won't be any left for you. Any number of reasons, many of which are perfectly valid. It's your money, after all.

The problem is, we're all socially conditioned (to an extent) to want to be generous and compassionate. Partly so that other people will think well of us, and partly because it's how we want to think of ourselves. So when you don't wish to contribute, which your conscience tells you is greedy (because really, how many of us first-worlders honestly can't spare $10 to help that mother in need?), you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, mentally. Your self-perception is clashing with your actions. In psychological terms, you're experiencing cognitive dissonance.

There are several ways to deal with this uncomfortable state of affairs. You can:

[a] Donate anyway, thus quieting the worry that you're not as generous as you think you are
[b] Abandon the ideas of generosity and compassion as virtues you aspire to
[c] Find reasons why the author of the blog post isn't really in need, thus proving that it's not you who is greedy, it's the person asking for handouts

Obviously, none of these options are ideal. If you go with [a], you'll feel like you've been manipulated into giving away money despite your better judgment, which doesn't make anyone happy. if you choose [b], you end up like the Randian libertarians, proudly claiming that anyone who struggles financially must be there because of their own choices and has no one to blame but themselves, despite that being patently untrue.*

Ergo, [c] is by far the easiest option, and therefore the one most people take. Because if that's what you're looking for, it's never difficult to look at someone's story and find reasons why they aren't really deserving of help. Maybe they made some poor financial decisions. Perhaps something about their story doesn't add up, and therefore they're probably a scammer and you'd just be throwing away your money anyway. They're probably just like that couple you read about the other day, living in a million-dollar mansion and collecting welfare.** And even if they are genuine, why can't they go to a charity/get public assistance/etc. etc.?

Obviously there are significant flaws in this line of reasoning. No one is perfect; no one is going to always make the best decision 100% of the time. Sometimes a decision ends up being a poor one in retrospect, sometimes we make an objectively poor decision because we value something about it more than the society at large says we should. There's no such thing as the poor person who's done everything right, just as there's no such thing as the rich person who's there because they did everything right (Randians, take note of #6 on this list). Outside influences and just plain luck both play a huge role in people's life circumstances, far greater than we pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-conditioned Americans like to believe. But we tell ourselves (and each other) that these things must be true, despite knowing nothing about the specifics of a person's situation or being in any place whatsoever to judge them, because that makes us feel better about ourselves (and each other). And since we weren't going to donate anyway, what's the harm?

To answer that question, let's try another thought experiment.

Let's say that, through a combination of bad luck and poor decisions, you've ended up scraping together pennies from between the couch cushions to make certain you've enough to eat. You're sure (or praying, anyway) that this is a temporary poverty, that you'll be able to climb back up that mountain of unpaid bills and get back to your usual middle-class life, because you certainly aren't poor. But a boost to get you through this spot could make the difference between making it up that mountain and getting buried beneath it. Perhaps you don't qualify for assistance, or perhaps you simply can't get past the "only poor people need public assistance, and I'm not really poor" mental roadblock. For whatever reason, you're desperate enough to put up a blog post asking for help.***

Lots of people read it. Some of them pass it around on their social networks. Some people send you some money, money that might help you have electricity and water next month. Lots of people don't, for any of the above (and, again, perfectly valid) reasons. Some of those people who don't donate nonetheless post encouraging messages, offering other means of help or even just moral support.

And then, as the link gets passed around, and people further from your immediate social network read it, you start to get the negativity. People who've never been part of your life before going on about how you should have done this, or shouldn't have done that, despite having no idea what situation you might've been in when you made those decisions. You know that you should just ignore them, these people are talking out of their ass, but nonetheless they're powerful enough to wipe out all the good feeling generated by the previous encouraging posts - people are simply wired to respond more strongly to negative feedback than positive. Even if your decisions are worthy of questioning, chances are you've already gone over and over them in your mind as things got worse for you, so other people pointing out your mistakes is only going to increase the endless self-questioning and adrenaline and fear that's part of being in desperate financial straits.

Look, everyone. It's easy to be an all-singing, all-dancing, all-knowing jerk. It's easy to assume that the people asking for your help wouldn't actually need it if they just worked a little harder. It's easy to think that the people begging for money on the street are all drunkards who'd just spend your spare $5 on booze instead of food. It's easy to write a self-righteous comment about how they should've just done xyz and everything would be better. It's easy, and it leaves your self-image intact, and it makes you feel virtuous. But all of that comes at the expense of the person with the the least to give - i.e. the person in need.

Thing is, I'm not saying we should all donate every time someone asks us to. There are so many worthy causes, so many people in need, that even if we wanted to we wouldn't be able to give to all of them. And we're human, too - just as the person asking for help might have made a poor financial decision that contributed to their current state, we might look at their post and think "I'd like to help, but I'd really rather buy that professional-quality hair straightener I've had my eye on"****. It's our money, and ultimately no one gets to decide how we spend it but us.

So here's what I propose for option [d], which is a little harder than option [c], but ultimately makes everyone happier: Stop judging yourself.

You might think the answer is "stop judging others", but if you look at the chain of logic outlined above, you'll see that judging others lies inherently in self-judgment. You judge yourself as greedy for wanting a hair straightener (or whatever) more than you want to help someone, so you turn around and judge the person asking to alleviate that. But instead of making yourself feel better at their expense, you can do something that's a little bit harder, but that makes everyone happier: Stop judging yourself.

And when you do, you'll realize there are lots of ways you can contribute to making someone in a dire situation feel better that don't cost a cent.

Instead of assuming the homeless man with the sign is a drunk and hurrying past him, smile and make eye contact.*****

Instead of writing comments claiming the mother with medical bills should take her kid out of private school and then everything will be hunky dory in her world, write something encouraging to her. Or spread the link around.

Instead of judging yourself, accept that you're human, and won't always do what you imagine to be the "right" thing. Find other ways to contribute, like writing a blog post persuading others to choose a mindset based in hope and abundance rather than fear and scarcity.

Virtue isn't a zero-sum game. No one's going to think less of you for not donating to a particular person or cause.****** But a smile or a kind word costs nothing, helps a person in a bad place feel like the world isn't completely out to get them, and makes everyone who sees you feel better besides.

It's difficult enough for someone to ask for help when they need it. Let's make it an occasion for hope, not despair.

----

*Judging by my admittedly unscientific surveys of various message boards, this mode of thinking has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past few years. I have a theory that this likely stems from the sudden impoverishment of a large section of the American populace and therefore rise in neediness over the past few years, which has thus inspired guilt in many people who haven't lost their jobs and/or aren't struggling financially. It's sad that so many people have gone with that option, but at least a little hopeful because it means they were feeling guilty in the first place, which means generosity as a virtue hasn't fallen completely out of fashion.

**Which is likely a misleading story in and of itself - what if that couple lost all their money in the economic crash and are underwater on their loan so they can't sell the house and under loads of debt? Would you really begrudge them a few hundred dollars a month so they and their children could eat?

***And if you think you'd never be that desperate, I can only congratulate you on your self-reliance and hope that you're never in a position to find out otherwise.

****Guilty, yes I am.

*****You'd be surprised how many of them will smile in return, even when you're not giving them money. When you're at that social level, just having your existence acknowledged is a gift.

******And if they do, it's more a reflection on their own self-judgment than on you.
missroserose: (Balloons and Ocean)
I've been a proponent of credit unions since long before it was fashionable to abandon large banks; I made the switch when we moved to Arizona, having gotten increasingly tired of Wells Fargo's increasingly labyrinthine requirements to avoid monthly fees. It's been nearly two years now and I've never regretted making the switch. Sometimes it's a little inconvenient not being able to find a fee-free ATM nearby, but given that [a] I barely ever use cash and [b] you can get cash back at the grocery store with no fees, I can't say as I've found that aspect particularly problematic.

But I wanted to send a shout-out to American Southwest Credit Union in particular. Not only have they had excellent service whenever I've been by, and not only did they give us a screamingly good deal on our used-car loan, but they have all sorts of nifty little touches that really make you feel like a valued customer. One program is their holiday skip-a-payment - if you have non-real-estate loans through them, you can fill out a form and skip your loan payment for the month of December, which makes budgeting for gifts much, much easier. (I assume that it still accrues interest, but with an APR of less than 7%, one month doesn't worry me overmuch.) Additionally, they've been advertising for a while on their website a "knock of 1%" promotion - refinance one of your loans with them, and they'll take 1% off the interest rate. I'd assumed this was only for outside loans, but today I looked at the fine print, and they'll do it for in-house ones as well, once they're 24 months old. So hopefully next March, when our auto loan qualifies, they'll still be running it.

Seriously, it's not very often that I feel this valued as a customer by any institution. Here's hoping that the hundreds of thousands of other folks who've made the credit-union switch have equally good experiences.
missroserose: (Balloons and Ocean)
I've been a proponent of credit unions since long before it was fashionable to abandon large banks; I made the switch when we moved to Arizona, having gotten increasingly tired of Wells Fargo's increasingly labyrinthine requirements to avoid monthly fees. It's been nearly two years now and I've never regretted making the switch. Sometimes it's a little inconvenient not being able to find a fee-free ATM nearby, but given that [a] I barely ever use cash and [b] you can get cash back at the grocery store with no fees, I can't say as I've found that aspect particularly problematic.

But I wanted to send a shout-out to American Southwest Credit Union in particular. Not only have they had excellent service whenever I've been by, and not only did they give us a screamingly good deal on our used-car loan, but they have all sorts of nifty little touches that really make you feel like a valued customer. One program is their holiday skip-a-payment - if you have non-real-estate loans through them, you can fill out a form and skip your loan payment for the month of December, which makes budgeting for gifts much, much easier. (I assume that it still accrues interest, but with an APR of less than 7%, one month doesn't worry me overmuch.) Additionally, they've been advertising for a while on their website a "knock of 1%" promotion - refinance one of your loans with them, and they'll take 1% off the interest rate. I'd assumed this was only for outside loans, but today I looked at the fine print, and they'll do it for in-house ones as well, once they're 24 months old. So hopefully next March, when our auto loan qualifies, they'll still be running it.

Seriously, it's not very often that I feel this valued as a customer by any institution. Here's hoping that the hundreds of thousands of other folks who've made the credit-union switch have equally good experiences.
missroserose: (Gifted & Talented)
I've been working on putting together goodie bags for the guests at my cocktail party later this month, and one of the things I wanted to include (since it's a party for a bartending blog) was a measurer of some sort. However, since I'm working on the rough estimate of 15 or so guests coming, I obviously didn't want to pay $5 apiece like they seemed to be running at most stores. So, like any enterprising hostess, I hit up Amazon.

Hurrah, a third-party seller were selling 1 ounce by 2 ounce jiggers (a fairly useful size for the beginner) for 27 cents. Plus five dollars shipping, which would have made them rather pricey as singles, but perfect for buying in bulk. Less than $10 for the lot, and thanks to a bit of leftover Amazon credit I had, I got all 15 of them for a grand total of $3.25. Woot!

Now to see if I can find some liqueur-filled chocolates to go in the bags as well...
missroserose: (Gifted & Talented)
I've been working on putting together goodie bags for the guests at my cocktail party later this month, and one of the things I wanted to include (since it's a party for a bartending blog) was a measurer of some sort. However, since I'm working on the rough estimate of 15 or so guests coming, I obviously didn't want to pay $5 apiece like they seemed to be running at most stores. So, like any enterprising hostess, I hit up Amazon.

Hurrah, a third-party seller were selling 1 ounce by 2 ounce jiggers (a fairly useful size for the beginner) for 27 cents. Plus five dollars shipping, which would have made them rather pricey as singles, but perfect for buying in bulk. Less than $10 for the lot, and thanks to a bit of leftover Amazon credit I had, I got all 15 of them for a grand total of $3.25. Woot!

Now to see if I can find some liqueur-filled chocolates to go in the bags as well...
missroserose: (Psychosomatic)
Thanks to an exploding battery in Brian's laptop, Sunday found us at the Apple store in Tucson, where I got a chance to actually hold some of their latest products in person.  Now, I'm not exactly in the market for a new computer at the moment; I've still got my three-and-a-half year old MacBook, and aside from a loose connector in the screen (that's more of an annoyance than a real problem) and some trim that's come off it's in fine shape.  But if there's one thing Apple's good at, it's inspiring gadget-lust, and I figured there wasn't anything wrong with looking at potential replacements.  What I didn't expect, however, was to be rather torn between two completely different options.

On the one hand, there's the option I was originally planning to go with - the MacBook Pro.  More than enough horsepower to do pretty much anything I'd like, and they now have 13" ones for the same price I bought my current MacBook for back in late 2007.  Plus those backlit keyboards are pretty killer.

On the other, there's the MacBook Air.  When it first came out, I had no real interest in it, but remember thinking that it'd be about the perfect tool for a writer - someone who needs to have a keyboard with them wherever they go.  I may not be a professional writer, but this blogging thing is starting to mean more and more time at the computer.  Which isn't usually a problem - if I need to, I can pack up my MacBook just fine - but the Air is significantly smaller and lighter, and a nice alternative to the iPad for people who want something super-portable but still spend a lot of time creating content as well as consuming it.  I could *almost* fit the 11" in my purse, and it barely weighs more than my Nook.  That's pretty darn attractive.  Plus the TSA lumps it in with tablet computers, which means no having to go and pull it out of my luggage at security checkpoints.

From a pure specs standpoint, there's no question which is the better option.  The Pro is significantly more bang for your buck - faster processors, bigger hard drive, better graphics, etc.  However, I'm not exactly what you'd call a power user - I don't even do videos for YouTube.  And most of my stuff is stored online anyway, so the relative lack of storage space on the Air would be a lot less of a liability than it might have been a few years back (and there's always portable external hard drives if I need one - they're fairly inexpensive and small these days).  Not to mention that solid-state drive that boots in mere seconds is pretty darn attractive.  But some part of me just cringes at paying as much or more money for a computer with significantly less capability. 

Does anyone have any direct experience with the Air, either with or without a "backup" computer at home (for extra space, CD access, etc.) or no?  What have your impressions been?  
missroserose: (Psychosomatic)
Thanks to an exploding battery in Brian's laptop, Sunday found us at the Apple store in Tucson, where I got a chance to actually hold some of their latest products in person.  Now, I'm not exactly in the market for a new computer at the moment; I've still got my three-and-a-half year old MacBook, and aside from a loose connector in the screen (that's more of an annoyance than a real problem) and some trim that's come off it's in fine shape.  But if there's one thing Apple's good at, it's inspiring gadget-lust, and I figured there wasn't anything wrong with looking at potential replacements.  What I didn't expect, however, was to be rather torn between two completely different options.

On the one hand, there's the option I was originally planning to go with - the MacBook Pro.  More than enough horsepower to do pretty much anything I'd like, and they now have 13" ones for the same price I bought my current MacBook for back in late 2007.  Plus those backlit keyboards are pretty killer.

On the other, there's the MacBook Air.  When it first came out, I had no real interest in it, but remember thinking that it'd be about the perfect tool for a writer - someone who needs to have a keyboard with them wherever they go.  I may not be a professional writer, but this blogging thing is starting to mean more and more time at the computer.  Which isn't usually a problem - if I need to, I can pack up my MacBook just fine - but the Air is significantly smaller and lighter, and a nice alternative to the iPad for people who want something super-portable but still spend a lot of time creating content as well as consuming it.  I could *almost* fit the 11" in my purse, and it barely weighs more than my Nook.  That's pretty darn attractive.  Plus the TSA lumps it in with tablet computers, which means no having to go and pull it out of my luggage at security checkpoints.

From a pure specs standpoint, there's no question which is the better option.  The Pro is significantly more bang for your buck - faster processors, bigger hard drive, better graphics, etc.  However, I'm not exactly what you'd call a power user - I don't even do videos for YouTube.  And most of my stuff is stored online anyway, so the relative lack of storage space on the Air would be a lot less of a liability than it might have been a few years back (and there's always portable external hard drives if I need one - they're fairly inexpensive and small these days).  Not to mention that solid-state drive that boots in mere seconds is pretty darn attractive.  But some part of me just cringes at paying as much or more money for a computer with significantly less capability. 

Does anyone have any direct experience with the Air, either with or without a "backup" computer at home (for extra space, CD access, etc.) or no?  What have your impressions been?  
missroserose: (Gifted & Talented)
...but after all that argy-bargy with the design and whether or not to use this or that custom photo, I eventually just went with something fairly classy-generic:

Picture! )

It's not as distinctive, and it doesn't match the website or anything, but it gets the information across and the composition works a lot better than the previous designs I was tinkering with. And something about the antebellum swirls and cursive font appeals to me.

Besides, it was one of the free designs. Which is to say, it only cost me the $10 of "I'd like it in less than three weeks plz" shipping. Plus the $4 of "please don't put VistaPrint advertising on the back." And the time spent clicking through ten different pages of "But wait, there's more!" special offers. I swear, they could give Stan "I Won't Shut Up Until I've Made You A Deal" Stanman a run for his money...
missroserose: (Gifted & Talented)
...but after all that argy-bargy with the design and whether or not to use this or that custom photo, I eventually just went with something fairly classy-generic:

Picture! )

It's not as distinctive, and it doesn't match the website or anything, but it gets the information across and the composition works a lot better than the previous designs I was tinkering with. And something about the antebellum swirls and cursive font appeals to me.

Besides, it was one of the free designs. Which is to say, it only cost me the $10 of "I'd like it in less than three weeks plz" shipping. Plus the $4 of "please don't put VistaPrint advertising on the back." And the time spent clicking through ten different pages of "But wait, there's more!" special offers. I swear, they could give Stan "I Won't Shut Up Until I've Made You A Deal" Stanman a run for his money...
missroserose: (Default)
Congratulations! You have reached Level 2 in Flatpack Constuction!

+2 to Spatial Orientation
+1 to Tool-Using Skills
+1 to Home Decorating
+1 to Interpretation
+5 to Creative Vocabulary





Those of you who knew us in Alaska and have come to visit us since we moved down here (ahem) may have noticed something missing from our new places. Specifically, the lovely oak double-bookshelves we had in our library at home, and the book collection they held.

Admittedly, we got rid of a lot of books when we moved, and I've been attempting to keep future acquisitions mostly restricted to the digital realm. But we are book-loving people, and getting rid of "a lot" still meant that we had several boxes' worth. (Sort of the way that if you subtract an infinite amount from another infinite amount you still have an infinite amount left over.) At the house in Sierra Vista, we tried putting some of them on wall-mounted shelves, but the weight was too much and the shelves bowed pretty badly in the middle, so eventually we gave that up.

All of this means we've been without proper bookshelves for a year and a half now, and our book collection has either been taking up floor space in the closet or (more recently) been sitting in boxes in the second bedroom. However, we finally have people coming to visit us here in Bisbee next month (double ahem), and I didn't want to make them sleep in Box World. (Mattress-On-The-Floor World still doesn't quite sit right, but budgetary restrictions mean I'll just have to deal with it.) So I finally broke down and bought some inexpensive Wal-Mart laminate flat-pack bookshelves. And with a couple of evenings' worth of effort, some wood glue to fix mistakes, some interpretation skills for the instructions, and some pretty unusual profanities, I even managed to put them together.

I still miss our oak bookshelves. But these [a] finally got our books out of the boxes and off of the floor, [b] fit in our somewhat limited budget, [c] were easy to haul up our windy little driveway in a compact sedan, and [d] actually look halfway decent. So I'm not going to knock them too harshly, even if I do fully expect to replace them with something better-quality just as soon as we have the spare cash.
missroserose: (Default)
Congratulations! You have reached Level 2 in Flatpack Constuction!

+2 to Spatial Orientation
+1 to Tool-Using Skills
+1 to Home Decorating
+1 to Interpretation
+5 to Creative Vocabulary





Those of you who knew us in Alaska and have come to visit us since we moved down here (ahem) may have noticed something missing from our new places. Specifically, the lovely oak double-bookshelves we had in our library at home, and the book collection they held.

Admittedly, we got rid of a lot of books when we moved, and I've been attempting to keep future acquisitions mostly restricted to the digital realm. But we are book-loving people, and getting rid of "a lot" still meant that we had several boxes' worth. (Sort of the way that if you subtract an infinite amount from another infinite amount you still have an infinite amount left over.) At the house in Sierra Vista, we tried putting some of them on wall-mounted shelves, but the weight was too much and the shelves bowed pretty badly in the middle, so eventually we gave that up.

All of this means we've been without proper bookshelves for a year and a half now, and our book collection has either been taking up floor space in the closet or (more recently) been sitting in boxes in the second bedroom. However, we finally have people coming to visit us here in Bisbee next month (double ahem), and I didn't want to make them sleep in Box World. (Mattress-On-The-Floor World still doesn't quite sit right, but budgetary restrictions mean I'll just have to deal with it.) So I finally broke down and bought some inexpensive Wal-Mart laminate flat-pack bookshelves. And with a couple of evenings' worth of effort, some wood glue to fix mistakes, some interpretation skills for the instructions, and some pretty unusual profanities, I even managed to put them together.

I still miss our oak bookshelves. But these [a] finally got our books out of the boxes and off of the floor, [b] fit in our somewhat limited budget, [c] were easy to haul up our windy little driveway in a compact sedan, and [d] actually look halfway decent. So I'm not going to knock them too harshly, even if I do fully expect to replace them with something better-quality just as soon as we have the spare cash.
missroserose: (Psychosomatic)
I just got an email from the County, asking me if I was still interested in interviewing for a job I applied for back in August. Apparently they have another opening they're trying to fill. Come to think of it, this is how I got my last government job as well.

Naturally, I accepted. I admit to being a touch ambivalent about the idea of returning to full-time work, especially in a government agency, but an interview never hurt anybody. There's no guarantee that I'd have the same personality-conflict problems I did at CBJ - by all accounts, the County is a pretty chill place to work. And the supervisor I talked to on the phone sounded remarkably pleasant.

And even if I just did it for a year or so, it'd be an opportunity to really work on paying down our debts and building up reserves. Not to mention I'd finally be able to get that massage I keep putting off until "maybe next month". And the inevitable extra expenses that come up in any given month wouldn't be eating up all of our "save up and do something fun" money. (And even though the salary isn't going to be what it was in Juneau, the extra $300 a month from Brian not having to shell out for my benefits would be a big plus.)

Considering what I've been doing with my free time since November (i.e. not a whole lot), I figure I might as well give it a go. And who knows - maybe this gig will be more rewarding than the last, with super-cool people to work with. It certainly can't be worse than sitting around in a tiny office all day with one other person who resents me.

Guess I'll go brush up on my power-admin-assistant skills, then...
missroserose: (Psychosomatic)
I just got an email from the County, asking me if I was still interested in interviewing for a job I applied for back in August. Apparently they have another opening they're trying to fill. Come to think of it, this is how I got my last government job as well.

Naturally, I accepted. I admit to being a touch ambivalent about the idea of returning to full-time work, especially in a government agency, but an interview never hurt anybody. There's no guarantee that I'd have the same personality-conflict problems I did at CBJ - by all accounts, the County is a pretty chill place to work. And the supervisor I talked to on the phone sounded remarkably pleasant.

And even if I just did it for a year or so, it'd be an opportunity to really work on paying down our debts and building up reserves. Not to mention I'd finally be able to get that massage I keep putting off until "maybe next month". And the inevitable extra expenses that come up in any given month wouldn't be eating up all of our "save up and do something fun" money. (And even though the salary isn't going to be what it was in Juneau, the extra $300 a month from Brian not having to shell out for my benefits would be a big plus.)

Considering what I've been doing with my free time since November (i.e. not a whole lot), I figure I might as well give it a go. And who knows - maybe this gig will be more rewarding than the last, with super-cool people to work with. It certainly can't be worse than sitting around in a tiny office all day with one other person who resents me.

Guess I'll go brush up on my power-admin-assistant skills, then...
missroserose: (Raawr!)
"Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in 'em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"

Everyone gets to whine a bit in their LJ now and then. I try to keep mine to a minimum, but I'm invoking the privilege now. The reader may consider themselves warned.

So it appears that the $500 bill fairies are particularly attracted to us this year. There's been the $500 loss to our jerk former landlord - I thought about taking him to court over it, but when I looked at the time and effort it would take it just wasn't worth it. Which pisses me off all over again, since that's probably exactly why he did it, but.

Then there's the most recent disaster, which has a bit of an ironic component to it. See, I'd gotten my most recent paycheck last Friday, which came out to all of $50 (Cristina had been out of town a lot so I hadn't been working much). Since it wasn't enough to make a big difference to our budget, I thought I'd treat myself and drive out to Tucson to get my hair done again on Tuesday. But when Tuesday rolled around, I had second thoughts - it was a lot to be spending on gas, and maybe we should save the $50 for other stuff. So instead of dropping Brian off at work, he took the car and I stayed home and puttered about the house.

Surprise, someone proceeded to back into the side of our car while it was parked. No note or insurance information left, just a nasty dent in the door, a bunch of scrapes of paint, and a piece of broken taillight. The police are investigating (and that alone surprises me, I sort of figured hit-and-runs were about on par with stolen laptops in terms of priorities) but I doubt anything will come of it, as there's no proof and they don't even have much of a starting point. So my self-restraint and sense of fiscal responsibility were rewarded by having to shell out ten times the amount saved for our insurance deductible, plus being without a car for a week. And on top of all that Brian's been grouchy about it for two days now, which is making me grouchy about it.

I know that shit happens, and I know that all of this is temporary, and I know I should just be grateful that we have the means to deal with it all. But that doesn't mean I don't hate it when people are dicks. Especially when I'm the one who has to deal with the fallout, and especially-especially during a time of year when people are supposed to be especially excellent to each other. I like to think that I'm pretty good at treating others well. Hell, Brian and I even donated a chunk of our gift budget to Heifer International this year. So when do we get the good karma thing going again?

ETA: Whiny as all that sounds, I feel better now that I've gotten it off my chest. And then I read this (specifically, the bit about the Stardust ARC), and a bit of my faith in humanity was restored. It's good to know that some people out there are still excellent, even above-and-beyond the call of excellent-ness.

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