A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Differently Hacked

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of cute little online lists purporting to offer “life hacks”: quick and easy low-cost tweaks that will save you time and energy. 
Sure, why not?  I’ll click on that.  I like quick.  I like easy.  I like low-stress.  Cheap is nice, too.  Last night, just before heading off to snow-bike 350 miles through the Alaska wilderness, Jay told me that "Everyone says you're the lowest-maintenance wife I could possibly have."  I'm not entirely sure how to interpret this comment, but I"m going to take it to mean that I’m just the sort of person who does lots of hacking. In, um, a totally complimentary sort of way, of course.
Somehow, though, the hacks on offer never seem to be precisely the hacks I am looking for.  For example, “When ironing a button-up shirt, flip it inside out to easily iron over the button side.”  I can see where this might come in handy, if I wore shirts with buttons.  Actually, I think I do own one of those -- but not an iron.  Wait, Jay has a ski-waxing iron.  Does that count? 
Speaking of irons, another hack tells me I can use my hair-straightener as a collar iron.  Also, I should organize my makeup with a magnetic board, and hang up a magazine rack in my bathroom to house my hairdryer. 
Nonetheless, I’m still pretty sure I’m just the sort of person who hacks her life, and always has. Thus, I’ve taken the liberty of putting together my own list of super-duper totally universally useful shortcuts.
1)      When you and your sister are fighting during your unsupervised after-school time and you snap the delicate foot off your mother's tiny mahogany end-table, just glue it back on with Elmer's glue, and strap it tightly with rubber bands.  Remove the rubber bands five minutes before she gets home.  Tell her about it thirty years later. 
Hi, Mom. See?  No one really looks at table legs.
2)      When you walk a couple of miles to your high school on a Saturday morning to take the SAT, and you're so incredibly prepared that you neglect to bring anything with you -- including three sharpened number two pencils, or in fact any pencil at all -- just quickly search the curbside gutter area.  Look, there’s one.  You’re, like, totally ivy league material.
3)      Whenever a pesky black fly or mosquito has snuck inside your head net, but your hands and arms are entirely covered with semi-liquid mud, catch the insect with your tongue, and swallow it.  Problem solved.
4)      When the engine dies on your friend's VW bus because the wiring has shorted out, re-insulate it by wrapping it in one of the condoms he conveniently seems to keep in the glove box.  Ask no questions.
5)      Toilet won't flush at the Greyhound rest stop?  Small horde of women upset?  Quickly lift off the lid of the tank, plunge your arm in shoulder-deep, and use a twisted paperclip to reconnect the handle arm to the chain that lifts the flapper.  Stare back at all the women who are now staring at you.  You’re welcome, ladies.
6)      Has your landlady’s mentally handicapped son just accidentally cut a hole in a plastic cistern pipe with a machete, causing hundreds of gallons of gravity-fed water to start fountaining into the house foundations?  Just tightly wrap the pipe in an old bicycle tube. 
7)      When you’re planning to travel from Fairbanks Alaska to suburban New York via two planes and three trains as a solo adult with twin toddlers, buy two umbrella strollers for $14.99 each at Walmart.  Make Velcro straps to attach the strollers side by side -- but with one several inches in front of the other, so the wheels don’t lock.  (Note: when you’re wheeling two exhausted children through Grand Central Station while wearing a massive purple backpack holding all of your collective luggage, be sure to apologize to everyone you inadvertently whack.)
8)      Need to shatter the vertical stack of frozen poop that forms in your outhouse after several months of Alaskan winter? Try using a four foot long 18-pound crowbar!
9)      Are you cross-country skiing for 30 or more hours straight?  Keep your mp3 player well stocked with audio books, and stuff the player in your bra so that the twenty-below-zero chill doesn’t sap the battery life.  [Note: you might possibly want to avoid listening to The Hunger Games while alone in a dark, remote forest at 3 a.m.]
10)   On any mornings when you happen to be walking half a mile to the school bus stop with your first graders at 56 degrees below zero, keep things lively and nutritious by putting a plastic spoon in each child’s double-mittened hand, giving them each a small bowl of piping-hot oatmeal, and challenging them to see who can eat it before it freezes solid.
11)   Are your feet cracking open and bleeding at multiple locations from the ceaselessly dry air?  Try duct tape. 
12)   Duct tape. 
13)   I’d add more, but from here on in, the answer is still going to be duct tape.

Weeding out the Alaskans

The election results rolled in.  An announcement was made.  I shared a few grins with my community-mates around the dinner table.  And my fifteen-year-old friend, seated across from me, rolled her eyes, and sighed.  “The adults just ruined everything,” she deadpanned.
Of course we did.  We legalized pot.  Within a few months, any dorky middle-aged mom or dad in Alaska would be able to get stoned.  So. Not. Cool. 
I couldn’t help enjoying my young friend’s impressive command of irony, while at the same time hoping that perhaps her words held a delightful kernel of truth.  I have two eight-year-olds, both of whom were sitting right there at the table.  Obviously, I don’t want my third graders to start toking any time soon, but I kind of assume that – like fine wine, cheap beer, or Starbucks lattes --  pot is something they’ll try eventually.  If and when that time comes, I’d rather that the experimentation be done with safety, confidence, legality, and well-reasoned curiosity than via sneaking, lying, peer pressure, or a desperate desire to be part of the “in” crowd.  In short, I am definitely in favor of legalization, but I’m also definitely cool with pot not being cool.
Both before and after the election, I heard plenty of opining from both sides of this contentious issue.  This past Monday, the day that the law finally took effect, the hubbub resurged.  I tuned in with half an ear.  But, quite frankly, much of what I’ve heard – both pro and con – seems overwrought, overstated, or outright flippant.  On the anti side, there’s hand-wringing about whether we’re tacitly telling children that smoking marijuana is, like, a super-fun hobby.  Meanwhile, much of the pro-pot talk comes in the form of tongue-in-cheek humor from adults who are “sure looking forward to trying pot for the very first time”. 
Then there’s me.  I’m a liberal, commune-dwelling, hippie-looking type who spent more than two years of her youth serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Jamaica. Predictably, I am staunchly in favor of legalizing marijuana, and certainly voted in accordance with that opinion.  Personally, though, I don’t really like the stuff.
I know it sounds like I’m letting down my earthy team, but, for me, ganja is just not that much fun.  I’m not saying I’ll never ever in my life try it again, but the handful of forays I’ve made, spread across decades, have been disappointing. Moreover, I don’t much enjoy hanging out with stoned people.  In observing the effects of pot on others, I’ve noted that it makes them slow, forgetful, a bit silly, a bit stupid, and prone to thinking that they are much, much more profound than they actually are.  Maybe it should come as no big surprise that when stoned myself, I too become slow, forgetful, stupid, and probably remarkably un-profound.
I know that for many, pot makes them relax, in a deeply happy kind of way.  I can understand the appeal.  I’m not really a Type A person, but even so, the ravages of the modern era do sometimes leave me twitchy around the edges.  Feeling deeply relaxed would be lovely.  The problem is, when I’m feeling slow, forgetful, and stupid, I can’t relax. I’m such a knee-jerk intellectual that if I lose what I perceive to be my sharp scientific sensibilities, I feel like I’m losing the core of my being.  This is not a good feeling, even if it comes via a pan of delicious brownies.
I’ll accede to the fact that the pro-pot debaters have many good points on their side.  Marijuana is safer and less addictive than cigarettes, has no lethal dose, has some positive medicinal uses, and doesn’t induce violent behavior the way alcohol can.  I knew all these things before I ever tried it. I also knew pot would temporarily mess with my head -- probably in a good way but maybe in a mildly bad way -- and that it wasn’t precisely good for my lungs.  I weighed the possible pros and cons.  I made an informed choice.  What I knew, in a nutshell, is what I want my kids to know: the truth.
Obviously, they don’t need to make choices about marijuana, alcohol, caffeine, or sex while they are still in the third grade.  That’s what parents are for.  But parents are also for teaching.  Not just teaching over-simplified yes-or-no answers, but teaching kids about the world the way it really is.  Backstory.  Context.  Nuance.  Moderation.  Judgment.  Choices.
Of course, “yes” and “no” are easier.  I get that.  It’s a lot easier to say, “No, we never eat dessert first” than to admit that, once in a blue moon, chocolate chip cookies for breakfast might be fun.  Trying to explain to eight-year-olds why they see grownups smoking -- despite the fact that smoking can kill you -- is kinda complicated.   Explaining to little kids why anyone would EVER want to have sex is challenging, and parsing the finer points of consent, communication, enjoyment, safety, and empowerment is even more complex -- but if you don’t?  Seriously, if you don’t?   Likewise, fully explaining addiction, drunkenness, and why Prohibition was such a flop is a long conversation, but it’s a necessary one.
My teenaged dinner-table friend has a preternaturally well-developed sense of the ironic.  She’s also an athlete, a go-getter, and a highly academic individual.  I suspect that she’s never actually tried pot – but if she has, I’m not in the least bit worried about her.  Nor am I worried about the example that she may or may not be setting for my own children, who listened attentively all the while.  All three of these kids, whether they wanted it or not, have now heard a heck of a lot of conversation about marijuana from middle-aged, knowledgeable, and hopefully REALLY uncool adults.