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

Monday, May 25, 2015


Given that one of my twin daughters took her remote-control truck to school for Show and Tell, the other took in her Snap Circuits electrical kit, and this was the cake that they chose to make on the occasion of their ninth birthday,  there might be those who would assume that they are not very into dolls.

Given the additional fact that I was not only the only female member of the Dungeons and Dragons Club in my elementary school, but also the only female member of the Cabbage Patch Haters Club… well, ditto.

But those assumptions would be wrong.
What’s so great about dolls?  Well… I wrote a list.  Or maybe it’s a tutorial.  I’ll let you decide.

How to play with dolls
Do I even need to explain that you have to really play with them?  When I was little, a neighbor (who was an actual grown-up human being) had a doll collection – pristine and untouched, on a high shelf.  This, I recognized, was utterly asinine.  If your dolls are a status symbol, you’re doing it wrong.
The first important doll category is the Soft Snuggly group.  If you happen to have a Y chromosome, people will probably give you a pretend bear or lion or whatever instead of a pretend human to cuddle with, but it really doesn’t matter; it’s still comforting and awesome, and still basically a doll.  Besides, if you’re dressed for winter in Fairbanks, your gender may be a mystery.
You can play with it in weird and potentially adult-embarrassing toddler ways.  For example, name the doll “Bedtime” or the bear “Whitey”.  Insist on taking it to grocery stores.  Insist on taking it to weddings.  Cry if Daddy washes it -- even though it kind of needed it what with the vomit and all.

As you get older, you’ll discover the second important category of dolls – the Imaginary Friend.  (Again, if you’re a boy, you’ll probably have to make do with a plastic velociraptor or a Lego construction worker, because society hates you.)  These imaginary friends are marginally more socially acceptable than the invisible kind, and incredibly adaptable.  Share your snacks with them.  Their table manners are almost as good as yours.   
Horizons broadening? Cognitive skills improving?  Try playing checkers with your Imaginary Friend.  Find two dolls and a bear and set up a bridge foursome.  

Sew them outfits that are way less lame and useless than the ones they came in.  Equip them with flashlights and emergency supplies. 
Build them bunk beds.  Build them a treehouse.  Build crazy amounts of shit for them, using as much duct tape as possible, and as many hazardous power tools as you can get away with.  

Teach your dolls a little something about parachuting.  Turn this into a kindergarten science fair project.  (Note: “The bigger parachute was better” might be a useful phrase to remember, later in life.)
Make them mushing sleds.  Dolls love mushing sleds.
Mommy Practice is a traditional role expected of dolls.  Daddy Practice is, alas, only sanctioned if you are lucky enough to have hippie parents who listened to Free To Be You and Me throughout the seventies (see also, “William Wants a Doll”).  Sure, this nurturing meme is a bit passé, but you can mix things up by reflecting your own Mom and Dad’s incredibly nerdy parenting techniques on your cloth-and-plastic children.  Try lecturing your dolls about biology and evolution.  Make a child bike seat out of an old Arm and Hammer cat litter box, strap it to your handlebars, and take your doll for a fourteen-mile ride.  Make backpack carriers with attached snack bags and tell the dolls you are hiking the Chilkoot Trail into the Yukon.  Make car seats. Stuff your baby in your jacket, fasten your skis, and round up the huskies.

Now test their math skills.  Be sure to use a voice filled with exaggerated patience every time your mock-child screws up royally – because, let’s face it, that doll does not know what the hell eight times six is.

Dolls that look like grownups are still called dolls if you’re female, but they’re called “action figures” if you’re male.  The only proper purpose of this category is pretending to do awesome grownup things such as rescuing people from fires, floods, Daleks, or gelatinous cubes.  The key here is that there has to be some cool adventure or challenge to act out.  Veterinary care for a wounded zebra might count, or exploring alien planets. War is not a good adventure.  Hair care and shopping are also not good adventures. From the perspective of a seven-year-old, being President probably isn't an interesting adventure, either, although your mileage and your seven-year-olds may vary.

This time, society pisses on both the double-X chromosomes and the XYs, albeit in very different ways.  This is only amusing if ironically reversed, as accomplished in this fabulous 1993 heist:
However, the trap is easily avoided: if the purpose of the doll appears to be donning high heels, applying glittery eyeshadow, and growing impossible boobs, get rid of it immediately -- unless you are creative enough to repurpose it into Wonder Woman Ninja Han Solo President Barbie.

Don’t get me wrong -- remote-control trucks are awesome.
Legos rock, and cardboard and duct tape are absolutely the bomb.  But a world that contains all of these fine accoutrements of childhood also needs some make-believe inhabitants to make it colorful, personable, alive – and, at the end of the day, just that little bit snuggly.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Non-random sampling

The survey, Part I: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RL3HWW9
The survey, Part II:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RJ9GQL8

Thanks for playing, friends.  Results are in -- and I must say, we’re an intriguing bunch.  Do I need to add a disclaimer about how incredibly unscientific this is?  No?  Good -- because I know you can’t wait to find out this ONE AMAZING FACT, the secret that EVEN DOCTORS DON’T KNOW:
Pretty much everyone is picking their nose. 
Yeah.  Like, about 90%.  Also clocking in at about that level were picking off bits of dead skin and peeing in the shower. Next, at about 80%, came fingernail biting, eating food bitten by family or non-family, and the “ten second rule”.  I could provide exact percentages for everything, but it hardly matters; there was absolutely nothing on the list of ten icky habits that didn’t achieve compliance from well over 50% of respondents.  You are surrounded by pimple-squeezing, scab-picking, non-hand-washing not-as-evolved-as-we-think-we-are great apes – but that’s okay, because you totally fit in. 
Let’s see… proceeding through Survey I in no particular order…
Crying frequency was reported as (approximately) 18% rarely or never; 35% a few times a year; 18% monthly; and 30% weekly.  That last one surprised me – but, see, now I’m showing experimental bias.  I will shut up and move on.
The habits that people would like to give up include tobacco (a small number of people), pot (one person), procrastination (several), gluttony (lots), and completing surveys (two charming smart-asses).
You people don’t live in Lake Woebegone, do you?  Really, you’re quite modest about your above-averageness.  Granted, over 80% of you think you’re more intelligent than average, two-thirds of you think you are more fit, and a similar fraction say they are better read, but kindness came in at only 50%, “hard-working” at just over 40%, and efficiency at barely more than 30%.  Only a quarter of you estimate you are better-looking than average.  We’re either a homely bunch, or a modest bunch -- or we’re assuming that “above average” means something like, “at least one standard deviation above average”.  Knowing my friends… yeah, probably that last option.
Interestingly, we don’t particularly want to improve the traits in which we find ourselves most deficient.  Three quarters of responders want to be more physically fit, and two thirds want to be better-read.  Clearly, in these categories, above average is still Not Good Enough.  On the flip side, only 30% of survey-takers want to be better-looking, despite us all being so ugly and whatnot.
Moving on to the hypothetical impediments… Other than the self-knowledge gleaned from those who let me know that I’m weird for even asking in the first place, this question didn’t tell me much.  Being unable to bend one knee, people agree, would really suck.  But rankings for all those creepy choices of missing fingers, toes, ears, and eyes were all over the map, and thus kind of a wash.  Of course, as someone who is blind in one eye, this was personally interesting, but it was probably just vaguely disturbing for the rest of you.  Sorry, guys.  Keep your toes.
How many people do you hug or otherwise touch with friendship of affection at least once a week?  The answer is 2-4 for more than half of us.  The other answers were almost evenly distributed between none, one, 5-10, and more than 10.  Having spent my entire life in (at varying times) the zero, one, or 2-4 categories, I feel like I’ve missed a lot of hugs.  But, then again, actually getting all those hugs might seriously freak me out.
So many books!  Yeah, I was just being selfish, in asking this question, because I always want recommendations.  I’m not going to list them all.  But I will say that the thing that struck me about the books was that they were all different.  All of them.  Many of my own favorites showed up, and some great authors were on the list – Kurt Vonnegut, Barbara Kingsolver, Mark Twain, Terry Pratchett, John Irving, and so many more.  But there were some obscure works I’d never even heard of, and others (Vikram Seth, Chaim Potok) that it’s nice to know someone else loves, too.  So delightful. 
So much music!  Again, good work with the variety, folks.  There were show tunes, classical, oldies, folk, even a bit of country.  As a group, we’re a bit heavy on the female singer/song-writers with a liberal social agenda, but that’s cool; I love Dar Williams, too. 
Finally (at least for Part 1): who wants chimp-steak for dinner?  Nobody.  But one person is okay with dolphin.  From there down, the percentage who think it is immoral to farm-raise each species for a tasty stir-fry were as follows: dog (69%), cat (56%), horse (44%), pig (31%), goat (25%) and cow (18%).  Why?  Well, the comments cited cultural tradition, intelligence, and similarity to humans.  Some people who eat pigs admitted that with regard to the intelligence argument they were probably on thin ice.  The best comment, though, was, “Are you using the Socratic method to make me into a vegetarian by forcing me to recognize the arbitrary nature of the social in- and out-groups that define carnivorism versus cannibalism?”  The wonderful thing about this comment, of course, was my realization that I had no idea who had written it, because I have so many friends who might easily say something as dorky as that.  Most likely, though, it was written by a dolphin.

And… the moment you have all been waiting for… the survey with questions about sex! 
But I’m not jumping straight there; that would be gauche.  First I’m going to report that – whatever I might say about our other moral choices – none of us has EVER illegally parked in a handicapped spot. 
In truth, the ranking of the “moral” questions fascinated me.  I quickly realized, especially given the fact that a couple of people may have done the whole thing backward, that it made more sense to look at the most commonly selected rankings (modal values) than at mean values.  For most of the “sins”, the preferred rank was surprisingly clear.  “Repeatedly telling a child that he or she is worthless or a bad person” was the clear bottom of the barrel, followed by abusing a pet and spilling a friend’s important personal secret.  Pilfering office paperclips was least-bad, followed by parking in a handicapped spot (which, I repeat NO ONE has done), not tipping a good waiter, and stealing public property.  Littering and intentionally keeping something belonging to a friend came next – decidedly mid-range.  The only choice that was weirdly bi-modal, with some respondents ranking it a mellow 3 and others damning it with an 8  or 9 was “cheating on a spouse or partner”.
This might – I’m only guessing here – have something to do with the 25/75 split between those who have cheated and those who have not.
In other news, there is one person amongst us who has NOT used offices supplies for personal reasons – and there is one person who had littered.  Littered!  I’m worried about the fiber of our society.
Right.  Now the sexy stuff.  Respondents to this survey were 76% straight, 18% gay, and 6% bisexual, and everyone is (definitely or probably) identified as such to everyone they know.  Also, they are all singing kumbaya -- or maybe something by the Indigo Girls.  One quarter of survey-takers have never had a sexual experience that does not match with their stated identity.  The rest – well, you do the math (although fully 25% are not really sure what counts, and are maybe trying to figure out some kind of baseball analogy).
How much is everyone having (and wanting) sex?  Well, two respondents do not wish to have sex at all, and an equal number report never getting any.  I’d LIKE to think that these are the same happy people, but… maybe not.   Ditto for the two responses at the other end of the spectrum, “daily or more” – and bonus points for the comment, “As often as my body would let me”. 
As for everyone else, well, it seems that about 70% of people want sex somewhere between one and six times per week, with a fairly even breakdown between 1-2, 3-4, or 5-6 times.  About ten percent each chose “monthly” or “2-3 times per month”.  Absolutely nobody selected, “A few times a year”. 
But… alas (and, truly, this bums me out), “A few times a year” was the single most common category (~30%) for how often people are actually having sex.  The percentages for monthly, a few times a month, 1-2 times per week, and 3-4 times per week were not far off from the desired percentages for those categories – but, alas, I doubt that the individuals match up so neatly.  Meanwhile, although about a quarter of those surveyed said they’d like to have sex 5-6 times per week, absolutely nobody selected that category as representing their reality.  Sigh.
Life goals!  Things you can attain!  Yes!  Everyone wants to write a book!  Okay, not everyone, but a few of you.  You also want more fulfilling and meaningful jobs.
Why did I even ask about things you WON’T attain?  Sheesh, that’s just depressing -- except for the person who said, “I'll probably never manage to develop a species of dwarf wooly mammoths for the household pets market.”  As for the individual who questioned my grammar: “likely” can obviously be used as an adverb, as in, “I’ll most likely kill you in the morning”. 
Okay, so way too many of you think you won’t ever attain a happy partnership, marriage, true love...  I… well, crap, I think you’re wrong, but I don’t know who you are, so how can I argue my point?  I’ll just have to revert to quoting the Princess Bride.
But, to close on a bright note: treasured things you already have.  Love, laughter, kids, family, partners, good friends.  Yeah, it’s the relationships, isn’t it? 
You’re all good sports, my friends.  Really, you are.  Thank you.