Thursday, May 26th, 2016 05:14 am
Earlier this week a young friend of mine was telling me that he'd been feeling suicidal again.
... because he's gay and his religion and his parents tell him that's wrong.

He left the religion, and has limited contact with the family, but even so on difficult days he finds it hard to shake the idea that he should have tried harder not to be gay. That it is somehow wrong to be what his genes and his nature are.
His life is literally in danger because he was brought up in a religion that condemns people for who they are, not for anything they've done, and furthermore actively encourages members of the religion to spread hate and persecution.

I've had conversations with people who believe that the bible says homosexuality is wrong, and when you ask them "Why do you treat your fellow human beings so badly?" they reply with a variant of "It's not up to me. God says I have to."
And that's one big reason why I don't think belief in God is a benign thing. Why I think it's important to say, and to keep on saying, that God doesn't exist.

If religion was only a thing that, as the religious claim, provides a good moral framework, encourages people to be the best they can be, then it would be somewhere between harmless and actively beneficial. And I do know Christians who are good people, who live good lives, who seek to help others.
But too often it's used as an excuse for hatred and the ill treatment of others. So long as people are claiming that God told them to oppress women, to hate gay people/transgender people/anyone different from them, then I can't, in conscience, allow the existence of God to go unchallenged.
Wednesday, May 25th, 2016 11:00 am
Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 11:23 pm
So what's with the (new) Teletubbies having babies now? How does that even work? Are the Teletubbies supposed to be their parents or older siblings or what? (And if they aren't the parents who and where are the resposible adult tubbies?)
Also Why? And WTF?!?

I really don't want to get stuck in a brain-loop of considering the mechanics of tubby reproduction ...
The fact that there are 4 teletubbies and 8 tiddlytubbies does make me slightly worried that the population doubles every generation/spawning-batch and Earth will eventually be overrun by them...
Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 03:21 pm
Mama Pho, Deptford, London SE8

This week, our featured article is Mama Pho, SE8 5DG. It's a Vietnamese cafe in Deptford, a successor to Cafe East. Expect generous portions, tender meat, and disappointing salad.

A new addition is, for a rare change, a station! It's Lea Bridge Station, which used to exist as a passenger station but some time before RGL was founded. Well it's open again, so grab your trains to Stratford and TOttenham Hale here.

Finally, an update to Picture Palace, a former Wetherspoons pub in Ponders End, now sold on to another operator, but it's still a pub.
Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 01:44 pm
The coronation of Princess Humuhumu
The Coronation of Princess Humuhumu. Daisy chain by Daddy.

Princess Humuhumu
Happy Princess Humuhumu in her favourite dress & daisy chain crown.
Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 11:00 am
Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 10:34 am
My mother's tumour was not malignant. It was caused by a gallstone getting lodged somewhere it shouldn't and the body trying to protect itself by growing tissue around it. She's healing well from the operation and will be fine just as soon as her digestive system gets used to its new arrangements ;-)
Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 02:34 am
Many months ago, before there was a Kit in the world, I went over to [ profile] kissane and [ profile] meetar and [ profile] dailyjuna's place to hang out with them. I think [ profile] kissane and I were having a work date or something.

[ profile] meetar came home and was v. tired and shagged out after a long day. He went to their music player and put on some amazing soothing music I'd never heard before. It was the most relaxing. "What is this?" I asked in wonder. He told me it was Brian Eno's "Thursday Afternoon".

I fell in love with it. I played it for X, who fell in love with it. And one night when we had a fussy baby, X played it for them. Now, every night at bedtime, we play "Thursday Afternoon" and rock Kit until they get sleepy, and then we put them in the crib to sleep. And every night I think how glad I am that [ profile] meetar happened to be in need of some soothing music that day.

Today I downloaded "Thursday Afternoon" to the tablet we have over the crib for a baby monitor, so it could sing Kit to sleep. Just now they woke up yelling--poor baby, trying to get used to dreaming, which really is such a weird thing--and I put my hand on their belly and put the music back on. They settled right back to sleep. Out like a light.

The only snag is that we have to wait for the track to finish, or sneak in and turn it off*, before we can use the sound-activated baby monitor. But that is a very small price to pay for an aural sleep-cue that is 60 minutes long, can be turned off at any point without a strong sense of interruption, doesn't become boring or annoying no matter how long or how often you listen to it, and doesn't require a parent to sing the same three-minute song over and over to the point of hoarseness. New parents and parents-to-be: I recommend it very very highly.

* At some point I'm sure we will set up some sort of networked speakers, or root the tablet so we can remote-control it. Right now, tiptoeing in works fine (and lets us stare at the baby a little bit too).
Monday, May 23rd, 2016 10:38 pm
Will you be coming to Wiscon?

We All Start Somewhere: Welcoming Social Justice Newbies
Fri, 4:00–5:15 pm
Conference 4
Moderator: Jacquelyn Gill.
Many people aren't born into families that talk a lot about or value social justice. We come from all different backgrounds with all different kinds of experiences. When someone wants to gain a better understanding of and start practicing social justice, how do we, as a community, welcome them and offer opportunities for education? How do we deal with the same basic questions over and over again? What do we do well? What could we do better?

Privilege in the Kitchen: Food Snobbery and Culinary Condescension
Sat, 2:30–3:45 pm Caucus
Foodieism is all the rage these days and while there's nothing wrong with making and enjoying good food, it seems to go hand in hand with a sense of condescension when it comes to cheap, simple fare; fattening foods (except for bacon, of course); and "poor food," the kind of thing prepared with a packet of this and a couple cans of that. Let us discuss economics, classism, racism, sizeism, and ableism in the ways we prepare, present, and talk about food.
Monday, May 23rd, 2016 09:05 pm
I've had an epic few days. I went to London on Thursday, worked my butt off getting stuff done for the Friday deadline, did an outreach event (including a talk and three workshops) in Wimbledon for 60 detached-but-then-totally-excited teenagers on Friday afternoon, raced back to college to drop off my kit and then got on a train to Norfolk to meet the bloke & the children at the out-laws for the weekend. Fabulous weather in East Anglia meant we spent nearly all of it outdoors.

We drove back to Worcestershire on Sunday afternoon (a 3.5 hour drive). After turfing everyone out of the car and re-packing my overnight bag, I got back into the car and drove 1.5 hours to a beautiful venue in Oxfordshire to attend an ex-work-colleague's small but perfectly formed wedding. The other work colleague in attendance and I were surprised to find ourselves in the company of mostly-relatives. I feel very privileged to have been invited. There was a band and dancing and wine and laughter, and it seemed to be a memorable and happy occasion for all.

I drove back this morning, arriving home at noon, and worked the rest of the day before going to meet the bloke at the station and pick up the kids. Also, I made supper. Can I have my Supermum badge now please?

Trowel-wielding toddler
Trowel-wielding toddler.

Helping Grandpa flatten molehills
Grandpa flattens molehills with a rake. Keiki supervises.
Monday, May 23rd, 2016 12:39 pm
For various reasons, a lot of my friends have issues with going to the doctor. In the comments to one of [personal profile] hollymath's recent entries, the idea came up that T-shirts could be useful.
"Yes, I know I'm fat. Telling me something I already know does nothing for my current problem."
"Of course my blood pressure just spiked, you're stressing me out!"
"Being trans has no bearing on microbes attacking me."
"Yes I have anxiety and depression. This did not break my bone!"
Any further suggestions?
Sunday, May 22nd, 2016 10:55 pm
I'm a third generation fountain pen geek, my mum and her dad both did calligraphy with Osmiroid pens, so I can't really say when I first got into fountain pens because I can't ever remember NOT being into fountain pens. I wasn't allowed to have my own till I was 8 or 9 and could demonstrate to my mum that I could use it properly, though, and it was a BIG thing graduating from pencil to a Proper Pen. The first one that was actually mine was (I suspect like most brits) a Parker Vector. When I got to grammar school they insisted on us having fountain pens so I had a bit of a head start over my classmates. Mine had Beano comic characters on (Dennis & Gnasher) and I was GUTTED when someone at school trod on it and broke it. I still have a soft spot for the shape and feel of a parker vector and have several in my collection. This started off as a comment to a USian person and I don't know if you even get parker vectors that side of the Atlantic but they are (or seem to be) our equivalent of the Preppy. They're a lovely simple clean shape and a nice size for my tiny hands - most of the posh pens these days are too big for me.

Kids these days aren't made to use fountain pens at school the way I was (my daughter goes to the same school I went to and only knows about fountain pens because of me). As a liberal I kind of approve of kids using whatever writing implements they like... as a fountain pen geek I think it's a bit of a shame that most kids won't even try one. They make such a difference to both the legibility and the speed of my handwriting; because I'm not pushing into the paper (as with a ballpoint) but skating over the top of it, I can write for lots longer and lots more usefully with a fountain pen. This comes in extremely handy on candidate assessment days for the Lib Dems when I basically have to write down what someone is saying verbatim for a whole day.

I guess implied in the question was "why do you stay into fountain pens?" There is a lot less need for manual writing these days than there used to be, and certainly if I was writing an article it would be composed entirely electronically. But there's something very ephemeral about stuff written on the Internet, despite its longevity and ease of access and searchable qualities. Whereas paper and ink are so tactile and solid... I guess I feel that if you're GOING to write something manually these days you might as well make it as pretty as you can, and as nice an experience for yourself as you can. And choosing a pen, and a nib, and an ink that works for you in that moment? Creates more fun and more memories than grabbing a biro ever could.
Sunday, May 22nd, 2016 11:00 am
Saturday, May 21st, 2016 09:55 pm
I think my physical fitness is still gradually improving - my cycle and walking commutes are getting a little smoother and faster and less tiring each week, and it's perfectly reasonable to cycle to hospital and then to work.  What I'm finding though is that exercise, work, childcare, study and housework are all drawing from the same pool of energy and that seems to have stopped growing.  "Pushing through", like I did to get the essay in a few weeks back, is like going overdrawn and then having to rest even more to replenish the shortfall.  I'm still going splat at least once or twice a week.

I seriously considered requesting a formal short-term reduction in work hours, to the point of working out how much it would reduce my take-home pay.[1]  That turned out to be quite a lot.[2]  I'm pretty certain we could cut back enough to cover the gap, but that in itself becomes more work and stress, so it's not as helpful an idea as I first thought.

Instead, at least for now, Tony is going to take on rather more than half of the housework, including taking back the weekday evening meals which I've been doing since the start of the year. The pressure to get the children fed as soon as possible after 6pm seems to have eased up, so eating later (which has happened a few times recently when I've been too tired to cook) seems to be fine.  I think we'll still try to keep weekend menu planning / shopping list generation going though.

I am going to use the time Tony is giving me to rest more, and to study more consistently, which will in turn make me happier and less stressed.  I would rather reduce our income than give up studying; one of the things I learned from being ill was that learning matters a lot to me.

[1] It took me a while to find a calculator that could reproduce my current payslip with the various deductions I have going out.

[2] Woe woe, the diamond shoes of my high income are pinching, I know.
Saturday, May 21st, 2016 11:00 am
Friday, May 20th, 2016 01:27 am
I love The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. The fourth and final book was released last month. (I didn't think the fourth book was quite as good as the other three, but still a worthy ending.) Five people involved with the blog talk about the series, and they get at a lot of what I love.

A few non-spoilery quotes (there are a few more spoilers at the link, but only for stuff that happens very early, until you get to the big red banner that reads SPOILERS AHEAD):
Stiefvater is just such a great writer, especially when it comes to building distinct and fully realized characters.

Stiefvater treats its young adults the way I appreciate seeing young adults treated: like people with brains and emotions that don’t melt into a puddle of love juices and angst over their love interest....he friendship between the boys is so heartbreakingly beautiful, and the unquestioning loyalty between Blue’s aunts is so powerful. This is a YA book that does not forget that there are others who help shape the lives of the main character and gives those people such depth.

I love Blue because I relate so much to being a “sensible” teenager and her wanting to rebel against that sensibility....I also love that she’s so prickly, opinionated, and stubborn.

It’s a much more realistic portrayal of family, in a way, than other YA books.
Friday, May 20th, 2016 09:33 am

[My parents, Oma, Keiki, cousins in the front garden at the out-law's house in the Pacific Northwest.]

At the end of our recent flying visit to the States, Keiki and my parents and I drove up to my aunt&uncle-out-law's house nearby. Keiki and I stayed overnight, and Aunt-Out-Law treated us to VIP service to the airport the next morning, taking our heavy luggage to the check-in desk and walking us all the way to the security gate. But before that, we had a birthday barbecue for Uncle-Out-Law, with all the cousins. It was brilliant, and there are lots of photos of family and celebrations below the cut.

+15 photos )
Thursday, May 19th, 2016 05:15 pm
Since I have got myself a proper job, I can afford the odd little luxury. One of the pubs I used to work in was the local posties' pub of choice, so I have a fondness for posties and keeping them in work. Thus I started getting some subscription boxes. This is the second in an occasional series of me reviewing them. None of these are paid reviews, I haven't had freebies, and I don't do sponsored content. WYSIWYG.

Today I am reviewing:

Cheese Posties.

What do they offer?

The ingredients and instructions for a gourmet cheese toastie, once a week, to your home or office (I rec office if you go for this one - every office has a toaster, right?).

What do you actually get?

A box slim enough to fit through the letterbox, containing two slices of bread, some cheese, some butter, and various other fillings depending on the theme. There are quite a lot of different themes; I've so far not had the same sandwich twice. Some are sweet and some are savoury; you can choose whether to receive just sweet or just savoury or both when you sign up. You can also notify them of any allergies, food requirements, or particular dislikes you have. IME they are good at responding to such things.

What's good about it?
  • Tasty tasty toasties, with well-thought-out flavour combinations. I've not had a bad one yet. Even the one with sauerkraut in, which just sounds weird, was nice. The spicy one was even actually spicy.
  • Ingredient quality. There's no Kraft-Cheese-Slices-Are-Calci-yummy here. You get named actual cheeses and artisan sauces and jams.
  • Value for money: it is roughly the same price as a sandwich from a sandwich shop. Yes, you have to put a little work in yourself, but you don't have to leave the office.
  • The little teflon bag you put the toastie in is a FAB thing, a great technological solution to a problem I didn't realise I had. Anyone with a toaster can make a toastie in this without setting fire to the house/office!
  • The packaging; every ingredient comes in it's own little packet so that there's no melding in transit. Anything which might leak or ooze is always double wrapped. It's clearly very carefully thought out.
  • The quirky, punning tone of the website and emails. Yes, I know some of you hate this kind of thing, but I rather like it.

What's not so good about it?
  • The number one problem is: not enough butter. You get one of those little plastic things with a foil lid you get for buttering your toast in hotels. Also the butter is often too cold to spread. I have solved both of the butter problems by using my own butter for the first couple of months; then when I run out of my own butter I can get a couple of the sachet things out the night before my postie is due, and they will be perfect spreading temp when it arrives, and because there's two I will have enough. But if I were running the place I'd put two little-foil-and-plastic-containers-of-butter in, not one.
  • The little teflon bag that you cook the toastie in is a VERY snug fit; this means you can't really use a fishslice or anything, and you really have no other option than to use your hands to get the buttered-on-the-outside bread into the bag. If you turn it over half way through to ensure even browning, you have to do this twice. I am ok with washing my hands twice per toastie, but I know many people won't be.
  • A small niggle, but it's always the same bread. With such variety in fillings, I sort of expected a little variety in bread too. A nice brown or granary would go really well with some of the filling combinations.

How easy are they to contact if you need to change something?

Email: very quick and friendly responses.
Social media: no response at all.

Value for Money?

Pretty good, I'd say, especially given the quality of ingredients.


Get this box if:
  • You like cheese toasties;
  • You want a once-a-week surprise warm meal;
  • you work in an office where the only kitchen equipment is a kettle, a microwave, and a toaster, and you want something hot but are sick of microwave ready meals.
Don't get this box if:
  • You can't cope with buttery hands;
  • you want to have a zero-effort lunch.

Marks out of ten: 8/10.
If the butter problem was solved by the company instead of me, and there was more than one style of bread, and the teflon bags were a little less snug to enable fishslice manipulation of the toastie, they'd be perfect. As it is, I'm certainly not going to stop getting them any time soon. The quality of ingredients and fun of getting a new flavour every week certainly makes up for the slight downsides.
Thursday, May 19th, 2016 02:49 pm
Since I have got myself a proper job, I can afford the odd little luxury. One of the pubs I used to work in was the local posties' pub of choice, so I have a fondness for posties and keeping them in work. Thus I started getting some subscription boxes. This is the first in an occasional series of me reviewing them. None of these are paid reviews, I haven't even had freebies, I don't do sponsored content. WYSIWYG.

Today I am reviewing

Prudence and The Crow.

What do they offer?

Vintage books, once a month, for a set period or on a rolling monthly subscription.

What do you actually get?

When you pay for your subscription, you get a questionnaire, with free size text boxes. Fill it in as comprehensively as you can; this will be the basis by which the mysterious Prudence (or maybe the even more mysterious Crow) will choose your vintage book. They try to find you something that is 1, interesting 2, relevant to your tastes and 3, not one you've already got. The more information you can give them, the better. When I got my questionnaire I went on twitter and said something like "hah! They've not limited the box sizes! THE FOOLS! *fills in ridiculous amounts of information*" and almost immediately got the reply that no, they LIKE getting lots of info because it helps them to choose.

In the actual box you get a vintage book, a personalised bookmark, usually a little bag or sleeve for the book, some sweets, some herbal teabags and maybe some postcards or a bookplate. Sometimes a vintage cigarette card or an old coin. Maybe a badge. All of the little bits of vintage emphemera you get are usually relevant either to the book or your stated tastes. The instagram hashtag #patcbox will give you some idea of the contents of people's boxes, and also show you that each one is definitely different. There's none of this "buy in bulk and make five hundred of the same box" with P&tC

How easy are they to contact if you need to change something?

Some of the less salubrious subs boxes are very unresponsive to customers. I'm delighted to report that P&tC are not like that at all. Their social media presence is actually social, not just broadcasting adverts like some, and they are great to chat to on instagram and (especially) twitter. They're very responsive to emails with customer service questions too, especially when you're setting up a gift sub (I liked them so much I got my mum a sub for her birthday).

Value for Money?

Genuinely depends on what you value. The cash value of the box contents is not usually up there with the price of the subscription; what you're paying for here is the service. The infinite and very personal care and hard work that they put into selecting a vintage book that is just for you is really evident, and they are genuinely joyous when you report back that you liked their selection.

Overall marks

Get this box if:
  • you enjoy reading;
  • you want a lovely and genuinely surprising box every month, which is none-the-less exactly right for your tastes (assuming you filled in the survey sufficiently);
  • you find little bits of vintage emphemera interesting.
Don't get this box if:
  • you're one of those people who expects the trade-off for a surprise to be huge cash value;
  • you want a pristine, perfect, brand new book;
  • you find little bits of vintage emphemera annoying.
Marks out of ten: 10/10. Genuinely couldn't be happier, and I do a little squeak of excitement whenever I get the notification email that my box is on the way.