Are You a Hard-Core Road Tripper?

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If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (as in, at least a couple years) you know how much time I spend in my car due to my love of travel. Here are a few traits and habits I’ve picked up over the years.

You’re an experienced road-tripper when …

…You know exactly how much mileage you can squeeze out of that last tick on your fuel gauge

…You know exactly how much mileage you can get out of your bladder

…You never get in your car without a bottle of water and a snack

…You get your oil changed and people ask, “What are you doing out here?” when they see your license plate

…You’ve held entire concerts or performed whole musicals by yourself

Actual picture of me in my car

…You have a sore throat (even better, a sore diaphragm) from belting your favorite songs after a couple hours on the road

Also me in my car

…You’ve worn out the scan button on your radio

…You’ve slept in motel rooms less comfortable than your car

…You’ve slept in your car deliberately

…You know when to worry about the sounds your car makes (“Is that a flat tire, or just the pavement texture??”)

…You’ve never traveled to the island of Jamaica, but you’ve been to Jamaica, Vermont

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…The concept of carsickness is completely foreign to you

…GPS directions are merely guidelines

(just like speed limits)

…You have all 5-star reviews from your AirBNB hosts

…Eight hours one-way is perfectly acceptable for a weekend trip

…Some of your best vacation photos were taken from your car

… with one hand

… while driving

Guilty.

Guilty.

Weird History, Part 4: The Great Minnesota Starvation Experiment

This one is not as obscure as some of the other historical stuff I’ve been writing about, but it’s fascinating and remains incredibly important, so here we go.

As World War II raged in the early 1940s, a team of researchers, led by Ancel Keys, wanted to examine the physical and mental effects of severe, lengthy starvation, and learn how to rehabilitate people with “prolonged dietary restriction.” They hoped to use their findings to help famine victims in Europe and Asia once the war was over.

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment was conducted at the University of Minnesota between November 19, 1944 and December 20, 1945. The Civilian Public Service (CPS) and the Selective Service System coordinated the study. Finding volunteers was a particular challenge. Strong, healthy young men were in short supply, since most of them were in the armed forces.

Not even pre-serum Steve Rogers would qualify.

The researchers ended up with 36 male CPS volunteers. They were conscientious objectors who wanted to contribute to the war effort in non-violent ways. The subjects were all white males, aged 22-33 years old, and most of them belonged to Historic Peace Churches.

The study involved three phases:

  • A 12-week control phase to observe the subjects, during which they consumed an average 3,200 calories daily
  • A 24-week starvation phase in which each subject lost an average of 25% of his baseline body weight; participants consumed an average 1,570 calories a day (breakfast and lunch)
  • A 12-week recovery phase, when volunteers consumed 2,000-3,200 calories a day
  • An 8-week rehabilitation period that had no caloric limits at all

The men lived in a dormitory at the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene at the University of Minnesota. They underwent a variety of tests during the experiment: records of weight, size, and strength; X-rays; blood samples; endurance tests; and psychological tests. The men also were required to keep a personal journal, participate in educational activities, and walk 22 miles a week, burning 3,009 calories a day.

Because the subjects were supposed to lose 25% of their starting weight, which amounted to about 2.5 lbs per week, their individual meal plans (largely cabbage, potatoes, and wheat bread) were adjusted constantly during the starvation phase. In interviews decades later, the surviving study participants recalled feeling great anxiety when the scientists posted each man’s rations for the upcoming week. They could not bear to think of eating even less than what they were eating already.

The men experienced drastic physical and mental changes as their caloric intake became further restricted and their weights continued to decline. One man got stuck in the revolving door of a department store because he was too weak to push all the way through, and had to wait for another customer to use it. The men also said they felt colder, and needed extra blankets during the summer. Other physical symptoms included dizziness, fatigue, muscle aches, hair loss, reduced coordination, and ringing in their ears. Aside from physical weakness and exhaustion, the participants also had less enthusiasm for conversation and activities, and became increasingly irritable with each other, and so became less social. Some men found that they could no longer go to class due to a lack of energy, motivation, and concentration. One man, while attempting to chop wood for a fire, amputated three of his fingers with the axe, and never could say whether or not it was intentional.

Minnesota Starvation Experiment participants

The study subjects constantly thought about food, and meals became obsessive rituals. “Some people diluted their food with water to make it seem like more,” participant Robert Willoughby recalled. “Others would put each little bite and hold it in their mouth a long time to savor it. So eating took a long time.” Several men collected cookbooks and recipes during the experiment. Carlyle Frederick reported that he had accumulated almost 100 by the end of the experiment. If they went to a movie, they noticed the food and ignored the romance, because along with the other symptoms, they experienced dramatically reduced sex drives.

At first, the study participants looked no different from other men on the university campus. Over time, however, they stood out due to their sunken faces, protruding ribs, and legs swollen from edema. The study began to gain more attention, and an issue of Life magazine in 1945 included a feature on the study and its brave participants. Although a few subjects broke the agreement and were dismissed from the study, most of them held fast, despite the increasing difficulty, believing strongly that what they did had a purpose.

While the study provided a great deal of important information, it was not as helpful to the post-war effort as researchers had hoped. The rehabilitation period lasted from late July 1945 to October 20, 1945. VE Day was May 8 and Japan surrendered on August 14. “We had hoped to have an effect on the world hunger situation following the war … [but] the experiment was a little late,” said participant Earl Heckman. A complete monograph of the study was not published until 1950, but members of Keys’ staff prepared a booklet that provided some practical advice based on early study results. One of the main findings of the experiment was that starving people need lots of calories in order to recover—not a complex mix of vitamins and minerals or a delicate balance of protein and carbs, but pure calories.

Although the men fantasized about the end of the starvation phase of the experiment, the recovery and rehabilitation periods were not the end of their troubles. Some men reported that it took two years to get back to their pre-experiment weight and strength. More food made little difference at first—either to their physical appearance or feelings of hunger. Even in the unrestricted phase, their stomachs felt like bottomless pits. The scientists warned the men not to overeat, but Henry Scholberg had to have his stomach pumped at a hospital because he ate too much. Participant Robert McCullagh finally knew he was getting better when his sense of humor came back.

There are many, many things to take from the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, even today. It taught us how little caloric restriction is necessary before psychological effects set in. (Compare the amount of calories the men consumed during the starvation phase with the recommended caloric intake of many diets.) It also shows that there is no “one size fits all” solution for proper nutrition, exercise, and caloric intake. The scientists were constantly adjusting the men’s rations based on their individual bodies and behaviors.

While it seems obtuse to say that this study shows how much people need food, it is a necessary reminder in our fitness and weight-loss obsessed culture. Food is about more than staying alive. It is part of society and our social behavior and proper nutrition is strongly influential on what we accomplish. Sure, too much food is bad for you, but too much ANYTHING is bad for you. That’s not the same as having “more than enough,” though. If you have “Just enough,” you’re surviving. If you have MORE than enough, you’re thriving. As it turns out, in order to do and be everything we can be as humans and as a society, having just “enough” is actually … not enough. Keys himself argued that, based on his findings, democracy and major cultural advancements were impossible without sufficient food.

There’s a reason why it’s difficult to win a game of Oregon Trail when you pick “meager” rations

This also shows that an obsession with food is literally not healthy. Like the men in the experiment, if you are withholding too many calories from yourself, you may find that food is all you can think of, because your body needs it, no matter what Jenny Craig says. These men weren’t on 500-calorie diets; they were eating the same amount of calories that lots of diets and so-called experts recommend for optimal weight loss. Perhaps, then, most diets fail not because people lack self-control, but because they are simply unsustainable.

Along with this lesson is the idea that weight loss itself is not necessarily healthy. The study participants were healthy when they began, and they all had different weights and metabolisms. With even a relatively small amount of weight loss, they began to show signs of serious problems. Despite the prevailing “wisdom” nowadays, weight loss might not solve all health problems—and might cause more instead.

Finally, this study showed us that a refusal to fight and kill in war does not equal cowardice or a lack of conviction. It might mean just the opposite, as these steadfast participants demonstrated.

The Blessing of Sharing in God’s Work

Earlier today, a friend sent me the link to a blog post she recommended. I set it aside for later, and ended up reading it when I came home from my Thursday-night Bible study.* As is so often the case, the timing was perfect.

The post (Marhaba–God is Love) is about the war in Syria and the country’s displaced peoples, written by a Christian Australian documentarian. Go read it. I’ll wait.

. . .

Heartbreaking, right?

It was especially convicting for me to read. It served as a reminder of the horrible conditions and events in this world. It also reminded me how often I lack compassion and harden my heart and fail to do the good that I could.

The blog post includes links for readers to donate to World Vision’s relief work in Syria. With little else to do about the situation, I made a donation. It seemed like a sacrificial amount, given my (as of this posting) unemployed status. But as I thought about it, and what had compelled me, it really didn’t seem like all that much after all.

Not only was I inspired to give because of the post itself, but also by an effective illustration a man in my Bible study gave tonight. The study is discussing the old debate of faith vs. works (relating to Luther’s Treatise On Christian Liberty), and he shared how he explained it to children at Sunday school.

Doing good works for our own sake (such as a mistaken belief that works bring salvation) is similar to trying to share a small pack of M&Ms we got at Halloween. There is very little to go around, and so we’re inclined to be stingy. When doing good works for the Lord’s sake, or for others’ sake, it is as though we are sharing M&Ms that we receive truckloads of every week, directly from the Supplier. In the latter case, we can be generous because it’s not really ours to begin with, and because there is more than enough for all. (God supplies not only the earthly resources such as food or funds, or even energy to carry out duties, but also the grace and compassion that compels us.)

I’m so thankful he shared that with us, even though we don’t know each other, because it encouraged the mindset I needed to have when I came home and read that post.

After I read that blog post, I wept a little, knowing how I lack in compassion and so often look the other way or shrug off the troubles of another and thank God that someone else can see to their needs. I know I tend to be cold-hearted, selfish, and judgmental, and tend to look down on people that Jesus loves as much as He loves me (meaning He came to earth to suffer and die for their sins just as much as for mine), and have ignored or rebuffed people who have been friendly to me, simply because I was suspicious of their motives or couldn’t be bothered to respond in kind.

I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed for God to renew my heart, to give me His heart for others, for not only the people suffering the calamities of war in the Middle East, but the person standing in front of me at the grocery store checkout. I prayed for the courage and compassion to take action when I see a need I am capable of meeting. I wept for the times I had failed.

In the midst of that, God broke through my thoughts (still so self-centered!) and said, “It’s a good thing it isn’t up to you.”

And that’s the blessed relief.

God uses people in many ways to carry out His work and His will, but the end result doesn’t depend on us. God doesn’t need us. We need Him, and we are blessed to be a part of His work in this world and this life. But He could do it all another way if He chose. Ultimately, it’s God Who will win, Who will prevail, Who will receive the glory, Who will have the last word.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” ~ Luke 19:39-40

We are to obey Him, to serve, and to love. But it is not up to us to right all the wrongs or to change the world. If it were, we might as well give up now, because with our sinful natures and limited human strength and compassion, we could never succeed.

God can’t screw it up, even if we fail to do what we should or could. Whatever we do or fail to do, God is at work behind the scenes. He is always there, forgiving our neglect or missteps, working to bring His will closer to fulfillment–in spite of our worst efforts.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” ~ Revelation 21:3-5

* Side note to share: In recent weeks, have become a member of a local Lutheran church (LCMS, specifically), which is worth a dozen blog posts in itself. The Thursday night Bible study is taught by the lead pastor and is an all-ages Bible study, not a location- or age- or “life stage”-specific small group, and I am loving it.

Are You an INTJ? Take This Quiz!

Instructions: Answer the questions with “Yes” or “No.”

1. Are you surrounded by idiots?

2. Are people afraid of your resting bitchface?

3. Do you often fail to play nice with others?

4. Have you failed to notice someone’s new hairstyle?

5. Are you known for your brutal honesty?

6. Do you often get bored when other people are talking?

7. Are you considered lazy because you prefer the quickest, most efficient route?

8. Does your soul wither and die at the thought of a career in sales?

9. Are your powers of focus impressive?

10. Is it difficult for you to describe your thought process?

11. Have you silently wished death upon someone who interrupted your thoughts?

1. This week?
2. Today?
3. More than once today?

12. Do you often appear standoffish?

1. Has this ever made people think you’re confident?
2. Even though you are secretly crippled by insecurity?

13. Do you respect intelligence more than most other things in a person?

14. Do you think the world would be better off if everyone listened to you?

15. Would you be agitated if you got a less than perfect score on this quiz?

Total up your “yes” answers. That is your score.

0-3: You are not an INTJ. Stop lying to yourself.

4-10: You want to be an INTJ, but you’re not. Sorry.

11-14: You’re not an INTJ, but you’re probably one letter off in your Myers-Briggs type.

15-20: You are an INTJ, but you probably knew that already.

Weird History, Part 3: Clostridium Botulinum

In 1820, the medical officer and poet Justinus Kerner reported his clinical observations of “sausage poisoning.” He noted that the toxin behind this disease interrupts the body’s motor systems, but does not affect sensory or mental functions.

Almost 200 years later, Real Housewives pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to have needles full of this sausage poisoning shoved into their faces.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the popular, and widely mocked, Botox.

When Kerner first described the disease that became known as botulism, he did not know exactly which bacterium was responsible. He did, however, notice that it could be lethal in tiny doses, but still suggested that it might, one day, be used to treat abnormal muscle movements.

In the late 1800s, once germ theory was the prevailing idea when it came to the spread of disease (that’s right, folks–germ theory has only been universally accepted by medical science for about 120 years), Émile van Ermengem identified Clostridium botulinum as the cause of sausage poisoning after he grew the bacterium from a sample of the meat. The sample was from a serving of ham that had poisoned 34 funeral attendees. The event was known as the “Green Funeral” and inspired a scene in Game of Thrones.[citation needed]

(Oops, referenced the wrong show … Sorry, Sherlock.)

By World War I, the canning industry was booming–and so was botulism. Advancing technology made food more abundant and better preserved, but poor canning methods negatively impacted their quality and safety. In the 1920s, Friedrich Meyer helped found a research institute to study safer canning technologies. Researchers figured out that heat inactivates the botulinum toxin, and this knowledge helped them establish better canning methods. So when you hear people insist that we stop eating modern convenience foods and eat the way our great-grandparents ate, remember that our great-grandparents were eating out of cans packed with botulism.

“Just like mother used to make.”

Botulinum toxin was studied as a potential bioweapon, starting in World War II. This created a beautiful irony–trying to kill Germans with their own sausage poisoning. This also means that people who use Botox are essentially committing bioterrorism against their own faces.

In later decades, ophthalmologists sought solutions for numerous eye-muscle disorders. Scientists experimented on chick embryos and monkeys, finding that purified botulism was an excellent candidate for fixing twitches (also known as “crazy eyes”). By the 1980s, the toxin was being used to treat a variety of muscle disorders, and was also useful for certain sweating disorders.

When botulinum was first used cosmetically, a California plastic surgeon (of course) used it to correct a patient’s facial asymmetry caused by nerve paralysis. Doctors and scientists began to connect the dots, and saw that the toxin reduced “frown lines” that form between the eyebrows. (Thus, Botox reduces the IQ, since it renders the user incapable of frowning in thought.)

Under the brand names Botox, Dysport, Xeomin, and Myobloc, botulism is now a runaway moneymaker, and the most common cosmetic procedure in the United States.

ETA: My friend Jessie and I were just discussing this post, and she remarked that it reminded her of a quote from Acts of King Arthur by John Steinbeck. It’s amazing and I had to share it here:

A face, a body grows and suffers with its possessor. It has the scars and ravages of pain and defeat, but also it has the shining of courage and love. And to me, at least, beauty is a continuation of all of those.

Which goes back to what Tyra and I were saying: You are flawsome. At any age. Wrinkles and all.

Things I’ve Learned From Beauty Marketing

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Somehow, over the course of my life, I have moved from one isolated world to another–from an ultra-conservative small-town college to the frantically transient “bubble” of DC, and now a job in the marketing industry, which is as alien to me as anything else I’ve encountered. Like all life experiences, though, it has its educational side. Here are a few things I’ve picked up so far …

1. You look weirder without your flaws.

I don’t watch America’s Next Top Model, but according to friends that do, Tyra Banks agrees with me. Your flaws are your assets—they make you you. I saw a set of before-and-after pictures of a man (aged 50s or 60s, I’d say) who had had a chin tuck. Before, he looked appropriate for his age—yes, he had wrinkles and sagging skin, but that’s age appropriate. He didn’t have some horrendous deformity, he looked normal. After, he still had wrinkles and sagging skin everywhere but his chin—which only looked that much weirder.

The thing is, unless you are actually a model, no one pays more attention to your appearance than you do. Everyone else really is too busy worrying about themselves and what they look like to notice all the things you dislike about yourself. If they do notice, it’s not for long—again, they have their own flaws to obsess about. The crow’s feet, the extra few pounds, the stray eyebrow hairs—these things that plague your morning routine often receive nothing more than a passing glance from others. They are part of what makes the person of you, and if you take that away, you’re just not you anymore!

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2. No one wants you to be happy.

Well, your mom, your significant other, and your dog probably all want you to be happy. But anyone offering a service or product that promises to make you happier doesn’t actually care if you’re happy. They want you to be unhappy so you’ll buy what they’re selling—whether it’s Botox, liposuction, the latest weight-loss program, or a new anti-aging serum–in the hopes of becoming happy. Happy people are not profitable.

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3. Most health and beauty advice doesn’t make sense if you think about it for more than .03 seconds.

Have you heard of chemical peels? They’re basically controlled skin damage. You get a mix of chemicals slathered on your skin that kills the skin and makes it slough off so that, after the blisters and scabs heal, it forces your skin to renew itself faster. Assuming you take good care of your skin after the peel, it’s one of the few beauty techniques that actually kind of works. It’s basically a more violent form of exfoliation.

BUT THEN … I keep seeing articles warning you not to exfoliate too much or too roughly because it … damages and irritates your skin. So where is the line between “skin damage is bad” and “this type of skin damage is totally okay and will make your complexion look amazinnnnggggg”?

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(Well, according to my friend Joy, “They really just want you dependent on their chemical peel providers. And to that I say, ‘F*** THE HEGEMONY’ *claws off face*”)

4. The Reaper doesn’t care about your Botox.

The difficult truth is that you can’t turn back the clock, no matter how many anti-aging products you try or how many fruits and vegetables you ate. Death comes for us all.

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Behold, the fruits of your anti-aging labors

Weird History, Part 2: The Affair That Launched a World War

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In January 1889, Franz Joseph I, Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Elisabeth, were holding a dinner party at the hunting lodge Mayerling. In attendance was their son, 30-year-old Prince Rudolf, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his mistress, 17-year-old Baroness Mary Vetsera.

On January 30, the prince’s valet went to wake him for a day of shooting with friends. He found the door locked from the inside. The valet received no reply to his calls, and shouts from other guests yielded similar results. Finally, they broke down the door. Inside the chamber, they found Rudolf at the side of his bed–dead, bleeding from the mouth. Mary’s lifeless body lay on the bed beside him.

The event became known by a title worthy of Sherlock Holmes: The Mayerling Incident.

The crown prince and the baroness

More than a century later, details of the incident remain unclear. Rudolf was said to have been poisoned; others say he was shot. (Bleeding from the mouth was a possible effect of strychnine.) Members of the royal family allegedly hushed up investigations. It was believed to be a murder-suicide, a double-suicide pact, or an assassination by persons unknown. The first official police report was that Rudolf had a heart attack. A revised report said that the crown prince had shot his mistress before turning the gun on himself. There were (much-disputed) reports that the incident was preceded by a violent argument between Rudolf and the Emperor, in which Franz Joseph demanded that Rudolf end his affair with Mary.

The baroness was buried quickly, secretly, and without official inquiry in a graveyard at Heiligenkreuz Abbey in Lower Austria. Not even her mother was permitted to attend. In 1955, authorities discovered that Mary’s grave had been broken into, possibly by looters. Physician Gerd Holler examined the remains and found no evidence of a bullet hole. He suggested that Mary’s death was an accident, perhaps a botched abortion, that prompted Rudolf’s suicide. The body was reinterred, only to be reexamined in the 1990s, when Helmut Flatzelsteiner, a furniture dealer with a deep interest in the Mayerling incident, performed a private examination. The remains were confirmed as Mary’s, but the skull was incomplete and disintegrating. Because of this, a suggestion that Mary had been shot in the head or stabbed could not be confirmed. She was reinterred for the last time.

A planned, “rational” suicide would have made it impossible for the Catholic Church to grant funeral rites and burial for Rudolf. The Vatican eventually granted a special dispensation declaring that he had been in a state of “mental imbalance.” As a result, he is still buried in the Church of the Capuchins in Vienna. However, the dossier on the investigations were not deposited in the state archives, as was the usual.

Many years later, letters written by Mary to her mother and other family members were found in a safe deposit box in an Austrian bank. Until their discovery, these letters were thought to be lost. They had been written at Mayerling, and clearly stated that Mary and Rudolf were planning to commit suicide in an act of “love.” The Austrian National Library issued copies of these letters in July 2015.

Please forgive me for what I’ve done/ I could not resist love/ In accordance with Him, I want to be buried next to Him in the Cemetery of Alland/ I am happier in death than life ~ a letter from Mary to her mother

As the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph, Rudolf’s death created a dynastic crisis for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The line of succession fell to the emperor’s brother, Karl Ludwig. When he died prematurely, the succession rights passed to his son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand–yes, that one. Upon Franz’s assassination, his nephew Karl became the heir-presumptive and eventually Emperor Charles I in 1916–the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Rudolf was known to be more liberal than his father, and so his death allowed for the pursuit of more conservative policies in the Empire. This includes the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 from the once-great Ottoman Empire. This prompted a “Bosnian crisis” that divided loyalties and interests in Europe and provided kindling for later war. The Balkans was an area of great international tension, including with the Russian Empire. The annexation was also a source of protest among Serbian nationalists, who believed that the territories should have instead become part of an independent Serbian nation. The events that followed the annexation prompts one to wonder how things may have been different had Rudolf lived.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, now the heir to the empire, traveled to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in June 1914 to conduct inspections of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s armed forces there. This did not sit well with the Serbian nationalists who objected to the empire’s control over these territories. The date of Franz’s visit, June 28, was also the anniversary of the First Battle of Kosovo, a significant date for Serbia. Thus, Austria’s show of imperial strength in Bosnia was offensive on multiple levels.

“Ignore the rumors of uprisings, dear. I don’t see how an ostentatious display of political power and wealth could POSSIBLY go wrong.”

19-year-old Gavrilo Princip fatally shot Franz and his wife, Sophie, as they passed by in an open car. Princip was a Bosnian Serb and a member of the pro-Serbian secret society, the Black Hand. As a result, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Almost every country in Europe was entangled in some alliance or another, and the continent fell into war like a series of dominoes.

After four years and 38 million deaths, an armistice was reached on Nov. 11, 1918. That same day, Emperor Charles I issued a proclamation that recognized the Austrian people’s right to determine their form of state. He never used the word “abdicate,” but he declared that he would “relinquish every participation in the administration of the State.” He was secretly hoping that the citizenry would vote him back into power, but they evidently called his bluff. The very next day, the independent Republic of German-Austria was proclaimed. A proclamation of the Hungarian Democratic Republic followed on Nov. 16. The great Austro-Hungarian Empire was no more.

[cue a totally inappropriate performance of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”]

Life lesson: Don’t cheat on your wife with 17-year-old baronesses, because you will die and cause a world war.

Going Gluten Free: One Year Later

I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, but Feb. 14 is still a momentous anniversary for me. As of Feb. 14, 2016, I have been gluten-free for a full year!

When I first learned about celiac disease and eating gluten-free, I would not have believed you if you told me I would be 100% gluten-free someday. I never thought I could have gone without bread, pasta, and basic pizza for this long. But once I realized how much better it made me feel (after mere days), I knew there was no going back.

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There have been trials, of course. There was a family event at which I could eat nothing but coleslaw and Hershey kisses. I had to get a salad when my dad invited me over for pizza because they weren’t going to buy me a whole GF pizza for myself. I put off telling a lot of people about being GF because I thought they would be skeptical, dismissing it as a fad diet or paranoia. I’ve had to give up Chinese food almost entirely–and I looooooove Chinese food. (Regular soy sauce has wheat in it, and of course many things are breaded.) I’ve had to give up a lot of comfort and convenience foods–fish and chips, Pringles, soft pretzels, fried chicken, my aunt’s Christmas cookies, chicken noodle soup, and Twix bars. I almost had a breakdown while on vacation in Colorado this summer because in a small town in the middle of nowhere, the only options were a Chinese restaurant or a Mexican restaurant (corn is also problematic for me). On this same vacation, I quickly got tired of my “fruit and yogurt” breakfast when I couldn’t consume the cereals, muffins, and toast available as part of the “continental” breakfast. I still have dreams about accidentally (and sometimes deliberately) eating gluten. I can’t partake in the bagels or doughnuts that people often bring to work.

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I will have my revenge.

There have also been triumphs and pleasant surprises. Many friends and family have been incredibly supportive and kind during this year of adjustment, willing to learn about gluten and to be flexible when hosting me. An excellent Thai restaurant near me will make many things GF, so I have not had to go without Pad Thai. Bethany sent me America’s Test Kitchen GF Baking cookbook. My aunt willingly switched from flour to corn starch for her gravy at Thanksgiving, and she and my uncle bought me The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen for Christmas. Visiting Kara in Seattle is heavenly, with numerous GF options (GF fish and chips!) and a more GF-friendly culture. Megan bent over backwards to get me GF options when I visited her in Las Vegas a year ago. Going without many fried foods and convenience foods has been better for my health. One of my new coworkers is GF, so I don’t have to explain anything in the office kitchen except to say, “Me, too!” I’ve been cooking even more at home, which is fine because I like to cook. I’ve learned so much about food. Thanks to resources such as Gluten-Free Girl, I have become a better cook by experimenting more in the kitchen and learning the science behind gluten and its substitutes. I bought a kitchen scale so I could precisely measure my millet, potato, teff, tapioca, buckwheat, rice, almond, and sorghum flours. I have been very, very grateful that dairy is not a problem.

Thank you to the people who have chimed in with support, and to those who have been patient with me as I have adjusted to and carried out this change in lifestyles! It’s gotten easier over the last 12 months, and I hope it keeps on that way.

In Which the New Year Proves Most Promising

Hello all,

This is one of those “general life update” posts, with actual (mostly) good news!!

1.) I got a new job! Less than a month after my previous, beloved job ended, I began a new one with a local marketing agency. This isn’t a telecommuting position, so there is a lot to get used to. Not only do I have to learn the work itself, but I have to get re-accustomed to dressing appropriately, commuting, packing lunches, interacting with numerous coworkers face-to-face, and living on a new schedule. But I like my coworkers, and I will like the work itself once I learn it all and can work independently (i.e., without asking for help constantly). I miss working from home, and my social energy is drained much faster, but I think it will get better as I adjust–and it has made me appreciate living alone much more.

2.) My bearded dragon Aravis, known as “the scaley princess” by some of my friends, is alive and well. However, she is brumating for the season, so she hasn’t been doing much. After struggling to get her to eat and bask and poop normally, I decided to just let nature do what it wanted to do, and I’m letting her sleep as long as she wants. I’ve been waking her up every few days to weigh her and make her drink some water, and she is still healthy and adorable.

Photo on 12-29-15 at 5.57 PM

Just like her mama

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3.) In the less-than-good news front, I had a thought of writing a tribute to Alan Rickman, one of my favorite, favorite actors, who sadly passed away last month. Instead, I am going to link to The Bloggess’ tribute, because she said it just as well, if not better, than I could. (The weekend after he passed, I gathered all my DVDs of his movies with the intention of watching them in order of preference, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch my favorite, Sense and Sensibility. I still can’t.)

4.) So I don’t have to end on that sad note, I wrote the first post in my new, monthly “creepy history” feature. I already have several more ideas for this month and the next, so I think this series can successfully continue for at least this year.

Weird History, Part 1: Hair’s Lookin’ at You, Kid

Welcome to the first post of what I hope to be a monthly series about the unfamiliar, the unusual, or the downright creepy in human history! If you have an idea for a future post, feel free to leave a comment suggesting a person, event, or idea you think more people should hear about.


 

Photographic technology has advanced rapidly in the last two centuries, from the daguerreotype to the selfie stick. It’s cheap and easy to accumulate memories of loved ones. But in the Victorian age (mid and late 1800s), it was a little more complicated. How do you preserve a memory of your loved one to remember them by once they have passed on, if you can’t take a picture? You turn their hair into flowers, obviously.

Keeping a lock of a loved one’s hair was not unusual in centuries past–as anyone who has read or watched Sense and Sensibility could tell you. Nowadays, you might find a lock of a child’s hair in a “baby book.” For an organic substance, hair lasts quite a long time. And given that it comes right off a person’s head and maintains its distinct color after doing so, it’s a very personal and downright intimate possession.

OH THE SCANDAL

But the Victorians, as was their wont, took this idea to gaudy, sentimental, and creepy extremes.

History buffs who have toured historical homes decorated in a Victorian style may have encountered hair wreaths. These hirsute works of art involved twisting and weaving the locks into flowers and leaves, often with beads or pearls added, to be displayed in parlors as family heirlooms. Hair was donated by living family members, or gently snipped off the deceased, and the wreaths were crafted and added to over the years, becoming a symbol of family unity. And despite what you may have heard about the Victorians’ uptight, rigid ways, they were absolute suckers for sentiment.

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Compared to today’s lifestyles, the Victorians were a bunch of death-obsessed weirdos–they made these things, they had elaborate mourning customs, and they loved to photograph corpses.

But of course, we must keep in mind that death was integrated into Victorians’ lives more than in modern times. Life expectancy was lower, and infant mortality was especially high. (Death was probably the only way you could get kids to sit still during the long exposures that old-timey cameras required.) Disease was more prevalent and doctors made house calls, so people died in their homes instead of hospitals. Without nursing homes or retirement communities, multiple generations shared a home and saw the “circle of life” at work. A child might be born in a bedroom that his grandmother would die in a week later. There were customs and rituals for death just as much as there were for births and weddings, as it was just as much a part of their lives. And making hair wreaths–a skillful art, however creepy–was a creative way to keep the memories of loved ones … alive.

The Victorians did not save hair art just for mourning. In the 19th century, hair jewelry was commonplace, embroidered like thread into brooches or braided into strands to make bracelets.

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via smithsonianmag.com

And if you’re really into that kind of thing, there is a museum dedicated to ‘hair art’ in Independence, MO. Be sure that you stop by before you head out on the Oregon Trail and donate your hair for loved ones to remember you by when you die of dysentery.