The First Swaintly Family Trip, Part 1

Our first family road trip, it was a long one.

And why shouldn’t it have been?  We rarely do things in half-measure.  Which is why this is going to get stretched out over a few days.  It’s a lot.

Pre-Game Preps

Thank the gods I know how to work on cars.  I changed the oil, air filter, and spark plugs, and I got the AC charged up.  Damn good thing, too, because it was hot as balls through the whole trip.  Global warming is real, folks.  All told, once I did a little calculating, that probably saved about $600 right there.  We were already ahead of the curve.

Craig helped me install the trailer hitch, and we were all good to go.  The trailer from U-Haul was picked up on Sunday and packed the same day…

But first, where the heck was the wheelchair ramp that we were supposed to get on Friday?  What’s a “Friday”?  What’s a “wheelchair ramp”?  What’s “supposed to”?  Pisshaw, you silly humans.

See, I’d deliberately ordered this awesome wheelchair ramp from Discount Ramps because they could have it delivered by Friday – plenty of time to put it on the car and make sure that it worked.  But Friday came and went, and no wheelchair ramp.  Saturday, I’m told by multiple people that we might be able to get it delivered, but no, that’s also not how it happened.  Before we were able to leave, we had to go pick up the wheelchair ramp from the UPS distribution center and just hope that it would work the way it was intended.

Because Daniel has a wheelchair.  He needs it.  He can walk, but it’s not a good idea.  (More on why that’s true a little later.)  Also, we fully intended for this ramp to double as a cargo platform.  It’s pretty damned important.

The First Leg: Monday into Tuesday

The first step was to get Miles to Wisconsin to rendezvous with his new flatmates.  We’d originally intended to leave by 8 in in the morning, which would probably put us at his new digs around midnight.  But, as per the previous ramp problem and having to get all that sorted, we didn’t really leave town until 11.

That would have put us in town at around 4 am, and no one should be bothering the neighbors like that as their first introduction.  We called ahead and suggested that we nap for a few hours and get there at 7 or 8.

No, the other roommate just had surgery and wanted us there closer to 11.

… okay, no biggie.  Maybe he doesn’t realize we just drove fifteen freaking hours, but whatever.

Through the power of the internet, I found a couple of friends who were native to the St Louis area and were able to find us a safe Walmart parking lot in which to sleep until a decent hour.  (Traveler’s Note: Most Walmarts do allow this unless it’s specifically posted.  If you see RVs parked towards the outside of the lot, it’s totally okay.  They’d rather you be alive to spend your money there.)

We woke up and headed the rest of the way up to Madison, where we played the Keep the Garage Door Open Game and found the demise of a single bookshelf as the only loss of the trip to that point.  Once the trailer was emptied of Miles’ things, we put the ramp together, got the wheelchair and a good portion of our things on it, and headed out to Adventure!

Tuesday as the First Test of Camp-atibility

See what I did there?

It was already too late to try to hit any serious tourist attractions, so we headed over to Lake Kegonsa State Park for an overnight camp.  On the way, we picked up a tent (something we wouldn’t have had room for at the start) and food and charcoal and such.  We got to the park, paid for the site, and set up camp for our first family camping trip.

Now, some of y’all might recall that I did a lot of camping when I was a kid, and Craig did a reasonable amount himself, but none of the boys had slept in a state park (so far as we know).  I wasn’t going to make them hunt or fish or anything like that this first time out, so we grilled hot dogs – just like the fire pit at home, which was part of why we’d decided to have a fire pit in the first place instead of a grill.  It was all part of the plan.

What was their favorite part of this?  (Hell, what was the favorite of all of us…)


So many fireflies!  They were everywhere, deep in the forest – and the forest around there was thick.

We lucked out and got a site right next to the loo (which was a very nice brick building with motion-activated lights and compost toilets), and the water spigot was only a short trek down the path.  There was a fire pit and a nice picnic table, and plenty of room to set up the eight-man tent.

We brought sleeping bags and blankets and pillows.

You know what we didn’t bring?

Rubber mats or air mattresses, both of which we own.

This is one of the few regrets.  We know better for next time.

Adventuring with Boys Who Love Cheese

We slept probably a little later than was ideal on Wednesday morning, but no biggie.  I got up and made coffee and breakfast (like you do), did a little pretend-laundry, got the meds done, the whole nine yards.  The boys got up and goofed around for a bit, and we looked at nature up close.

Then, it was clearly time to do a mandatory Wisconsin thing.

We went to the National Cheesemaking Museum.

Collin really likes cheese.  Like, really likes cheese.

This is Collin watching the video about modern cheese making methods before we got to the old school methods walking through the old factory that makes cheese only once a year  We found out all the different ways that you could make cheese, what makes different types of cheese different, and what kinds of standards Winconsinites apply to their cheeses.  (Hint, it’s high.)

On the way out, on the advice of the cheese guide, we stopped at a shop called the Alp and Dell and picked up cheese curds and this one piece that, I swear to gods, tastes like frikken raisin bread.


Tune in tomorrow for the next installment, wherein there are more adventures and pictures and fun things.

This is what support looks like

I learned quite by accident that the phrase I crave the most – and distrust the most – is “I support you.”

Experience has suggested strongly that when people (partners in particular) say this, they don’t actually mean it.  They’re trying to say that they approve of your actions or position or decision, but that’s not support.  That’s just approval.

So, what?  It’s the same thing, right?

No, please gods, no.  It’s not at all the same thing.  Approval is thinking someone is pretty.  Support is asking them out, building a relationship, getting married, having a family… See what I mean?  It’s the difference between thought and action.

The frustrating thing for someone like myself who relies heavily on both support and approval is that it feels greedy to ask for both.  When you’re already fighting an uphill battle with poor self esteem, asking for action on validation feels… dirty, maybe?  Like an inconvenience?  An imposition?

The further complicating factor is that we’re not often taught as kids what the difference is, and it’s definitely not demonstrated by the adults.  I remember a lot of talk about “supporting each other” when I was growing up, but it equated to one party doing whatever they wanted regardless of consequence because the other person said they “supported it” when in fact they meant they approved of the idea.  What followed was a lot of stress and resentment and anger.

Support has a few forms

The first thing that comes to mind for almost anyone when you say “support” is money, and while that’s not entirely wrong, it short-changes the concept.  Yes, we support each other through application of cash.  I get child support from my ex to pay for our mutual children.  My husband, who makes far more than I do, supports our household by paying the majority of the bills.  This is financial support, and while it’s vital and critical, that’s not the only way to

Emotional support is really what people are thinking of when they really mean “approval”.  This is the cheerleader, the fans waving on the side line.  If it’s the high-quality type, it’ll come with a lot of honest feedback on whatever it is that we’re trying to accomplish.  Blind support without care for what the person is actually accomplishing is really enabling.  Enabling, in this context, means to show approval regardless the result or behavior is healthy, productive, or legitimate.  It’s the “whatever you want, honey” response, and it’s demeaning at best and dangerous at worst.

I think what most people are asking from their partners when they ask for help is practical support.  For someone like me, a writer and artist, this would mean things like watching the kids so that I can go to a conference or meeting.  It would mean putting away the dishes and helping out with the chores so that I can meet a daily word-count goal.  It would mean sitting down and talking about what those goals and milestones would be, and working together to meet them.

Practical support is the Holy Grail for creative types.  It’s the most needed and least understood form, but it’s vital.

DIY has its pros, but mostly cons

Wouldn’t it be super-duper (to our partners) if we could just handle all this stuff on our own?  To be fair, a lot of creatives types do. On the down side, that means that they end up doing double-duty in all things around the house and relationship.  They take care of normal routine stuff in addition to trying to carve out time for their own creative expression.  No small portion of the time, this leads to a condition of “singleness”, either through breaking up or separating emotionally from their partner within the relationship.

Think about this, though:  If we were going to be committed to supporting our expression and creation all on our own, what would be the benefit of a relationship?  Sure, sex is great and all, but that doesn’t get the painting finished.  (Okay, maybe sometimes it does, but that’s a very weird method and supporting art probably isn’t an issue there.)  This statement is not meant to be scary, but I do want to point out the value of what support means to the creative types and what the price might be of not being supportive.

Sure, we can do it on our own, but it costs.  We will arrange our lives around our creative needs, and if you’re not down with that – if you’re not going to make room and actively help – then there’s not going to be room for you, too.  It sucks, but asking a creative person to just kinda not create – or actively interfering with their creation process – is saying that you really don’t care about their needs or wants or desires.  And fuck that.  We have a whole society marginalizing acts of creation, we don’t need it from our personal lives as well.

Say what you mean, mean what you say.

If you “support your partner” in their endeavor, make a plan.  Be specific.  If you merely approve of them doing the thing, say so.  If they come back and actively ask you for specific types of help, know that they’re asking for a bigger commitment from you.  Before you groan and roll your eyes and think about how much you don’t want to take a turn doing dishes or folding laundry, know that that kind of request comes from a place of trust.

That’s the big deal, in the end.  Support is something you give – and receive – with someone you trust to have your back.  It’s making sure your husband gets up on time to run before work because he’s training for a marathon.  That’s not enabling him, that’s actually being supportive.  It is not making sure that the vodka is in the freezer before you leave for work because your boyfriend likes his martinis as soon as he walks in the door at the end of the day – that’s enabling.  It’s paying a little more to get your girlfriend the fancy art supplies for Valentine’s Day instead of chocolates or a piece of jewelry she’ll never wear.  Most importantly, it’s actively thinking to yourself, “What can I do to help my partner meet their goals?”

And to you creative types: You also need to take some responsibility and share your goals and dreams with your partner.  If you don’t, ask yourself what you’re afraid of.  If they reject your ideas altogether (assuming those ideas have merit and/or you want to do them), it might be time to get a new partner.  I’ll wager, though, that if they love you – if they want to learn to build an amazing relationship – they’ll do what they can to help.


This in the context of creativity because that’s my bag, baby, but the principles apply to just about anything.  Want to lose weight?  Trying to learn French?  Building an application?  State your needs, be excellent to each other.

April 26: Things I’d Say to an Ex (or, Post-Mortem on Relationships)

twenty-sixOh, this is a doozy… I don’t think any one person knows my history well enough to adequately guess who this might be, or what it might be about, which is kind of cool… and if you think you know who this is (or you think it’s you), you could message me, I guess.  (Do it privately, you probably don’t want to out yourself.)  Relationships are weird, right?

Dear You:

This is going to sound weird, but you were one of the best relationships I ever had.  We were totally not meant for each other, we had very little in common, our priorities were completely unmatched, and yet when I think back over that long stretch of time, that brief shining moment we had together was really a pivotal time in my life, a time that put me to rights and got me looking at myself and my needs in a truly healthy way – and it was really all because of you.

Prior, I had such a terrible run of luck with relationships that I really did just want to lock the door and be done with humanity.  I was ready to “scratch an itch” with you, so to speak, and be done after a short time (one night?  a week?), but something a little deeper happened.  It wasn’t that mad “falling in love” sensation or that crazy “can’t live without you” thing – it was more real, more comfortable, and also known from the beginning on some level that it was temporary, and that was not just okay but best for everyone.

Don’t get me wrong!  I did love you (and still do), mostly because you showed me that people don’t have to be perfect to treat each other well.  You showed me that you could do and be for other people without expecting a pound of flesh in return, that there wasn’t a crime for every punishment.  This was the first relationship where the concept of “respect” wasn’t some weird abstract thing that I was required to guess from context:  it was a demonstrable thing, a tangible thing, and while I’m sure it didn’t seem like such a big deal to you, it was the world to me.

I knew that I wasn’t going to be good for you in the long run.  You were too squishy in some parts, inexperienced in others, and while I’m sure you would have done your best nursing me through my healing and recovery, I wouldn’t have wished that on you.  I wasn’t the best person back then.

So, odd as it was, I know we weren’t in love, but we did love each other deeply, and it was the first honest love I think I’d ever really had – honest from both sides.  It set the benchmark for “acceptable”, and that’s probably why I ended up with this ridiculously long list of rejections before I found someone comparable.  It took me a long time to really understand the true nature of the lessons you brought me, to understand what my mistakes were and how those mistakes pointed to the wounds I still had to heal, but I’m deeply grateful for the time and experience.

Sure, I wish I’d done some things differently (and who doesn’t when hindsight is 20/20?), but I also don’t regret a thing about it.  You seem like you’ve done damn well for yourself since then, and that makes me happy, too.

Thanks, you, for a great time.  <3

Your Religious Freedoms Are YOUR Religious Freedoms

Gay marriageThe SCOTUS decision on June 26, 2015, is that marriage is a right that can be carried out between any two individuals who elect to marry and that this right cannot be denied based on color, creed, or gender.

And there was much rejoicing, and in my hometown of Dallas, a pair of gentlemen who have been together for 55 years were the first to get hitched.  It was a beautiful and momentous occasion.  I teared up, I was just so blissfully happy for them (and even now, I gots a little feel in my eye), and then I turned on the radio.

NPR is having wall-to-wall coverage on the topic, which is totally fantastic and I wholeheartedly support, and then this minister from some town in Texas came on and basically said that he was going to fight this, tooth and nail, because SCOTUS was sending the message that he could no longer discriminate against his employees for being gay without risking the loss of his tax-exempt status.

I’m not kidding.  I wish I was.  It was the ultimate WTF moment for me as I was driving down the highway, until he said, “And we’re going to do our best to find a candidate that will repeal this decision and defend religious freedoms.”

Then that became the ultimate WTF moment.

There are two things about this that completely blow my mind.  The first was that this pastor of an allegedly love-based religion was essentially saying that he loved the gays, except for the fact that they were gay, and therefore felt it was his religious right to be able to fire them if they came in all “gay-married” one day.  This was the actual example that he used as the justification for his vitriol, that he wouldn’t be able to fire someone for being gay-married.

The second thing that nearly caused me to veer off the road was when he suggested that discriminating would endanger his tax exempt status.

Now, before I pick this apart, let me first say that I have founded and run not one but two non-profit organizations with specialized tax status.  While I was establishing that specialized tax status, I learned a lot about what could and couldn’t be done with various types of statuses.  The fact that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts seems to think that if churches refuse to perform the marriage ceremonies of people who are gay that they will endanger their exempt status just goes to show that this guy has no clue what he’s on about.

Churches refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for people all the time.  In fact, that’s one of the best things about marriage being a civil liberty that it can be carried out by a Justice of the Peace – churches are optional.  Catholic churches at least used to not re-wed people who had been divorced, Mormon churches will not perform ceremonies for people who are both Mormon, and the list goes on.  In fact, any minister, pastor, priest, or other officiant who does not feel in their bones that a union between two humans is a good idea is more than welcome to not perform that ceremony.

I myself have refused to unite several couples because I just didn’t feel like it was a smart match, and I’ve usually been right.  It had nothing to do with the shapes of their nether bits.

Now, back to the tax exempt thing.  In all fairness, churches could continue to reject the performance of gay unions (and miss out on the cash cow that some of those gorgeous weddings would be), and it won’t matter one bit.  In your own house of worship, you can be as hateful and snotty as you like.  Since the licensing was really the important bit, and that’s now firmly set as a right that the individual states cannot deny, then this part becomes kind of silly.

However, what will endanger your tax exempt status is “political campaign intervention”, such as officially advocating, endorsing, or otherwise supporting any candidate in an election.

Gasp!  Shock!

And that guy just said that he was going to find candidates that would repeal this decision!

That sounds like intervention with very specifically stated intentions!  (Get his number, we’ll get to him later.)

Here’s the thing about religious freedom:  it’s your religious freedom.  It’s not “yours and everyone else’s as long as their religion is the same as yours”.  Religion is a personal thing.  It’s not genetic, it’s not even particularly endemic, and it’s not compulsory.

Religion is a choice.

People change religions all the time.  People convert, leave the church, go back to a different church, start their own… and they have the right to that because our nation protects religious freedom.

BUT, religious tenets do not under any circumstances supersede the law.


If SCOTUS says that people of the same gender can marry, then they can legally marry.  They don’t have to religiously marry – and, frankly, with as horribly as so many of them have been treated by churches, I don’t know why they would.

And let’s get down to the real “Christian issue”.  The popular attitude (according to Leviticus, in the OLD Testament, by the way, before the Christ came along up UPDATED THE LAW) is that homosexuality is not natural, that it’s a lifestyle choice.  They said the same thing about left-handed people, incidentally.  In much the same why that they learned the left-handed people weren’t demonic or touched by the devil or anything like that, science has indicated that homosexuality is not only completely natural but actually aids in evolution of the species.


Those who fight this have to know that they’re on the wrong side of history.  They have to know in some part of their being that to stand in the way of the happiness of so many people is completely counter to what their god tells them.

They have to know this.

Please, let them figure this out.

Any religion should really start as a solitary practice, a means of exploring the depths of one’s own soul.  Even the Big Guy himself said not to judge, and yet…

Maybe if they actually followed their religion, they’d know where their freedom is.

“But I’m not broken…”

qaprocess1Periodically, I write.  And when I do, I try to write about helpful, wonderful things.

It happened of late that a close friend was having a rough go of things.  This happens not often but on a regular basis, and I’d suggested that perhaps it was time to talk to a professional about this.

That opened up a whole other can of worms, on top of the already-opened other-can of worms that we were struggling with.

I’m not broken!  Not everything in my life is a mistake!  You’re not so perfect!  You think you’re always right!” (Etc., etc., you know how these things go.)

I finally came up with a brilliant way to describe the process.

You see, I’ve been to therapists before.  Some of them suck, some of them don’t, but that is determined mostly by what you want to invest in the process and whether or not the two of you can get on with mutual respect.  (This is not automatic, every therapist is not magically prepared to like and respect every client.)  But there’s a lot of misconception, too, I think about what therapy is supposed to accomplish.

Think of it like this:  (Good) therapy is like a good QA process in software development.  Barring any significant hardware issues, most final-release software will function pretty well until a set of environmental factors come into play – usually unforeseen by the original programmers or as a result of a post-release modification – and then maybe it doesn’t function as well as it should.  Perhaps there was a build interrupt during early development stages that introduced a bug, or maybe some kind of driver incompatibility exists that is only sometimes triggered.  Whatever the case, it happens, and it happens to everyone.  I’ve often heard it said that no piece of software every survived engagement with the public.

Regardless of how, glitches develop.  Sometimes that glitch means that the logic circuits go wacky and start spitting out junk results.  Sometimes it means that the whole system has to go into shutdown mode for a while to recompile the kernel.  Sometimes the glitch operates as a background routine, stealing resources from other processes until, bit by bit, it takes over the entire system.

Your QA engineer will be able to figure out what’s going on and help you apply a patch, bringing you back up to speed.  It can take a few different versions to step back up to a fully functioning system.  A QA engineer should not spend all his/her time trying to identify the offending programmer, nor should he/she try to fix what’s not broken.  The process often involves opening up libraries that you wouldn’t think would be part of it, but invariably it’s those files that hold the key to the glitch.

Often, once we get into the QA lab, we can pretty well figure out what the problem is, and maybe talking to the engineer is just a means of confirmation.  Thing is, our program may not involve doing QA ourselves, and even if it does, our QA method isn’t going to work as well as someone else’s for whom the perspective is more complete.

No one is immune from needing a little Quality Assurance sometimes.  Individuals need it, relationships need it, companies need it, families need it.  QA isn’t always about fixing things, sometimes it’s about testing to make sure things aren’t broken – and maybe even suggesting a nice feature to add on in the end.