Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 5/23/18

This week "feels" like it was a balanced week, but honestly, in review, I think it was probably more good than bad.

The church incident I related last week, with the being shooed out of my accommodation area, is going to be reviewed by a church official I'm familiar with.  Actually, it's the same person that did my premarital counseling... because that's pretty much the only "office staff" person I feel sufficiently familiar with to relate my situation.  I'm somewhat annoyed that the response was very last-minute, and the mediation for the incident is going to have to wait until Thursday morning... but I'm also fairly sure this particular staff member is remarkably busy with other facets of the church life, and the fact that they're trying to fit me into the week at all is probably a stretch for them.

So meh.  Grumpy about the whole thing, but you do have to be reasonable about others' time and needs.  Speaking of others's needs, one of my readers who attends the same church stopped me on Sunday to express her support and relate that sometimes she has similar sensory problems.  I was rather startled, actually, as I usually don't hear from my readers much, and one of my strongest, most enduring life lessons has been: "You are utterly alone, including your specific problems."  So that was a really heartening moment in an otherwise disheartening day.

Another highlight from the last week was going to the farm market and a store called The Cheese Lady with Chris and my mother.  It wasn't the prettiest day for it, but we were hoping to pick up some meat from the humane farm that sells there, and snag some fresh vegetables and nice, Mom-friendly cheese.  Sadly, the humane meat farm was just leaving as we arrived, but the rest of the farm market provided lovely, inexpensive produce.  There was a lot of asparagus (blech), but also things like fancy lettuces and other greens, potatoes of many colors, berries, and a truly astonishing number of fresh flowers or potted flowers.

I do kind of wish we'd get to the farm market more often.  Their produce tends to last so much better  than the stuff from the store.  But I guess part of the problem is the unpredictability of the vendors, and the fact that it's not one-stop-shopping the way Meijer is.  Also it's not a 24 hour enterprise, and Meijer is.  Truly, I am ridiculously spoiled.

Anyway, the Cheese Lady had no disappointments.  With over a dozen each of sheep and goat cheeses, there was plenty to choose from... and despite that I need to be cutting down on dairy, I did indulge in my favorite cow-milk cheddar. It's just so ridiculously good.  Mom was able to find a selection of cheeses to suit her diet, which included at least one that should be good on pizza.  So that's fun.  It's annoyingly hard to find foods she can eat without having to be very careful, but I think this place might be okay for that.

My Monday evening got shot by getting my blue hair redone, and then cut nice and short.  These trips almost invariably take hours, and I'm really starting to wonder how long I have the patience for it.  Besides taking literally 5 hours at present, the process involves breathing bleach and harsh chemicals while they sit in my hair, and putting up with the loud noises that accompany the functioning cosmetology school (screeching chairs, loud music, chatter all around).

The crowning awful part, though, is common to any short hair haircuts... the process of trying to get all the little pieces of hair off yourself afterwards.  While most people can probably just brush themselves off a bit and ignore the rest until it goes away... I get home, shed my shirt and top clothes, and proceed directly to the bathroom, where I have to use a lint roller to get all the tiny hair-bits off myself.  They itch abominably and drive me nuts until I get them off.  After that's done, I shove my head over the sink and proceed to ruffle my hair until it stops raining tiny blue hair-bits.  This can take a while.

Normally, haircutters tie a band around your throat, in addition to the cape, to keep the hair from getting down your shirt.  And they did do that here.  But they didn't put it on tightly, because they know I have problems having stuff tightly around my neck.  Like the itchy hair-bits, that also drives me nuts.  I'm sure there's a solution of some kind, like a reverse cone of shame for dogs, or something I could hold at my neck rather than having it tied there... but I haven't an engineer to come up with one, and I'm not sure it'd be allowed in the school even if I did have one.  So in the meantime, I tend to end all my haircut/color appointments worn out and miserable.  But hey, now I'm set for like 7 weeks, so that's good.  I did get some good progress on reading a book to review for this Friday, so it's not like I wasted any of the time, either.

In happier news, I'm well on my way to having a successful bath experience.  I did try my pot-on-the-stove-heated water idea again, and this time I managed to get the bath water to "maybe 5 degrees too hot" instead of "scalding."  Much more comfortable.  I used the jets again, and added some bath salts.  It was a pretty nice experience... until the jets stopped and I noticed the water was all full of tub scum.  I'd hoped I'd gotten rid of that after cleaning it a few times, but apparently not.  So that was gross.  It didn't entirely ruin the bath, but it was an unpleasant note to end on.

As I didn't want that to be the norm for my baths, I decided to research how one cleans a hot tub... and it turns out you can usually just fill the silly thing, add bleach, turn on the jets, and walk away.  So that's what I did.  I already had bleach in the house for use with the washer (which you should clean once a month by running an empty wash cycle and adding bleach), so I simply poured about a third of the container into the tub as it was filling.

Somewhat sillilly, the bleach proceeded to foam up a whole bunch, resembling nothing so much as a death-bubble bath.  I resisted the urge to play with the foam... but it really did look inviting.  But of course the water was ice cold, and the foam smelled like bleach.  Also, chemical burns are definitely not in style right now.  Anyway, after that had finished cycling, the tub had to be drained and then refilled with clean water, because bleach baths are never the answer.

Hopefully sometime this week I'll get to try the tub again, and this time it won't have scum in the water, and the temperature will be closer to "just right."  I'm looking forward to it.  

Monday, May 21, 2018

Reading the Research: Towards Universal Communication

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article amused me because I recently got annoyed at the proliferation of emojis in modern text conversations, but this usage of them serves to unequivocally clarify communication, rather than complicate it.  The idea was to make a universal "scale" for ranking things like foods or experiences.  Using emojis, the scale would be useful in any culture where smiles mean "good" and frowns mean "bad."  Because of the historical similarities in human psychology and the Westernization of the world, that is almost all of them.

The scale looks like this, and the comment's textual explanation of the scale is probably entirely unnecessary:

Most bad <----Bad------Kinda Bad-----OK---Kinda Good---Good----> Most Good

The researchers were really more going for a scale useful in any culture, regardless of language, worldwide, but this scale meant to rate products for businesses might also find a use for people with communication and language disabilities.  For example, if a parent wants to gauge a kid's mood, or get a sense for their very favorite foods, they could use this scale to get a more nuanced response than simply "good," "OK" or "bad."  It's a seven point scale, and the testing the researchers have done so far is consistent across age ranges in children. 

Personally, I think it'd probably be helpful to teach all children to identify their moods based on something a bit more complicated than "good" "OK" and "bad."  But maybe they automatically do that after a certain point in development, particularly now that emojis are so widespread.  I don't think I made the differentiation ever, growing up.  And unfortunately the answer to "how am I feeling?" was almost invariably "bad." It could have been the third on the left (kinda bad), there, instead of the leftmost (absolutely awful).  Maybe, even, with that graphic for "OK," I might've chosen that some days. 

Then, too, it's helpful for working with a child to know if a food is their most favorite food ever, or whether they just sort of like it.  Since the children in the test used the entire scale to rate their experiences and opinions on foods, it would likely be similarly helpful for any child.  Also, any adult with communication difficulties might make use of this scale to quickly give a nuanced opinion on a proposed course of action, a food, or their mood at the moment.

I'll be curious to see how this develops, and whether it makes it into educational systems or not.  I'd certainly lobby for it to do so.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Book Review: All About IEPs

Wrightslaw: All About IEPs is a comprehensive guidebook to the laws and regulations around Individualized Education Plans.  As most autistic children in the US end up with an IEP, and it's one of the most common problems I hear about from parents with autistic children, this seemed like a fortuitous find.  And it was!

First thing: don't be worried about the readability of this book.  I tend to mentally prepare myself for exhaustion when I see hints that lawyers were involved in writing something I'm about to read... but despite the law-firm-sounding name, Wrightslaw has actually put together a fairly plainspeak guide.  Normally one can expect a certain level of...  fine print, I guess?  Evasiveness. And just in general, a lack of clarity.  The authors of this book clearly made a point of avoiding that convention in favor of plainer answers, as much as possible.  I strongly approve.  I get very tired of trying to sort through Legalese, as I call it.  I much prefer simple, concise, clear wording.

My second major impression of this book's contents is pleasant surprise.  Generally when one mentions "education" I think of academics.  But whoever wrote the laws governing IEPs was apparently very aware of how truly different one child can be from another.  As such, IEPs can include everything from transportation to therapy to assistive technology.  From the stories I'd heard, I kind of assumed the IEP was only meant to help a child learn math, reading, writing, etc.  But in fact, if deemed appropriate and necessary for the child's development, the school can provide things like ABA therapy, social skills groups, a wheelchair, or even a laptop for taking notes on.

I had no idea so many things were covered under the law, and it's flatly astonishing to know that someone (probably many someones) gave so much thought and concern to a population that most people wish would just disappear.  Whoever wrote those laws was exceptionally forward-thinking.  Normally people love to put special-needs children into little categorical boxes and say, "You need this because you're this, and you don't need that because you're this."  Under the set of laws we have currently, it's illegal for schools to do that.  Instead, they are required to examine the child's specific needs, strengths, and weaknesses, and make a plan based on those things.  That's the "Individualized" in "Individualized Education Plan."

Naturally, no matter how well-written the law, there will be people trying to bend it this way and that to avoid expense, effort, and time.  Which is why this book makes a point of answering a lot of commonly asked questions, grouped into 14 different subjects.  Topics included in this book are: how to write a good IEP, who's included in the IEP team, what kinds of services can be included in an IEP, transition services, how to resolve disputes with the school, and even what things to do when you're transferring schools.

While this wasn't the most riveting book I've ever read, it did answer pretty much every question about IEPs that I've ever heard from a confused parent, and a lot more besides.  It even makes the point of telling you when laws may differ by the state, and prompts you to do research of your own.  There are also links to additional resources interspersed in the pages, such as a comprehensive list of all the services and accommodations you could ask for in an IEP, sample letters to a school regarding a particular issue, and checklists to photocopy and take with you to IEP meetings.

After reading this book, I kind of wonder what my IEP would have looked like, if I'd had one.  I didn't really struggle academically, save for a few subjects I really didn't like or care about.  But if the education includes appropriate development...  the IEP would probably have to have something about reducing my anger issues in middle school.  Maybe emotions recognition and management training?  I still find that somewhat challenging, but I think I'm improving.  And perhaps something to help with my chronic anxiety and depression.  I bet that last one would've been a headache and half, though, both for my parents trying to fight for it, and for me having to sit through it.  I'm also not sure I would have appreciated it, at the time.  I was pretty set on being left alone in middle school and high school.  Of course, perhaps having a therapist or someone I knew could be trusted to help me help myself might have changed that.  I have no idea.

Read This Book If

You're a parent of a special-needs child, or an advocate for one, and you're at any stage of your child's education.  Usually the books I review don't write this section themselves, but the authors clearly knew their audience was limited in this case.  They do mention that teachers and school officials might also find this book helpful, and I concur... but the questions they answer are almost invariably from the parents' point of view.  As guides go, this one is excellent: both comprehensive and concise, with enough resources to be helpful, but not so many as to be overwhelming.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 5/16/18

This week was definitely another mix of good and bad.

The bad, mainly, was that I spent about three days in near-complete misery.   About once a month, I bitterly regret having two X chromosomes instead of an X and a Y chromosome.  This regret (and the suffering that sparks it) tends to last about a day.  Sometimes a day and a half.  In recent months, the amount of time has gone up.  I hadn't really noticed the pain ramping up alongside it, but...  then I was a grump for several days before my period started... and then in blinding pain once it started.

I'm generally not a "stay in bed" sort of person when it comes to being ill.  I prefer to be actively trying to mitigate my misery, keeping hydrated, eating good food, or at least getting some work done with activities to do while sick.  That was not an option for the very first day.  It was pretty much lie in bed or lie in bed.  Every movement hurt.

The only odd factor out in all of this was my dairy consumption.  I'd been eating more dairy in recent months due to stress.  But other than that, I seemed pretty much on track for having less awful periods. A friend of mine pointed out yesterday that dairy tends to include estrogen and growth hormones, because of the focus on milk production.  So maybe that's it.  I really hope that's it, because this really needs to not happen again.

The other major shoddy point this week happened Sunday morning, after most of the agony of my period had subsided.  I went to church, as I always do, but found the main church service too loud and painful to properly worship in.  My light and sound sensitivities were acting up.  When this happens, I self-accommodate by going to a side room where the service was piped in, but the volume could be adjusted, and the lights dimmed.  All was going well, until halfway through the sermon, one of the facility staff walked in and told me I should "consider vacating the room because others want to use it." 

I was confused, naturally.  Although I'd been tempted, in the past, to put up a sign saying "sensory-friendly church," I never had.  People wandered in and through the room with annoying frequency, and I didn't stop them or even say anything.  I just wanted to be allowed to worship.  When I mentioned all of that, the staff informed me that a nursing mother wanted to use the room, and didn't care to do so in my presence.  And then underlined that I should "consider others' needs." 

So, basically, I got politely chased out of my own church.  Or to be more precise, I left when it became clear that my reasons for being there weren't important to the staff, and there was nowhere else for me to go.  I spent the rest of the church service crying in the car while I composed an email to the staff who had wronged me. 

Their response came in at the tail end of the day, and could basically be summarized as, "This isn't my fault, so don't be mad at me."  I am, needless to say, exceedingly disappointed.  I let them know that I had just as much right to be using that room as anyone else, particularly considering the room's accommodations, and told them there would be no repeats of the day's events.  Which I hope they will understand as, "You and your guilt trip can bugger right off next time." 

I'm still fairly upset about the whole thing.  My spouse and I contribute financially to the church, and I volunteer my time and effort on a very regular basis to support the church's functioning.  I run the sound board once a month, and every week in the winter, I clear the snow off the solar panels.  I may not be listed as a member of the church, but I certainly do sufficient work to count as someone that should matter... and really, even if I didn't... I'm disabled, and Jesus loved the weakest among humanity (the poor, the exiles, and the children) most.  This particular church, which has a thriving set of programs to help refugees and immigrants, should do better than this.

I kept the original correspondence between myself and the staff member at fault simply between us, as I'd rather hoped they would recognize how immensely cruel and thoughtless they'd been if I explained my position.  So far, they've disappointed me.  I suppose if I'm still angry about it by next Sunday, I'll speak to the minister of congregational life about the matter.  

That was, thankfully, the last crappy thing that happened this week.  After I finished crying and sending the email to the thoughtless staff, my spouse and I went off to a special Mothers' Day brunch at a fancy restaurant.  The food was good, and we got to see my mother, my grandmother, and my dad.  I had to really strain to not let the storm of hurt and anger I was feeling ruin the brunch, but I think I did okay. 

After the brunch, there was a really unusual but fun outing.  A friend of mine had gotten ahold of some tickets to a symphony orchestra performance, specifically a performance of the music of John Williams.  This composer is best known for his work in Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Indiana Jones, but he's done tons of other things, also.  So the concert was various pieces he wrote, performed live by the local symphony orchestra.  Between getting to see my friend, the excellence of the music, and the excellence of the performers, I had a pretty good time.  I did have to resort to earplugs.  But after the morning I'd had, that was kind of inevitable. 

There's one more piece of good news to relate.  I can't remember if I've mentioned it on the blog, but my house came with a big bathtub, with jets.  I was initially very much looking forward to using this tub, because it's actually large enough for me to relax in.  When I tried it, though, I found out that our water heater is not spacious enough to actually fill the whole tub... and the end result is a lukewarm tub.  Not really suitable for a long bath.  Or even a short one.

After boiling some potatoes in our largest pot, I realized that I might be able to offset the problem.  I simply needed to use that same massive pot, boil a lot of water in it, and add that water to the tub.  On Monday, I tried just that.  It worked!  Actually, I majorly overdid it, and the water was too hot to be enjoyed, even after adding tons of cold water.  But that is a much more manageable problem than replacing the entire water heater.  So once I figure out the right balance for optimal water temperature, I should be good to enjoy hot baths whenever I want them!  I'm excited.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Reading the Research: We're Not Going Anywhere

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article shows the newest "current" rate of incidence of autism in children, along with the incidence rate in the last ten years or so.  I put "current" in quotation marks there because the data set they're using is from 2014... Apparently this is a common issue, since the very first analysis they have on record here uses data from 2000 and 2002, but was only analyzed and put into a report in 2007.

Y'know how it's been obnoxious and impossible to remember what the exact number was for how many neurotypical people to one autistic person?  It was 1 in 150, then 1 in 110, then 1 in 68, and all that?  And people were having hissy fits because the numbers kept rising?

Yeah, they're still rising.  We're now up to 1 in 59.  So in roughly any 60 children in the US, one of them will be autistic.  If they're all boys, you only need to line up 39 children before you'll find one with an autism diagnosis.  The female incidence rate is what's reining in the statistics, because apparently you need to line up 153 girls before you'll find one with an autism diagnosis.

Personally, I don't think we're as rare as the statistics think.  I think it's more likely that our diagnostic materials and professionals are geared towards diagnosing and treating boys, and until people make a better effort at learning how autism manifests in girls, this is how it will be.  But that's a grave disservice to people like me, everywhere.

Also wildly under-diagnosed, but apparently starting to even out in recent years: children of racial and ethnic minorities.  This is probably due to lacking the same resources and opportunities as their white counterparts, rather than any innate differences.  A report from the CDC states that minority children tend to be identified as autistic years later than their white peers.

A final note about all this:  these are statistics that specifically only track children.  Apparently little thought, still, is being given to those children when they grow up.  But time won't stop for us, and every child grows up.  In the meantime, more of us are apparently being born than ever.  Autistic people are here to stay.  Help us live in the world... but also teach your friends, family, and peers to accept us as we are.  We won't disappear in a few years, suddenly invisible because we grew up.  We live here, too.  And we're not going anywhere.  

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Week with Woebot

Roughly a year ago, a friend of mine linked me to a cool idea: an AI therapist that helps you track your mood and teaches you the basics of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  The name of the AI is Woebot.  At the time, it was only available on Facebook, and since Facebook kicked me out for refusing to give them my last name, it wasn't an option.  But I thought the idea had merit, so I signed up to be notified if they ever took their project to a regular app.

After some time had passed, they did in fact do just that.  So I gave it a try.  The app, simply called "Woebot," is available on both iOS and Android.  I installed it on my support tablet and booted it up.  

You're greeted by an animated robot (somewhat similar to Wall-E, honestly) as the app starts up.  This resolves to a smaller picture of the robot, and then there's a text box for typing your replies and what's basically an instant message conversation window above that.  I did have to make an account, which might be a turn off for anyone who lives with paranoid tendencies.  

From that interface, you chat with Woebot, whose personality vacillates between teenage girl (minus the attitude) and calm mid-20s college guy, with the knowledge of a CBT therapist.  The communication style of the AI is very much the younger generation's: text, interspersed liberally with emoticons.  I found that somewhat offputting, but at nearly 30 years old, I am definitely no longer "the youngest generation."  

So the first point of this app is to track your mood.  After greeting you and asking you what you're up to, this is the first thing it does each day.  You choose an emoticon to describe your mood, though you can eschew that and use words instead if you really want to.  
This is not my device, but this is basically what the check-in looks like 
I found myself miffed and confused by the bot's interpretation of the various emoticons, with the end result being that I'm now unsure if a particular emoticon is always meant to be "I feel lonely" or if the programmers just decided that.  They seem to have also ranked each emoticon on a scale of positive to negative... but the ranking system wasn't terribly apparent to me, so I wasn't really able to properly respond to the question.  

The AI remembers your moods each time you give them, and plots them on a chart for you as time goes by.  You can thusly track how you're feeling each day.  If you're me, you're always kind of grumpy or tired or whatever, so the chart is kind of boring to look at.  But other folks, especially ones that try the app longer, would likely have more interesting, helpful charts to look at.  

I imagine this would be helpful for people who feel depressed, but actually are doing fairly well most of the time.  But I'm a huge grump, so it didn't do a lot beyond validate my impression that I'm a huge grump. 

After the AI sympathizes with you or celebrates with you about your mood, it normally has something to tell you or teach you.  This is usually couched in conversational language, like telling jokes, or saying it in a, "guess what I heard recently?" kind of indirect way, as opposed to a "you might find this technique helpful" direct way.  While that does kind of enhance its appearance of humanity, I also found it kind of annoying.  But I'm a very direct, "just spit it out already" kind of person.  

I think all of that probably would have been fine, if it weren't for the last thing I didn't like about the AI's style of communication.  You see, while we have chatbots that can hold a pretty decent conversation, this is not one of them.  This AI appears to be intended to follow a script, and if you deviate from the script, it continues right along that script merrily, as if nothing had happened.  

When you talk with Woebot, you always have the option to enter your own response... but the app seems to prefer you simply click one of the preoffered responses.  If you type something different, it defaults to the first preoffered response it gave you.  Like the emoticon choice above, but usually only 1-3 responses... and those a great deal more cheerful and full of emoticons than I'd ever type myself.  As such, it becomes far too easy to just skim the AI's words and push pre-programmed responses without investing any real effort or interest into what it's trying to teach you.

As such, I was... really not impressed with this app.  It's a real pity, because the techniques it was trying to teach me are quite valid and important ones.  For instance, the AI started me out with mindfulness, and then got to working on recognizing and correcting cognitive distortions, keeping a gratitude journal, and setting good goals.  All of these are excellent basic therapeutic techniques, and fine ways to start a person on self-improvement.

I figured out pretty quickly that I mostly know the stuff it was trying to teach me, to the point where I was anticipating roughly what it would say next.  Which I guess tells me this app was not intended for someone with a psychology background...  Which is fair, since the world is a big place with many different kinds of backgrounds and knowledges, and most people don't have that particular background.

Actually, I'm not really sure if this app was meant to be used by adults.  The choice of communication style, emoticons, and personality choice suggest to me that this app was really more meant for use by teenagers, perhaps into college.  Since teenagers aren't the most self-aware type of human, and often can use counseling and help with coping skills, this isn't necessarily a bad choice... but it doesn't cater to me, personally, despite that I do have mental illness and could possibly use help with it.  

Anyway, bottom line is that I won't be keeping this app.  It's too bad, because the idea is fantastic: in an age where mental healthcare is prohibitively expensive, just teaching the basics via a free mechanism could potentially reduce the suffering of a lot of people, and thus improve the world.  

It could help teenagers (on and off the spectrum) as they struggle with who they are and who they want to be.  Teaching the basics of CBT and other good therapeutic techniques is great for increasing overall knowledge, and better educated people can help educate and support each other.  It could potentially help a patient autistic adult identify, deal with, and compartmentalize their emotions, which is definitely a good thing.  And the app does seem to have helped other people, by the views in the app stores.  But I guess I'm too old, too cynical, and too educated to really make use of it.  

Hopefully as the developers receive feedback (some of which is mine) and improve the AI, Woebot can become a more helpful, responsive, useful chatbot for people of all ages and backgrounds.  In the meantime, at least it's helping some people.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 5/9/18

Last week wasn't as easy as I'd hoped it would be.   But gotta take the bad with the good, I guess.  And there was a decent amount of good. 

So Chris' birthday happened.  I tried to make it a good day for him, and we went out to eat.  Normally he'd've had to cook on that day, but he doesn't like cooking.  So the obvious solution was a meal out.  We ended up a Chinese place that's nearby.  They're a bit more pricey than usual, and their vegetarian offerings leave much to be desired, but it made him happy, and that's what matters. 

Other offerings in tribute of his birthday included ignoring chores this month (and that week), doing all the driving to various places, trying not to complain to him about things that day, and a trio of different-flavored fancy cupcakes instead of a birthday cake.  He seemed to enjoy the various things, so mission accomplished, I guess.  Some of my family also sent their best, and my parents and my grandmother both kindly took us out to eat in celebration of his birthday.  That was fun, as I liked the company and the food at both places.

The only trouble is that the present I got him was deemed "permanently lost" by the mail service, so the company that made it is having to resend it.  It now won't arrive 'til the middle of the month- about another week.  I think I might be more bummed out about it than he is.  It bothered me the entire day and still bothers me now.  I did the best I could, though, and that's all you can really do. 

Speaking of doing the best I could, the LGBT and the Church event went pretty well.  The head sound guy made setting up the microphones and such very easy, which was extremely thoughtful and gracious of him.  I still managed to stress through the entire event, though...  Go go gadget anxiety disorder. 

The event was a bit more on a hopeful note than I'd been expecting, which I think is probably a pointed philosophical choice on the organization's part.  While there are plenty of people in the CRC that could really use a good browbeating on the subject, most people won't sit through the browbeating happily.  Even if it's a badly needed educational browbeating. 

Anyway, the stories were all hopeful ones, at least in some ways.  Some of them were sad, along with the hope, but each of the kids is making the best of their lives.  I was particularly impressed by the last panelist, a remarkably energetic, optimistic girl named Sam.  I guess she was on NPR's Morning Edition, which she was really jazzed about. 

But I guess more importantly to me, she spoke about how her parents just... utterly rejected her identity ("queer" and bisexual), but rather than dwelling on how much that has to have hurt, she chose to speak about how much she loves them and admires them.  Without compromising her acceptance of herself and others like her.  She said, and I quote, "My parents are the best.  I love them so much."  She expressed that sentiment repeatedly, even as she related how both her parents are pastors, and firmly believe that she is doing the wrong thing with her life.  Sam regularly attends Bible study and supports other LGBTQ+ Christians in their faith. 

Personally?  I wonder how long her parents' dry theology will stand against their daughter's vivid,  devout Christian life. 

This branch of Christianity, the Christian Reformed Church, has a very bad habit of sticking its nose in the Bible and ignoring the people involved, and the world around it.  I have repeatedly compared them to the Pharisees in the Bible, and I think it's a very apt comparison.  They're so concerned with getting their theology right, that they ignore the very basics of God's charge to his followers:  love God, love your neighbor.  

Pointing to passages in the Bible and telling people that these things make them second class citizens, or somehow unworthy (or hell-bound, or whatever), is not at all loving your neighbor.  It is a most basic version of "us versus them," the shunning of the outsider.  It is not love to judge a person's merit on one facet of their personality, or insist they live stunted lives because of how God made them. 

But currently the blind lead the blind over there in the ruling body of this branch of the church, and I roll my eyes at all of them.  Hopefully the day will come soon when the bright light of truth pierces the darkness of their hostility and alienation, and the church will open its arms fully and honestly to the beautiful image-bearers of Christ who fall under the name "LGBTQ+."

Lastly this week, and very much closer to home, there was a minor power outage in my area on Monday.  I returned home after exercise and lunch, and began work on my various things (including starting a book I've literally stared at in dread for the better part of a month...).  I had the window open to let in fresh air, and suddenly there was a "POW" outside.  Immediately, my lamp flickered and died.  Nothing happened after that for about 20 minutes, after which I got annoyed, got my bike from the garage, and went for a ride outside. 

It was good exercise, but it also reminded me that I'm hilariously out of shape and that I should have invested in a more sedentary-friendly bike seat.  Also, my bike trail got cut short because of construction.  Boo.  Still, hopefully I'll be able to do this again, more successfully, in the future.  Preferably minus the power outage, which thankfully ended a couple hours after it began.