Vertigo and Tightropes

I had an intense bout of vertigo last night while making supper. It’s never happened like this before. I sat down to play a minute or two of Dragon Age: Inquisition while some pork browned for egg roll filling, and suddenly the room was spinning. Now, I’ve experienced something similar when standing up too quickly–a sudden drop in blood pressure will do that–but this time the room kept spinning.

And spinning.

And spinning.

Eventually the spinning slowed to sort of an oozey sway, like a ship rolling at sea. That was an improvement over the spinning, because at least I could sort of walk, albeit in a swaying, bouncing-off-the-walls kind of way.

It was terrifying.

There was the obligatory flurry of internet searches, attempting to determine if this was the kind of thing we needed to go to the emergency room for. As usual, there were a dozen relatively innocuous possible causes–hormone fluctuations, stress, ear infection–and a dozen life-threatening causes–internal bleeding, stroke, heart attack. When considered with some other uncharacteristic symptoms I’ve experienced this last week, it could just be stress, or it could be an ulcer bleeding severely enough to cause a drop in blood pressure.

Let me tell you, knowledge of the life-threatening causes does nothing to reduce the stress that could be the innocuous cause. As I sat on the couch, trying not to move my head too quickly, all I could think was, “We absolutely cannot afford this this month. I do not have time for this right now.”

Zack and I normally run a very lean, tight budget, which we are constantly optimizing for increased leanness. But this month it’s beyond tight. We’re in the limbo in between projects–waiting for contracts to be negotiated and signed, waiting for a client to FINALLY send us the money they’ve owed us since last summer, waiting for some inkling that we will make it through this part, too. This month I have to make it work on a third of our normal income. This month there is no room for error–no space for unexpected expenses, no room for exhaustion-and-ordering-pizza. I’ll be wiping out our emergency fund, again–the third time since last January. I guess this is the purpose of an emergency fund, but I find it so depressing. We never make it to the goals we set for it, because the emergencies come too often.

It’s temporary, I hope–we’re due to receive payment for the six-month-outstanding invoices by the end of February, and then the contract we signed last week will keep this venture afloat through April.

But last night, as I sat on the couch, trying to quell the dizziness, all I could think was that even going to the urgent care would wipe out the only non-essential money left in my budget for January–the cost of a haircut, allocated so I don’t have to give a talk on Wednesday with a shaggy, unkempt bob. Incidentally, the last haircut I got was in June, before I the last talk I gave.

I couldn’t even think about the money that would be required if it was something more serious than stress or an ear infection. Even the tests to determine the cause would be unaffordable now–let alone the actual cost of treatment. And this is a post-Obamacare world–we at least have health insurance! In a pre-Obamacare world, we wouldn’t, and I could just take my hypothetical internal bleeding off to a corner to die.

This is the tightrope we normally walk, on this path of questionable wisdom we have set out on. It’s just that lately, the tightrope is greased. There is a net–that’s the very nature of privilege, is it not?–but even falling into it would cost thousands of dollars (that we don’t have) and require giving up the life we’ve built here to return to a place whose climate, culture, and politics are hostile to life.

If my strange symptoms are stress related, it’s no fucking wonder. And if I am stressed by this–me, with all my currently-valued-by-the-market skills and resources–imagine how it must be for everyone without those boons. If my situation makes my head spin with terror, imagine how it must be for people who have to choose, every month, between the electric bill and the insurance premium, between food and a haircut for a professional event. After only one month of this with one to go, I’m almost ready to give up all of my grand plans and glorious ideals just to have a moment when I am not planning and replanning and optimizing and balancing and adjusting for all of the hundreds of ways in which everything can go terribly wrong. And I have it so incredibly good–I have reason to believe this is temporary, that we will make it through this, that this gamble will pay off. Imagine if there was no end in sight. For most people, there isn’t.

It’s days like these that I can’t believe I actually chose this path. Why would anyone choose this? What the hell was I thinking? Maybe Past Me had more vision than Present Me; more probably, Past Me just realized that in the US, this shit happens all the time whether you choose it or not. Past Me seems like she might have thought things out. Of course, Past Me was also less dizzy.

Last night, Zack and I opted to wait out the vertigo. Zack finished making dinner with remarkable skill and speed, especially given that he had never rolled or fried egg rolls before. I sat on the sofa, sipped water, and tried not to turn my head too quickly.

It’s better this morning, but still wrong, somehow, like my vision moves faster than my brain is able to process my movement. It’s disconcerting, but manageable. I will endure.


Vertigo and Tightropes

A Meal Plan for a More Foolish Mouth

Zack had one of his wisdom teeth out today. Somehow, this is an ordeal that both he and I have avoided heretofore. Given his druthers, I think Zack would have preferred to continue avoiding it. Alas, because we are Responsible Grownups who prioritize our longterm health, this morning I drove him to the oral surgeon in Oregon City  who decreased the wisdom in Zack’s mouth by 25%.

One of the hundreds of truly unfortunate things about American healthcare, I decided, is that it often requires you to pay lots of money to dramatically increase your short-term suffering. This really sets up a perverse incentive structure, in which the hypothetical future consequences of not proactively addressing your health are weighed against the combination of the very real increase in suffering in your immediate future AND the immediate cost. Logically, I know that the long-term costs of avoiding unpleasant treatments may be much higher, both in money and in suffering, than the costs of addressing it right away. Emotionally, that argument doesn’t hold water. Present Me looks at the budget and the magnitude of the immediate suffering involved and thinks, “WHATEVER, SCREW FUTURE ME, WHO EVEN LIKES HER ANYWAY?”

However, I do own at least one pair of Big Girl Pants, and Zack is remarkably biddable, so I shelled out $190 to ruin his day (and the week preceding it. He was not looking forward to this, not one bit).

While I sat in the waiting room, watching a remarkably violent DisneyNature special on chimpanzee wars, I wondered how people without friends or family handle this kind of procedure. The surgeon required that the escort remain in the office for the entire duration of the procedure if the patient was going to be anesthetized. This makes the “call a taxi” plan untenable. And even the “call a taxi” plan doesn’t account for the close monitoring you’re supposed to have in the six hours after the procedure. So who takes care of the people who are new in an area? Who looks after the people who are isolated? It seems that the cracks in the system are so massive they could swallow great swaths of society whole.

After a short twenty minutes (far shorter than the 40 minute estimate I was given), they released an incredibly groggy Zack into my care, admonishing me to keep him awake for a few hours and have him change the gauze every 30 minutes.

For someone as heavily sedated as he was, he did a truly remarkable job of communicating his extreme grouchiness with the whole affair. That’s talent, folks. Once we were clear to remove the gauze, he glowered at the bowl of applesauce I proffered, declaring soft foods to be offensive to him. “They’re not really foods,” he insisted. So much for the diet of milkshakes, broth, and applesauce that the surgeon recommended.

Fortunately, I spent my Sunday night wracking my brain for a menu that was suitable for a healing mouth. This is what we’ll be eating this week:

  • chicken and dumplings (mirepoix cooked until quite soft)
  • shepherd’s pie (crustless variety), with roasted cauliflower pureed into the potatoes
  • green chile pork tamales and refried beans
  • butternut squash soup
  • braised short ribs with garlicky spinach and cheese grits
  • pumpkin macaroni and cheese
  • chicken ramen

I admit that I am tremendously tickled to have come up with a meal plan that has no sharp edges but still passes Zack’s “real foods” test. Hopefully, the only “real food” he’ll miss is potato chips, which really can’t be made oral-surgery safe.

A Meal Plan for a More Foolish Mouth

Migratory Patterns

Plants have overtaken the dining tableIt’s gotten cold enough that the not-so-hardy plants have moved indoors for the winter. When I acquired these plants over the summer, I had planned to have shelves built along the kitchen wall by the time the cold season rolled around. But, finances being what they are, shelves haven’t happened yet. (Though, since our great discarded hardwood discovery last week, the shelves are closer to existing than ever!) In the meantime, the tender plants are hogging the dining table, basking in the rays from the south-facing window.

Recently, my friend Tom came over for dinner. We ate homemade egg rolls while sitting on the floor around the coffee table.

“I just want to point out,” Tom laughed when I apologized for the seating arrangements, “that we are sitting on the floor so the plants can sit at the table.”

A few days later I apologized again, to Zack, for the lack of available table space. He said “No, it’s our fault, really, for not checking the migratory patterns of the local flora before choosing an apartment.”

Migratory Patterns

Technicolor dreaming

My dreams of late have been intense, technicolor affairs that I wrench myself from, gasping and startled, to meet with more mundane reality. This happens periodically, for no reasons that I’ve been able to ascertain. Two in particular have captured my waking mind.

In the first, I was the protégé of an ageing queen–I was to succeed her to the throne upon her approaching retirement. I was not related by blood, nor married to one of her children; instead, I had been selected for the role based on some showing of aptitude. It was nearing the end of my training, and the queen, who found travel increasingly tiring as she grew older, began sending me out on missions in her stead.

My mission for the moment was to put a stop to an illegal logging operation on a remote forested island of some political importance to the country. The mission was a blurred montage of action–helicopter fly-overs of the forest, heated negotiations held in rooms made of glass and pale wood, riding at the front of the national guard as we barricaded the forest. I met with success–the logging operation was shut down, the ringleaders arrested. The queen was pleased. Continue reading “Technicolor dreaming”

Technicolor dreaming

Fall Ombre


In between baking batches of cookies today, I stopped up the street to collect leaves from the most fabulous maple trees. There are two of them, next to a parking lot, right across the street from the 5th and Mill Max Station. Every year these two trees put on the most incredible show, a whole palette of fiery fall on each tree.

I didn’t have any of the supplies necessary to preserve these leaves (nor, indeed, any idea what I would do with them if I had preserved them), so I just sorted them by color and took a picture before gleefully tossing them off the balcony. Sorting them into an ombre was soothing; tossing them off the balcony was a blast! Raining colorful leaves off my balcony may become my new fall hobby–there are still quite a few glorious leaves on those maples, just waiting to drift to the sidewalk to be collected. I’m sure my neighbors will be delighted.

Fall Ombre

Expectations of Real Adulthood

Yesterday, Zack and I received the first check for the first client we landed since becoming a business. The project we’d been working on for the last year or so was a continuation of work Zack started in grad school, a legacy of our pre-Akashic Labs days. The check we received yesterday was for the first project bid and contracted as Akashic Labs. It’s also for my first primarily ethnographic research project in 4 years, my first solo ethnographic research project, my first fully-remote project. It’s a lot of firsts–and it was even paid early!

We celebrated in the UPS store where we get our business mail. Raven, my favorite clerk, was in the back as I pulled the letter out jubilantly.

“I don’t know what happened, but it sounds good!” he shouted from around the wall of mailboxes. He’d been watching every day as we came in to check the mail, offering cheer as we left empty-handed and disappointed.

“Today we’re not disappointed!” I crowed. “We finally got paid!” Continue reading “Expectations of Real Adulthood”

Expectations of Real Adulthood

Coriander Chickpeas with Brown Rice

This is one of those meals that can be made almost entirely from pantry items. It can be vegan if you swap the butter/ghee for oil. If you don’t want to buy a lot of spices you don’t already have on hand, you could make this just with the coriander. On the other hand, if you don’t have the coriander, it will still be nice with just cumin and garam masala. I’ve also made it using halved cherry tomatoes instead of canned–it’s a nice way to use up cherry tomatoes that have passed their prime. Another good addition is sliced carrots. I’ve used both fresh and frozen, though if you use fresh you may need to add additional cooking liquid to make sure the dish doesn’t dry out or burn before the carrots are sufficiently tender. Broth or water will do nicely for that, I’ve used both for that purpose.


  • 1.5 cups of brown rice
  • 3 cups of water
  • Salt for the rice water
  • 1 tablespoon of butter for the rice
  • A tablespoon (or so) butter or ghee (or oil, if we’re kicking it vegany)
  • 1/2 a large onion
  • 4 or so cloves of garlic
  • 1 inch or so knob of ginger
  • 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
  • 2 cans of chickpeas
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1-2 tsp tumeric
  • cayenne, to taste
  • salt to taste


  1. Wash your rice. I promise you won’t regret this step, even if it’s troublesome. I usually put the rice in a fine mesh strainer, and put the fine mesh strainer in a bowl slightly deeper than it (but of approximately the same diameter). Then I run cold water over the rice until the bowl is full. I swish the rice around, then lift the strainer out and dump the (now cloudy) water.  I repeat that process until the water runs mostly clear.
  2. Apply 3 cups of water to the pot you’ll be cooking the rice in.
  3. Salt the water in the pot you’ll be cooking the rice in until it tastes like pleasantly salty sea water. If you, like I, had never really encountered pleasantly salty sea water, just aim for the “pleasantly salty” part.
  4. Add the freshly washed rice to the pot of pleasantly salty water.
  5. Drop about 1 T of butter in the pot with the rice and water. (Again, oil if you’re vegany).
  6. Place a tight-fitting lid on the pot of rice and water, and set the burner to high.
  7. Once the rice and water mixture reaches a boil (you’ll be able to tell because steam will be rocketing out from under the edges of the pan lid), turn the heat down to low. The rice will be ready in about 40 minutes, by which point you should have finished with the remaining 12 steps of the recipe.
  8. Dice the onion.
  9. In a skillet over medium, heat the onion with some butter.
  10. Mince the garlic and the ginger.
  11. Add the minced garlic and ginger to the pan with onions. Cook for a minute or two.
  12. Add the whole coriander seeds to the pan with the onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook until the onions are translucent and the whole thing smells delightful.
  13. Drain and rinse both cans of chickpeas.
  14. Add the drained and rinsed chickpeas to the skillet with the onions, garlic, ginger, and coriander.
  15. Add the can of diced tomatoes to the skillet with the chickpea mixture.
  16. Stir to combine.
  17. Add the cumin and garam masala. You can also add the cayenne now, if you’re into that sort of thing.
  18. Cook until most of the liquid from the tomatoes have evaporated.
  19. Stir in the tumeric.
  20. Cook for a few moments more.
  21. Serve over rice, with a dollop of yogurt and a sprig or two of cilantro, if you’re feeling fancy. Also nice with a bit of mango chutney.
    Serves 4
Coriander Chickpeas with Brown Rice