Man Plans and God Laughs

Are any of us doing what we thought we’d be doing this year? I’m thinking probably not. It’s like a nuclear bomb was dropped on 2020 and we’re dealing with the fallout.

I thought about that as I took this picture. My husband and I have accumulated a variety of mask designs, from the pretty to the comfortable to the fun to the professional. Before this year I never owned a reusable mask in my life, and I would have never guessed that these would become essentials that I’d need to function in society. The first mask I got in March (Or February? Time seems to have blended together this year.) was hard to come by, a horrible price gouge, and broke upon first use.

Now you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a mask manufacturer. But be careful: some masks are more effective than others. A good way to test your mask’s effectiveness is the candle test. If you can blow out a candle while wearing your mask, it’s not effective. Learn more about that here.

Washing my mask has become a daily ritual. There’s always at least one mask hanging on my back porch. It has become the image that sums up this entire year for me. If you had asked me what I expected to be the iconic 2020 picture for me back in January, I would have probably said a selfie from our much anticipated (and ultimately cancelled) trip to Italy in May.

Man plans and God laughs.

00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200901181339625_COVER

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The Cubic Yard Test

I have one pet peeve about my employer, the City of Seattle Department of Transportation. Of the 99 field positions, only about 5 of them are filled by women. In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this, both of which could be solved if, in fact, SDOT actually wanted women in their field positions. But I see no real evidence that they do.

The first is that they don’t reach out to women who are qualified for these jobs. There are all sorts of organizations, such as the National Association of Women in Construction, Women Who Weld, and Washington Women in Trades, that they could partner with. I’ve pointed this out, but it goes unheard.

The most SDOT seems to do is set up a table at the annual Women in Trades convention here in town. And behind that table is the next reason that we have so few women in field positions: The cubic yard test.

As far as I know, this test has been SDOT’s way of weeding out the unworthy for field positions for decades. Before you’re hired, you must be able to shovel a cubic yard of sand (in other words, three feet by three feet by three feet) over a three foot wall in a ridiculously short amount of time. I know I couldn’t do it. (And why should anyone? Just get the dang dump truck to dump the sand on the other side of the freakin’ wall!)

Here’s the thing. I’ve spoken to many, many field employees about this, and when I ask them how often they are required to do such strenuous work, they all say that they’ve had to do something like that maybe once or twice in their decades-long careers. So why set the bar so high? Obviously, because there are certain people you don’t want to get the job.

One year, I volunteered at the Women in Trades convention. They had me timing the women who were shoveling the sand. In the hot summer sun. Without water. It was painful to watch. Only two women could do it.

I’m sure I’d understand this hurdle if it were logical. But since it isn’t, it never fails to set my teeth on edge. For such a progressive city, this is a backward test, not unlike the way the South used to require literacy tests before allowing people to vote. It’s time to make a change. And the most frustrating thing is that this change would be so easy to make.

And yet here we are.

Sand

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The Recipe of Me

For many years, I have wanted to have my DNA tested by Ancestry.com. Sadly, it’s always been a bit out of reach for me, financially. But this year I had a great idea. I asked my sister to split the cost with me. I figured that there’s little question that we are paddling around in the same gene pool, so our DNA would be extremely similar. So a test for me would pretty much be a test for her. To my delight, she agreed.

I ordered the kit and it came pretty quickly. I had to spit into this tube thingy. You have no idea how hard it is to produce vast quantities of saliva on demand. It’s such a strange concept to me that so much can be learned from something that seems so insignificant. And gross.

Mailing it was interesting. They provide you with all the prepaid packaging, and I followed their instructions to the letter. But when I got to the post office, it occurred to me that for the first time I’d have a hard time answering the question, “Does your package contain anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous?” So I just dropped the box in their bin and basically ran like hell, letting my spit fend for itself.

I was relieved to be notified that my package had arrived safely. (And I’m sure the post office delivers these packages all the time without it becoming a hazmat situation.) Then the waiting began. They tell you it could “take 6-8 weeks or possibly longer.” You have to love specifics like that.

Finally, the results were in! I was so excited! Here are the highlights:

ethnicity-estimate

Color me surprised. I’m white. And by that I mean, I’m white, white, white, white, white. Yeah, there’s some “Iberian Peninsula” in there, but for their purposes, that includes Southern France. And since I’ve always considered myself ½ Danish, ¼ French, and ¼ Irish, the results were to be expected.

I have to confess, I was a little bit disappointed. I was kind of hoping that there would be a few exciting skeletons in the family closet. Arabic. Asian. American Indian. African. Something to add a little flavor to my stew! But no. I’m as white as snow. Still, it is fascinating to find out more about your ancestry just by spitting into a little tube.

I did learn something interesting though. According to the folks at Ancestry.com, “Your ethnicity results are unique to you. If you had additional family members tested, their results might look different. How is that possible? It comes down to the random nature of genetic inheritance. You received a random 50% of each of your parents’ DNA; because inheritance is random, a sibling typically won’t inherit exactly the same DNA as you unless he or she is an identical twin.”

Now I have to figure out how to break it to my sister that she paid for half my DNA test, but her results may vary.


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Kaboom

I have always been haunted by a few seconds of footage. You’ve probably seen it, too. It’s often used in post-apocalyptic movies and documentaries to illustrate the impact of a nuclear detonation. Every time I see this footage, it always makes me slightly nauseous. Maybe because it seems so impossible, so unreal.

First you see a white house sitting alone in a desolate landscape, with weird shadowing behind it. You can almost imagine it being on Mars. And then it is blown off the face of the planet in a split second. Kaboom. Gone.

kaboom
[Image compilation credit: hubpages.com]

The first time I saw that little portion of this video, I was a small child. I was probably too young to be watching something like that, but it always pops up without warning. I’ve been treated to it more than 100 times, I’m sure, since then. Now I don’t even have to see the explosion to feel queasy. All I have to see is that creepy house.

I’ve always thought this was staged; that it was special effects, straight out of someone’s twisted imagination. Well, yes. And no.

After a little research, I discovered that this was part of Declassified US Nuclear Test Film #55. (You can see the house in question disappear around minute 9:45.) It kind of freaks me out to think that there are at least another 54 such films floating around out there.

It is staged in that it was a house built especially for this particular test. It was never occupied. But the explosion was all too real.

Now that I’ve sat through the entire Federal Civil Defense Administration video, I’m even more disturbed. We had so much power in our hands, and we used it. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing.

At minute 10:15 they show the troops that witnessed the blast as the nuclear wind rushes past their unprotected bodies. The narrator said, “The fury of it had stunned some, but not one was injured.” Oh yeah? Tell that to their widows after the cancer took them.

At minute 11:40 the narrator says, “When readings indicate safety for human beings, the troops are led in for a tour of the area.” Again, they were completely unprotected, and you realize that they are swimming in the radiation that will destroy their lives, and they don’t even know it. Poor schmucks.

That video is the stuff of nightmares. To this day, though, I can’t figure out how those cameras remained stationary amidst the devastation of that blast. That’s why I always had my doubts about its veracity. That’s what I found so creepy—that someone could imagine such a thing, script it, and put it on film. But in retrospect it’s even more creepy that we imagined it, created it, and made it come to pass.

Some things, once seen, cannot be unseen. Some things can never be undone.