Well, that was fun

Yeah, so I’m back from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, where they held an event today to honor the missing children of Ohio. Although I showed up in an unofficial capacity only, I had a blast.

I mainly came cause Gina DeJesus, one of the Cleveland kidnap survivors, was speaking. The event was at the Messiah Lutheran Church. I showed up slightly late and had to sit in the back. There were several speakers before Gina, and I spent some time trying to figure out which one of the people sitting in the audience was her. It was fairly easy because half or more of the attendees were black, and most of the rest were white. I zeroed in on two brown-skinned women in the front but couldn’t figure out which one was Gina. They turned out to be Gina and her older sister Myra.

My view from the back of the church; Gina is on the right and Myra is on the left.
My view from the back of the church during the sisters’ speeches; Gina is on the right and Myra is on the left.

Anyway, Gina read a speech off several sheets of paper about how it was important to pay attention to missing persons bulletins, and it was important to pay attention to your surroundings and the people in your neighborhood and so on because you never knew who might be hiding something. I mean, people went inside Ariel Castro’s house and had no clue about the women held captive there. I think a lot of that is because the idea that your friend, neighbor or relative might have three kidnapped women locked in his basement is just something that would not occur to most people.

Myra spoke also, and talked about what life was like having a missing family member. One of the things she mentioned was how a man known to the family told her parents, reassuringly, something like “Don’t worry, they won’t find her dead.”

That man was named Ariel Castro.

There was an intermission before a middle school choir showed up to sing a song. I went around talking to people — not Gina, I was not sure whether to approach her or not at that point — and handing out business cards. There were booths about various topics set up in the lobby and an adorable remote-controlled talking boat that went around telling people about boat safety. I told the boat about the time I nearly drowned in Lake Michigan at age five, failing to mention the fact that this near-tragedy did not involve a boat, just some poorly supervised beach time.

Me and the talking robot boat.
Me and the talking robot boat.
Gina (far right) with members of the anti human trafficking group Break Every Chain.
Gina (far right) with members of the anti human trafficking group Break Every Chain.

So after all that was over we had a balloon release in the parking lot. Fortunately the wind cooperated.

Just before the balloon release.
Just before the balloon release.
Post balloon release. Each one has a missing child's name attached.
Post balloon release. Each one has a missing child’s name attached.

Just before we all left, I decided to approach Gina after seeing some other people do so. We didn’t really talk but she consented to have her photo taken with me before we parted ways. I wish I had remembered to smile in the picture. It was one of those days where it was cloudy out (it rained later) but the light hurt your eyes anyway, and I was squinting so hard I forgot about smiling.

Gina DeJesus (right) and me.
Gina DeJesus (right) and me.

And then I went home.

Altogether it was a most profitable visit. I made some contacts and hope to return next  year.

Merry Christmas!

Hi everyone! Merry Christmas! I think my new medicine is starting to work finally, and Christmas went surprisingly well. Here’s a pic of me taken yesterday at my mom’s house. The only problem is that the puppy is not mine — it belongs to my cousins. He’s a six-week-old Jack Russell Terrier named Edison who got rejected by his mom. I kept making jokes about slipping him under my coat and stealing him because he’s so darn cute.

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I had my hair chopped off and dyed bright pink, obviously. I had it done last Sunday. It was almost a spur of the moment thing — I was thinking about getting a pixie cut, and was checking them out online Saturday night, and many of the pixie cut photos I saw had the hair dyed pink or green or whatever, and I thought: why not? So the next day I went off to a salon and here we are. I’ve never dyed my hair any non-natural color before, or had it cut this short before. But I really like it and so does everyone else.

2016 seems to have kind of sucked for everyone, including me. I hope 2017 turns out to be better (though I’m not at all confident about that) and that many missing people get found this year.

Michael took this pic of us the other day

I thought I’d share a photo Michael took of the two of us at a Japanese hibachi grill restaurant last weekend. Last weekend was quite a special occasion — a Charley Project Irregular met me face-to-face for the first time ever. He’s not in the picture though.

Through some strange quirk of the light, it looks like I’ve started coloring my hair red again. I haven’t. It’s still the natural ash blonde. And it looks shoulder-length in this photo; it’s actually really long.

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*waits for That One Commenter to start criticizing my appearance again*

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody

I hope everybody has had/is having a good Thanksgiving. I didn’t go see my family. I went to a restaurant with the Lianezes instead. Afterwards I was planning to go spend time with L.’s family also. (BTW, I’ve decided I’ve mentioned my friend L. often enough on here to upgrade her from Initial to Pseudonym. Henceforth, L. will be called Larissa. That isn’t her actual name; her actual name is another name that begins with L. But I want to protect her privacy.) But I’ve been so sleep-deprived lately that after we finished at the restaurant and got back to Michael’s, I went to bed instead and didn’t see Larissa after all. I did let her know I had changed my mind and asked her to pass my apologies on. I slept till 9:00 p.m.

I love the excuse to play dress-up and today I took advantage of the holiday to put on a royal blue velvet dress. For a coat I wore the very fuzzy fluffy sage-green coat/sweater Michael got me several Christmases ago. It’s real fur, but sheared, so no animals died to make it. Rabbit, I think.

Here’s two pics of me from today. One’s a selfie taken in the car on the way to the restaurant:

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And this one was taken by Michael, showing me in the restaurant before dinner started:

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No med side effects, yay — and other stuff in my boring life

I had previously said I might have to drop out of sight for a bit because I was taking a new medication and might get some bad side effects until my body grew accustomed to it. Well, I’ve been taking it since Tuesday and don’t feel any different physically or mentally: no muscle tremors, no loss of balance, no problems with concentration, no nothing. Yay! Dr. Bruno said it was a “very gentle” drug and I shouldn’t expect side effects; I’m glad he turned out to be right.

I just hope it works. Psychiatric drugs often take weeks or longer to become fully effective. I’m not sure why. I’ve been feeling anxious and miserable all autumn and I’m frankly tired of it. Of course my life has been kind of stressful these last two months. The car wreck, conflicts with Michael’s mom, etc.

Today I started physical therapy for my back (again). Ever since that horrible episode last month my lower back has not been right. I’ve had back pain before but never in this particular spot — the very, very bottom, basically right where my spine begins. Whenever I have to bend over, or twist, or sit down, it hurts. Sometimes it hurts bad enough that I will wince visibly and gasp out loud. So it’s PT again for me.

They did the evaluation today and said my range of motion is pretty good and so it my general strength; the problem is just the pain. They’ve prescribed some gentle exercises to begin with and we’ll go from there. Three times a week for up to six weeks. I go again on Monday. I told the physical therapist about how I have back pain a lot because I spend too much time at the computer working on my website, and gave him one of my business cards. Like most people, he was curious about it, and I gave him the rundown of how it works.

Let’s see…what else. Not much really. I got a new office chair. My previous chair broke after a whopping one year and four months of use. It was really cheap and I suppose you get what you pay for. I like the new one much better; it’s much more comfortable. I’m hoping it will last longer. I purchased the two-year warranty for it, which I suppose guarantees it will break on Day 731. (Speaking of the chair, I don’t understand Facebook. When I posted a photo of the chair on the Charley Project’s Facebook account, it got a “reach” of 3,560 people. Which is a much greater reach than most of the articles I post on there about missing people. Go figure.)

Here’s two selfies I took yesterday. I’m wearing makeup in the pictures; I don’t wear makeup that often but yesterday I was feeling kind of rotten so I thought I’d try to cheer myself up. It did feel nice to look nice. I think I like that shade of lipstick — it’s mauve, I guess. I seem to do better with pink shades than red ones. You can see my natural hair color here, a sort of ash blonde or light brown.

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*waits for whoever-she-is to comment and tell me I look an old hag and my turtleneck is tacky*

New business cards arrived

I first got business cards for the Charley Project almost two and a half years ago and they’ve served me well. But I ran out and so I ordered a new set. They arrived today. I’m glad I didn’t bother to pay extra for fast shipping. I picked economy shipping and they weren’t supposed to arrive till November, here they are, well ahead of time, only two or three days after shipping.

As you can see the design is slightly different from the original cards. These new ones are better I think. I highly recommend Vistaprint.

Front of card:

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Back of card:

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Well, I’m up anyway

Yeah, still feeling horrible. The night before last, after I completed the previous entry, I was sick many times. I finally fell asleep around five a.m. and woke up in the early afternoon to the feeling of a large fluffy cat named Carmen lying on my back making biscuits and purring. I’m just going to say she knew I was sick and felt sorry for me, and not that she was trying to wake me up because I hadn’t fed them at ten a.m. like I usually do.

Carmen had mostly been ignoring me all week but Aria has been very snuggly, lying on top of me purring and licking my hands. I took this picture of her the other night.

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I stayed in bed all day yesterday, except to go to the bathroom and feed the cats, but I didn’t get sick again. Today I decided to get up, on the idea that I’m on the mend and the main reason I feel horrible now is that I’ve been lying in bed since Tuesday drinking almost nothing and eating even less and not showering or anything. Wednesday Michael made me a cup of chicken noodle soup, but I could only have like five spoonfuls and couldn’t keep it down. Last night he came home with Saltines for me and I had two. That’s the only actual food I’ve had since Monday.

So I’ve taken a shower, which felt good — I had felt really gross and icky — and now I’m sitting at my computer. My back still hurts and frankly the Tylenol 3 is not helping. Maybe if I stay out of bed it will stop hurting. Now that I’m up and not so smelly, Carmen has started meowing at me and rubbing herself against me again. I’m going to try a few more Saltine crackers.

Tuesday morning Dad called me and announced he’d gone out and bought me a car. I can pay him back with the insurance settlement. (I haven’t been able to talk to the insurance company this week due to my illness but I’ve got a bone to pick with them: they offered something like $100 for the inconvenience of me being without a ride for ELEVEN days, and NOTHING for the pain and suffering.) I had wanted to go car shopping with him and seek feedback from friends and stuff, but his selection sounds really nice: a 2006 Cobalt, half the age of my poor Buick. He says it’s orange, meaning it’ll be difficult to lose in a parking lot, LOL.

This afternoon he’ll drive the car over. I’ll have to drive him back to his apartment and then return on my own, a three-hour round trip. So you see why I needed to get my butt out of bed.

But if I keep improving I daresay I’ll be able to resume duties tomorrow. As for Ed’s podcast, it’s coming out next week.

Home from Minneapolis

I got home yesterday around noon. I probably would have immediately commenced to catching up on MP news and stuff, given that Michael was working late and I was alone, but I was sick and quite miserable. Tuesday and Wednesday, all day, nausea and vomiting, and Zofran did not help. I dunno what was going on. Spent the rest of the day in bed moaning. I decided to see the doctor today if I wasn’t better, but when I woke up I felt fine.

Minneapolis was great. I’m so glad I went. It’s a beautiful city, everywhere seems to be within two blocks of a lake, and it was very pedestrian- and bike-friendly. I took loads of pics while I was there. My brother was an excellent host: he took us to various places of interest, and either home-cooked good meals for us or took us out to nice restaurants. He was all alone at home cause his wife had taken their kids to visit her folks for the holiday.

The only disappointment was the fireworks. Ian took us to in Mills Ruins Park three and a half hours ahead of time, to get a good spot. It was a great spot but I thought three and a half hours of waiting for fifteen lousy minutes of fireworks was a bit lame.

Here’s a picture taken from my chair before the fireworks began:

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I did get to see my friend John and his wife. I knew John’s wife had to be an admirable and accomplished person or he wouldn’t be with her, but she made an even better impression when we met: she was extremely kind. And VERY accomplished, Google says. She has mad skillz on the violin and played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

As I was going back home I texted John to say hi to his wife for me and how much I had enjoyed our meeting. He texted back:

I will pass your greetings to A. She told me your intelligence and good-heartedness were very evident in person; on drive home, we discussed our admiration for your continual learning. I told her how the friendship between you and me helped teach me, at a deep level, that some problems can only be treated or managed, not solved. That lesson has helped me as a husband, as a brother, and as a human being generally. So: Thank you, Meaghan.

I was very touched, reading that.

I used Uber twice in Minneapolis and my driver the second time was a really awesome guy. He was Somali — Minneapolis has a large Somali population — and told me about his life. He was born in Somalia, raised in Kenya and moved to the U.S. as a teenager. Now he’s studying business in college and starting his own business providing non-emergency medical transportation to people. He drives for Uber on weekends to get extra money. He is getting married next month and I asked if his fiancee was Muslim also and he said yes, she was from the same part of Somalia where he was from. I asked if she was hijabi and he said, “There’s regular hijabi and then there’s full on NINJA hijabi. My fiancee is regular hijabi.” I told him about the Charley Project and we discussed prejudice against Muslims in this country. I told him, “I’ve met a lot of Muslims in my life and one of them was an evil man. I will not hold an entire religion responsible for one evil man.” Then I actually wound up telling him about Rollo, without going into details, and the guy said that was truly horrible and he agreed that sending Rollo back to Sudan was the right thing to do, because Sudan was in even worse shape than Somalia. He also said I was one of the most interesting people he’d ever driven anywhere.

We went to visit Minnehaha Falls, which was beautiful. We followed the trail from the falls to the Mississippi River. There was a shallow spot where kids were wading and Mom took a pic of me there:

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And here’s another of me standing on a log:

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We also visited the Lyndale Park Rose Garden at Lake Harriet. Here’s me standing under the thicket. I have no idea why it’s called that because it does not meet the dictionary definition of “thicket” but the sign on it said “Please do not climb the thicket” so…

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I visited a lot of interesting places but my favorite, actually, was Lakewood Cemetery. I love cemeteries: every stone tells a story, and the bigger and older a cemetery is, the more likely you are to find very interesting stones and some great stories. I’m not just talking about famous people either. I kept Googling names that caught my interest. I found one stone for a young man, 21 years old, who had died in 2004 and Googled his name to find out what happened. I thought maybe he’d been in a car wreck or something. It turns out that poor guy was studying abroad in Italy when he was stabbed to death in a street fight.

At one point I saw an ordinary enough stone, fairly recent, in front of which was a metal cylinder set in the ground. I could only see the top of the cylinder. It was supposed to be secure in this metal plate type housing but the housing was broken and the cylinder was loose inside it. I’d seen several graves like this with cylinders but none of the others were loose like that. “Is that what I think it is?” I asked.

“I don’t know what you think it is,” Mom said.

I pulled the cylinder out of the housing — not all the way out, though I could have — and examined it. It had a cross on the side. “Yes, it is what I think,” I said, and set it back down in the ground and carried on. I wish I had remembered the deceased person’s name or taken a photo because later on I thought I should have reported this to the cemetery management and maybe they could have fixed it. This was not an old grave — I think it was like mid-2000s — and the housing should not have been broken like that, and if I had been a total douche, I could have just walked away with this woman’s cremains.

I took loads of pictures. Some highlights:

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This is the same stone, front and back views. You can see my reflection in the second picture.

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Me on the Elks Rest statue.

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You had onnnne job…

My brother suggested perhaps the earth shifted after the stone was placed but that seems unlikely to me. I’ve been in a lot of cemeteries but never seen anything like this before.

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I hope Peterson consented.

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I tickled it. It didn’t laugh.

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I would love to know the story behind this stone. I asked a few friends (my former professor of Russian history, my friend with a Russian wife) to translate the epitaph and it answers nothing: just says something like, “Sleep well, my darling.” No apparent relatives buried nearby. I went to the library this morning to look Mildred up on Ancestry and see if I could learn anything more but drew a dead end. I’ve contacted the Minneapolis library’s genealogy people to ask for info on Mildred and I’m waiting for a response.

Anyway. The journey home was difficult, mainly because I felt so sick and miserable, but I really enjoyed myself in Minneapolis. It’s a beautiful city. I missed Michael and the cats very much and I’m glad to be home. Now to get back in the swing of things…

The state of me

This is one of those entries about my personal life and stuff. So if you don’t care, don’t read it.

I might be going to Minneapolis in the first week of July. My brother lives there now, and Mom is going with her boyfriend to see him, and she said I could come too. What I’m really interested in is my friend John, whom I’ve mentioned a few times over the years. John and I met at college and we haven’t actually seen each other in ten years, but we keep in touch by phone. Well, he just moved to Minnesota.

I sent John a text asking exactly where in Minnesota he’d moved to, thinking if it was the Twin Cities area I could visit him. Then, after some reflection, I thought the better of it: John got married only a few months ago, he only just moved to Minnesota, and he’s still looking for a job. It didn’t seem like a good time to be visiting, so I decided not to bring it up at all. But John sent me a reply saying he was in Minneapolis and if I ever wanted to visit, he’d love to see me.

So we’ll see if I can arrange it. John has been a wonderful friend to me over the years. I also really admire him. He graduated from college with honors (majoring in history, like me), and went on to go to China for a year, learn Chinese, get a master’s degree in East Asian Studies from a British university, and graduate from a top twenty ranked law school. And now he’s changed his mind about going into law and wants to become a doctor instead. Which means, basically, starting over from scratch, learning all the science he needs to get a good MCAT score, possibly getting a whole new bachelor’s degree, then going to medical school. But I am sure he can do it.

I frankly feel pretty useless when comparing myself to John. I know that I have disadvantages he doesn’t have — John’s family is much richer than mine, he’s not on the autism spectrum, he didn’t suffer from severe mental illness throughout his adolescence and young adulthood (illness that didn’t get diagnosed till I was 23 and didn’t get properly under control for years after that), he wasn’t a victim of sexual assault, etc etc etc. But I know that part of the reason I haven’t achieved as much as John is due to personal failings.

I mean, take the Charley Project, which I absolutely love working on and am really good at. Basically it’s the only significant thing in my life that I haven’t failed at. I don’t work on it consistently though, as you all well know. If the Charley Project was a company and I had a boss, I would have been fired long ago for slacking off. “You’re a wonderful researcher and writer,” I can imagine my boss saying, “but a terrible employee.”

I’ve talked to my therapist about my feelings of inferiority when comparing myself to John, and he said, “Do you want to go to China?”

“Not really.”
“Do you want to learn Chinese?”
“No.”
“Do you want a master’s degree in East Asian studies?”
“No.”
“Do you want a law degree?”
“No.”
“Do you want to become a doctor?”
“No.”
“So why are you comparing your accomplishments to his?”

Anyway. I hope to be able to see him.

Michael and I are doing well. Last night we went out to this awesome restaurant with a friend, celebrating her birthday. Afterwards we (sans friend, who had to get up early for work) watched a late evening showing of Finding Dory. It was great; Pixar hasn’t made a bad movie yet. The stuff at the end with the seashell trails reminded me so much of the real-life parents of MPs I write about. One mother I know of, for eighteen years until her apartment building was torn down, slept on the living room couch every night instead of in her bedroom so she wouldn’t miss it if her daughter knocked on their door in the middle of the night. And a lot of parents or other relatives keep the same phone numbers and/or never change residences, just in case their kid comes home.

Only one other thing to report at present. I’ve mentioned before that I have melasma, a skin condition. As far as skin conditions go it’s not the worst: no itching, burning, blistering, etc. Just skin discoloration, and it’s not disfiguring or anything. But it’s very difficult and expensive to treat, and it’s on my face: across my forehead, around my eyes and around my mouth. Everyone else says they can’t see if but I sure can, every time I look in the mirror. I really wish I didn’t have it. Sometimes I look at older pictures from several years ago, pre-melasma, and look at the wonderful even skin tone I used to have, and feel sad.

Today, kind of on the spur of the moment, I went to one of those makeup places at the mall to see what could be done. I haven’t worn makeup at all, that I can remember, since I was fourteen years old. That was one time, for my sister’s wedding, and I was a bridesmaid and she more or less made me do it. So I had no idea what I needed or how to use the products. I explained this to the lady there: I was almost a makeup virgin, and I didn’t want any “MAKEUP makeup” but just something to make my skin tone even again. She went to work and the results were great, I think. I bought the stuff she recommended. I was a bit horrified when I found out the price, but she had already put my makeup on, and it looked so good, I decided to swallow the stone and buy it.

This is a picture of me I took this morning, before my trip to the mall. The melasma is pretty obvious, I think:

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And here’s two pictures Michael took of me this afternoon after I got home, wearing my new makeup:

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And here’s a selfie I took in the car right after the makeup application. My hair’s a bit fluffled because of the wind.

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I think this looks much better, and you can’t even really tell I’m wearing makeup. If you look closely you can still see a little discoloration around my mouth still, but I don’t think it’s so much that people are going to notice it, and maybe if I put the makeup on a little heavier it will go away entirely. Michael thinks it looks great too. (I’m open to tips about concealing the melasma, by the way, or about applying makeup in general. Feel free to expound in the comments section.)

(And we’ll see if whats-their-name comments again saying I look like an old hag and my clothes are “tacky” and my hair is messy.)

I don’t think I will use makeup every day — it’s so expensive and I want to make it last — but I’m amazed at how much prettier and self confident I feel. Who knows what will be next — lipstick? Blush? Zounds.

Anyway, enough about me. That’s all.

FaceTune

There’s an app called FaceTune that edits photos and portraits and stuff. The idea is to make your selfies look more attractive by editing out wrinkles, pimples, uneven skin tones, etc. This is an example of what FaceTune did to one of my selfies I took two years ago:

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See? No more melasma.

It occurs to me that FaceTune might be good for “fixing” imperfections in missing persons’ photos. I don’t mean making the MP look more attractive, but more like removing scratches in the picture, or if the photo is discolored, making it more normal-colored. I do a little bit of this with paint.net but FaceTune might make it faster/easier to do.

What do y’all think of this idea? Carl, I’m asking you in particular, since you do a lot of forensic art things.