with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Bits and Pieces from Home

I’ve been cleaning up a bit since I have the snorkels and sniffles and can’t concentrate for very long, and this blog may be indecipherable by the time I finish it, and I’ve found a stack of newspapers left over from Christmas.

Now, you may find it odd that I have a stack of newspapers left over from Christmas and it’s March, but I also have my Christmas tree up – let me correct that. I still have my Christmas tree DOWN in the living room. We had a tiny wind storm this weekend but it was still amazingly warm and I had the windows open. Forgot about the little handmade artificial tree we have and it blew over into the leather chair next to it, and it tilts there, upside down, looking pitiful, half its decorations tipped off into the seat of the chair. Even though we live in a small apartment, and the wall I stare at in my office is on the other side of where the tree is, not more than two meters away, I just haven’t been in there to right the tree for the past four days. Been whipped with a cold, stuffy nose, slight fever, and the snorkels. I’ll get to it. Just a fine detail in the long list of things out of control in my life over the past few months. Blame it on this damn web site.

Okay, the newspapers. I told you I was easily distracted and scattered. So I’m cleaning things up in my office and decide to tackle the shit piled sky high next to my bed. You know the kind of pile I mean. It’s the “I’ll get to it” pile. The “I’ll climb in bed early, a warm bag of rice at my toes, snuggled down and catch up on my reading and sorting” kinda pile. Warm bag of rice, you ask? Yes, it’s actually ingenious and ages old. The technique not just the bag. The bag? Oh, yes, it’s about three years old. We took one of the tacky pillow cases that came with the apartment (I replaced all the rest of them – horrible girly-cute things) and put a pound or two of heavy duty brown nasty rice in it. Knotted the pillow case so the stuff wouldn’t fall out and every night when it is cold, we nuke the thing (microwave it – for you proper speakers – which sounds like “fer yer pop-per sneakers” when I say it now with a snuffed up nose) for 2-3 minutes (no water!). Tuck it into the bottom of the bed and OOOOOOOOhhhhhhh, aaahahahahah, oooooooo warm toes! Comfort. Safe. Snuggles. Best thing about winter!

Rice Bed Warmers
Here are some recipes for making your own rice bed warmers:

So back to the pile. Yes, the pile. Taken to bed with the sniffles after failing to get through my pile of junk and email on my desk (and you wonder why I haven’t responded so quickly), I decided to go through some of the pile. This is where I finally get to the part about the newspapers from Christmas.

1999 calendar of images from Washington StateI have incredibly thoughtful friends and family who know how starved we are for news and bits from home. My friend, Jo, always goes out of her way to send us a little of Seattle. Smoked fish (I’m allergic, Brent loves it), clam chowder, canned clams, Seattle or Washington State Calendars, and other little bits of Elliot Bay – we love every piece. My mom always puts in a bit of home for me, but my dad loves to put in things from home that he thinks I would like but actually tell more about him than home. One year he sent me a small and lovely picture book of the San Juan Islands and included a note on one of the pages of a light house point that said, “This is where your dad hit his head on a rock.” That’s it. Nothing else. Like I’m supposed to know the story about the rock hitting head. I know the story of the sister trying to chop the finger of the dad off. I know the story of the selling cigarettes to Indians when he was 12 story. I know the beating from his dad when he took the boat out into the middle of the bay when told not to untie the boat from the dock story (my father got a really, really long rope – so the boat was still tied to the dock while still out in the middle of the bay – a point my grandfather didn’t get until after the beating). I know many stories, but somehow I missed the rock hitting head story. But I have the book with the note to remind me of all the stories about my dad that I still don’t know or have forgotten. So many stories, only so much life.

So I have great presents from my wonderful friends and family, and many of them are very kind to us and send us our gifts wrapped in newspaper from home. My Seattle friends and family send me stuff in the Everett Herald and Seattle PI or Times, and Brent’s family sends stuff in the Tulsa World and Dallas papers. I save all of them and carefully read all the minutiae that you all in the states let obsess your lives.

These little bits and pieces of news tell me so much about life back in the states. Sure, the articles may be three (okay now 6) months old, but I love them. Dependent upon the news from home in little snips on the radio and Internet, this once a year news feast is such a delight to me. This year, having such a depressing Christmas in a country where Christmas is a work day and non-event, we kinda whisked through the holiday and I didn’t have my savored newspaper read the day after Christmas, a kind of non-traditional tradition for me. But I had it this weekend.

I read about who shot who and for what stupid reasons that could possibly justify someone shooting someone. I read about the battles with citizens and public utilities, arguing over who will pay for what and why one state gave all their water to another state only to have that state not pay the first state back and now the first state’s citizens have to pay 10 times the rate they paid last year and no one asked them if their state could even sell water to another state – but they still have to pay for the decision. I read about whining over the sales tax (learn to live with 18% and we’ll really talk!) and the high cost of food. I read about how so many people who work full-time are still able to qualify for welfare. I read about sports teams trading people left and right, like they are shooting craps in Nevada, playing with their lives which talking about the “fun” of sports. The “fun” of sports is showcased with angry or sad faces and threatening fists in huge color or black and white photos. I see people hurting when big business destroys futures by playing with retirement funds and personal investments. I see big business giving up on Americans as they move their companies overseas so they can make more money, while trusting that Americans are always going to have the kind of income from jobs they are being laid off from that will pay for their product in the future. I don’t know how, but I can only read what is in black and white in the newspaper.

Tulsa World news story on the Green River Killer CaptureOne fascinating piece was an expose in the Tulsa World dated December 14, 2003. Titled “How detectives cuffed the Green River Killer”, I was delighted to finally get some of the “insider” information I had been longing for since hearing on the Internet radio (NPR) about the capture of the Green River Killer. Having grown up haunted by this murdering monster, it was of very special interest. Through the wrinkled and slightly torn newspaper page, I poured over every word.

The Associated Press story explained how King County Sheriff’s detective Randy Mullinax started working on the Green River Killer Task Force in 1984 after 14 women had been found dead south of Seattle over the past year and a half. On September 11, 2001, a day that shall live in infamy, the day held even more meaning to Mullinax. Coping with the horror of the events on the opposite side of the country, and fielding calls and tips on possible terrorist activities in Seattle as the country panicked, he got another call, related to domestic terrorism: the Green River Killer.

Sheriff Dave Reichert called Mullinax to tell him that they had taken advantage of the new technological advances in DNA research and had retested a 14 year old saliva sample found on three of the earliest victims. It matched the main suspect the Task Force had considered but could never find evidence to link him to the crime.

Gary Ridgway had been seen and identified by the boyfriend of one of the victims, but the polygraph claimed Ridgway was telling the truth when he said he didn’t know anything about the crimes. According to the police reports, Ridgway was very careful not to leave any evidence and if he was scratched by any of the victims, he would cut and clean their nails to remove any skin evidence. If he left any tire tracks, which is easy to do in the wet Pacific Northwest, he would buy new tires or switch vehicles. The police searched his home and had him bite on a piece of gauze to get a saliva sample, but this was inconclusive at the time.

Reading along, transported back in time to a time and place where women were terrified to go out alone or at night, I had begun to teach self defense to women with Alternatives to Fear. The classes were sold out and packed to the rafters as women were desperate to learn about defending themselves. Over the years, as the bodies continued to be found but the news faded to inside the newspaper, we grew accustomed to living with a serial murderer in our midst. The number of dead kept rising, once reaching 42 murders attributed to the Green River Killer, if I remember right. Over time, some of these were solved and the numbers dropped and raised and dropped and raised, but never was there news of a capture, or even a leading suspect. Just bodies of prostitutes and young women lost to the night and the darkness of bars and sex trades.

One shocker, to me and to the veterans remaining on the Task Force, happened when they ran Ridgway’s name through the police computer to get a current address and contact information. They found an arrest for soliciting a prostitute. Stunned that they hadn’t had that piece of information back in 1984 or 1985 which might have connected Ridgway more firmly in their mind as a suspect, they were even more stunned to find that the arrest had happened only two weeks BEFORE. Not 14 years ago, but two weeks ago. Mullinax realized that Ridgway was still messing with prostitutes after all these years of semi-quiet.

Who knows how smart Ridgway had become in hiding his victims. With all the detailed news coming out over the years about the efforts and evidence found by the Green River Killer Task Force, I’m sure he switched methods. Who knows how many women, uncounted by society, are out there, buried deep and unfound.

Tulsa World News story on the signing of the Afganistan constitutionOn the next page I found an incredibly relevant article to today’s news. As Iraqi interim leaders sign the first document in a long step towards self-rule, the Tulsa World reported back in December on the debate Afghans underwent to get their new constitution together. The Iraqis think they got problems. Over 500 representatives in Afghanistan had to work out their constitution. The faced similar problems of the role women play within the country, the role Islam plays in the government and laws, and power sharing between everyone who wants a piece of the power and control over a country. Iraq only has 25 people to play the constitution game. But they do have rockets, grenades and missiles coming at them from every direction to stop the game, which does put a little more pressure on the players. [I did love the news that the signing ceremony featured children’s groups performing from the different areas of Iraq – great subjects for target practice, folks!]

The newspaper article spoke of how the Afghanistan constitution should be an example for Iraq, where the US administrators are under even more pressure from confusing and arguing elements who haven’t even started to draft a constitution of any form, interim or otherwise. The timetable set at that time was for “elections to choose delegates for drafting an Iraqi constitution in early 2005”, allowing two years from the fall of Saddam to achieve some form of stability. Isn’t it interesting that only a few weeks later the pressure from foreign governments, from within the US itself, and from within Iraq, pushed the US’s timetable up by a year? Shows you what a little pressure can do, but it also speaks to other, more ugly things still worth considering. Like how big a mess is the US going to make of all of this.

The article goes on to list the articles and issues the constitution, when in its final form, must tackle. Which language will be official? They speak two main languages, so why don’t they do like Israel did and make three languages the official languages of the country, though only two are seriously practiced: Hebrew and Arabic (English is the third)? One down. The national anthem? Oh, really, who cares. Pick one. This is a detail in the running of a country. I think the involvement of women in any country, and especially in their government, says a lot for a country. The more women the more stable and long lasting the government, trust me.

One of the more surprising issues is the issue of providing a free higher education to those who wish it. I would not have thought Afghanistan would be so enlightened since the US makes their college grads who get loans for their education to be still paying them off when they are 45 years old. But I also think about friends and co-workers of Brent who came from Middle Eastern countries which did provide a higher education for free, paid for by the government. Upon graduation, many of these newly educated brilliant minds were told by the government where they were to work and how they were to serve the government in repayment for their higher education. When they protested their posting, or argued with the government, many were threatened or given a very civilized choice: do the job or have a free, one-way ticket for you and maybe your immediate family (but often not) to get out of the country. Right now in Afghanistan, there are so many jobs wide open for people with a higher education like engineers, architects, planners, and medical professionals of all kinds, I don’t see people complaining about their positions, but in the future, would this be an option like in other Middle Eastern countries?

Still, I like the idea they are proposing. It’s the long term effects that interest me, too.

Tulsa world news story on the weather reportThen I saw the weather page and got really depressed. On December 14, while Israel was still suffering the drought of summer (we never had a fall and if we did, it lasted 20 minutes – and I’m still waiting for winter. The hot bag of rice is a panacea and bluff that it is cold outside when it really isn’t.), Tulsa was having 22F/-5C to 55F/12F lows and highs while I was suffering 86F/30C. Not fair. Not fair.

New England was expecting a “potent storm” to drop heavy snow, sleet and coastal rain, possibly accumulating to a food or more in the Appalachians. The Cascades in Washington State, my home, were expecting snow falls, too. I was expecting a sunburn and skin cancer. Oh, bother.

Okay, so some of the news from home isn’t so nice to read about.

Tel Aviv, Israel

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