Family

I think the only reason adults get tired of spending time with their family is because they realize that they can’t control them, and they get frustrated. Siblings hold each other accountable for the dreadful boy band the other was into in high school. Parents reveal quirks about their grown children, or tell stories about the time their children did something stupid. Not being able to stop your family from embarrassing you is frustrating. Any effort is impossible and it’s a worthless preoccupation to try.

When I went to Wisconsin to visit my dad’s side of the family, I didn’t really have that experience. I was on full vacation mode. Nothing was going to get in my way of relaxing and reconnecting with myself and what matters to me. And I’m really glad I did. Check out my Instagram to see how I documented some of the memorable moments of the trip. Including this photo, which captured the moment I was trying to get my dad to take the perfect picture of me at my happiest, eating ice cream from the Windmill. Somehow at every turn there was my sister, determined to mess it up.

Windmill ice cream

Shrugs.

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You are more than the war of your country.

“Yeah, people were completely taken aback and pleasantly surprised that someone was going to ask them about something other than the rockets and the siege. Of course, it all figures together, but they were all just extremely delighted that people were thinking about them, and interested in learning about them, as human beings.” –Laila El-Haddad, who grew up in Gaza, speaking in Bon Appetit magazine about the Palestinian families in Gaza she interviewed for her recipe book The Gaza Kitchen. I enjoyed reading the whole interview–a conversation between El-Haddad, her co-author Maggie Scmitt, and Israeli chef and author of cookbook Jerusalem Yotam Ottolenghi–and learned about the politics of naming food, the creation of new recipes when conflict makes ingredients unavailable and the struggle to establish a cultural cuisine in a nation of immigrants.

Women at the Zeitun Women’s Collective preparing Mahshi, stuffed vegetables. Click the photo to be linked to the full article and photos from Bon Appetit.

“The question of ‘is this our food, or is this your food—who gets to name this food,’ is not occurring in a void. If it occurred in a void it would be silly, but it’s not in a void. It’s in this intensely laden political question, with so much life and death material sustenance also being debated. So these food items become sort of symbols of a much bigger, much broader question of ownership.” –Schmitt

Those People

You know who I am talking about. Those people. The people in public. Waiting for the metro. Pressed against your shoulder blade in the elevator. Standing behind you in line at the grocery store. Those people who talk. You don’t realize it until it has happened and suddenly they’re having a full blown conversation not with you, but at you. You stand there, politely, because you’re taken by surprise and you’re not quick enough to figure out an escape plan. It’s not the right time of day for this, you think. You’re sweaty from your walk to wherever you’re going and you’d rather no one acknowledge that you look like this, you think. You’re running errands in peace, running through the day ahead of you in your mind, until you can’t ignore that someone else desperately needs you to acknowledge that they exist.

And they talk like they know you. Or maybe it’s that they talk like they want to know you. But actually it’s more like they want you to want to know them. To validate them. To let them know that their problems are your problems too. That we’re all in this world together and it’s going to be okay. Together we will make it through. Their eyes plead for you to utter words of acceptance. They want you to hug them with your words. Probably they wouldn’t mind if you reached out and hugged them too. Because now you’re best friends. And you’d go to coffee right this very second so you can continue to share in this human experience together but you’re in the middle of going to work and they’re in the middle of… Do they work? you wonder. No, probably not. Or maybe they do and it’s in a place with lollipops and rainbows and no clocks to alert their bosses that they’re late. You’re late. You look at them again and think, yes, that must be it because it is 7:45 in the morning and no one can talk with this much enthusiasm unless they’ve had too much sugar and cheer in their life. Right? People aren’t like this, right? It’s just those people, right?

And then as you depart–because finally, finally it is time to go your separate ways–you are left to wonder whether it is not those people but instead you, a lonely shell of a person, unable to connect with the strangers around you, those people who have stories to tell and experiences to share and you, you’re too self-important to share with them.

The Case That Could Save the Contraception Mandate

Anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision?

To help pass the time this weekend, dive down this rabbit hole with me and read about the case that could save the contraception mandate.

The Case: U.S. vs. Lee (1982)amish

The Supreme Court ruled that an Amish employer, Edwin Lee, did not have the right to avoid paying Social Security tax on employees, despite his religious beliefs that is was immoral to do so. The Court agreed that his religious rights had been violated, but ruled that the broad public interest served in maintaining a tax system was so important that the conflict did not afford him a basis for not paying the tax. Furthermore, it ruled that it would impose his religious beliefs on others.

The Precedent: Obamacare is a Tax, and Taxes Serve the Public Interest

At the March hearing on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, Justice Sonia Sottomayor admonished the businesses’ attorney, Paul Clement, for his incorrect classification of the financial responsibility businesses carry if they do not provide health insurance or provide health insurance but exclude contraceptive coverage.

“It’s not called a penalty, it’s called a tax,” she said, met with a round of laughter from the audience, and a note of approval from Chief Justice John Roberts.

Her words hearken back to the first time the Court weighed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act–and it’s no small distinction. That the Supreme Court ruled the financial cost of not insuring, or insuring but excluding contraception, “a tax” means there’s already judicial precedent to save the contraception mandate.

“Does the creation of the exemption relieve me from paying taxes when I have a sincere religious belief that taxes are immoral?” Sottomayor asked Clement.

“I think Lee says that taxes are different, and not all exemptions are created equal, because some exemptions undermine the compelling interest,” Clement replied.

Here’s what that means: Hobby Lobby objects, on religious grounds, to the contraception mandate. In order to get out of the contraception mandate, they would have to pay the tax for not providing health insurance. Hobby Lobby does not want to do this because they say it is expensive and therefore a burden on their religious practice.uterus-property-of-hobby-lobby

Like in U.S. vs. Lee, the justices–and that includes Sottomayor–were very clearly leaning toward a decision that yes, Hobby Lobby’s has a right to the protection of their religious identity.

But U.S. vs. Lee resolved that paying taxes is different. And the same arguments can be made for the contraception mandate. There’s a broad public interest in maintaining the tax for not providing health insurance and the tax for not providing contraceptive coverage, to get businesses to provide the full range of benefits or allow workers to obtain those benefits, with subsidies on the exchange.

One Hang-Up: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993)

After Lee, Congress introduced the  Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which added to the “compelling government interest” standard set down by Lee a new standard: “the least-restrictive means test.”

There’s not a clear case that there’s a less-restrictive means of getting women access to contraception. Clement and his clients disagree, but the science is very clear.

“This is not about access to contraception,” Clement said. “It’s about who’s going to pay for the government’s preferred subsidy.”hobbylobby

But the reason the government mandated free access was because of the number of studies presented to the Health and Human Services Department in advance of the rule showing that the cost of contraception was a barrier to access for women.

Granted, the two businesses don’t object to covering all forms of contraception. But the Court can’t grant Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood exemptions from certain types of contraception without opening the door to all contraceptives being exempt, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out during the oral arguments (and Clement agreed). That’s because the argument Clement and his clients have presented to the Court is that whatever the religious employer objects to, in this case, would be a substantial burden.

And to grant Hobby Lobby an exemption, as federal attorney General Donald Verrilli Jr. argued, could violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by prioritizing the employers’ religion over the employees’.

The least restrictive means test certainly muddies the waters. But I think that if the court wanted, it could rule that there isn’t a less-restrictive means of getting women access to contraceptives. And that would mean the case rests on the precedent of U.S. vs. Lee–the case that could save the contraception mandate.

Last night, we killed a mouse.

Have you ever looked another creature in the eyes and contemplated her death?

I have. I hesitated. But her life wasn’t mine to take anyway.

It looked a little like this sketching that you can buy on Etsy. But I don't know why you would.
It looked a little like this sketching that you can buy on Etsy. But I don’t know why you would.

Let’s backtrack. It’s 8:30 on a Thursday, I’m sitting in bed eating dinner and watching TV because YOLO, and my phone lights up with a text.

“We have a mouse,” my roommate writes from the second floor living room. “Yup. A little guy in the living room. Kind of cute, but I’m going to my room now.”

I weigh the possibilities. Do we have a mouse problem? Can I be bothered to deal with a mouse problem?

Then I hear the door open. Another roommate is home. The door closes. I hear grocery bags.

Oh great, I think. Isn’t she in for a treat.

Her feet trudge up the stairs and past the living room into the kitchen. Then I hear her squeal.

Yes, I can be bothered for a mouse problem, I conclude. Begrudgingly I put on shoes–I will not fall victim to droppings–and climb upstairs.

When I get there, I hear the first roommate in her room and the second now in the shower. I traipse around the kitchen. No sign of the mouse. Then I sneak around the living room in search of a mouse hole. No holes, either.

The second roommate hears me.

“Can you leave the front door unlocked?” she calls down. “Owen’s coming over.”

“Sure, no problem,” I reply, making my way back downstairs to the comfort of my bed. I unlock the door on the way.

Guy Fieri is now babbling from my TV. I sit down and start Googling: “how do you know if you have a mice problem.” Next search: “why do I have mice.” Next search: “how to get rid of mice.” I pick up my phone and text back the first roommate.

“We should check all the cabinets and pantries for droppings,” I write, “and I think it’d be good to make a kitchen and trash clean up schedule just so we can make sure this doesn’t get worse.”

At this point, my web browser looks like the WebMD of mice problems. “There’s never just one,” a blogger tells me. “Don’t buy regular mouse traps,” says another advice column. “Then you’ll have a blood problem. Instead, string a tin can with cheese inside across a barrel of water so that you drown it.”

It’s all so confusing and contradictory. So I text the knower of all things: my mom.

“APPARENTLY WE HAVE MICE.”

No response.

Five minutes pass while I watch Guy Fieri tell me why I should go Missouri for battered fries.

Impatient, I pick up the phone. My mom answers on the third ring. She explains that she’s busy making dinner.

I cut her off. “We have a mice problem,” I tell her. “What do I do?”

She stops what she’s doing and starts in with an explanation that is basically about as helpful as the websites. Something about the cost of an exterminator, telling our landlords and buying airtight containers for my food in the pantry. “Sounds expensive,” I inform her.

I hear the door open. Aha, I think, roommate’s boyfriend! Abruptly I hang up with my mom–but not until I’ve let her know how unhelpful she has been, because I have an urgent mice problem–and I follow the boyfriend upstairs.

“Hi Owen,” I greet him with a false cheer. Both roommates have now arrived in the kitchen. “So about this mice problem,” I tell the other two, “should we make a cleaning schedule?”

We noncommittally make plans to reconsider the cleaning schedule next week, after the holiday weekend, but not before I remind the roommates that dishes in the sink = mouse heaven.

Boyfriend opts to do the dishes. Mildly satisfied, I return to my room.

It’s now 10:00, so I start getting ready for bed. A new episode of Chopped has begun, which I listen to absentmindedly as I brush my teeth.

I hear a scratching sound. I turn off the water, suspicious. The noise continues. I tiptoe over to my TV and turn the volume down. Now it sounds like paper rustling. But it’s not upstairs…it’s in my hallway.

I snatch my tennis racquet and quickly text the roommates. “It’s down stairs,” I tap into my iPhone hurriedly. “It playing with roach trap by the front door.”

I open my door and spot it on the bottom stair. My heart races. It’s a little, gray, cotton-ball-sized mouse. I creep closer, clutching my tennis racquet, but not determined to use it. Owen starts coming down the stairs to help.

Now it’s on. The mouse scurries toward the guest room and we rush to trap it with a cardboard box in a corner by the door. Somehow, we manage to corner the mouse.

Owen looks over at me expectantly.

“Open the door,” he instructs, “in case I can chase it outside.”

I look down at the mouse. She’s stuck inside her roach trap. I look at him. But what if it runs down to my room, my eyes plead.

It is possible that in that moment I gave him permission to kill it.

Next thing I know he flings away the box and stomps on her. I whimper and look away, tennis racquet now uselessly cradled in my arms.

A moment passes and I look back over at Owen.

“It’s stuck to my shoe,” he shrugs. I open the door and he hobbles outside. I take a deep breath and make my way back into my room. I hear him come back inside. I sit down on my bed and text my mom.

“Oh my god we killed it,” I write. “It got caught in the roach trap and we killed it.”

And then I put my phone down, turned off the light, and went to sleep.