Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Brother

I've recently eluded to some legal problems that my brother is going through without really elaborating on them.
To be quite honest, its occupied a lot of my thoughts and attention lately - between my dental problems (they're still ongoing) and him, I've been rather distracted the past couple of months. I've ran into some friends and bloggers out around town and ignored them because I was in midst discussion about this very issue. That was rude of me, and I apologize.

Heres what has happened.
In late April my brother was arrested on a Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning for attempted robbery. We, as a family, knew that my brother had been stealing for over a year at that point -- but as far as we knew it had only been from us. The year before my brother had stolen a large number of dvds from me. My gut instinct when I discovered all of these dvds missing was that it was him. The easiest way to confirm if it was him was to go to the local store that buys used dvds and ask to see a list of what he had sold to them. I got the list and went through it with my sister and we discovered that he had been stealing from both of us for several months.
I went to my mom and told her that either he needed to own up to what he had done and make amends OR I would ask the store to press charges. She went ballistic. I was NOT going to press charges and send her son to jail. At that point I grudgingly dropped the issue for the sake of family peace but told her how I was concerned that if something didn't happen to stop him, that he would progress to burglary and get himself into BIG trouble or possibly even injured or killed. She did not listen to me. My mother never listens to me.
So, I was right. He did progress to burglary and was caught. His photo was even on the evening news. That just about killed my grandmother - seeing her only grandson on tv as a criminal.
That following Friday I went to his arraignment hearing with my mom where my brother was released on his own recognizances, also known as OR. He got home that night to discover that someone had stolen his cell phone and Rolex watch (he'd bought it with the insurance settlement from a car accident he'd been in a couple of years prior). Hello? Is that you, karma?
So, he'd been arrested for attempted burglary and was stolen from during the few days that he was in county jail.
Being an idiot, he tracked down who stole from his and went to the guy. Not in a diplomatic "hey, thats not cool" fashion, but in a violent manner. He beat the guy, severely. This happened on Friday night and as of Saturday afternoon the guy was waiting for surgery to repair his crushed jaw. Waiting because his concussion was too severe for him to go in for surgery. My brother was immediately arrested for assault Friday night.
He is now convicted of felony assault and will spending at least two years in state prison.
He deserves to be there. He ABSOLUTELY deserves to be there. He has never had to face the consequences of his actions, my mom has always made certain of that, and now he has to - its high time that he did.
However, I hate seeing him about to go off to prison. I've visited him once and seeing him in the orange jumpsuit, talking to him over a phone through the plexiglass window is hard. He was a good kid growing up, I never imagined, prior to a year ago, that he would end up like this.
There is a part of me that, no matter how old he gets or what he does, will always feel like a protective older sister. As much as I know he belongs where he is, I DO NOT like it by any means.
So, in a couple of weeks he goes before the judge for his official sentencing. From there he goes to the general intake facility in Tracy and then he will be assigned to a prison anywhere in the state. I hope its relatively close so that mom can visit him regularly like she has been since this whole thing started, and I think I'd like to visit him occaissionally as well. Grandma, Grandma can't go visit him. I think she'd like to, but that would tear her apart. She would break down. I think he NEEDS to see her reaction to seeing him where he is, but its not worth what it would do to her.
I've been torn about whether or not to share this with everyone. I suppose I feared judgement from people. But, I can't not share it. It's been a big part of my life the past couple of months and will continue to be for the next couple of years. It has become a part of who I am. I love my brother despite his shortcomings and I am affected by this. I just hope that this changes him for the better, like he claims it has, and that he can learn from this experience and grow from it.

Monday, June 08, 2009


Allow me to rant for a bit, if you will...

Here in Sacramento, there really is only one daily newspaper - The Sacramento Bee.

As I have mentioned previously, my brother, Ryan, is in jail. I will elaborate on this issue at another time - I'm still sorting through my own emotional response to his situation and am not yet ready to divulge the details openly.

One thing that my brother has requested while he is in jail is that we send him some books or possibly a subscription to The Sacramento Bee. Being the only family member with the financial means, and willingness, to readily purchase a subscription, I went online to sign him up.
The price quoted on the SacBee's website for a 13 week subscription was $26. Reasonable. I enter my brothers delivery information, my billing information, and get an email confirmation stating that delivery will begin within 2-3 days. This was on a Wednesday, so I have my mother tell Ryan that he should probably start receiving delivery the following Monday or Tuesday (just to allow extra time - so he'd be pleasantly surprised should the delivery begin earlier).
The next Monday I receive a phone call from The Bees "VIP Membership Services" stating that they need to clarify the subscription price for me. The representative advises me that delivery to a county jail is mail delivery and therefore the charges will be $44.10 for five weeks, more than four and a half times their standard subscription rates. Since its looking like Ryan is going to be in there a while I tell them to cancel the subscription request. At the rates quoted to me, that would be over $450 per year. Ridiculous.
I asked my mom to tell Ryan that I wasn't going to purchase the subscription after all because of the exorbitant costs. She did, and she said that he completely understood. I imagine that he was a bit disappointed - I have since visited with him and the options of things to do in a county jail are very limited. The library is very limited with a large portion of the books available being donations from other inmates of any books that their family members sent them. There are classes available for the inmates, but since this is a county facility and not a state prison the classes are limited to remedial courses designed for those wishing to pursue their GED. Despite having gotten himself into the situation he is in, Ryan is an intelligent person so these options are not too appealing to him. Thus, the request for the newspaper subscription.
The more I thought about the subscription price quoted to me, the more outraged I became. A couple days later I emailed The Bee's general information address with the following message:
I recently tried to purchase a subscription to the Sac Bee for my brother.
I am ashamed to admit that at present he is in custody at the Placer County Jail in Auburn.
Online the subscription price was listed as $26 for 13 weeks.
Today I received a call from an associate advising that the subscription price would be increased because of different delivery requirements to his location. I was advised that delivery for him would be $44.10 for just 5 weeks.
This difference in cost is outrageous and I have a hard time imagining how a price difference that great is justified aside from The Bee taking advantage of potential customers who have no other option of obtaining the paper. Or, is it that you just don't like to have customers?

Two days later, I received the following response:
Thank you for your email to The Sacramento Bee. The difference in price
is actually $4.25/week, for a total of $21.25 for 5 weeks or $34.00 for
8 weeks.

Unfortunately, the person who called you was quoting our Delivery by
mail subscriptions in error. I apologize for the incorrect information.
Would you be interested in starting the subscription now knowing the
correct rates?

At that time I responded that I may be interested in starting a subscription at the newly quoted rates but to hold off for the time being because Ryan may be moving to a state facility.
A few days later we found out the he will be at the county facility for at least another 5 weeks so I decided to start the subscription and emailed the contact I had been corresponding with regarding the updated subscription price.
Understandably, when I initially asked them to cancel my request they purged my delivery and billing information so they asked me to call in and give the information to any agent.
I called this morning and gave all of the delivery and billing info to a representative, then asked them to confirm the costs. Boy, am I glad I asked them to confirm the costs because I was once again quoted the $44.10. At that time I told her about the above exchanges and she advised me that whomever had quoted me the charge of $21.25 must have been unaware that mail delivery would be required. I read her, verbatim, the entire email including the senders full name. She paused for a moment and said "thats my boss", then placed me on hold. After a minute she came back and while she did say that they would "honor" the quote of $21.25 she continued to insinuate that what my subscription required was mail delivery and that is a higher cost. After she confirmed my billing and delivery information I asked when the delivery should actually be expected to begin. At that point she said that the carrier for that area should receive the order tomorrow and that the actual delivery should begin the day after that.
Wait. What? Carrier? If this requires mail delivery why is it going to a carrier?
This whole entire interaction leaves me with a couple of impressions... either the department who handles the subscriptions has no clue what kind of delivery is required for where OR The Bee is taking advantage of a demographic who has no other option for obtaining a daily newspaper. Seriously, its not as though the inmates can run down to the local 7-11 and pick up a copy. I also have to question how many families of inmates have been financially taken advantage of because they took the subscription rate quoted for what it was and didn't bother to voice complaint.
Now, I'm not one to say that prisoners should have cushy lives with premium cable and posh accommodations; they are where they are because they have done something wrong and have to pay for their wrongs against society. However, a newspaper isn't something too outrageous and if their families are willing to purchase their subscriptions, the families shouldn't be taken advantage of financially. Yes, a higher subscription rate than standard does seem reasonable and logical -- but not to the extent that I was originally quoted.

This is not the only issue I have with The Sacramento Bee - its just the most recent, and to me, the most outrageous.
In the past this blog has been quoted in The Bee without any sort of request or notification. I only found out that I had been quoted when friends emailed me saying "Hey, congratulations on being quoted in The Bee!"
More frequently, this has happened to a friend of mine. To the extent that she took her blog private for a few months because she was tired of being quoted without the courtesy of any sort of request.
Yes, journalistic ethics may not require a request or notification when one is quoting an already published blog, but common courtesy does. Especially when it is coming from a local area blogger who may have relationships with writers or editors of the publication.

In general, The Bee has gone downhill at a rapidly alarming pace in the past couple of years. The quality of journalists is not what it used to be which led me to cancel my daily subscription over a year ago.
The one writer I take the most issue with is the new restaurant critic. I, personally, find his reviews to be condescending and pompous. When a restaurant critic takes over 200 words (yes, I did a word count) to tell the reader what the difference is between good and great, the message it sends is that the writer finds their audience to be intellectually inferior.
Furthermore, I take issue with his journalistic ethics. He has openly admitted that when reviewing one restaurant in particular he has gone into the kitchen and introduced who he was just so that he could watch the chef prepare the meals. Critics and reviewers of any nature are not to reveal who they are so that they can ensure they receive the same level of service and quality of product that any other customer or consumer would receive.

One of two things needs to happen. Either The Bee needs a complete overhaul, or Sacramento needs another option for a daily printed newspaper.

Follow Up

Friday night I had some lofty goals of things I wanted to get done over the weekend.
Shockingly, I did NOT accomplish all of them.

A few days ago I purchased some tomato, squash, and zucchini plants with the intentions of putting together a container garden. Over the weekend I did get out the half barrel planters we've had for numerous years now.
The unfortunate part is that these barrels went unused for the past two years and sat empty. This caused the wood to shrink to the extent that they are pretty much ruined. So, gardening did not get done, I am now faced with the dilema of either buying new planters or preparing a section of the yard for planting.

Didn't do a single thing with it.

I tried. Heaven knows I tried.
I followed the recipe exactly, and I have no clue why, but the milk would NOT curdle. No matter how much lemon juice or vinegar or how long I let it sit. I eventually ended up pouring a half gallon of goats milk, the juice from 4 or 5 lemons, and approximately half a cup of apple cider vinegar down the drain.

I DID get all of my photoshop work done. Both the wedding AND the senior portraits. Yay me!


Unfortunately I got SO wrapped up in the photoshop work Sunday that I lost track of time and didn't get to the butchers before they closed yesterday.

A couple of things I did get done this weekend that WEREN'T on my To Do List?

1. Visit my baby brother in jail - thats an entire entry of its own for another time.

2. Vietnamese Coffee Popsicles
Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE my coffee. Drink it daily, all throughout the day. A few years ago my uncle introduced me to Vietnamese coffee - a strongly brewed coffee, similar to espresso, blended with sweetened condensed milk. I would LOVE to get a set of Vietnamese coffee filters, but I fear how much sweetened condensed milk I would consume if I did.
A couple weeks ago I saw this recipe for Vietnamese coffee popsicles and knew that I HAD to make them. This weekend, I did. They were AMAZING. Even Grandma liked them.

A couple weeks ago I told you about what I will call "The Great Detergent Debacle of 2009", also known as "Vanessa Doesn't Like To Follow Directions".
I had attempted to make a concentrated version of my own liquid laundry detergent only to have it turn into a semi-solid consistency. As a result, by the time I had thinned it out to a gel detergent consistency, I had FIFTEEN gallons of the stuff. Since then, its been sitting in buckets.
This weekend I had finally gathered enough empty laundry detergent bottles, 2 liter soda bottles, milk jugs, etc to bottle the stuff. I've given some away to my mom and to neighbors... I STILL have TEN bottles that I don't know what to do with.
The drawback is that even though I thinned it out to a gel detergent consistency, it tends to separate? I've used the stuff and it works just fine as long as you shake it before using it. I just don't have a scientific enough mind to understand why its separating. I guess that it has something to do with all of the various ingredients mixing and bonding together during the initial preparation and the additional water being added after the fact?
I'm thinking I'm going to take some down to the pub and see if I can unload any there. For some reason, some people are hesitant to accept homemade detergent? I made it for sensitive skin since Grandma requires it.

Got mine done, as well as the towels. Now, I just need to work on Grandmas.

Really, I'm just adding this to make myself feel better for not doing more that was on my actual To Do list.

See #5.

Friday, June 05, 2009


I have some ambitious plans for this weekend and am hoping that by putting them here, it will give me some accountability to complete at least HALF of whats on my to do list.

1. Gardening
I know I'm getting a rather late start on this, but yesterday I purchased two tomato plants, one crookneck squash and one zucchini plant.
I'm going to put together a little container garden. Yes, I know the zucchini needs a lot of room, so I may actually put that one in the ground... I'll have to double check exactly big my largest container is (a half wine barrel) and see if that will be large enough.
I'm not sure what suddenly motivated me to try gardening. I've never been successful with plants in the past but I want to grow my own vegetables. Its often hard for me to get to the farmers market downtown on the weekend, and the grocery stores can be so pricey for fresh produce that is often tasteless and bland. And, theres not much that I love more than a homegrown tomato.
IF this experiment goes well, I'm probably going to put together a larger garden for next year. Building a few raised beds wouldn't be too challenging and then I could have a wider variety of produce. I definitely have the room for it, our property is close to half an acre, so if I was REALLY feeling ambitious I could, theoretically, have a more traditional garden in the back portion of the property. However, that would require things like getting a rototiller and a lot of manual labor.

I SERIOUSLY need to clean up the back patio - primarily the bbq grill. I plan on having a bbq-tastic summer this year.

I'm going to be making my own goat cheese this weekend.
This idea started while brainstorming ways to deal with keeping the weeds and grass in check on our property. My brother had been coming around and mowing our back yard but totally slacked on it the past few months and the next thing we knew, Cooper was getting lost in the jungle that is our back yard. I COULD do it myself, but I can be rather prone to laziness and social obligations on the weekends. We COULD hire a lawn service, but with how large the property is, thats a couple hundred dollars a month. I'm trying to save some money here. My sisters boyfriend COULD come and do it but he's a jackass and you can't rely on him for crap (note, since this brainstorming session he has come over and cleared the jungle). Then I remembered reading how you can rent goats to come and clear overgrown weeds and brush. I looked into it, and with what it would cost to rent two goats for a day you could buy two pygmy goats of your own. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and she pointed out that if I got one that was a milker, I could also make my own goat cheese with the milk she produced. I thought this was a FANTASTIC idea. I LOVE goat cheese.
So, I did a little research and found this. Making goat cheese is SO incredibly easy! Or at least it sounds that way.
So, I was all gung ho on the idea of getting two pygmy goats. Pygmy because they don't get too terribly big (they can use a large dog house as their shelter as opposed to a barn) and that breed is very social and playful. I figured this would be good because Cooper is very social and playful and I know that if I brought a couple goats onto the property, Cooper would at least try to play with them.
Then I REALLY started thinking it over. I would have to get up at the ass crack of dawn every day to milk them, and I HATE mornings. They would have to be milked daily and I know that I couldn't count on anyone to come and milk them if I go away for a weekend, let alone a week in Europe or somewhere.
If I do end up with a larger garden next year, I would have to build a fence to keep them away from it otherwise they would eat all of my gardening efforts. If that happened I would have to invite all of my friends over for a fire roasted goat one night. So, ixnay on the oatgay.
However, the idea of making my own goat cheese stuck with me. Last night I stopped at Whole Paycheck, I mean Whole Foods, and picked up some goat cheese. If this first attempt goes well, I found a rancher up in El Dorado Hills where I could purchase raw goats milk for future batches of goat cheese. Yes, raw goats milk would be unpasteurized, but that just means that its full of probiotics.

Four weeks ago a couple of my friends got married and I photographed their wedding. At first, I just started working on the photos slowly because, they're going to be in Ireland on their honeymoon for three weeks? Pshaw! I've got plenty of time! No reason to rush!
Then I started having all sorts of dental complications and was on either valium and/or vicodin and/or white wine each night. Now, I'm confident enough to work my photoshop magic with a glass or two of white wine, but I am not going to work on a friends wedding photos while hopped up on vicodin and/or valium. Next thing I knew, they were home. Now I've got to haul ass to get the photos done.
ALSO, last weekend I belatedly took some photos of one of my younger cousins for her Senior Portraits. The kid graduated high school early a few months ago but wouldn't coordinate with me for when we could get them done. Every time she wanted to get together it was a weekday when I was working and she only wanted to spend the weekends with her boyfriend. We finally got together last Sunday and now I need to go through those photos.

I seriously have too many books. Its a sickness, really. I keep every single book that I buy, with the exception of the ones I loan out and don't get back. THEN whenever anyones getting rid of books I always take a healthy portion of them. As a result, I've got books everywhere. I figure that I'll take some to a used book store and try to sell them and the ones that they don't take I'll donate to the library or goodwill or someplace.

Last weekend I decided to stop into my local butcher and support the local businesses. Can I just say that the guy working the front counter was super cute?
Now, I'm BAD a picking up on when a guy is flirting with me. My natural thought and reaction is that he's just friendly.
When I went to the butchers, I had my cousin with me (we had just finished her portraits) and when we walked out I said "WOW. He was cute." Cousin said "He totally was! AND he was totally smiling and flirting with you!"
So, I think I need to go back this weekend.

Hopefully I'll be able to get at least half of this done.