book reviews, divorce, domestic violence, family, marriage, mental health, psychology

Repost: A review of Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney’s Kafkaesque Divorce…

This is an as/is repost of a book I reviewed on September 26, 2015.

In April 2014, I blogged about a man who apparently committed suicide after being “broken down” by the family court system.  Chris Mackney was married to northern Virginia jewelry designer Dina Mackney.  He had two kids with her, a boy and a girl.  They split up and Mackney was both separated from his children and obligated to pay an oppressive amount of child support.  He spent time in jail when he couldn’t come up with the money.  He was repeatedly hauled into court and harassed by child support enforcement officials trying to get “blood from a stone”.  He lost job after job and finally sank into an abyss of pennilessness and despair.

Like me, Mackney was a blogger.  On his now defunct blog, Good Men Did Nothing, he posted about his situation as it became more and more dire.  Finally, on December 29, 2013, Chris Mackney had reached the end of his proverbial rope.  He sat in his car and placed a rifle under his chin, and pulled the trigger.  In the wake of his suicide, his ex wife became executor of his estate, which basically consisted of his car and his computer.  He had lost everything in his divorce, including his grip on his sanity.  Mackney’s ex wife then sicced lawyers on everyone who posted about Mackney’s suicide and managed to get his blog taken down.  Dina Mackney’s lawyers also supposedly had every comment Chris Mackney ever posted on the Internet wiped out.  It was as if his presence on the Internet was being systematically erased.

Not long ago, Michael Volpe, author of Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney’s Kafkaesque Divorce, left me a comment on my blog post about this case.  I usually erase comments that consist of sales pitches, but I was interested in Mackney’s case.  So I went ahead and downloaded Volpe’s book and just finished it last night.  I mostly thought Volpe’s book was a very interesting read.

Volpe explains that decades ago in Texas, Dina Mackney’s father, Pete Scamardo, hired a hitman to kill a former business partner and friend named Sam Degelia, Jr.  The hitman, who was paid $2000, was none other than Charles Harrelson, actor Woody Harrelson’s father.  Once Degelia was successfully offed, Scamardo moved to Virginia where he proceeded to make a fortune in building.  Apparently, Dina Scamardo grew up privileged in northern Virginia.  She married Chris Macknij and then got him to legally change his name to Mackney, because it was a better name for her jewelry design business.

Volpe writes that Dina Mackney came from a family with ruthless and criminal tendencies, which may have made her especially likely to go after her ex husband with zeal.  According to Volpe’s book, there was little left of Chris Mackney when she and the Fairfax County family court were finished with him.  He saw no way to salvage his life or climb out of the bottomless financial hellhole he was in.  So he decided to kill himself.

Volpe’s book is perhaps misnamed.  I purchased it thinking it would be only about Chris and Dina Mackney and their relationship.  That was probably a naive assumption on my part, since Dina Mackney seems clearly against getting her late ex husband’s story out to the masses.  In fact, I think Volpe may be pretty brave to have written this book, since Dina Mackney has established herself as willing to litigate.  Bullied to Death doesn’t include a lot about Chris and Dina Mackney’s marriage; it’s more about what happened after the marriage and what led up to Chris Mackney’s decision to kill himself.  I’d say that makes up a good third of the book.

Another third of the book consists of Volpe’s thoughts on the family court system and how it’s unfair to non-custodial parents, usually fathers.  Volpe has some rather radical ideas about how post divorce parenting and child support should be handled.  At times, the writing is a bit emotional and disjointed and I spotted more than a couple of places where some editing would have been beneficial.  On the other hand, I appreciated that Volpe was gutsy enough to write Mackney’s story to the best of his ability.

While I didn’t always agree with some of Volpe’s ideas, as someone who watched her husband get screwed over by an ex wife and saw him lose contact with his kids, I had some empathy for Volpe’s viewpoint.  While Bill was not hounded by child support enforcement or lawyers, he did pay out the nose in child support for kids who eventually dumped him.  Attentive fathers should not be treated like sperm donors with open wallets.      

Something does need to be done about how divorcing couples with children are handled in the United States.  While I am not at the point at which I’d say child support needs to be abolished, I do think that the system should be more equitable and flexible.  Chris Mackney’s child support was established when he was employed in real estate and had made a lot of money.  Not long after his divorce, Mackney’s business took a downturn and he could not pay the child support ordered by the court.  He quickly went into arrears and was soon completely buried in debt he’d never be able to repay.  He had no contact with his children, whom he dearly loved.  It’s no wonder he became so desperate.

The last third of the book consists of notes, appendices, and citations.  They are useful for those who want to do some follow up research on this sad case and others involving men’s rights in divorce situations.

Volpe’s book was apparently self-published, so it lacks the polish one might expect in something published by a big name outfit.  Moreover, I think it would have been a stronger book had it included more information about Chris and Dina Mackney’s relationship and why their divorce was so acrimonious.  Volpe seems to infer that Dina Mackney came from a family accustomed to resorting to criminal behavior, but everyone knows there are always at least three sides to every breakup story: his, hers, and the truth.

I’m not sure we quite get the whole truth about the Mackneys in Bullied to Death.  However, I do think Volpe basically did a good job writing about this case as much as he was able to.  I doubt he got much cooperation from the other interested parties, so naturally that affected how much of the story he was able to share.  I also think this is a case that needs to be publicized.  While I’m not sure what happened to Chris Mackney or even my own husband is the norm, there are men going through divorce becoming so hopeless that they turn to suicide or other drastic measures.  Their lives matter, too.  

For those who are interested, here is a video of Victor Zen reading Chris Mackney’s suicide note.

This note was originally posted on Chris Mackney’s blog, but his former wife had the blog taken down.

Mike Volpe later left me this comment on my original review:

mike volpe September 27, 2015 at 2:16 PM

This is a fair review of my book. I’m glad you liked and I wish you loved it. I only have two small points to make 1) I never suggested mostly men get screwed and in fact, I was careful in the book to show stories from all angles and 2) while Chris’s ex-wife wanted to remove even all his comments from the internet that failed miserably and most of what Chris has written has remained intact. You are correct that the marriage was not described in too much detail and that’s because one person was dead and the other one didn’t share any of their details. While divorce is he said/she said by nature, I feel comfortable that I presented an accurate description of what happened and not simply choosing Chris’s side. I presented his flaws, including his adultery, but committing adultery compared to covering up a murder are not, in my opinion, in the same league.

A few other people also left useful comments.

See Lo December 10, 2016 at 1:57 AM

I will soon be reading this book. The corruption and child support extortion needs to stop. #ChrisMackney will live on and his story is only the beginning.

Walter Singleton January 3, 2017 at 8:28 PM

Chris Mackney’s story is an extreme example of what happens to fathers (and sometimes mothers) in family courts EVERY SINGLE DAY. Family Court is a place where corruption reigns supreme – malicious spouses, dirty lawyers, and apathetic judges often join forces to destroy one of the parties. Once they decide which parent is on the losing side, there is often no recovery. This is a system that NEEDS to be fixed.

Those of you who have been regular readers of my blog may know why this subject interests me, although I don’t have the same level of interest in it as I once had. I do think domestic violence against men is an often overlooked and ignored problem. I applaud any author who is brave enough to take it on, even if they self-publish their work.

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celebrities, mental health, modern problems, psychology

Repost: Depression is not the “common cold” of mental illness…

I wrote the post below on June 9, 2018, when we were blissfully ignorant of the oncoming pandemic and all of the other shit that has happened in the past few years. I’m going to leave this post mostly as/is. I still feel this way in 2022, and I think that now, more than ever, we should be very careful about blowing off people who seem depressed.

This week, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two much beloved, highly successful, incredibly talented people, suddenly decided to end their lives.  The news of both suicides came as a total shock to me.  I was especially blown away when I heard about Bourdain.

There’s a trite saying that depression is the “common cold” of mental illness.  I usually cringe when I hear that, though, because most people don’t die of the common cold, which can cause temporary misery, but usually goes away without any lingering effects.  Depression can be serious enough to cause death.  When depression is a factor, I don’t think of suicide as someone selfishly taking their own lives.  I think of it as a terminal event, much like people who have cancer or diabetes have terminal events that kill them.  What’s more, depression can go on for many years unabated.  It doesn’t necessarily clear up in a week or two like a cold does.

At this point, I don’t know why Anthony Bourdain committed suicide.  Kate Spade’s husband has publicly come out to say that his wife had struggled with depression for many years.  Maybe Anthony Bourdain was also depressed.  I hesitate to assume I know why Bourdain decided to end his life.  The truth is, at this point, I really don’t know.  Most likely, he also suffered from the so-called “common cold” of mental illness.  Except depression is not really like the common cold at all.  

When Robin Williams committed suicide in 2014, many people were angry and outraged.  Initially, it was said that he’d had terrible depression, and he most assuredly did.  Many people felt he was simply weak and gutless for taking his life.  Then, some weeks later, it came out that Williams had been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia.  A lot of people don’t know anything about Lewy Body Dementia.  It’s not one of those diseases that gets a prominent face in the media.

My father had Lewy Body Dementia with Parkinsonian features.  I watched it take him from being an independent man with a sharp mind and a strong body, to a frail shadow of himself.  My dad was in his 70s when he was diagnosed with it.  It was devastating for him and for my mom, who spent at least six years taking care of him.  In the weeks before his death in July 2014, he was getting so debilitated that my mom was considering putting him in a nursing home.  It was becoming too hard for her to take care of him, even with the home health aides she had helping her.

Robin Williams was 63 when he died and, according to his wife, his case of LBD was very severe.  Although Williams died by his own hand, it was really the LBD, co-morbid with depression, that killed him.  Perhaps Bourdain was also facing a health situation that led him to kill himself.  Or maybe not.  Maybe he was just very depressed and simply decided that living was too painful.  I don’t know.  I actually couldn’t blame him in any event.  I have no idea what he was dealing with in his personal life and could never fully understand it even if I did.

I read that Bourdain died in Kaysersberg, France.  Bill and I were in Alsace two weeks ago and had made tentative plans to visit that town while we were there.  We didn’t end up going, but resolved to visit on a later trip to France. (2022- We did finally visit Kaysersberg two years ago, months before COVID took over the world).  It’s strange to think that this man, whose innovative food and travel journalism I only recently discovered, was just a mere two hours away from me when he died.  The area where Bourdain exited this existence is absolutely beautiful.  Given that he had very French roots, it almost seems fitting that he chose to die in France, even if I’m sorry it happened the way it did.

I only recently– like within the past three weeks– started watching Bourdain’s show, Parts Unknown.  I started watching it because Bourdain had visited Armenia and I was curious about what he thought of it.  I was so impressed by the show he did on a country where I spent two years of my life.  My years in Armenia were pretty difficult.  In fact, my own issues with depression worsened significantly when I was there.  However, twenty-one years beyond my time in Armenia has left me with mostly good memories.  I don’t think as much about the profound feelings of worthlessness I experienced there… and so many years hence, I realize that my time there was not at all wasted.  It only seemed that way at the time, partly due to my life inexperience and partly due to the distorted thinking that comes from being depressed.

One thing I’ve noticed all week is that some people are sharing their own stories about depression.  Other people are imploring their friends and loved ones to “reach out” if they feel suicidal.  Many people are also sharing the suicide hotline.  I’m going to be frank and say that the repeated posts about the suicide hotline kind of get on my nerves.  It’s not because I don’t think people should know about and use the hotline.  It’s more because simply sharing that phone number is about as effective as offering “thoughts and prayers”.  Besides, not everyone who is depressed actually realizes they are depressed.  I didn’t know I was depressed until it had been going on for years.

Clinical depression causes a host of symptoms that make “reaching out” extremely difficult.  Depression robs people of their self-esteem and energy.  You might encourage your withdrawn friends to “reach out” and remind them that you’re always there to listen.  But in the mind of a depressed person, you’re not really talking to them.  Even if you were specifically talking to them, reaching out takes energy and courage.  And sometimes people say they want their friends to reach out, but then they aren’t actually available or interested.

Sometimes, instead of really listening and empathizing, well-meaning people try to cheer up their depressed friend by telling them about all the “good” things they have.  Personally, I think telling someone who is depressed and anxious to “buck up” and “get over it” is pretty much the worst thing you can do.  It’s very likely to backfire.  Someone who musters the courage to reach out, especially to someone who has encouraged them to do so, does NOT need to hear about all the apparently awesome things they have to live for.

Please don’t tell your depressed friend that they are being selfish, overly dramatic, or self-centered, either.  Shaming doesn’t help.  It only makes things worse.

What many depressed people really need is someone who listens to what they have to say and assists them in finding their way to a person who is qualified to help them.  Listen to your friend without interrupting.  When they tell you what’s on their mind, say something that validates their feelings and indicates that you understand that they need help.  You could say something like, “It sounds like you’re very overwhelmed right now.”  If you can’t help them yourself, you could say,  “Let’s find someone who can help you with these problems.”  That’s certainly better than, “I can’t believe you’re depressed.  Look at all this cool shit you have!  I’d kill to live in your house with your hot wife (or husband, as the case might be).”

On the surface, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had everything to live for.  They were both very successful in their careers.  Both were parents of young daughters.  Both had achieved financial success and had friends who adored them.  They were adored by strangers, too.  Still, somehow they both still made the decision to commit suicide.  They aren’t alone.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is on the rise in the United States.  Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain no doubt had access to medical help that too many people in the United States don’t have, yet they still died by suicide.  Common colds don’t usually end that way, at least not in people who are basically healthy.    

I may have to watch more of Bourdain’s shows.  I’ll have to read at least one of his books.  He left behind so many gifts. Although he died by his own hand, and some people think that was selfish of him, I think he was a very generous person to share his talents with the world.  While I don’t own any of Kate Spade’s quirky creations, I’ve seen a lot of pictures of handbags my friends own.  They’ve been sharing those pictures all week, letting everyone know that Kate Spade mattered to them.  Sadly, when you have depression, you don’t notice that you matter to others… and when they tell you that you do matter, you don’t necessarily believe what they say.  Depression is a major mind fuck.  It’s really nothing like a cold.  And getting over it takes time, effort, money, and the ability to give a damn.

ETA in 2022: Fellow blogger and frequent commenter Alexis wrote this on the original post…

It’s interesting that you mentioned the “common cold of mental illness” analogy. A psychiatrist lecturer I heard in my second year disputed that analogy, saying that if a physical illness metaphor were needed or in any way beneficial, that depression would more correctly be described as “the ‘lupus’ of mental illness.” As with lupus, some people with depression mostly manage to function with medication. Others are never well but aren’t quite terminal. Others with either lupus or depression will lose their lives to the conditions. Depression is far from being a mostly self-limiting condition.

I had read another person refer to depression as the “diabetes” of mental illness. That also seems more like a realistic comparison of depression to a physical illness than a cold. At least if it’s clinical depression and not a situational depression.

Another commenter– DaBrickMaster– wrote this…

Depression should not be underestimated by any means, and it’s hard for someone who has never experienced it to understand. I went through a depression that slowly crept up on me several years ago, and it felt like I was trapped in an unescapable despair that I just wanted to end. I’m thankful for my parents and doctors who were there to support me to successfully get me out.

I realize now that many people out there aren’t so fortunate, and I just can’t imagine how one can get out of depression on your own. So if someone is stuck in a rut, I won’t hesitate to be there and help out.

Thanks for sharing this post, @knotty, and I’m terribly sorry that you and your family had to suffer from depression and LBD. They are most definitely NOT like a common cold.

And this was my response…

Thanks for the comment and for reading. I’m grateful I got through my depression and I’m happy that you got through yours. I think a lot of people just don’t understand it unless they’ve experienced it. The thing that made me realize that depression is a real illness was the process of feeling better and the rational thinking and mental clarity I finally had. It was like someone turned on a light.

I still have my blue days, but nothing so far like what I experienced twenty years ago. I hope I never feel like that again.

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bad TV, celebrities, complaints, rants

No, I really don’t hate Alyssa Milano… (partial repost)

Today’s semi-fresh content comes, in part, courtesy of the video below, which recently came up in my Facebook memories.

Alyssa Milano and Wendy Williams bicker over breastfeeding, starting at about 3:55.

I found today’s repost about a LDS woman getting slammed for breastfeeding in public a couple of days ago, after I saw the above video in my memories. I made a mental note to repost that blog entry from 2018. As I was doing that this morning, I also remembered Alyssa’s interview with Wendy Williams, and realized that it kind of went with the public breastfeeding repost. I was going to just include it with the repost, even though Alyssa Milano isn’t LDS and her campaigning for breastfeeding acceptance isn’t based so much on religious bullshit.

But then I remembered something else. Years ago, someone quoted my blog in a college paper about Alyssa Milano. They basically claimed that I was an Alyssa “hater”. I was pretty amused by that revelation. I certainly don’t hate Alyssa Milano. I never have. I don’t love every acting project she’s ever been involved with, but I most definitely respect her as a peer and an actress. I loved watching her on Who’s the Boss when I was a teenager, and on the original Melrose Place when I was a young woman. Hell, Alyssa Milano taught me about hickeys! And I got a huge kick out of watching her workout video, too!

So why did someone claim that I don’t like Alyssa Milano? It was because they found an old Writer’s Corner piece I wrote for Epinions.com many years ago and later rehashed on my original blog. In fact, I want to say I wrote that piece in January, because along with weight loss ads and gym membership plugs, January is also the prime time for various charities to run their guilt tripping fundraising campaigns.

In January 2012, eight years after I wrote my original Writer’s Corner Epinions piece about people like Sarah McLaughlin, Sally Struthers, the late Bonnie Franklin, and yes, Alyssa Milano, begging for donations for organizations like UNICEF, Christian Children’s Fund, and the ASPCA, I retooled the original essay into something semi new. A lot of people read it. The original stats for that rehashed post about charities netted almost 1700 hits, which for me, is a lot. To give you some perspective, most of my blog posts never crack 50 hits, although I seem to be getting more popular lately. I guess people are reading blogs more, given that they’re being encouraged to socially distance.

Anyway, I had written this retooled post about the annoying charity ads. In that post, I snarked on Alyssa Milano’s shilling for UNICEF, in which she begged viewers to send in “just 50 cents a day” to save children in developing countries. I found the below ad very annoying and dared to say so in my rant.

Alyssa Milano uses her prodigious thespian talents to dramatically beg viewers to help save children.

Now, I never said I didn’t otherwise enjoy Alyssa Milano’s work, nor did I say anything disparaging about her as a person. I don’t even know Alyssa, after all. If I did know her, I’m sure I’d like her fine. I just didn’t like that ad, nor do I enjoy viewing others like it done by other celebrities. I’m all for raising money for good causes, and am happy to help when I can, but I don’t enjoy guilt trips or emotional blackmail, even if they are often employed as effective fundraising methods. I know January is when people start thinking about their taxes, and maybe that’s why these ads tend to hit a fever pitch in January. I just don’t like the melodrama.

In my 2012 post, I included a portion of my original 2004 era Writer’s Corner rant, which I will admit was a bit snarky and obnoxious. I was trying to be funny, I guess, since a lot of people enjoy a good snark fest. The Writer’s Corner pieces on Epinions were strictly done for fun and entertainment. We didn’t get paid for them. So I was just cutting loose a bit. I do remember that the 2004 post generated some really interesting comments and discussion. Epinions was good for that, since there were some genuinely talented writers there back in the day. In 2012, my blog wasn’t all that popular and, like today, I was probably searching for a compelling topic. That was during the time at which I didn’t even share it with anyone I knew. How was I to know that post would generate so much controversy several years later?

Anyway, fast forward to January 2016. I decided to check my hits on Statcounter. In those days, I would type in the first letters of my blog to find the Statcounter Web site. Although it’s not my policy to look for comments about me or my blog, on that particular day, I decided to look for results beyond the first two. I noticed that there were a few other blogs called “The Overeducated Housewife” or something similar, all of which were aborted after the first few posts. Those blogs were all started by women who, like me, had gone to school for a long time and wound up keeping house for whatever reason. I guess they all eventually got “lives”.

Then I noticed a few hits down, my blog was mentioned on a Tumblr fan site called CharmedXConfessions. It appears to be a fan site for the old show Charmed, starring Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan, and Shannen Doherty.  I noticed that the mention of my blog on the Google results indicated that I’m “snarky, sarcastic, and condescending”.  Then I discovered that someone had written a college composition called  Alyssa Milano College Essay- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. Below are portions of the essay, cut and pasted exactly as I found it, that pertain to me and my controversial blog post.

In contrast to this positive publicity, Alyssa Milano’s television pleas for UNICEF have also drawn detractors. One blog particularly singles out her commercials and those of Sarah McLachlan for the SPCA as “melodramatic pleas for donations…when I watch those ads I feel manipulated, emotionally blackmailed…even shamed” (Overeducated Housewife 1). This blog dissects and raises issues about the pictures/techniques used by UNICEF and other international children’s charities that form the backdrop for Milano’s and other pleas. The blog says these commercials show:

—the depiction of fly-covered, malnourished children with large eyes and anglicized names 

—the plea for only 50 cents or the cost of a cup of coffee daily 

—the shaming technique of repeatedly asking what’s your excuse for not calling

NOW to pledge support

This blog questions the use of charitable dollars to pay for expensive television advertising. It also asks whether the celebrity spokespeople are paid for these commercials. Finally this blog raises the question of whether these celebrities personally donate substantially to the causes they are asking others to support. A defender of Milano on Overeducated Housewife points to her $50,000 donation to UNICEF and challenge to corporations to do the same. But questions about the appropriateness of wealthy celebrities pleading for the disadvantaged, the use of charitable dollars for self-promotion, and the lavish staff salaries paid to the leadership of some of these charities (i.e. the CEO of UNICEF makes $454,855) remain and are echoed on UNICEF’s Facebook page, in other blogs and in circulating emails. Milano’s association with UNICEF could, in some circles, taint her as minimally naive or even worse, as complicit in these questionable uses of charitable dollars.
 

The Overeducated Housewife blog in general features a number of snarky, sarcastic and condescending articles on a broad range of topics. The majority of articles seem to be critiques of writers, celebrities or other public figures who the blogger does not like. The blog links to a Facebook page with the name “Knotty” (a pun on Naughty? A reference to the knotty issues it covers?). The face is blurred on a number of images including the profile picture so it appears this blogger is choosing to remain anonymous. Her motto on the blog is “just another boring blog about being a boring housewife.” This motto and the blog’s tone seem to define its audience as educated women who feel they are overeducated for the boring job of being a housewife. The critics of Milano’s involvement with UNICEF, in general, come across as whiny, rude, privileged and nit picking people who are criticizing both a charity and a celebrity who are seeking to impact some of the world’s most pressing and recalcitrant problems. They are not seen as positing positive alternatives, but simply as critiquing and seeking to tear down others’ efforts.

Wow… 😀

Back in January 2016, I was pretty amused by this person’s observations about me and my blog. It appears that he or she was really offended by my comments about celebrity fundraising ads. I don’t think the person spent very much time reading or exploring my blog. It’s hilarious that this person felt it was appropriate to use my comments in an attempt at writing a “scholarly paper” for a university course. I guess I should be flattered… or maybe I should just feel sad. Anything you say or write can and will be used for something, right?

For the record, I certainly didn’t devote an entire post to how annoying I think Alyssa Milano is. On the contrary, for many reasons, I admire Alyssa Milano very much. In fact, I also admire UNICEF and the good work it does to make the people of the world healthier and happier. I just didn’t like that particular UNICEF ad. I also think the commenter completely missed the point of that post.

It’s not that I object to celebrities who do fundraising for charities.  I object to the manipulative ways they go about doing that work. As a rank and file viewer, I find those types of slick ads tasteless and shameless, even if I do think the cause is overall a worthy pursuit. When I wrote that post, years before I was quoted in that paper, I didn’t even think anyone cared about my opinions. I certainly never thought they’d wind up quoted in a paper. I have since found myself used as a reference in multiple Wikipedia entries, too. Isn’t it funny that someone listed me in a bibliography as “knotty” the Overeducated Housewife? I have finally arrived!

My apparently controversial thoughts about Alyssa Milano, which were eventually mentioned in a college paper, were written before Alyssa Milano helped coin and popularize the #MeToo movement, I will admit, I was not initially on board with the #MeToo movement at all. I don’t like catchphrases, and I thought that hashtag movement would peter out, much like the pink vagina hats did. I was wrong about #MeToo, though, and I have since changed my mind about it, and its relevance. Like most women, I can definitely use that hashtag myself, as I have been harassed by men on occasion. I think Alyssa Milano is great for using her platform to give women a voice in that regard. And I applaud her for raising awareness for breastfeeding, as well as money for children in poor countries. I just don’t like guilt tripping, manipulative ads. What’s wrong with saying so on a personal blog? I AM still allowed to share my opinions as a regular person, aren’t I?

The following paragraphs appeared in my January 2016 rant about being misunderstood by a college student who thinks I’m “snarky, sarcastic, and condescending…” They are still how I feel in 2022, and include some information as to why I call myself “knotty”, why I named by blog what I did, and why my picture is “blurry”.

Celebrities who do good deeds are to be commended.  I think it’s great when someone with money and influence is able to effect positive changes in the world.  I don’t have a problem with anyone involved with charitable organizations, especially if they happen to be public figures.  However, as a bored housewife who sometimes watches too much TV (at least when I’m stateside), I am often irritated by the melodramatic, guilt-mongering, begging commercials for charities.  That’s just my opinion, and I feel free to state it on my personal blog. 

I didn’t realize it was my duty to always be uplifting, positive, and looking for ways to make the world a better place.  But I am flattered that the person critiquing my blogging efforts apparently feels that I am important enough to have that role.  It’s funny, because only on my blog has anyone seemed to care much what my opinions are.  Past commenters have chastised me for being too negative and reminding me that I have a “wide audience” out there in Internetland.  According to them, I have a “responsibility” to always be fair, kind, honest, and positive when I write my posts.  Ha!  Actually, I find the above comments about my “overly critical” attitude toward Alyssa Milano’s UNICEF commercials kind of rich.  Isn’t the author of the English composition guilty of the same thing?

My nickname “knotty” is short for knotheadusc, which is an Internet handle I came up with around 1999 or so. Originally, I just wanted to call myself “knothead”. That was what my dad used to call me all the time when I was a kid and it seemed appropriate to call myself that at the time. Others had the same idea, since I frequently found that name taken when I tried to register it on different Web sites. Since I was a graduate student at the University of South Carolina at the time, I added the letters USC to the end of “knothead”. After awhile, people who got to know me online started calling me “knotty”. When I started this blog, I was trying to stay somewhat anonymous, mainly because I didn’t want trouble from my husband’s ex wife or others I vent my spleen about. So I called myself knotty on my blog. The nickname “knotty” is not a play on the word “naughty”, though some people might think it fits. They’d probably be right. Honestly, had the paper writer just asked me, I would have gladly explained it.

Anyway, now that my husband’s kids are adults, I don’t care so much if people know who I am. My real name is Jenny. I have even mentioned it a few times on this blog. Call me that if you think it’s more appropriate than “knotty” is. The blurred pictures the commenter mentions are probably more because I’m a shitty photographer and feel too ugly to show my face, than a real desire to stay anonymous. But even now that you know my name, wouldn’t I still kind of be anonymous to most people? What difference does it make what I call myself or if I show my photo, if you don’t actually know me personally? This blog was never intended to be used as a professional source for anything or anyone. Moreover, it doesn’t look like the paper writer was interested in knowing the real me, since he or she made many disparaging assumptions about my character and never bothered to engage me to find out if they were valid.

As for the title of the blog, I named it so because I spent seven years in college and I am a housewife.  It’s not because I think I’m “too good” to be a housewife.  On the contrary, I actually feel like even if I wanted to find a full time job, no one would want to hire me.  And yet, I do have all this formal education, which is not required for me to do what I do every day.  I am not bragging about my education.  As a matter of fact, I sometimes wish I’d been smart enough to just stick with my bachelor’s degree.  It would be nice not to have to pay so much for degrees I don’t use (although Bill paid off my education loans in 2018).  I surely don’t look down on housewives.  How could I?  I have been one myself for a long time.  I’m not even a very good housewife.  

Most people who read this blog are drivebys looking for information on specific topics.  The person who thinks I’m snarky, condescending, and sarcastic clearly only read my post about UNICEF, and maybe glanced at a couple of other posts to get a very basic idea of what this blog is about.  This blog has existed since 2010, and has posts about a huge array of topics. I don’t think the commenter got the most accurate picture of The Overeducated Housewife’s contents, nor did they seem to care much about fairness or accuracy.

I was a student once, too, and I’m pretty sure the author’s ideas about me and my blog were not at all personal and were gleaned very quickly. Shucks! He or she probably just wanted to finish their paper, and used my comments about charities as something to flesh out their required essay. And it’s also not lost on me that I’ve done the same thing with today’s blog entry.

Folks, let me remind you that I’m just a regular middle-aged woman living life.  If I come across as snarky, sarcastic, and condescending and you find that offensive, I do apologize.  I am just being myself.  Not everyone likes me, but that’s true for every living person because it’s impossible to please everybody.  This blog was more or less originally meant as a place for me to vent.  Contrary to apparent belief, my blog is not that popular.  I do have some readers who lurk and read everyday, but there really aren’t that many.  Even fewer bother to comment.  I started the Facebook page to give people a way to contact me other than commenting on the blog itself.   As you can see, it doesn’t have that many followers, either.   

I hope the composition earned a good grade, though if I really wanted to be snarky, sarcastic, and condescending, I could probably rip that paper to shreds using my overeducated English lit skills.  I won’t bother, though, because I have better things to do with all the time on my hands.  I think I’ll go troll YouTube and see if there’s anything there begging me to write one of my “snarky” blog posts.  Bonus points for something I can rag on posted by a public figure. For those who are curious, below are a few somewhat recent pictures of me. I don’t put on makeup very often these days, so I usually look more like the third picture.

July 2021.
Sometime last spring, I think… I need a new selfie.
But even in this photo, I have on makeup…
And this was the 2015 era photo I used for the 2016 post. Maybe it’s time I colored my hair again.

This scenario is why I don’t make it a habit to look myself up on Google. Most people think the worst of others, and never take the time to learn the whole truth. But, just in case anyone wonders, no, I don’t hate Alyssa Milano. I think she’s basically an excellent actress and role model. But I am glad I am not in the US, watching her ilk beg for 50 cents a day, either. What’s wrong with that?

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complaints, condescending twatbags, LDS, rants, slut shamers

Repost: Speaking of shameless shaming– Breastfeeding is not an act of public indecency!

Here’s a repost from July 27. 2018, inspired by the swath of people who seem to think that breastfeeding a baby is an act of public indecency and my recent post about the Duggars and “defrauding”. As you can see, the fundies aren’t the only ones who have screwy beliefs about modesty. I am posting it mostly as/is, as I consider what today’s fresh post will be. The featured image is in the public domain.

I would be remiss if I didn’t post about this news story I read last night about a Mormon woman who was shamed by her bishop and stake president for breastfeeding (link was removed because it no longer works).  According to KUTV, an unidentified LDS mom of four from northern Utah lost her temple recommend because she decided to breastfeed uncovered while she was in the foyer of her church.  Temple recommends are basically cards that identify worthy members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  One must have a valid temple recommend in order to visit the church’s temples, where “sacred” and secret religious ordinances, including many weddings, take place.  Temple recommends are very important to faithful Mormons.

A few weeks ago, the mother had gone to see her bishop about getting her temple recommend updated and signed.  The bishop told her that church members had complained about her openly breastfeeding her 18 month old baby.  LDS churches have “mothers’ rooms” where breastfeeding moms can go to privately feed their babies.  The bishop said she should either use the mothers’ room or cover up, since her decision to openly breastfeed might cause the men in the church to have “sexual thoughts”.  The bishop refused to sign the temple recommend and she had to get it signed by the first counselor instead.

Later, the mom visited her stake president so he could also sign her temple recommend.  The stake president also brought up the breastfeeding issue and quoted from a church pamphlet about the importance of modesty.  The pamphlet, “For the Strength of Youth”, is well-known to LDS church members and provides guidelines about how church members are to present themselves. 

The mother said that she got very upset during the meeting and had to leave the room several times to calm down.  The woman’s husband, who was also in attendance during the meeting, was told that he needed to “control his wife”.  The husband was also told that if he supported his wife’s decision to publicly breastfeed without a cover, he would also lose his temple recommend.

Some people may wonder why the woman didn’t simply use the mothers’ room.  Apparently, the room is off of the bathroom and this mother claims it’s too isolating for her.  Also, she says she can’t hear the service in the mothers’ room.  The mom warns that even after her child is weaned, she doesn’t plan to back down on this issue.  She correctly states that breastfeeding is not a sexual act and publicly feeding her child is not wrong.  She wants the church to be more accepting and sensitive toward mothers who choose to breastfeed in public.

As I read this story, I was, at first, very irritated on the mom’s behalf.  Fellas, if you’re turned on by a woman’s breasts, that is your problem.  It’s not up to women to protect you from your sexual thoughts.  You need to exercise more self control and realize that breasts are, first and foremost, intended to feed babies.  I realize that public breastfeeding is a somewhat new phenomenon in that, until recently, many women would feel uncomfortable exposing their breasts in public to feed their babies.  But dammit, breasts are not primarily for titillation.  They have a purpose.  A man’s sexual reactions to seeing a woman’s breasts are secondary to that very important purpose.  When it comes to embarrassment about breastfeeding, it’s the men who need to get over themselves, not the women.

Then, after reading about how this mom was treated by church leaders, I was irritated by her reaction.  I understand that the LDS church is the type of organization where membership is very important, particularly within family circles.  It’s not like it is in my family, where people attend different churches.  Most of my family members are protestants, but they aren’t all Presbyterians.  I have an aunt who is Episcopalian and a sister who is an atheist.  My mom played organ in Baptist and Methodist churches for most of my life.  Yes, many of my family members go to church, but there is no pressure to attend a specific church or practice a particular religion.  This is not necessarily true for Mormons.  To them, family participation is essential and in devout families, there is intense pressure to be Mormon and participate fully in the church.  Leaving the church can lead to a host of unpleasant consequences.

And yet… here is this nice couple doing absolutely nothing wrong, sitting there listening to church officials berate them for doing something totally natural and necessary for their baby’s health, and threatening them with eternal damnation for not conforming to their stupid rules about modesty.  I realize I’m not Mormon and never have been, but it’s inconceivable to me that these people tolerated those shameful remarks from church leaders.  They should have told both the bishop and the stake president to go fuck themselves (sorry, I’m in a mood this morning), gotten up, and walked out, vowing that their children would not grow up to be tithe payers.  I may be very cynical or even naive, but I think that’s ultimately a response that would get church leaders to listen.  Seriously, fuck those guys.  They are just regular men put into positions of leadership in a manmade religious organization.  They only have as much power as their members are willing to give them.  As long as church members allow them to talk to them in that way, the abuse will continue.

I do think it’s abusive to subject breastfeeding mothers to shame, scorn, or ridicule for daring to feed their babies in public.  If you think the church is right about this, the next time you have a meal, put a blanket over your head or go sit in the bathroom to eat.  Tell me, is that a pleasant way to dine?  Why should mothers and babies have to tolerate that?

It seems to me that this mom is very faithful to her beliefs.  She is exactly the kind of member the LDS church would not want to lose.  She cares enough about the church to want to hear what is said during meetings, even when she’s nursing her child.  While I personally think Mormonism is bullshit, she clearly doesn’t.  I don’t think she’s the kind of church member they’d want to alienate, since she has clearly had several children who will one day pay tithes… that is, if the church doesn’t one day drive them out with their outdated and anti-woman policies.

Churches are definitely losing members lately.  Nowadays, many people are abandoning religion or attending churches that offer more in the way of personal enrichment or entertainment.  I have never attended a Mormon church service, but Bill has.  He tells me they are extremely boring, except perhaps on fast and testimony days, when members get up to testify that the church is true.  I have heard that a number of colorful testimonies have been offered on those Sundays, although in order to enjoy them, you have to be fasting…  I’m not sure that’s a good tradeoff.

I’m sure the church is very important to this mother and her husband.  It’s a pity she didn’t just tell her leaders that she’d find a church where breastfeeding mothers are more respected and men are taught that they need to control their lust.  The onus should not be on women to protect men from “falling”.  The men should be taught to self-regulate.

And… for the last time, breastfeeding babies isn’t sexual.  If you think it is, you’re the one with a problem.

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housekeeping tips, reviews

Repost: Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill Cakes…

Here’s a repost from March 6, 2014, which was also an Epinions repost of a review I wrote in September 2006. I am reposting it because it made me a lot of money on Epinions, and because it had a ton of hits on my original blog. And because I am trying to salvage as many of my old reviews as I can… It may be irrelevant today, but what the hell… maybe someone is interested. Here it is, mostly as/is.

From 2014: This was another lucrative Epinions review that needs a new home.  I must admit, I don’t use these pans anymore, but people loved this review.  I see the price has doubled since I purchased the Bake n’ Fill pans!

In 2021: I left these pans in storage. If I still had them, maybe I might make a project out of baking a cake… however, Bill and I never finish most baked goods. We like them, but our household is just too small!

One of the ads that inspired my purchase.

I watch too much TV. I like to bake. I also spend too much time on the Internet. It was combination of those three elements of my life that led me to buy a Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill bake set. Since I don’t have kids and rarely entertain, there’s really no other reason why I’d be interested in purchasing this product. Nevertheless, I’d seen the low budget ad on TV many times, watching as some faceless woman made beautiful, tempting cakes with cool looking layers in the middle. Inwardly, I oohed and ahhed every time I saw her make a cake that looked like a baseball or filled the inside of a chocolate cake with pudding or fruit. Secretly, I wanted to try making a cool looking cake, too.

Then, one day when I was online, an acquaintance of mine mentioned that she’d gone to the As Seen On TV store at her local mall and bought a set so that she and her toddler daughter could bake n’ fill some cakes together. Bingo! I remembered that there was an As Seen On TV store near my home, too. So I grabbed my husband, Bill, and off we went in search of the pans! I got to the store and looked around for several minutes before I finally saw the Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill bake set tucked away in a corner. Priced at just $19.99 plus tax, the pans were fairly economical. I went straight home to try them out.

The Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill deluxe bake set comes with four pans. There’s a tall pan, a base pan, a dome pan, and an insert pan. I should mention that the Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill bake set also comes in a classic version that only has three pans: tall, base, and insert. When I bought my set, the deluxe version was the only one available in the store. The tall pan reminds me of a bucket. The edges of the base are rounded. The dome pan looks kind of like the end of an egg. It’s rounded on top, so that you can make cakes that are round like balls. The base pan looks just like a shallow cake pan, and the insert pan, which connects to either the dome or tall pans, is basically like a small dome pan with a shelf around it. The insert pan is probably the most important part of the set. You hook it to a larger pan full of batter and it displaces the batter so that you have a hollow area in the main part of your cake. You can also use the insert pan to bake smaller cakes to fill in that hollow area.

After washing all of the components of the set, I decided I wanted to try to make Baked Alaska. The handy instruction booklet that came with the set had a recipe for it, as well as recipes for other cakes. Naturally, the manufacturers want you to use Betty Crocker cake mixes when you use these pans. I prefer to bake from scratch, though, so that’s what I did. I also made my own ice cream for the center. As with all cake pans, it’s important to make sure you grease and flour these pans generously so that the finished products don’t stick.

I followed the instructions for Baked Alaska using the dome cake pan and the insert pan. That part of the process came off without a hitch. I filled the dome pan up to the fill line, screwed on the insert pan, baked the cake, and when it was done and cool, had a perfectly formed hollowed out dome that was ready to be filled with ice cream. Let me state here that it’s very important not to fill the pans past the fill line; if you do, the pans will overflow.

The next part of the process was a little more troublesome. I don’t know why, but the instructions didn’t tell me to make a base cake for the bottom of the Baked Alaska. I wanted to follow instructions, so I didn’t make a base cake on my own. Anyone who’s had Baked Alaska knows that it’s usually covered with meringue, which has to be browned in the oven. After filling my dome cake with ice cream, I flipped it over on to a cookie sheet, covered it with meringue, and stuck it in the oven at 400 degrees. And what happened? You guessed it… there was a big mess! I had better luck the next time I used the pans. I made a base cake, used pudding for the filling and the tall cake pan for the top, and it turned out fine, except I didn’t quite fill the hollow area with enough pudding. I had a little space between the pudding and the cake. I’m sure with practice, I’ll eventually get the process right. I just don’t have enough people in my household to eat all the mistakes!

Making a Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill cake is a process that generally requires planning and patience, depending on how fancy you want to get with your creations. Not only do you have to consider all of the different flavors you want to use for the cake, the center, and the frosting and decorations, but you also have to realize that the different parts of the cake will take different lengths of time to bake. For instance, it will take longer to bake the tall cake with the insert pan than it will to bake the base cake. That’s because the tall cake is bigger. You also have to consider what you want to use for the filling. Do you want to use a different flavor cake? Ice cream? Pudding, custard, or mousse? Fruit? Candy? The sky’s the limit, but you do have to plan first, or you will end up with a mess!

I’m not the most patient person in the world, but I imagine someone who doesn’t mind waiting for and planning their bake n’ fill cakes carefully will not be displeased with the results. While I didn’t have the best luck using the recipes in the instruction booklet, I did like the way the instructions were laid out for actually using the pans. They are well made and surprisingly solid, especially considering the price. I have no trouble cleaning them after using them, and I’ve also never had a problem with cakes sticking to the pans. I wish I could say the same thing about my fancy Calphalon cake pans!

So, the upshot of this review is that the Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill cake pans do work and it is quite possible to make cool looking cakes with them. However, bear in mind that making those cakes will take time, patience, and creativity. If you like to bake from scratch, you’ll have to be somewhat brave, since the recipes in the booklet are designed to work with cake mixes. And, also, since the set consists of four odd shaped pans, you might have to make some extra room in your cabinets for them. I don’t know how often I’ll be using my set… maybe if I ever have kids, if I ever entertain, or if I get bored on a rainy day. But for $19.99 plus tax, the Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill bake set is not a bad addition to my kitchen equipment.

ETA 2021: I see these pans are no longer available on Amazon. If you want them, you might want to check eBay.

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