Sunday, December 30, 2012

Riffday: not with a bang but a blog post

1.  We are in Florida on our biennial family trip.  As always, the weather is not all that great, but we are having a good time anyway. 

2. Dean and my older sister Val are both medical professionals.  Val and her husband are very conservative.  The first morning, the four of us got into a very interesting discussion about the state of medical care in our country.  The best thing about it, in my opinion, was the number of things we agreed on.  I was surprised and happy.  It made me realize (again) how divisive and counter-productive all this political posturing is.  If the four of us, who are diametrically opposed on many issues, can find things to agree on regarding such a controversial topic, there is hope.

3.  But I've also been surprised at how obsessed the two of them are with politics.  Normally on these trips we don't discuss politics, because none of us is all that interested.  Or at least, we didn't used to be.  Usually, we tell stories about our adorable children and we gossip about our relatives and family friends, and we talk about movies and books and TV shows, and whatever else we can think of.  But this year it keeps coming back to politics.  Ick.

4.  I already know what my new year's resolution is going to be:  I'm not going to buy any books in 2013.  And if you know me, you'll know that is impossible.  It's not gonna happen.  But I'm saying it anyway, so maybe I will at least make it several months.  This is inspired by a) me trying to put away my books from last semester and not even coming close to finding enough shelf space, and b) while doing that, remembering how many books we own that I haven't read and that I want to read.  There are dozens.  I definitely do not need to buy any more books. Oddly, this resolution feels scarier to me than any resolution I've made in recent memory.  And I'm thinking of three books that I "need" to run out and buy tomorrow before it gets to be 2013.  Ha.

5.  I'm kind of bummed that I haven't heard back about my thesis revisions yet.  I wanted to be able to enjoy the holidays with the knowledge that I am done.  But apparently my thesis committee didn't share the same vision, because I haven't heard back from any of them yet.  The deadline for getting it all done is January 18th, so there's still time.  I have no idea how much more work they'll want me to do:  a little? a lot? or--fingers crossed--none at all.

6.We went to see The Hobbit.  This was not a small thing.  All four of us adored the Lord of the Rings movies, and we've seen them at least half a dozen times, maybe even a dozen.  Dean and Nell are huge fans of the books (my personal opinion, and I may not admit to actually typing this if pressed, is that these are the only book adaptation movies I've ever seen that I thought were better than the books.)(OK, so shoot me.)  Anyway.  The Hobbit.  We were a bit disappointed.  It had some good stuff in it.  But there wasn't nearly enough story to support that long a movie, so it ended up seeming like a typical holiday blockbuster action movie instead of something unique.  As a holiday blockbuster, it's not a bad movie.  As a prequel to FOTR, it was kind of lame.  Bright spot:  Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo, is terrific.

7.  Les Mis:  what's your opinion?  I haven't seen it yet, because I stayed home with my three youngest nieces while everyone else went.  Although I make exceptions for certain movies (like The Hobbit), I'm not that big a film fanatic-- I'm usually content to watch them at home.  Do I need to see this one on the big screen?  I do love the music.

Monday, December 24, 2012

It Came upon a Midnight Clear

Six years ago, I wrote a post about Christmas and why it is important to me, and since I pretty much said what I wanted to say back then, I've never done another one.  But I re-read it last week and realized that, slightly updated, it is worth repeating.  So here it is.  Happy Christmas/Festivus/Solstice/Hannukkah/Kwanzaa or whatever you choose to celebrate.

Christmas always reminds me why I love Christianity, even though I'm not a very orthodox Christian anymore. If you can get a fresh perspective on it every once in awhile, there's still so much Christianity has to say about our world-- and Christmas is the best example, in my opinion. The story of God, the big guy with the infinite cosmic power, deciding to make his grand appearance on earth in the form of a baby (a BABY!!) is such a wonderfully bizarre concept that you just can't help but appreciate it. I'm not even talking about taking the story literally, it's the concept I love, even if you just read it as a Judeo-Christian cultural myth.

In an age where we are being told on a daily basis that the answer to the world's problems is more guns, more guns, and more guns, here is (according to Christian theology) God's answer to the world's problems: a tiny, helpless, baby, born to an unwed mother from a poor, politically oppressed people. He had no political power, no armies, no guns.  He never held office, he never won an election, he never showed much interest at all in politics.  He changed the world anyway.  We've heard the story so many times that it's hard to remember how strange it is, how utterly confounding.

...the world in solemn stillness lay / to hear the angels sing....

Saturday, December 22, 2012

YALit: the rest of the semester

So I reviewed the first half of the semester of Young Adult Literature in this post and this one.  Here are the rest of them.  I almost scheduled this to post next week after Christmas, then thought I might as well go ahead and post it now.  We survived the end of the world, after all.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers.  Steve Harmon gets involved in a convenience store robbery that ends up in a shooting (not by him).  When the story opens, Steve has been denied bail and is in jail waiting for his trial.  He's seventeen, but he's in an adult prison.  Our class was divided about whether or not he knew what was happening when the robbery began--it's not exactly clear.  So it's hard to know if he's just a completely innocent bystander getting the classic raw deal, or if he made a stupid mistake and will be a wiser man after the experience (I thought the latter).  It's very absorbing, but I have to tell you, I hated it.  I hate reading about kids in prison.  Must be the Mom thing. It makes me sick to my stomach. The thing that makes Monster so fascinating and gets it a partial reprieve is that it is written as a screenplay.  Steven is a budding film director, and he writes the events of his life as if they are a film.  It's fascinating what he is able to do with point-of-view and juxtaposing different events.  Recommended if you're not a mom.

Gifts by Ursula LeGuin.  LeGuin and I go way back.  I read the Earthsea Trilogy when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and then in high school I read the Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.  All of which were excellent, and highly recommended.  This one, not so much.  For one thing, it takes a very long time to get started.  If I hadn't been required to read it for class, I would have given up after about 15-20 pages--it didn't get really interesting until somewhere around p. 75.  

Orrec and Gry are childhood friends who live in the typical pre-industrial psuedo-medieval world of all fantasy novels.  Their families have hereditary gifts that are sometimes passed to their children, sometimes not.  Orrec is supposed to get the gift of destruction, but it is so long in coming that by the time he thinks he receives it, he is old enough to know he doesn't want it.  Gry has the gift of being able to influence animals, which her mother uses to great effect by helping the local clans to hunt-- in their subsistence culture, an important role.  But Gry is so sensitive that she refuses to help anyone hunt down an animal.  Both of them face interesting challenges as they try to figure out their gifts and how to use them, and the relationship between Orrec and his father is fascinating.  But LeGuin really disappointed me by not seeming to recognize an obvious use for the contrary-side of Orrec's gift, which I can't say anything more about without major spoilers.  If you like fantasy and you like YA lit, this is definitely worth reading, but otherwise, probably not.

ShipBreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi - Another fascinating one.  This one is set in a post-global-warming-meltdown world.  Nailer, the main character, lives with his alcoholic, abusive father on a beach where the local economy is run by gangs who make their living by stripping resources from the foundered oil tankers resting off-shore.  After a huge storm, Nailer and a friend come across a fully-loaded yacht that has nearly infinite possibilities for salvage-- one room has enough stuff in it to keep them fed for years.

The only problem is that there is a young woman, barely alive, in one of the staterooms.  Do they let her live?  (spoiler: yes, they do.) and then what do they do with her?  This is a fascinating study of what happens to human beings when the normal societal pressures to act ethically have fallen apart.  Nailer is a really interesting protagonist--Bacigalupi doesn't take the easy answers.  So in spite of my antipathy toward another post-apocalyptic novel, I have to say this one is worth reading.  There is a sequel, but from the reviews I've read of it, it doesn't sound nearly as good.

Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin.  This is one weird book.  I mean that in the nicest possible way.  It's about a young woman who spends four (five?) days out of every month as a boy.  I enjoyed the thought-experiment aspect of it, but I didn't think it was particularly thoughtfully done.  McLaughlin went for the easy ending (and the ending that could be stretched out into a series, which sure enough, has happened) rather than the thoughtful ending.  How much truly mind-bending stuff about gender could you do with a plot like this?

But she seems content to let the opportunity go by and just go for humor and a love triangle (quadrangle? do you count the four days per month as a separate person?).  I thought of a better ending, and one of my classmates thought up a much better ending.  If we can do it, why couldn't she?  Interesting and entertaining, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it.  And by the way, you could never get away with teaching this book in the classroom in our conservative town.  Even if it weren't for all the gender stuff, there is an actual sex scene toward the end (not particularly detailed, but still).  Not happening.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.  American Born Chinese is a graphic novel.  I've read a couple of others (Bone, Persepolis, Contract with God), and I enjoy them.  But I'm not a particularly visual person, so much of the drawing is lost on me.  I'm too busy reading the words to look at the pictures.  Some of my classmates were more attuned to the visual aspects of this book, and they were able to point out some great stuff that you don't get if you're not looking.

Anyway.  It's three inter-twining stories:  the Monkey King of Chinese legend, who is kicked out of heaven because he's not wearing shoes and wants some revenge; Jin Wang, a young Chinese boy who deals with what unfortunately is probably typical treatment at a school where he is the only Asian American; and Danny, a Caucasian kid who has a crazy Chinese cousin who comes to visit just often enough to drive him crazy.  The stories seem completely unrelated until about two-thirds of the way through, when suddenly the collide in a way that is surprising and satisfying.  Really enjoyed this one, although I suspect it would be treated with suspicion by someone who is native Chinese; it's a pretty thoroughly westernized story.

Into the Wild- by Jon Krakauer.  This one will get its own post in a week or two.  It's a non-fiction story about Chris McCandless, who decides to put his ideals in action by spending a summer living off the land in Alaska and dies in the process.  It's not quite the story I was expecting.  I read the original article Krakauer wrote for Outside magazine way back when (he died in 1992), and I was fascinated then.  This version, which is both more complete and fixes a misconception written into the earlier article, is even more interesting.  One of the things that interested me the most was the discussion in our classroom.  There were three or four students who had ideals similar to McCandless, several more complete cynics, and then the professor and me-- who considered ourselves to be older and wiser, but maybe we're just older and more cynical.  Highly recommended, and like I said, another post is coming, although it will be more about idealism and compromise than about the book.

There you have it.  It was a great class, one of my favorites out of my two and a half years of graduate school.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

a long, meandering post about video games and poetry. At least it's not about Christmas.

Just by chance--because believe me, this was the last thing on our minds when we were planning our family--we have a kid on either side of the video game divide.  When Nell was young, there were plenty of people that had Playstations or Nintendos, but there were also plenty more people who didn't.  It was unremarkable that we didn't have a game station at our house and didn't want one.  But by the time MadMax came along (he is seven years younger than Nell), the world had changed.  (cue:  I feel it in the water.  I feel it in the earth.  Much that once was is lost.)(If you got that, you are totally my friend.)(not that you aren't anyway, if you're here reading this nonsense.)

Anyway.  We finally gave in and bought a PS2 six or seven years ago when none of MadMax's friends would come to our house anymore because there was "nothing to do."  I still remember the exact moment I gave in.  It was after two of his friends sat on our couch for nearly an hour muttering under their breath how boring it was at our house. Finally they came up to me--over an hour before their parents were due to pick them up--and politely said that they were ready to go home and could I take them, please?

Now, I am not opposed to video games in general.  In fact, I lost about six months of my life in the mid-80s to a game that I think was called MineDigger, although when I googled it just now, the current version is so far removed from that old 2-color maze game that it makes me wonder if I'm remembering the right name.  And Tetris.  Oh my word, did I play Tetris by the hour.  It made my little OCD heart happy.  Even today I'm sure if I downloaded Tetris to my iPhone I'd play it by the hour. 

So I get it-- the entertainment value of something that is both relaxing and mentally stimulating at the same time. I'm not going to preach here.  In fact, now that they can play each other online, talking away over their headsets, you can't even really accuse them of being the old sterotypical anti-social loner gamers who lose touch with other human beings.  MadMax talks to his friends way more now over that headset than he did when he would have had to pick up the phone and call.

I'm just struck by how different the world is going to be by the time these kids get to be the ones who are running things-- maybe forty or fifty years from now.  They are so used to the intense mental/visual stimulation that the online world provides.  I can see how it would be hard to unplug.  If you've been in a world of color, light, noise, action, and intense scenarios, of course reading a book is going to seem unbearably boring.  I think more and more of our world is going to take place online.  It might even be kind of fun-- imagine online banking where your avatar walks into a bank and speaks with a virtual teller.  Matrix, here we come. 

I'm not sure it's a bad thing.  Did you know that two hundred years ago, novels were seen as the downfall of civilization?  No one had the patience for poetry anymore, no one valued the slow, careful reading that poetry required.  Novels were going to be the demise of all that is good in the world.

And they were one sign of the demise of a particular kind of civilization, but there have been some pretty dang fine, sophisticated novels written since then.  Then the movies came along, and that was going to be the end of civilization, and then television, and now video games.  And yet who hasn't marveled at the artistry of a really good film, or the intelligence in a snappy, smart, funny round of dialogue in a well-written TV show?

Sure, it's not the same thing as sitting down with Hemingway or Tolstoy, but is it the demise of civilization?  Or is it just new?  I haven't played any of the current crop of video games, but I suspect that there is some true creative, artistic merit in what is being done in some of them--and I suspect that more is to come. 

Which makes me wonder about the value of having spent the last year+ of my life working on a thesis about Ulysses.  It's 600-ish pages (depending on which edition you buy) of densely written, complex prose that is brilliantly, intensely mind-blowing.  But first of all you have to read it, which is no simple task.  And I can tell you from experience that you don't really start to get it until you've read it two or three times.  I finished my third reading last summer, and I've barely begun to comprehend it.  I'd really like to read it again, but who has the time?

I made time because it was the perfect thesis project for me-- allowing me to combine my techie-side and my literary side.  But is anyone going to read Ulysses a hundred years from now?  Hardly anyone reads it now.  It's far too heavy for any but the most determined of readers.  I think that kind of complex novel writing is going the way of the dodo bird, the same way long, epic poems did.  There's Infinite Jest, I suppose, but I wonder how many people actually read the whole thing.  Probably not as many as say they did.  I confess I didn't finish it.  It just didn't hold my interest.  (although I've always thought that someday I would go back and try again.) 

Whoa.  off-track.  Anyway.  Has anyone outside of a classroom read the entirety of Milton's Paradise Lost in the past hundred years?  or Keats' Endymion?  Or even in a classroom?  I only had to read excerpts of either of them.  Is that such a bad thing?  I listened to a clip that a friend of mine posted on Facebook yesterday (the youtube link is here) about the way education has changed in the past hundred years.  It's long (11 minutes*), but interesting if you have the time.  He (Sir Kenneth Robinson) makes the point that traditionally, a large component of being an educated person was familiarity with certain literary and artistic works, the Canon of Western Civilization. 

But that no longer seems necessary or useful nowadays.  With the explosion of resources available in the twenty-first century, it's just impossible to be familiar with everything, and any attempt to create a list of what everyone "should" know will by definition be slanted toward someone's prejudice about what is worth knowing.  Works by dead white males?  Women? transgender? racial/ethnic perspectives?  The only way to be all-inclusive is to create a list that's too long to be of any use.

In a way it makes me sad.  I remember a couple of years ago, Nell and I walked into a gallery at the Seattle Art Museum.  On the wall in front of us was a contemporary painting that I had never seen before, but I immediately knew that it was Europa and the Bull, one of the more standard tropes of Greek mythology.  Which was confirmed when we walked up to it and the name of it was, sure enough, "Europa and the Bull."  Nell had no idea.  I felt a small moment of loss, because I loved mythology, and I'd like for her to have the same experience.  But did she need to know to appreciate the painting?  I think not, because clearly it was a woman with a bull, and the implications are there whether or not you know about the myth.

This is getting way too long.  Not sure that I even really have a point to make.  Just thinking.

*And even that is a sign of the times-- eleven minutes would have been considered short not too many years ago. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Riffday: I don't know if there'll be snow but have a cup of cheer

1. Remember I told you that I knew the puppy chewing stage would get worse?  It did.  It is.  Oh my lord we cannot find enough stuff for her to chew on.  If you have ideas, let me know.  Unfortunately, she doesn't like rawhide bones.  Padded envelopes are a favorite, which is convenient since due to online Christmas ordering, it seems that several come per week.  I've taken to giving her kindling off the woodpile just so she won't drive me crazy. 

2. I consider myself a Christian, albeit a thoroughly unorthodox one, and Christmas is easily my favorite of the church holidays.  But can I just say for the record that no, I do not mind if someone says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas?  I have friends who are Jewish, Wiccan, atheist, and who-knows-what-else and I'm actually really glad there is a neutral way to wish them the joy of the season.  Celebrate it however you want-- light a candle on a menorah, believe in Santa, burn a yule log, head up to the ski slopes, go to church, fast and pray, sit with a Jameson next to the fire.  I hope everybody has the kind of holiday season they enjoy.  Happy Holidays.

3. I admit I listen to some strange stuff for a 51-year-old.  I actually like hip-hop. Well, some of it, anyway. I like to have something with a beat when I'm on the treadmill or doing my workout.  But you know how you always hear lyrics wrong?  Like back in junior high when we all thought the guy was from Georgia when he sang "my eyes adored ya"? (yeah, I know, showing my age there.)  The whole problem with hip hop lyrics is that when you think you're hearing the lyrics wrong, you're really not.  After weeks of thinking, that can't be what he's saying, I finally googled it today, and yup, he is saying that. I don't even want to think about what it means.  (Originally this included the lyrics I was trying to figure out, but I deleted them because this is a family-friendly blog. usually. sort of.) 

4. I have successfully conditioned the chickens to go out in the snow. *pats self on back* It took three days of hand-carrying them out to the usual spot where they get their scratch.  This morning when I went down to the coop, even though it was about 25 degrees, they were all out in their yard, waiting for me to let them out so they could roam, standing right out there on the snow.  :-) 

5. The only problem with this is that they want to roam someplace where it is warm, so if the garage door is up, they like to hang out in there, cheerfully sharing their chicken by-products with us.  The garage is also where Sadie goes when she is in trouble.  You can probably see this coming.  This afternoon I found her terrorizing a poor chicken who was huddled in a corner behind Dean's exercise bike, shivering.  Fortunately no harm was done.  I did check before I shut her in there, but apparently not carefully enough.

6. Thesis revisions are coming along.  It's taking longer than I anticipated, because I am so dang tired of working on it.  It's hard to force myself to do it.  But I'm pleased with what I've done, and I'm anticipating that it will be finished tonight and e-mailed back to my advisor tomorrow after a final read-through.  I checked in with the grad school and the deadline actually isn't until January 18th, so I have plenty of time.  I just don't want to be working on it in January.

7. Peace and healing to the families and the community in Newtown.  I'm just speechless with horror every time I think about it.  I originally had something longer here, but I think I'll just leave it at that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Defense = Done

I cannot tell you how stressed I was for that damn defense.  It was Monday at 3, and I was wound up so tight that I could barely sit still.  The proof:  I've spent the two days since barely able to get up off the couch with a migraine that hasn't responded to any of the many pharmaceuticals I've thrown at it.  But.  It went pretty well.  Not perfectly-- apparently I got pretty far off topic-- but they didn't ask me anything I couldn't answer, and that was what I was worried about.  I suppose it is true of any subject, but especially with an enormous, complex work like Ulysses, they could easily have come up with two hours of questions that I would have had to answer:  I don't know.  I don't know.  I don't know. 

But they didn't.   They stayed pretty well within the bounds of my thesis, asked me to go into more detail on several points, and had a number of recommendations for revisions (the only major one is something I knew about before I went in).  So I've got several days of work left to do, but the defense is over, and went well enough that it won't need to be repeated.  And I'm still un-winding.  I suspect it may be several weeks before I truly relax-- we're headed to Florida the week after Christmas for our bi-annual family reunion with my sisters and their families, so maybe that will do the trick. 

Aside:  since we are almost all word freaks around here, I'll tell you I just googled bi-annual to make sure it meant "every other year" and apparently it can mean both "every other year" and "twice a year."  Unfortunately, we do not have family reunions twice a year, just every other year.  Weird, yes?  You would think there would be a term that meant every other year.

And that's it for me for today.  More soon.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

woof, meow, cluck: a pet update

So, believe or not, there is a brief break in the tension around here.  I turned in my very last paper yesterday-- wait, let me say that again, lest you miss its import:  I TURNED IN MY VERY LAST PAPER YESTERDAY, my final project for the young adult lit class.  Except my thesis, of course, but even that is moving along.  Defense on December 10th. Pray.

But since I TURNED IN MY FINAL PAPER yesterday (did I mention that I TURNED IN MY LAST PAPER YESTERDAY?), and I'm still dang sick--which I haven't mentioned here, but I've complained about everywhere else, so why not let you guys know, too?-- I'm giving myself today off.  Ergo, you get a post.  And fair warning:  pet excrement discussed in detail in this post.  You've been warned.

The puppy first.  She is so adorable.  We are all in love with her.  She's so much more snuggly than our older dog.  Of course, we snuggle plenty with Jazz, too, just because she's been our faithful friend for eleven years now.  But Sadie would like nothing better than to wiggle into your lap and just stay there all day long while you rub her tummy and her velvety ears.  Well, except to spend the day fetching a tennis ball.

She's become completely obsessed with fetch.  We had black labs when I was a kid, so I know about this.  It's not new to me.  Cricket, the black lab we had when I was in high school, would fetch all afternoon when we had people over.  When one person got tired, someone else would take over.  Cricket never got tired.  Sadie is the puppy version of that.  You have to watch out for her, because she's little, so after about 15 minutes her chest is heaving and she's slowing down, but she will never take a break unless you make her.

So then we walk around the back yard for five minutes or so while she gets her breath back, and then start again.  If you stop, take the ball away from her and put it away, she sits and stares at it (or the place where you've put it) for about twenty minutes before she finally gives up.  Usually this means the ball is sitting on top of the woodpile, and she stares soulfully at it, whining a little (or a lot).  We call this Worshiping At The Altar Of The Tennis Ball.  You can almost see her think as she drags herself away:  well darn it they're not going to throw that thing anymore for awhile.  sigh.  I guess I better go find something to chew on

Also, (*drum-roll*) she is housetrained.  (and did I mention that I turned in my last paper yesterday?)  She goes to the door and whines when she needs to go out.  So as long as someone is paying attention, she is a big girl now.  No accidents in a couple of weeks.  (I am seriously knocking on wood right now)

Jazz, the elderly dog, is really good with her.  We were a bit worried, because Jazz has had trouble playing nicely with other dogs in the past.  She is not the kind of dog that you would take to a dog park.  She has initiated fights and intimidated sweet little lapdogs, and even occasionally bitten people.  We are very careful with her.

But after ignoring Sadie for the first 48 hours or so, Jazz has actually turned into a pretty good doggy mentor.  I think that's the main reason that Sadie made it through housetraining so fast (we were warned to expect it to take till six months at least, and she is four months).  Jazz doesn't do her business in the house, so Sadie doesn't either.  Jazz is definitely Alpha dog.  Sadie waits patiently while Jazz gets fed first, or goes through the door first, or gets a treat first.

I'm not sure I've ever told you about Cinder, our seventeen-year-old cat.  She doesn't look that old, but underneath her furriness, she is fragile and a bit decrepit.  And also losing it.  She stopped using the litter box (except just often enough that we know she still knows it's there).  But at least she only pees in one spot. (and yes, I did try putting a litter box in that spot, but she just moved over about six inches). So now we have Wee-Wee Pads (not kidding, that's really what they're called, which is the only thing that makes this bearable, if you ask me.  We get to have entire conversations about wee-wee pads).  It works pretty well, she hasn't had an accident off the pads since we started using them.

And the chickens.  It's cold around here, but other than their coop, we don't have any place indoors where they can live.  So Dean spent an entire weekend insulating their coop with styrofoam insulation, the kind that is backed with silver foil.  And we put up a heat lamp.  It is toasty in there-- and a little bit like a 70s disco bar.  That silver foil packs a punch.

Unfortunately, it packed a little bit too much of one, because the first time it snowed and the ladies decided to stay inside for the day, they discovered a secret voracious appetite for silver-backed styrofoam.  Once little bits of foil and styrofoam starting showing up in their .... well, you know...  we decided something had to be done. (We do call it the s-word around here, because what else are you going to call chicken poop? but this is a family friendly blog, so I'm being polite. sort of.) 

So once again the patient Dean spent his day off repairing all the damage they had done, and then tacking up visqueen (plastic sheeting) over it, which seems to have solved the problem.  I can't even find any peck marks on the plastic.  They're supposed to stop laying when the weather gets cold (or the daylight hours get short, you hear both theories), but so far we are still getting 4-6 eggs per day, so I think they are happy.

And that's the news from here.  Hope you are all doing well.  And don't forget to say a prayer/send vibes/whatever on December 10th for my thesis defense.  I'm trying not to be terrified.  But I kind of am.

and by the way, did I mention that I turned in my last paper yesterday?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

a thanksgiving post, I mean link

I feel bad having a grinch-y post up for Thanksgiving, but when I tried to write a better one, it kept coming out snarky.  So here is a link to the one I wrote a few years ago.  I've had a nasty virus for over a week now and I'm just starting to come out of it (thankful!) so maybe that is why I need an attitude adjustment.  Hope you are warm and snug with your loved ones today, or if you're not, that you have some other way to enjoy a nice fall day.  Hugs from me, and a virtual piece of pecan pie. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Cooking Grinch, part one

There are certain public opinions that become so strongly held at some particular time that they seem supremely self-evident, and those who disagree are automatically wrong.  For example (granted, a goofy one):  If you get a bunch of guys together and ask them if they wear boxers or briefs, all it takes is one person mentioning "tighty whities," and the discussion is ended.  No one is going to say that they prefer briefs once the "tighty whities" card has been played.  No matter that there are perfectly legitimate reasons to prefer briefs over boxers (boxers get all bunched up around your thighs, MadMax told me the first time he tried them)(although he wears them now).  The simple invocation of that phrase ends the discussion.

I feel a bit like that when I read the blogs about cooks who seem to spend their life in the kitchen these days making everything from scratch.  It has become the gold standard to bake your own bread, grow your own herbs, roll your own pasta.  In certain circles, if you say you'd just as soon buy Ronzoni, it is immediately assumed that encourage your children to eat chemicals and pesticides for after school snack, and for fun you probably pump pure carbon dioxide and methane into the air in your backyard, because that's what shipping your pasta from one side of the country to the other does.

I don't mean to disparage the whole foods movement, I think it's a great idea.  I'm even on board with it to a certain extent.  I don't mean to argue about the buy local phenomenon-- it's terrific.  (But I think you better pick where you live before you commit to eating only food that's produced within 100 miles of your home, because where I live, that means you wouldn't be able to eat anything fresh for eight (nine?) months out of the year.)

But here's my problem with the whole thing:  I don't want to spend that much time in the kitchen.  I am not one of those people who enjoys spending all afternoon cutting and chopping and simmering.  If I spent all afternoon in the kitchen, you'd have to peel me off the ceiling.  I don't hate to cook, but I don't love it either.  My spouse doesn't have time to cook, so we're stuck with me.

I'm good for 30-45 minutes in the kitchen before I get so bored I want to pull my hair out.  Which means that I am not going to make my own cheese.  I am not going to make my own vinegar.  I have absolutely no interest in churning my own butter, rolling out my own tortillas, or canning my own produce (tried it--three years in a row--and it is definitely not for me). I know these things are better when they're made from scratch.  You don't have to argue with me about that, I've tasted it with my very own mouth.  But at our house, we have to choose between food that can be made quickly, and mom going to the loony bin.  I choose sanity.

I keep wondering to myself, isn't that why we're in the 21st century?  So we don't have to spend our lives slaving away at all the little things that make life seem like pure drudgery?  Why would I want to chain myself to a stove?

But then I have to remind myself that there are (obviously) people who do get a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction out of spending hours in the kitchen.  And they probably felt guilty about it back in the 80s when everything was about "freedom from the kitchen," i.e., convenience food and twenty-minute meals and semi-homemade.  Just the way I feel guilty now because I really don't care if we occasionally have pizza delivered, or if I start my spaghetti sauce with a jar of pre-made marinara, or if I pull out a pan of Rhodes frozen cinnamon rolls when MadMax has a friend spend the night. (my lord, have you tasted those things? who cares that they're not from scratch?) 

But here are my exceptions to the 45 minute limit:  holidays, and cooking with friends and/or family.  And since those two often go together, I'm good this week.  Nell and I are making pies (2 apple, 2 pumpkin, pecan, chocolate pecan, cherry, strawberry rhubarb), grape salad, appetizers, and butternut squash (Nell's specialty, and she really is one of those who enjoys chopping and simmering) for our multi-family Thanksgiving on Thursday.  Have a great holiday.

One man's toxic sludge is another man's potpourri. 
 --Jim Carrey as the Grinch

Friday, November 16, 2012

and it's off to the readers

Just e-mailed the next revision to my three readers.  I'm so brain dead that's all I have to say.  Have a nice weekend.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Reading Report: Looking for Alaska, plus other long-winded thoughts

If anything, this week is worse than last, because I went to Texas to visit my mom for the holiday weekend (no class on Monday).  The tickets were purchased months ago when I thought my thesis would be practically finished by now-- my original plan (made at the beginning of the semester) was to send it off to my readers on November 1st.  But I couldn't change the tickets, and it was a good trip, I'm glad I went. 

Now I have a paper due tomorrow, and I absolutely must send my thesis to my readers by Friday-- my advisor tells me I might be able to get away with sending it Monday, but it is generally the accepted practice to give your readers two weeks to read and comment, and I have to have my thesis turned into the graduate school a week before my defense. The defense is December 10, meaning I must have it turned in by December 3, two weeks before December 3rd is November 19th (next Monday), and if I'm going to have any time at all to edit it based on their comments, that means sending it to them this Friday.

SO WHY THE HELL AM I SITTING HERE TYPING A BLOG POST?  And that is an excellent question, but I'm still taking the YALit class, and I just finished Looking for Alaska, and I wanted to write something out while it's fresh in my mind.  Which takes a bit of backing up.

Last fall, when I was doing the independent study on Modernist poetry, I wrote my final paper on the first third of H.D.'s (Hilda Doolittle's) long poem cycle, Trilogy, which is called The Walls Do Not Fall.  She wrote it in England during World War II when it must have seemed that the world was ending.  It's about being a woman poet, a female visionary, in a world that has no use for visions, femininity, or poems.  The Walls Do Not Fall is about figuring out how to survive in that world--not how to change it (she moves on to that, at least partly, in the second and third sections), but how to manage living in that world as it is.

She has some specific strategies, such as choosing carefully to whom you will give your allegiance--in a hierarchical world, it is important to make sure that you are following the leader(s) you want to follow.  Like Joseph Campbell's image of the ladder on the wall-- you don't want to climb and climb and climb a ladder, only to find out that it was propped against the wrong wall and ends up someplace you didn't really want to go (I'm mixing stuff up here, H.D. doesn't know a dang thing about Joseph Campbell)(and I don't know much, either, other than watching a couple of his TV shows about the archetypal hero. I just heard the ladder example years ago from a therapist).

Anyway.  Back to Looking for Alaska (author-John Green).  It struck me that this is what I love about Young Adult literature.  Literary fiction for adults tends to be about analyzing the world, how awful it is, how there is no hope and and everything is futile.  Unless it is rebuilt from the ground up without sexism and racism and classism, there's nothing to be done but despair. But YALit, at least the good stuff, is often about how to manage living in that world--not how to change it, but how to find hope and joy and beauty in the world as it is.   

Looking for Alaska is that type of book.  Miles Halter decides he has had enough of his boring, nerdy life in public school and goes off to a prep school to find the Great Perhaps.  It has definite overtones of A Separate Peace and The Secret History, but it is its own book.  It's occasionally laugh out loud funny, often heart-rending.  It gets a little hokey at the end, even by my standards with my well-known love for hokey-ness, but still. Even though it discusses a very difficult issue, and the teens involved are thoroughly flawed human beings (aren't we all), it still offers a way of dealing with the world, of continuing on even in the face of some very bad stuff.  Rather than just ending in despair, it offers some tools for continuing to live. 

Good book.  Worth reading. 

Saturday, November 03, 2012


first draft finally finally FINALLY done and turned in. about three minutes ago. and only two days late. I'm going to bed to sleep 12 hours.  except I'm so wound up at the moment that I probably won't be able to sleep.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

until--we meet--again

I don't usually reach this point until later in the semester, but I'm buried.  I met with my thesis advisor yesterday and gave him the extended outline I was working on Tuesday night (when I wrote that last post), and he was encouraging.  But he made it clear how much work I have to do between now and about a month from now.  So I need to spend considerably less time online.  Think kindly of me every once in awhile.

See you on the other side.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

grinding it out

You know that stage you hit in any major writing project where you start wondering what the heck it is you're doing, and has anybody ever written anything this boring, and why did I ever think this was a good topic to write about?  Yeah, that stage.  I'm there.  This thesis is the worst thesis anyone has ever written, I'm sure of it.  But I'm doing it.  It's getting there.  It might even get done on time.  I never, ever missed a deadline when I was in school the first time around, but this time my record is not so good.  I've needed extensions on half a dozen of the papers I've written since I've been here.  So that on-time thing isn't as automatic as it used to be.

We got about 4" of snow last night, and we're supposed to get 2-3" more tonight.  It's not at all uncommon for us to have a dusting of snow in October that melts away by 10 o'clock the next morning, but it is unusual to have several inches.  I am not happy about this.  My kids, on the other hand, are thrilled.  MadMax and a couple of his friends got out their skis and skiied down the hill onto his homemade ramp all afternoon.  Nell and Dean went cross-country skiing tonight.  I am the lone grump.

The chickens are on my side, though.  I went down to check on them about 9 this morning, and the clean, untrampled snow inside their area showed that they had no interest in finding out about this mysterious cold white stuff on the ground (usually they are out and about by 7:30 or 8).  I refilled their water and left them alone.  When I went back down this afternoon around 3:30, they were still sitting inside the coop, and about 10% of the insulation inside the coop had been shredded.  They are bored.  Those silly birds.  I managed to coax them out with some scratch, but it didn't last very long. 

Sadie is much improved.  She even scratched (gently) on the door today to go out.  She still has accidents, but they are down to 1-2 per day, instead of 4-6.  And actually, come to think of it, she didn't have any today.  She's still chewing everything in sight, but that's normal.  She'll still be doing that for several months.  Maybe years.  We had black labs when I was growing up and they chewed everything, all the time, until they were about two.

And that's it for me.  Hope it is still warm and sunny where you are.  Send me thesis-writing-vibes if you can.  Here is a picture of Jazz and Sadie in the snow:

Friday, October 19, 2012

RIP Big Tex

I was so sad to see online a few minutes ago that Big Tex burned down, the mascot of the Texas State Fair.  I spent the first twelve years of my life *hating* to go to the fair-- it was always hot and dusty and there were too many cows and tractors and other boring things.

But somewhere around the time I started high school, my attitude started to change.  I have a whole section of my brain devoted to happy times at the fair, including several visits with our kids, and a visit to Big Tex was always part of the occasion.  I haz sad, as they say.

Probably if I dug through my photos I could come up with a pic, but if you google Big Tex, it will be much faster.  He was about 50' tall and had a scratchy audio voice that fired up about every half hour:  "WELCOME... TO... THE... STATE... FAIR... OF... TEXAS" that then went on to other assorted banalities that no one ever listened to. He was so much a part of the fair that the Texas State Fair website is  He was a good man, Big Tex.  I suspect he will be rebuilt, but still it's a sad day.

Ah.  Here's the link to the story in the Dallas News, with pictures. 

In other news....  I can't even believe how much time I've spent with this dang puppy the last two weeks.  Some of it has been priceless, of course, but a lot of it is just me and her-- her wishing I'd pay more attention to her and me wishing she'd pay less attention to me.  She's a sweetheart, and she's pretty easy as puppies go.  But it has been a long week, with not nearly as much accomplished as should be.  (and major shout-out to Nell, who has taken over on the days I'm in UTown).

The sugar fast is going fine.  In fact, I haven't even really had any sugar cravings until today-- the main problem is just remembering that I'm doing it.  Four days down, three to go.  The only thing I've really missed is flavored yogurt.

Y'all have a nice weekend. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sugar, ahh, honey honey

I've been dismayed about the amount of sugar I eat for a couple of months now, but my weight has been pretty stable recently, so I wasn't really worried about it too much.  But then yesterday I bought a vegan raspberry oat bar at the gourmet food store in UTown.  It was about 3" square, and it was delicious.  I ate the whole thing.  And afterward felt practically nauseated.  It may have been vegan and whole-grain and low-fat and lord knows what other healthy things, but it must have been chock full of sugar, too.  Ick.

As I was driving home-- lots of time to think on a two-hour drive-- I decided to revive an old custom of mine that I haven't done in years.  I used to take a week-long break from sugar on a pretty regular basis.  It's not all that hard to do, as long as the week doesn't include Thanksgiving or Christmas or your birthday.  Anything that comes up, you just remind yourself, it's only a week.

So I started today.  I told Nell I was doing it last night, and she immediately agreed to do it with me.  We'll see how it goes.  So far it hasn't been a problem.  This is only processed sugar, so fruit is fine.  So instead of an almond butter and jam sandwich* for lunch, I had almond butter and banana slices, which might actually be better.  The only problem today has been remembering that I'm doing it-- I had a bite of MadMax's snack after school before I even thought about it.  (*on whole grain bread, because you don't have to tell me, white flour is almost as bad as white sugar.)

And one other thing-- I've told you before some of the search phrases people have used when they end up here.  Usually they're pretty boring or obvious, like "back to school" or "Aunt May's bean soup" or something like that.  But this week somebody got here after entering the search phrase "photos of aunt in toilet."  Not kidding.  Who takes pictures of their aunt in the toilet?  Who gets in a toilet?  *shakes head*

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Trouble: that starts with T & that rhymes with P & that stands for Poo

So I probably don't need to tell you much more than that for you to know how house-training is going.  Sadie is still completely adorable (luckily for her), and improvements have been made:  we can go out every half hour instead of every 15 minutes.  But she still definitely does not get the point.

Warning:  TMI about canine scatological function in the next two paragraphs.  Skip if you are uninterested.  You've been warned.

On at least a half dozen occasions we've dutifully taken her outside, let her do her thing, and brought her back in only to find that she wasn't quite DONE.  We've all cleaned up messes.  We've lost count of the number of messes we've cleaned up.  But she can go through the night now, and sometimes through a nap lasting a couple of hours, so she is progressing. 

Sunday night we had friends over for dinner, and we were all standing around the appetizers with glasses of wine in hand.  Sadie snuck in the back and made a big mess right behind one of our guests.  The stink was immediately apparent.  Excuse me, could you move to the other side of the room while I clean this shit up.  *sigh*  We've never had much claim to sophistication, but that pretty much does us in.  If I were feeling especially crude, I would use this moment to segue into a discussion of chicken excrement, but I'm feeling kind tonight.

OK, poo discussion is over.

Here are some photos:
The owl we've been hearing for months, but only just sighted last night.

Our best garden result this year (and there are lots more where those came from)
See it and weep: yup, first mashed potatoes with garden spuds
Miss Sadie
out for a tromp with the doggers

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Reading Report: Studies in Young Adult Lit, Part 1

Here are brief overviews of the six books we've read so far. 

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  This one came out the same year I graduated from college (1983), but even though I'd heard about it for years, I'd never actually read it.  It's a series of vignettes told by Esperanza Cordero, a young Hispanic girl who lives in a low-income neighborhood and longs to live somewhere else.  The (chapters? stories? episodes?) are very brief, sometimes just a page, sometimes 3-4 pages, so it reads very quickly.  Cisneros is a genius at discussing big ideas about adolescence, domestic violence, poverty, race, emerging sexuality, dreams and aspirations in such beautifully crafted prose that you don't really notice what she's doing if you're not paying attention. In fact, you could just race through it, skimming through and getting the high points.  But you'd miss much that way-- the vignettes reward careful reading and even re-reading.  Beautifully done.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff.  Set at some vague time in the not-too-distant future, How I Live Now is the story of 15-year-old Daisy, a New Yorker who is sent to England to live with her aunt and four cousins when she can't get along with her new stepmother.   A war with an unspecified enemy breaks out, and she and her cousins must eventually fend for themselves.  It sounds dreary and depressing, but what makes it work is Daisy's sly, cynical humor and her four endearingly nutty cousins.  I loved this book, even though the ending left a bit to be desired-- many unanswered questions and a back-to-the-land idyll that was described too quickly to be believable.  (Trigger alert:  there is underage consensual cousin-to-cousin incest. I didn't find it offensive given the way it is described, but some people in the class did, so I thought I'd let you know.)

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.  This is another one that I'd heard about for years but never read (like Mango), and that should be depressing but somehow isn't (like How I Live Now).   It's told in blank verse, but after the first chapter, you don't even notice that-- which I think is a sign of very carefully crafted verse.  It's the story of Billie Jo, a 15-year-old living in Oklahoma in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.  There is dust everywhere-- they set the table with the dishes turned upside down so they won't get coated with dust before they sit down to eat.  Billie Jo's passion is playing the piano, which she must fit in around school and chores.  Then a horrible accident turns her world upside down and threatens her ability to play the piano ever again.  The story of how Billie Jo fights through the trauma to a new acceptance of herself and her life is just plain old beautifully told.  It's like looking at really good black and white photographs-- stark and plain and piercing.  This is another one that merits a second reading.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  Ditto what I said on the last one-- I'd heard about it but never read it, and it should be depressing but isn't.  It's the story of Arnold (Junior) Spirit, a Native American who lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation but decides to attend school at a white high school 22 miles away.  He must deal with being the only non-white at his new school at the same time that the entire reservation sees him as a traitor.  Junior wants to be a cartoonist, and the book is filled with drawings of his friends and family. He is also a basketball player, and two key basketball games play a major role in helping him understand the tensions between his two worlds.  Like Daisy in Rosoff's book, Junior is a terrific, funny narrator. 

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  This one won the Newbery Award in 2010.  It's the story of Miranda, a 12-year-old New Yorker who starts receiving mysterious notes on crumpled bits of paper and must solve the mystery of who sends them and why.  There is also her mother, who has been accepted to appear on the $20,000 Pyramid with Dick Clark, and her best friend Sal, who suddenly doesn't want to be her friend anymore.  Miranda's favorite book is A Wrinkle In Time, and although you don't have to have read that book to understand the story, many of the themes and ideas carry over.  This might be my favorite one so far--like Daisy and Junior, Miranda is an endearing, precocious narrator with an interesting story to tell.

So after five terrific books, there had to be one that wasn't so great, and that one is Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.  It's not a bad book, but the characters are two-dimensional, and the plot is entirely predictable.  By comparison to the others we've read so far, it fell flat-- not a single student in our class liked it.  It's the story of Roy Eberhardt, who has recently moved to Florida and must deal with all the typical new kid issues:  bullies, who to sit with at lunch, making new friends, learning his way around town.  He soon becomes involved in a plan to stop the construction of a national chain restaurant on a lot that is home to a group of endangered burrowing owls.  The morals espoused are so convoluted that it's difficult to make your way through them, and yet it is clearly moralistic in tone-- this a Book About An Issue.  It might be a fun read for fourth or fifth graders, but otherwise, not recommended.

There you go.  I'll post another one at the end of the semester.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Monday, October 01, 2012

riffday: well, does she like butter tarts?

1. We got a puppy.

I know.  What were we thinking?  She is adorable.  We were all so impressed that she slept through the night last night, and that she didn't pee inside from the time we got her home about 4:00 yesterday afternoon until this morning around 9:30.  At which point she ambled into Nell's room, hitched herself up over a pile of clothes (picture me running toward her in slow-mo yelling N-O-O-O-O-O) and ... well, you know.  And now she's done it five more times today.  *sigh*

But she is still adorable and we are already in love with her.  She mainly belongs to MadMax, so he named her Sadie.  Sadie will not eat food out of a bowl, or on a plate, she will only eat it if it is dumped out on the floor (or if you hand feed her, but that got old really quick). We only figured that out because Nell got desperate since she had barely eaten a couple of tablespoons of food since we got her home.

I will post a picture as soon as I get a good one, or figure out how to get the one Dean took off his phone.

2. Apparently my mental apparatus is ideally suited for Young Adult literature, because I am loving this class.  We are supposed to write two-page reaction papers for eight of the fourteen books we're reading (our choice), and it turns out that is the perfect length paper for me.  I am the ultimate procrastinator, but with a two-page paper you can do that.  I can start it the night before, get the introduction and a bit written, sleep on it, think about it during the drive down to UTown, and spend an hour or so in the computer lab when I get there finishing it up.  I've done three of them so far and been happy with them all.  I will write book reviews, because several of these are well worth reading-- I'll use YALit in the post title so you can skip them if you're not interested.

3.  A long overdue update on the four-letter word (diet):  I have practically quit using MyFitnessPal and instead am now devoted to Fitocracy.  MyFitnessPal is mainly about calorie counting, and I knew I hated that when I signed up. It's just that the fun factor of being able to log calories online lured me into thinking this time might be different.  But six months later I was sick of thinking about calories all the time.  I haven't deleted my MFP account yet, but I probably will.  Fitocracy, on the other hand, has completely changed my attitude about exercising.  I look forward to it now.  You may remember me griping and whining about how it was oriented toward weight lifting, and it still is.  But that is much less prevalent than it used to be-- the site has exploded with new members this year, and while the lifters are still a big group, they are no longer dominant.  At least in my experience.

My gripe now (because you knew I would have one) is all the flirting that goes on.  I guess I'm just too ancient.  I love the motivation to exercise and the support from other members, but I could do without all the innuendo and the photos that aren't porn but that result in me thinking to myself, hmmm, how exactly do you define porn?  But so far it's easy enough to avoid if I'm careful.  When did I get so old and uptight?

4. I blew out a tire on our fly fishing trip a couple of weeks ago.  It was bad enough that it couldn't be repaired, and I have all-wheel drive which meant all four tires had to be replaced.  Ouch.  Fortunately, they were probably going to have to be replaced sometime in the next year anyway, but still.  The good news, though, is that it made a big improvement in my gas mileage.  I never kept exact records, so I can't give you an exact number, but it used to take just about a full tank of gas to get to UTown and back. Now it I drive down and back and still have more than a quarter tank left. Cool. Plus a quieter ride, and it feels like I'm driving on marshmallows.  What's not to love? 

5.  So some of you caught the post I put up on Sunday and then took down, and as a friend pointed out to me today, if you signed up for e-mailed posts, you still have the e-mail after I delete the post.  I'm so neurotic sometimes.  Honest to pete, I'm 51 years old and I can still lose sleep because if I say that people might not like me.  It's ridiculous.  But I have a question for the e-mail subscribers-- I am very bad about editing a post that I've already put up.  Usually I write them late at night (like tonight), so I figure nobody is up and reading (except Julie)(Hi, Julie!), and so it doesn't matter if I edit it a bajillion times before I'm happy with it.  Does that mean you get an e-mail every time I click on "publish"? If so, I apologize a bajillion times.  I'm not sure I can stop doing it (I've tried unsuccessfully in the past), so if it bugs you, probably best to cancel your e-mail subscription.  Let me know if you have trouble with it and I'll find out how to do it.

6.  The smoke is much better today, and we are finally supposed to get a big wind and rain system  tomorrow, which we are all hoping will put an end to the smoke season 2012.  Good riddance.  I got an e-mail from my sister-in-law in Idaho yesterday where they are actually having the fires, and then I felt bad about whining about the smoke.  At least our forests haven't gone up in flames.

7. Hmmm, I'm running out of things to say here but it seems like I should have seven items.  OK, here's one:  what is your favorite meatless meal?  Nell is vegetarian and I need ideas.  Fortunately she will eat eggs, because I have 45 eggs in my refrigerator right now.  There you go.  Seven items.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

so how smoky is it?

Here is a picture from last fall:

Here is a picture I took today from a slightly different angle:

Hmmm, somehow that doesn't quite convey the difference. We can actually smell the smoke today.  Some rain would be good.

Edited 9/24:  It is much worse in U-Town so now I am feeling whine-y for complaining. We are all wishing there was some rain in the forecast, though.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

preachers and hecklers

(I had this up for about half a day, then took it down.  I tried posting it in another private forum I frequent, and it was such a non-issue that I decided I would put it back up here.  Apologies in advance if I'm offensive.  It would probably be better to apologize for how freaking long it is.  That's what happens when you get me up on a soapbox.)

Last Monday, I was walking across campus to the library when I realized there was a preacher and a crowd gathering directly between me and the library.  This isn't at all uncommon on a college campus, of course, and usually I avoid it like the plague, because it brings back too many bad memories of being an evangelical.  I remember standing in those crowds, and I felt nothing but guilt: guilt that I didn't really want to be there, guilt that I wasn't brave enough to be the one up there, sharing my faith; and also the opposite guilt that I couldn't muster up any enthusiasm for this method of sharing my faith, which didn't really seem to me like such a great way to do it.  blecch.

But on this particular occasion, I was in a hurry, the crowd was not large, and the speaker seemed warm and caring rather than abrasive and condemnatory, so I decided to walk through rather than going around.  It was fine.  But to my surprise, I noticed a guy standing next to the speaker holding a homemade poster that said, "This guy doesn't know what he's talking about." Wow, I thought, ballsy.  On both sides:  the people who were with the speaker seemed to be regarding the sign-holder with exasperated tolerance, but weren't bothering him as he stood right next to the speaker; and the guy holding the sign looked determined but like he wished he could be anywhere else.

So I went on into the library, spent about half an hour finding what I needed, and came back out.  By that time, things had degenerated.  The crowd had doubled in size, the speaker had acquired a bullhorn, and there was shouting and heckling.  Lots of it.  You could feel anger crackling.

This time I didn't hesitate, I gave it a wide berth.  I walked well around it, far enough away that I couldn't hear what was being said.  So I can't tell you exactly what happened.  But I've been-there-done-that enough times that I feel like I could practically line it out for you.  I know and love people on both sides of that argument, and I feel both sides.  Of course, I agree with one side more than the other, but the frustration for me is how badly they misunderstand each other.  It makes me wonder if we'll ever be able to live together in peace.

I suspect that the guy with the bullhorn was a local pastor or maybe a staff member of a campus ministry like Campus Crusade or Inter-Varsity.  I wouldn't be surprised to discover that he went home that night and sent out an e-mail to a dozen or so people, which then was forwarded to hundreds and maybe eventually even thousands more, informing them with urgent sincerity of the presence of Satan on the campus in UTown.  He doubtless told them how Christians are being persecuted for standing up and speaking their beliefs, and asked urgently for prayers. If he is connected with one of those national campus ministries, I wouldn't even be surprised to discover that there was also a request for financial support.

Nothing galvanizes a group of evangelicals like news that one of their own is being persecuted.  After all, how else are they going to know that they're on the right track?  Persecution is built into the theology of the New Testament, even in the Sermon on the Mount:  "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me."  You can't argue with them, because it just convinces them they're on the right track.  We must be doing something right, because Satan is raising up attackers.

I've been there, but these days I'm more sympathetic with the hecklers.  I'm not the heckling type, but I'm a liberal, and we all feel it:  the frustration that the Religious Right has been able, despite being a small minority of U.S. citizens, to control the political conversation in our country for years now.  To a liberal, their militant belief that they are Right and all others are Wrong seems to have practically brought the process of government to its knees by insisting that their way is the only way, even when the issue they are discussing--balancing the federal budget, for example-- has absolutely nothing to do with religion.  Jesus doesn't say a single word about the federal deficit, even if you allow an extremely broad range of interpretation of his teaching.

And the Religious Right has been able to do all that (again, from the point of view of a liberal) under the cover of freedom of religion. So there has been very little direct confrontation on that front.  So I can understand someone or several someones or maybe even some kind of organized group deciding enough!! We are fed up!! Fed up with the Religious Right being able to stand up in a public forum and preach about love and mercy at the same time that they are anti-gay, in favor of the institutional use of torture, and intolerant and paranoid about nearly all other religious beliefs.

But I also know--practically for sure-- that the guy with the bullhorn is not the problem.  I can almost hear the hecklers thinking, "Well, we have to start somewhere."  But I don't think this strategy is the way to do it.  That preacher almost certainly really does believe in love and mercy. I can practically guarantee it, even though I'd never seen him before and wouldn't recognize him if I saw him again.  Individual Christians are usually pretty good people, even the most conservative of them.  They might be opposed to sex before marriage, but if a pregnant 15-year-old showed up at the door of the church on Sunday morning, she would get showered with concern, money, and help of practically any kind she needed (except to get an abortion, of course). They are just practicing, as fully as they can, the beliefs they firmly believe are true.

So, the guy with the bullhorn isn't all that bad a guy, and the hecklers certainly aren't tools of Satan.  So where are we going wrong?  I have nothing to back up my opinion on this except that I believe it to be true.  I think it is with the political spin doctors, the talking heads, the people who increase their audience or their paycheck by playing to people's fears, creating a perceived need for their commentary by twisting every movement toward change into an Attack on the Core Values of the American People, and somehow morphing the central Christian message of love and mercy into one of condemnation, blame and intolerant self-righteousness. The problem isn't that we disagree about how to handle health care or welfare reform or taxes, those disagreements have always been there.  The problem is that political spin doctors have used the language of religious belief to deal with issues that are not about religion, thus leading to a widespread belief that to compromise on any opinion is a moral failure.

You know what?  that is a huge over-simplification.  But it still bears thinking about.

Anyway.  But (of course) it's not all them.  As I've been listening to my conservative friends and reading the occasional conservative commentator, I've realized that you can't pin the refusal to compromise solely on conservatives.  Those of us who are liberal have our moments, too.  The most vocal liberals I know are determined to believe that every single person on welfare is a deserving, hard-working individual who just happens to be going through a hard time, in spite of plenty of evidence that welfare fraud is not uncommon.* We can't wait to jump on the victim bandwagon, anytime or anywhere someone has a sad tale to tell, often before we even bother to check and see if the story is true.  A sad story of "victimization" might just be an unfortunate combination of circumstances that led to a bad outcome, but most liberals jump to believe that it is evidence of a system-wide problem that requires activism and outraged condemnation of the status quo--or even legislation and new government programs.  The fact that someone has been a victim becomes evidence that the whole system is bad, that something is not fair.

Well, yeah.  Life is unfair.  But the fact that one or two or a dozen particular cases have fallen through the cracks of our current system doesn't necessarily mean that more government programs will solve the problem, no matter how sad we might be about it.  It might solve that problem while creating other ones.  Or it might not solve anything at all.

This is new for me.  I would not have been able to say this stuff two or three years ago. It broke my heart (still does, actually) to think that there are children who go to bed hungry. In the past, I would have thought it was worth it to fund a dozen people who didn't deserve it in order to make sure that we weren't missing one person who really did need it. But that's the kind of thinking that drives someone who is fiscally conservative nuts. If we expect the conservatives to compromise, we have to be willing to as well. We can't be afraid to take an objective look at welfare (or any government program) and see if it's actually doing what it's supposed to do.  I don't by any means think that we need to end welfare, or even cut back on it.  But we can be willing to investigate ways to make sure it's effective, and that the funds are going to people who really qualify for them. 

This was unforgivably long, but I'm finally done.  Packing up my portable soapbox, tucking it firmly under my arm, and going home.

* my "plenty of evidence" is anecdotal-- I sat next to a woman (far more liberal than me) a couple of weeks ago at a barbecue and listened to her stories of working in a welfare office.  She quit after a few months because she couldn't deal with all the false claims being handed in, and her superiors' complete lack of concern about doing anything about them.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Riffday: give me one memento in time

Did you know that items that you save to remember a person or event are spelled m-e-m-e-n-t-o-s?  I just found that out.  Well, I don't know that I'd ever thought about it before, but when I went to spell it in another place a  minute ago, I typed "momentos," based on "moment."  Then there was this red squiggly line, so I had to look it up, so now I know. Mementos. Do you collect mementos? or Mentos? I have a keychain collection that I augment when we travel, but it's occurring to me that I already told you about that, so.... moving on. 

It's smoky here. But according to the newspaper, it isn't our smoke we're smelling, it's smoke from out of state. We do have some local fires, but not big ones. Here is a picture I took about halfway between here and UTown while I was driving this week.  It's zoomed way in, and from my phone, so it doesn't look as impressive in the photo as it did in person.

MadMax is going to his first school dance this weekend.  They had dances several times a year while he was in middle school, but he was never interested, and I was happy I didn't have to hassle with it.  Now he has a sweet friend that he has been "dating" for six months (which means that they text constantly, and not much more at this point), and he is suddenly all about going to the Homecoming dance this weekend.

I've been busy so it just occurred to me yesterday that we had to come up with something for him to wear.  It's not nearly formal enough for a tux, but my friend's daughter who is a senior says he needs a shirt and tie (not to mention a nice pair of pants).  Wish me luck.  What the heck are we going to be able to find in a small town at the last minute?

Here are the somewhat disoriented deer that greeted me when I got back to the parking lot in UTown after class yesterday (you may have already seen this photo on FB).

Oh, and a last minute update:  here are my dear friend L and me, looking like we know what we are doing with a fishing pole (but don't believe it for a second).   L and her partner caught many, many fish while they were here-- I lost count.

I didn't catch any, except the one that everyone accused me of catching even though I had nothing to do with it.  I put the pole down, with the fly neatly attached to the cork bit above the reel.  The fly must have come undone and started trailing in the water, because about 30 minutes later, the rod started to rattle and there was a little baby fish on the hook!  Only about six inches, but I did get to reel it in.

Miss Nell returns from her adventure down under on Saturday! We can't wait to see her! And someone today was my 15,000th pageview!  thanks for stopping by, no matter which number you are!

Friday, September 14, 2012

cluck: the chicken update

One of my dearest friends for practically my entire life is here for the weekend.  We had a great time visiting after they arrived last night.  Today they are on a guided fishing trip.  Then tomorrow we are all going fishing.  I've lived in Montana for twenty years, and I don't think I've ever tried fly fishing.  It just never occurred to me.  So I will let you know how it goes.  It should be a nice day for a float, even if no fish are caught.

Jazz has been very sick.  I took her to the vet on Tuesday, and after a jaw-dropping amount of money spent on tests and x-rays, and then three different kinds of antibiotics, she is happy again. We are so relieved.  It made me realize that this must have been coming on for at least a week or two, because she hasn't been this sprightly in awhile. I tried to take a picture of her to show you how happy she is now, but every time I point the camera at her, she slinks away, so the pictures turn out looking like she is still sick.   

The chicken update:

All six of them! In one picture!
I'm getting more adventurous with the kinds of food I give them.  According to all my sources (which amount to a couple of books and some online reading), their main diet should be feed that is specifically formulated for laying chickens.  But (say the sources) they will also eat just about any kind of food that you care to give them. They are a living compost pile.

Our chickens must be picky eaters, though, because it hasn't quite worked with them.  They love any kind of bread (heels, hot dog buns, pizza crust), and strawberries, potato peels, tomatoes, and kale.  They have turned up their noses-- wait, beaks? do chickens have noses?-- at broccoli, bell peppers, cooked potatoes, onions, and the huge, enormous patty pan squashes that we find hidden under the leaves in our garden.  I was really bummed about that, because I sure don't want to eat those ones, and I thought giving them to the chickens would be the perfect solution. 

But their true love is scratch.  Oh, my do they love it.  Their regular food looks like large-grained sand.  They eat it, but they don't love it.

Their regular food
Scratch, on the other hand, looks sort of like cracked corn and bird seed mixed together, and it causes them to break into rapturous excitement.  It's not balanced nutritionally, so they're not supposed to have all that much.  It's like a treat. 
Scratch, aka crack for chickens
I usually give them about a cup of scratch a day, and since there are six of them eating it, it's not all that much per chicken.  I have a big yellow plastic cup that I use to scoop it out of the bag, and when I start shaking the cup, they come running.  They look hilarious when they run.  It is one of my favorite moments of the day.

 Since I scaled the resolution way back you may not be able to see this, but that last picture is mostly in focus except their heads are blurry-- that's how fast they go after that scratch.  The lumps of stuff are leftover crockpot oatmeal (since we have company, I actually made breakfast!), which is apparently way less appealing to them than the scratch.

Another thing I've learned is that they don't mind dirt.  That probably seems obvious, since chickens are famous for scratching around in the dirt, but it didn't really occur to me that they wouldn't mind if their food was dirty.  The first time I brought them scraps, I put them in a big old metal pan that the previous owners had left in the shed, but that was a no go.  So then I dumped it all out on the ground and they ate it. They just peck away at it, getting it all kinds of dirty, and it doesn't seem to bother them a bit.

We're still getting 4-6 eggs a day, but apparently that will drop off as the weather gets colder (and since we already had a record-breaking early hard freeze this week, that may be soon).  Honest to pete, when we were thinking about getting chickens, I just thought it would be fun to have chickens.  Like a feathered kind of pet.  It never really occurred to me that we would get so many EGGS.  Last week I handed out three dozen to friends, and I still have a dozen and a half in my refrigerator.  Be glad you don't live nearby or I'd show up on your doorstep.

Friday, September 07, 2012

a missing rant, costumes, and my amazing spouse

I wrote another rant yesterday, but thank god I was smart enough not to post it.  Best to not go there, I think.  I will just say this.  Even if something you read on the internet has a point that you agree with, you still have to maintain a bit of skepticism.  Realistically, there is no check on what people can post in their blog, or tumblr, or on some forum somewhere. Experiences can be exaggerated, embellished, or even made up out of whole cloth.  The fact that it makes a good point doesn't mean that we can swallow it whole without checking to see if it even makes sense. 

But as I was typing away, the subject changed in mid-stream and became about various other things, so I deleted the rant and here is the rest of it.

As you might guess, I hate costumes.  Because you walk into a costume party and everyone immediately turns and looks at you and judges your costume.  First of all, I hate it when all eyes turn toward me.  It makes me want to sink into the floor. Secondly, I am completely uncreative with things like costumes, so my costume is always lame and the looks immediately turn to sneers.  Except my friends, who know this about me, so instead of sneering, they shake their heads at my dumb costume but feel proud of me for trying. 

Ha, and this is going to end up someplace I hadn't expected.  I mentioned last spring that we attended a marriage enrichment conference.  We've had monthly meetings since, where we meet with the other couples and socialize and do some sort of reminder activity about the communications skills we learned at the conference.  Last month we were supposed to spend some time thinking about the ways we are different from our spouse, and then at the end, we were supposed to introduce our spouse to the group as if they had never met them, and explain the differences you appreciate about them.

It was a great exercise, but when it was my turn to introduce Dean, everyone's eyes turned toward me, and my mind went blank.  (see, there is a connection!  people looking at me!)  I made it through the first thing I had planned to say, but then the rest of it went right out of my head and I ended it as quickly as I could.  So, since a few of those people read here, here is the belated version.

He is tidy; I am messy.  He is a morning person; I am a night-owl.  He is an extrovert, I am an introvert.  He is terrific at managing a group of people: listening and evaluating and organizing, and then coming to a decision or leading the group to a consensus.  (as you might guess, when I'm leading a group, I freeze up when they all look at me at once.)  He is a dedicated athlete and takes excellent care of his body-- he's in better shape than many who are half his age.  He is aware of the physical appearance of our house, and works hard to keep it nice, which I think about only when we have company coming over.  In fact, he works very hard at everything he does, where I tend to be a head-in-the-clouds sort of person.  He is very practical-- he can cut right through a lot of the crazy things that I worry about to find what the real problem is and what we can do about it.  He loves physical activity, and he loves to play with our kids or any kids, which keeps me from becoming Sedentary Sally.  And-- this wasn't in the original version, but it occurred to me after typing the above-- Dean loves costume parties.  Good grief, why in the world does he put up with me??  

So with the rant deleted out of it, it's not such a bad post, right?  Have a nice weekend everybody!

Monday, September 03, 2012

labor day and boys' labors

We had a great weekend with four families out at our favorite lake.  The weather was a bit cool and breezy, so we didn't do much swimming.  But otherwise it was a classic Labor Day weekend:  lots of sitting around a campfire and talking and laughing, and way too much food.  No matter how well we plan, we always end up with enough food to sink a ship.  Fortunately we adopted four extra teenagers for the last day, because otherwise we would have ended up with a mountain of uneaten food.

Today's topic is boys.  I know several of you have sons, so I'm looking at you.  How do/did you handle school stuff?  Nell was always so excited about buying her school supplies and getting them all labeled and organized.  And I have to admit that she takes after me in that regard.  I adore Staples, Office Depot, and school and office supplies in all their various incarnations.  I have boxes of pens and markers, a shelf full of notebooks, a drawer full of post-it notes, sharpies, staples, various different kinds of binder clips, scissors, three different kinds of tape, glue, etc etc.  I can spend hours searching for exactly the right writing instrument when I begin a new project--which is both the perfect start and the perfect way to procrastinate.

Then there's MadMax.  Other than the fact that he would get in trouble at school, MadMax would not care one whit if all he had in his backpack was a single half-used spiral notebook and a stub of a pencil.  I asked him the week before school started if he wanted to go shopping for school supplies and he looked at me like I had asked him to drink poison.

He came home after the first day of school with syllabi for his various classes, many of which I had to sign and return.  A couple of them had a detailed list of supplies needed:  three red pens, graphing paper, two black dry erase markers, etc. This afternoon I asked him to make a consolidated list that we could take with us to the store, and from the blank look on his face, you would suspect I was speaking Martian.

So I scanned the lists and dictated to him while he wrote things down.  Then I dragged him around with me this afternoon while we went to Target and Staples to make sure he had everything on the list.  We found it all except a compass (for Geometry), which was nowhere to be found the week after everyone else had already done their school supply shopping.  We hope he will not need it for awhile.

I am not one of those hover-y mothers that leans over her children's shoulders while they do their homework and surreptitiously corrects it.  I have helped with school projects, but I have never done one for them.  I have (*clears throat*) allowed them the privilege of getting frustrated and angry and despairing over their homework without bailing them out.  (Not that I never help, but I don't want them to get in the habit of having me sit there with them every minute while they're studying.) 

But I could not leave it up to him to get his school supplies organized, because I knew it wouldn't happen.  So I put the dividers in his math binder, with a section of college-ruled paper and a section of graph paper.  I gathered together the index cards, red pens, and dry erase markers that he needed to hand to his Spanish teacher.

And I can't tell if that's OK, or if I'm just enabling him.  I remember in college smirking at the boys who had never done their own laundry, whose mothers had written their personal essays, who hadn't the faintest idea how to fix their own lunch.  And here I am, raising a boy who is well on his way to being One of Those.  What do you do?  How much do you help?  I suspect I am babying him too much, but I can't quite make myself leave him to his own apathy about this stuff. 

I didn't have brothers, and this was never a problem with Nell.  This is all new to me.  Advice required.