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.