Thursday, February 28, 2013

So, updates.

1. New Year's Resolution --the year of no-book-buying.  This has been going pretty well.  I will admit to some fudging.  I haven't paid money for any books, but I have traded a few at  Also a couple of books have arrived that I pre-ordered from Amazon back in October or so.  And I have purchased books as gifts, but since they weren't for me, I'm saying that doesn't count.  So all told, it is going pretty well.  There are a couple of educational books I want to buy (to learn PHP, and no they don't have them at PBS or the library). I'm not sure if I will count those or not, but I'm holding off on them for now anyway because when the heck would I have time to read them since there are items on my to-do list for this week that have been there for the past three weeks in a row and still aren't done?

My brother-in-law suggested modifications to the original resolution-- I could buy one new book for every dozen I read that I already own, or I could buy one new book for every 20 that I get rid of.  If I get desperate later in the year, I may use that, because I've already gotten rid of at least 50 books, either through PBS, selling on amazon, or donating to the local sell-your-old-books-for-scholarships program. But for now I'm sticking with this as it is.

In case you're wondering why this is such a big deal, I should explain that wandering through book stores and buying a book or three has always been one of the joys in life for me, since I was in grade school.  When I was about ten, my grandmother gave me money for my birthday to spend at the book store that was walking distance from her house.  I still remember that store distinctly, and the books that I bought (The Egypt Game and The House with a Clock in Its Walls)(TWO hardback books, and I can't imagine that she would have given me more than $5)(I am becoming one of those old people who is always reminiscing about the good old days).

Anyway.  Bookstores and book acquisitions make me really happy, which is why Dean has never been a fan of this resolution from the first time he heard about it.  But now that I know our local library is so much better than I remembered it, I'm hopeful that I can substitute wandering through the library for bookstore meandering (and Amazon virtual wandering). Or maybe I will just bag it in a couple of months.  I've already lasted longer than many new year's resolutions last.

2.  I haven't bought any new books, but today we bought two new bookshelves.  It was actually Dean's idea, but you know he didn't have to say much to convince me.  We found yet another box of photo albums, and there are still several stacks of books in various corners because there just wasn't quite enough shelf space for all of them.  So I get to indulge in one of my absolute most favorite activities, rearranging books.  woot.

3. More than you wanted to know about my health.  you may remember cholesterol was quite an issue for me a couple of years ago.  Mine got really high, and I tried for six months or so to bring it down through diet and exercise, which made absolutely no difference.  So I went on a statin drug for six months, which was so successful that after six months my doctor decided I could stop taking it.  When we checked 6 mos after that, the numbers had come back up slightly, but not nearly as high as they were before. Next week I'm getting checked again.  I'm afraid I've become pretty careless about my eating habits--nothing horrible, but I haven't been as strict as I was there for awhile.  Will be interesting to see how the numbers turn out this time.

4.  The puppy.  We thought she was so perfectly house trained, we were feeling very smug.  We had started letting her sleep in the kitchen at night instead of in the garage.  But for the past week or so she has been having almost daily accidents.  Very frustrating.  I'm taking her in tomorrow to see if she has a UTI or something, but if it doesn't clear up soon, she is going back to the garage at night.  We're unsure if something changed, or if she was having accidents all along and just doing it in places where we didn't notice.  So much for getting the carpets cleaned.

5.  The cabinets.  Sometimes you can buy a can of paint and make a huge difference for about $30.  Sometimes you buy the paint and the difference is only marginal.  This was one of the latter.  They look better, but nearly as nice as I was hoping they would.  At least they are done and the downstairs bathroom is all put back together again.

6.  I made a final trip to UTown on Monday.  Returned books I had borrowed from my advisor, used up the balance on my student ID card, wandered around and got all nostalgic, met a couple of friends for a beer.  It was nice.  Not kidding: I got teary-eyed walking around the student center.  That school was a lifeline for me for a couple of years.  I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to replace it.  I'm applying for teaching jobs, we'll see if any of them work out.

7.  So, you know my daughter's internet name is Nell, right?  It has never suited her, and I found out recently that she doesn't really like it.  But the name I wanted to use--PellMel-- has her actual name in it, and it can't be an internet name if it has her real name in it, right?  Well, wrong.  She is of the generation that doesn't care if her real name is out there, so PellMel it is.  I have the most distinct memory of her at about four years old, flat out running across our backyard as fast as she could possibly go (pell mell, get it?), with the most intense, fierce expression on her face.  And it was for no reason.  She just broke into a sprint, with that white-blond hair streaking across the yard.  I always thought she would be a track star, but I couldn't even get her interested in trying it out.

And that's it for me. Reading report for February tomorrow, but unless I finish the one I'm on right now, there will only be one book in it.  I've been too scattered this month to concentrate.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

yadda yadda yadda

Advance warning:  this is another one of those posts, which I seem to do about once a year, about why I have a blog, should I have a blog, why the hell do I keep doing this?  So if it's a topic that bores you, move along.  It would bore me, too, except it's my blog, you know.

So when I started this, it never even occurred to me that it might be a money-making proposition. It was 2003, and blogs were relatively new, and aside from a few professional blogs run by journalists or organizations, nobody was doing it for money.

But blogs are money-making ventures now--at least for some people--and where money goes, people follow.  For the past couple of years now, everyone is interested in making money off their blogs.  Which leads to bloggers who have been financially successful writing posts about how to do it.

Which leads to lots of posts that are entirely disdainful, even contemptuous, of personal blogs. You have to have an angle, they say, secure in the knowledge that since their blog is financially successful, it is inherently more valuable than one that isn't.  No no wants to read about your kids and your pets except your mother.  You have to have a topic, something that keeps people coming back, something that draws people in, because making money from your blog requires readers.  Lots of readers.

The first time I read one of those posts was a couple of years ago at Jennifer Crusie's blog, ArghInk.  She listed the reasons why you should have a blog, and all of them were about marketing:  creating an internet presence, a personal "brand," a forum for publicizing your work (which she always did very gently, her blog is not about advertising)(I used past tense because I haven't read her blog in a long time, but I'm sure she is still as lowkey as ever).
But there was no mention of people who blog because they just have something to say that they want to say in a public place.  Not one word about the urge I sometimes feel--a literal compulsion--to sit down and type out what I'm thinking.  I've written several posts in the last couple of months that felt exactly like that.  Like I couldn't rest until the words were out there.

On the one hand, this is fine with me.  I've got my silly little blog here, with loyal readers for whom I am eternally grateful, and those writers have their "successful" blogs, with thousands of readers and a monthly check.  In a way, it's two entirely different things.  There are people like me, who just want to have their little public space for their personal thoughts, and people who aspire to be professionals, to be able to make a living by writing.  And that's why I completely understand that some people do want to (or need to) make money off their blog.   

That's easy to say.  But then I read something by a professional blogger (like Crusie) that I admire and I realize how entirely silly--even pointless-- this blog would be in their eyes.  And since the blogs I read are usually people that I admire, it's a little demoralizing.

Sometimes I just bang out a post about the pets or whatever, but usually I sweat over what I write here.  It's not ever going to make money, but it means something to me.  And occasionally I write something that seems to mean something to one of you, which is like chocolate icing on top of  an eclair that's already pretty good.

So to run that metaphor right into the ground, I occasionally have to remind myself to just relax and enjoy the eclair for what it is, and not get all uptight that I don't have an eclair business with a fat bottom line and people lining up down the street to buy them.  Hmmmm.  I really shouldn't have gone there.

And even that isn't really the problem.  I never intended to make money from writing here; the fact that I don't is truly OK with me.  The real problem is knowing that what I'm doing here seems silly, pointless, and even embarrassing to people whose opinion matters to me.  That's the real problem.

So that's why about once a year I write one of these, to remind myself to have thick skin and do my own thing, and let other people's opinions just roll off my back.  It's not as easy as I'd like it to be.

Monday, February 18, 2013

prez day

I recommended to a dear friend over the weekend that she take a blog vacation.  It occurred to me this morning that I'm the one that needs it.  Not necessarily from my blog, because I can't imagine more supportive and sympathetic readers than you guys, but from the internet in general.  I've reached the point where Facebook depresses me instead of helping me feel connected and in touch with my friends, and there are a couple of other sites that are not helping, either.  So... not to make too big a deal out of it, but I am signing off for this week.  I'll still be checking e-mail if you need to contact me.  Have a good one.  Hope it is as pretty a day where you are as it is here. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

if you just tried harder, you could be one, too!

The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue arrived in the mail today.  We've subscribed to SI for years.  Minus a 3-4 year break when finances were tight, we've had a subscription since the mid-80s.  We both read it. Dean often reads the whole thing, cover-to-cover, and I pick it up when something catches my eye--like a recent article on coach-athlete abuse, or the Olympics last summer.

When we first started our subscription, I was fresh out of college and I was a feminist and I was mad about everything.  I could rant on cue at the drop of a hat--hand me a topic.  But for some reason, the annual swimsuit issue never raised my feminist ire.  Mainly because it's such a blatant fantasy--the women were so perfectly toned, styled, made up, air-brushed, and retouched that it was hard to get too worked up about it.

Even when I was young and thin, I never looked like that.  So paging through the annual flesh-a-thon definitely had (has) the capacity to make me feel like a pale, shapeless blob. But I could never take it very seriously because nobody looks like that.  I mean, obviously those women do (even without the airbrushing and photoshopping, they're still way more gorgeous than most of us), but there's a dozen (?) of them, out of all the women in the world, and that's why they got the job: because they're way more spectacular than the average woman.  It's not supposed to be about reality.  And you can hardly blame the magazine-- I wouldn't be surprised if they make more money off the swimsuit issue than they do on the rest of the year's issues added together.

But this year, 25+ years later, they finally offended me.  Not the women, who are still impossibly gorgeous.  Not even the settings, which I've just read have offended some people, because of juxtaposing "natives" with white women in swimsuits (although that did occur to me as a bit strange).

Nope, it's because of a new feature about "how to get the look" of the swimsuit models.  What?  Oh, please.  There's always been a section about where you could buy the swimsuits, and there's nothing wrong with that.  But this is an 8-10 page insert with inspiring phrases from the swimsuit edition editor like, "Beauty is within all of our reach.  It begins with confidence."  Advice for hair, eyes, lips, skin, nails and "Insider Tips" from the hair stylist and the makeup artist. 

The whole thing irks me so much I'm having a hard time knowing where to start.  Are they serious?  The women on the pages of the SI swimsuit edition are each one in a hundred million, and even then, they've been styled, prepped, accessorized, airbrushed, photoshopped, and edited.  That look is not WITHIN OUR REACH.  It's insulting and patronizing to suggest that it is. 

The kind of beauty they display on those pages is a fantasy, and it is as a fantasy that it's OK with me. It's not much different than me watching Batman Begins to ogle Christian Bale.  Dean knows I'm never going to look like a swimsuit model, and he knows that if one of them showed up in our town next week, he would not be in the running to be her escort for the evening (at least probably not, although there is an outside chance because he's pretty dang hot). Just like I know that Christian Bale isn't really like his onscreen persona, and if he showed up at our house, I wouldn't rate a second look.

It's just insulting for them to infer that with a few tips from them, we could "get the look" of a swimsuit model.  Or that we'd even want to, as if we sit up nights wishing we could be swimsuit models.  They are full-time professional models, with the near-infinite resources of a best-selling publication to help them look fabulous.  There's a reason I didn't go into modeling as a career (besides the obvious one that no modeling agency in their right mind would have wanted me)-- I'm willing to spend about 20 minutes a day on my looks, and that's including a 12 minute shower.

And to top it off-- this little "Secrets of a Swimsuit" section is a mini-magazine of it's own that is detachable from the rest of the magazine.  WTF?  So some guy is going to pull it out and hand it to his girlfriend??  Are they freaking serious?  Here, honey, read this and you can look just like a swimsuit model.  the whole thing is just ludicrous.

The irony is that I suspect that it was written with exactly the opposite intention-- I suspect that the editors were trying to downplay the one-in-a-million aspect and make it sound like true beauty comes from within or some such nonsense, which would be all well and good if you'd just flipped through 60 pages of women they'd picked off the street--women with muffin tops and flat hair and no makeup, or at least makeup inexpertly applied.

But it's a little much to assure us that you don't need a beauty team to look gorgeous when they've just published a magazine full of pictures of models made gorgeous by a professional team of photographers, lighting techs, stylists and makeup artists.

Give it up, SI.  Just let it be what it's always been-- an impossible fantasy.

/rant over

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

versatilely yours

The always interesting Judy,Judy,Judy over at Novel Truths nominated me for a Versatile Blogger award.  I don't think I've ever been nominated for an award before!  Thanks, Judy!  (and by the way she is a much more Versatile Blogger than I am).  The rules of the award are that you link to the award page, nominate up to 15 additional bloggers for the award, and list seven things about yourself for anyone who might find you because of the award.  Most of the blogs I follow have already been nominated, so I'm skipping that step.  Here is the link back to the VBA website:

And now the hard part.  Seven things about myself?  Hmmmmm.  If you hang around here much, you may already know a few of these, but I couldn't think of seven entirely new things.

1.  I'm the middle of three daughters, no brothers.  

2. I'm a plodder.  I plod along, dotting every i, crossing every t.  Sometimes this drives me crazy about myself, but I can't seem to help it.

3.  I play the flute. 

4.  I'm an obsessive reader.  I read the backs of cereal boxes, catalogs, cookbooks, the back of the tube of toothpaste.  In the shower I read the back of the shampoo bottle.  I read over people's shoulders on the plane (and I hate it when people do that to me). 

5.  I've read Ulysses.  Three times. (gotta get some mileage out of that somewhere.)

6.  I love road trips.  Also trips by plane and train.  Maybe I should just say:  I love to travel.  On my list for the next three years:  Alaska and Ireland.  Ten year plan:  New Zealand, Spain/Portugal, Morocco, and maybe Kenya.  MadMax really wants to go to Africa for a photo safari.

I'm having a hard time coming up with #7.  Hmmmmm.

7.  I'm afraid of heights.  I never think I am till I get up someplace high, and then I'm paralyzed and can't get down.  I once had to crawl down one of those pyramid tombs in Guatemala.  I couldn't see how high I was on the way up.

there you go. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

11 p.m. on Tuesday and I have to decide...

Ha.  At least I'm making myself laugh.  No, I did not think of anything brilliant to post about today.  So let's see, what can I pull out of the proverbial hat here. 

I haven't done an exercise update in awhile.  The frustrating thing about trying to get back into shape when you're over 50 is that you can never just let it go.  I'll work out consistently for a few weeks, start to feel strong and healthy, then take a few weeks off for whatever reason-- oh, say, maybe a thesis defense followed by a paper, followed by the holidays, followed by a trip to Florida.  And even though I continued to walk almost every day during that time period, I didn't do any of the rest of my usual workout routine (core, abs, upper body).  So then three weeks later when I started back up again, I had to practically have to START OVER.  It is so damn frustrating. 

But I'm still plugging away at it, and I'm still on Fitocracy-- I've been there over a year now.  I never will fit in, but I've got my own system that works for me, so I keep doing it.  I'm like the Energizer bunny, or maybe the tortoise.  All around me are people who rack up huge point gains (two or three or even five thousand points in a single workout), and I just keep doing my little thing (usually I get somewhere between one hundred and eight hundred points per workout).  But I workout almost every day, and not many do.  And also, I can't tell you how many people I've followed since I joined there who have dropped out. 

So I'm still proud of myself, even though I haven't flown through the levels like the weight lifters do.  I should hit Level 28 sometime over the weekend; one guy I follow who joined in October is already Level 36.  He is 52.  I try to find all the people who are in their 50s and follow them.  Band of Elderly Brothers or something like that.  Here is my badge of honor, though:  in 2012, I tracked over 300 workouts on Fitocracy.  Not bad, eh?

Now if only I looked like I did 300 workouts in 2012.  ha.

Let's see, what else.  Valentine's Day.  Wendy, who sometimes reads and comments here, did a great post about boycotting Valentine's Day over at her blog.  She makes some great points about what a silly holiday it is, and she's right.  Dean and I have solved the problem for ourselves by always doing the same thing every year.  I make him a cheesecake, he gets me roses.  It's sweet.  Of course, as you might expect, this year I picked the cheesecake recipe based on how many eggs it uses.  (just kidding, but it does use 3, and since our eggs are smallish I will probably use four). White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake, sounds yum, doesn't it?  (it's possible that recipes like these are the reason why  I don't look like I did 300 workouts in 2012).  I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sadie, the puppy, after a couple of months with no accidents had two in one day earlier this week.  WTH?  We had started leaving her out with Jazz (the older dog) overnight and when we were out of the house, but no more.  She is back in remedial training.  If you have any advice, let me know.

And that's enough for another day. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

11 p.m. on Monday and I have to decide....

I thought about not posting at all this week, because whenever I write several serious posts in a row (like Tues-Wed-Thurs of last week), I get sick of the sound of my own voice, if you know what I mean, given that I'm not talking and there is no sound of my voice.

But I figured I could do pictures, and I haven't done any pictures in awhile, so here you go.  Technically this keeps my Monday-through-Friday posting streak alive for another day, but I haven't come up with anything to write about tomorrow, so it may not last much longer.  There are more things I could say about my trip to Texas, but the stuff I wrote about last week are the issues that make my heart hurt and thus seemed important enough to write about. 

The chickens' pen is about thirty feet from our house, but it's down a pretty steep slope.  So it always makes me happy when they are adventurous enough to make their way from the coop to the stairs:

and it's even better when they climb these stairs, circle around the back of the house, and make their way to the deck-- which would be quite a trip for a little 6 pound chicken.

Makes my day when one of them hangs out on the deck for awhile. :-)

Friday, February 08, 2013

Riffday: just a bit not good

1. The post title-- because I'm hooked. Dangit. I only like to have one TV show I'm addicted to at a time-- it was Big Bang Theory until we got caught up (which took awhile, there were six seasons to watch)(and now suddenly I'm a little tired of it), and now it's Downton Abbey. We just started that after Christmas, so we still have a few episodes to watch of season two, and season three is happening right now, I think. But suddenly there's Sherlock, too. I'm not sure I can do two TV shows at the same time, but I will do my best to bear up under the strain. Both British for some reason.

2. Yogurt. I've made three batches now, each one better than the last. The one I made yesterday I didn't even scald the milk first, and it turned out to be the best so far. The secret is to add half a cup of nonfat dry milk--which I know, we all think is horrible, but it turns out that it is a great addition to homemade yogurt. Heat two cups of 1% milk just till lukewarm, then stir in the yogurt starter, a tablespoon of vanilla, four tablespoons of maple syrup, and half a cup of the nonfat dry milk. Then stir that into 3 more cups 1% milk. Pour into the little jars, set them in the machine, and set it for 10 hours. When it's done you can stir in fruit or flavoring if you want. It's great. The only problem is that although it is way better than Yoplait or Tillamook, it's still not as good as our favorite, Nancy's Honey yogurt (made in Eugene, OR! *waves*). Dean is addicted to Nancy's, so I suspect we will still be buying the big tubs of Nancy's, but at least we are free of all the little single serving size ones. And the big tubs get re-used, so I think we're good with this.

3. And on the never ending topic of using up eggs: custard. I'd never made custard before, so I started reading. There are lots of variations. Last night I made chocolate custard that you pour over bread crumbs and then bake, so it comes out somewhere between pudding and a brownie. Yum. And since the eggs keep coming (don't those silly chickens know they're not supposed to lay eggs in the winter?), I suspect more custard experiments are coming.

4. I tried the no shampoo experiment. If you don't know about this, just google "no shampoo." The proponents of "no-poo" think that shampoo strips your hair of its natural oils, thus creating a need for hair products that you wouldn't need if you didn't shampoo in the first place. I went nine days without washing my hair, although I did shower every day because my hair is so fine and thin that overnight it turns into a mass of cowlicks and wonkiness that must at least be wetted down daily. All I can say is that the people who are able to make this work must already have good hair, because other than color (and even that is fake these days), mine is hateful. After about six or seven days, it had reverted to the way I remembered it from when I was a kid--flyaway, static-y, and completely unalterably straight--it just lies there on my scalp. I did find out that I can go considerably longer than I realized without shampooing (3-4 days), but I am happy to be back using hair products again. I think it must work better for people with thick hair, or maybe the key is having dry hair.

5. I was a volunteer judge in a high school speech and debate tournament today. They are so talented. It restores your faith in the Youth of America.

6. This post is an experiment. I'm having an internet-free weekend, so I thought I would try posting by email. Supposedly I can e-mail a post to blogger and it will automatically appear. So if you're reading this, it worked. :-) Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 07, 2013

sojourn part 3

Sadly I have to say that figuring out what I believed about gays wasn't a pressing issue for me after college.  I was getting married and I had my first "real" job and (as far as I know) no one I was hanging out with during my post-college years was gay.  There was no burning need for me to figure out how to resolve the conflict between my experience (gay people are just fine as they are) and what the religion of my youth said (homosexuality is a sin). 

But that disconnect was part of my growing overall discomfort with Evangelicalism--which grew out of a number of issues besides those posed by the Bible's teachings on homosexuality.  I could branch off here into a long discussion of why I left Evangelicalism, but I've already done that in previous posts, so I'll try to stay on topic.  But it's impossible to describe how I resolved the LGBT issue in my own mind without touching on the larger issue of how to interpret scripture.

The first thing that happened was that I started attending an Episcopal church.  It was the first time in my life that I met Christians who were at least as dedicated to their faith as I was (in some cases, far more dedicated), and yet they didn't read the Bible as if every single word was God's message directly to their individual lives.  They read the Bible as a historical document, the founding document of their faith, but not one that applied to them in the same way that it applied to the people to whom it was written. They took it very seriously, but they didn't have a problem with re-interpreting it in light of their own experience and our present day situation.

This was profoundly, jaw-droppingly, utterly astonishing to me.  It was like living under an anvil, and suddenly having someone lift it off.  I was raised to believe that the Bible was the inerrant, universally applicable Word of God.  Every word of it, I had been taught, applied to me just as if it had been written expressly for me.  Somewhere around 1984 I heard a preacher at a Bible church give a sermon on what it means to be an Evangelical, and the first item on his list was believing that the Bible was completely, unalterably, capital-T True.

Evangelicals don't want to budge on this issue for the same reason conservatives don't want to budge on any issue.  If you start to compromise, the reasoning goes, you're starting the downhill slide.  Before you know it, disaster will occur--and the biblical proportions of disaster (Armageddon, anyone?) can get pretty harrowing.  A highly educated, highly intelligent Christian woman whom I dearly love told me once, "If you start to question that creation happened in seven days, you can question anything.  Who knows where you'll end up."  Which is a whole 'nother issue, obviously, but you get the idea.

In my experience of more than 25 years of having left that kind of thinking behind, they're panicking for no reason. Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and a wide variety of other Christians may have changed their traditions to allow the ordination of women and members of the LGBT community, but their core beliefs are solid and their ministry to their community is vital.  Evangelicals see these changes as being wishy-washy, a sign of moral weakness.  I see it as a courageous willingness to take on the complexities of faith, to dive in and re-interpret scripture the way that every generation has re-interpreted scripture.

Jesus spent hours arguing with the Pharisees and Sadducees (Jewish religious leaders).  There was no New Testament then.  The Old Testament was the Bible.  The Pharisees could  quote scriptures to Jesus in the same way that fundamentalists quote scripture now.  The Torah says this, and now you are telling us that's not true? they would argue with Jesus.  Their faith was based on the words of the scriptures in the same way that mine was before I left Evangelicalism.  And Jesus didn't hesitate to dive in and disagree.  The scriptures may say an eye for an eye, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, but I say to you, if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek to them as well. 

Of course, in Christian theology, Jesus is God, and He can interpret the Torah however he wants.  But I still think there's a point to be made here.  The Pharisees were often arguing directly from Jewish law.  When they argued with Jesus about the Sabbath, they were right.  Jewish law did say that Jesus's disciples were violating the Sabbath.  They could point to the verses in their sacred texts. But they were still wrong in a broader sense, in the sense of knowing how to apply their knowledge of God's love and God's purpose in the world.  Their blind devotion to ink on a page sometimes sounds awfully similar to an Evangelical saying "but the Bible says right here on this page that homosexuality is a sin" while stabbing their finger at a verse.

There are plenty of other ways to approach this issue of interpreting the Bible, and some of them I've written about before (try this post or this one).  Another approach is to closely study the actual words to see if they mean what we've interpreted them to mean (and/or translated them, as Julie pointed out in the comments yesterday).  For example- word studies have been done trying to prove that the word translated as "homosexuality" really means something different than committed, monogamous LGBT couples, and actually means male prostitution.

Or I could point out (going back to the second half of this post) that it's hypocritical to get up on a moral high horse about certain verses in the Bible, while other verses that you don't hear about so much get ignored or dismissed.  For example, hardly any men "lift holy hands" during worship as the writer of 1 Timothy instructs them to do, and plenty of women wear gold, pearls, and expensive clothes to church, which he tells them not to do (1 Timothy 2.8-10).  But the problem with that approach is that when those inconsistencies are pointed out, instead of seeing that "oh! you're right, we already ignore certain verses of scripture, so we maybe we can ignore the ones about homosexuality, too!" conservatives are more likely to start requiring all men to lift their hands in worship and women to strip off their jewelry as proof that they really do interpret scripture literally.

Or I could bring up historical studies that show that in a culture with high infant mortality rates, non-procreative sex was sinful for a different reason than what we think.  Since our problem today is more likely to be over-population, non-procreative sex is no longer a problem.  So we can see the bible's teaching on homosexuality in a cultural context that no longer applies.

Or I could say-- as Nell said when she previewed this post for me-- well, no matter what they believe about homosexuality, they don't have the right to force their religious beliefs on anyone else.  But for me, I don't want to mess with splitting hairs about interpretation and who meant what when.  It sounds defensive and desperate.  I'm OK with just saying: the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and I disagree.

After all these years, I still have a functional inner Evangelical who asks insidiously how I will feel about this "when I stand before God's throne on judgment day" (those old phrases still reel right off my tongue), and I think my response is, if I'm going to risk being wrong, I'm going to be wrong boldly for reasons of respect and compassion, rather than standing on some theoretical moral "Right" that is based on a rigid interpretation of words on a page.

So.  I think that's all I have to say about this, although of course we can discuss further in the comments if you'd like. Although I just remembered that I neglected to address the whole Roman Empire argument, which inevitably comes up when you hear this discussed among Evangelicals, even though what they're describing has virtually no correspondence to --for example-- a couple we know and love in Seattle who have been together longer than Dean and I have been. (This article probably refutes it better than I could anyway, if you're interested.) Whatever.  I'm done.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Sojourn to a Foreign Land, part 2

Let's just jump right in here.  My mom and I don't usually discuss politics, but the weekend that I visited in November, it was hard not to-- it was a topic of discussion everywhere we went.  At one point I criticized the Republican party's obsession with what people are doing in their bedrooms, because it is none of their business.  And that segued into the gay marriage issue.

At which point my mom said, "Well, Barb, the Bible does say that homosexuality is a sin."  Point taken, and for a Southern Baptist and many other conservative Christians, that is all that needs to be said.  [As an aside, let's get one thing out of the way here before we start on this:  for the record, my mom and most of the conservative Christians I know would never condone violence against gays, or putting gays in concentration camps, or participating in any activity that gave the impression that God doesn't love gay people.  Those kind of statements come from a bunch of fringe loonies (in my opinion) that we're not even going to bother discussing here, because 1) God loves everybody (that's also in the bible, and a whole lot more frequently than anything about gays) and 2) there is no chance I will be able to have a respectful conversation with any person that claims to believe in a loving God and simultaneously wants to herd certain people into concentration camps.]

No, my mom and millions of other Christians are of the "love the sinner, hate the sin" persuasion.  It's a distinction that makes no sense to those of us who don't see gay-ness as a sin, but it makes perfect sense to them.  They love the person, and they believe that God loves the person, but they see homosexuality as a behavior that is sinful in the same way that lying or stealing is a sin. 

I don't remember any specific teaching on the question back when I was a kid-- it was the sixties and seventies, and in spite of all the fanfare about the sexual revolution, sex just wasn't talked about all that much, or at least not in specific detail, and not with children.  I'm not sure I even really understood what homosexuality was.

But we knew "fags" and "lezzies" were something bad because of the tone of voice in which the words were spoken.  I remember arguing rather vehemently in high school that Shannon and Beth were not lezzies because I knew lezzies were bad and Shannon and Beth were not bad, therefore they couldn't be lesbian.  But although my logic was solid, my premise was incorrect-- the reason I could tell that Shannon and Beth were not bad people isn't because they were straight, of course, but because there's nothing wrong with being gay.

I ache now for how hard their high school experience must have been, Shannon and Beth and my friend Mike the bassoon player who lived out near my house and frequently gave me rides, and several other people I now know are gay.  Probably most of us didn't mean anything by it, we were just ignorant.  I thought I was being a loyal friend by jumping to their defense and insisting that they couldn't be gay, but instead, I was just uninformed, and probably made things worse.  Or at least more confusing.

I went off to college still uninformed.  My junior year, I transferred to a school on the west coast where I lived in a coed residential house with 25 or so other students (another aside: that's where I met Dean).  One of my favorite people in the house was a young man we'll call José.  José was funny and friendly and very helpful when I was trying to figure out my new school.  But he was in the process of coming out, and it was a difficult year for him.

I'm afraid I didn't make it any easier.  I remember a conversation where I was sympathetically listening to him talk about how hard it was to come out to his Roman Catholic family, and how some of them acted like it was a deviant behavior.  I cringe every time I remember this, but confession is good for the soul, right?  Fresh out of Sociology 101 and eager to display my knowledge, I said, "But it is a deviant behavior!" because technically a deviant behavior is a behavior that deviates from the norm, and in my mind, heterosexuality was the norm.  I've lost track of José, but every time I think about this, I send him a mental apology.

The whole issue confused me.  On the one hand, there was José, and there was just no way I could believe that he was a bad, sinful person (at least, not any more than the rest of us).  And he clearly was happier and at peace once he was out, compared to being fairly miserable and conflicted beforehand.  On the other hand, there was the minister that I went to talk to for advice, who gave me the "love the sinner, hate the sin" speech, with Bible verses to back it up.  Thank God I never got up the nerve to give that little speech to José, even though the minister urged me to "confront him with his sin."  Or maybe at some level I already knew that minister was wrong.

Well, I guess this is going to spill over into part 3, because this is already pretty long and I have more to say.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Sojourn to a Foreign Land (aka Texas)

I was so busy in December being freaked out about my thesis defense that I'm not sure I ever told you about going to visit my mom.  I flew to Texas the second weekend in November and stayed with her for five days.  She lives in the same town as my older sister and her flock of six kids, so I got to spend a bunch of time with them, too.  It was a great trip.

But it was the weekend after the presidential election, and the town where they live must be one of the most Republican towns in the nation.  Of course, the town where I live is similarly conservative, but with a different slant.  Our town is more working class, blue collar, and anti-government-- which means that they lean right, but they sometimes aren't any more excited about the Republicans than they are about the Democrats.  In my mom's area in Texas, they are all about government, as long as the Republicans are in charge.

So they were all upset because of the election results, and predicting gloom, doom, and disaster, and maligning our poor president.  I don't always agree with him, but I don't think he's a disaster.  These people think that he is the worst thing that has ever happened to our country.  ever?  really?  I even heard one woman refer to him as "that evil man."  seriously?  Just because you disagree with someone doesn't make him evil.

So it was kind of a disturbing trip in some ways.  It made me realize how vast the divide is between the two poles of our country.  I mean, not that I didn't already know, but I had kind of hoped in my dreams that when the election was won so decidedly by the incumbent that maybe it would be a bit of an eye-opener to the more extreme conservatives.

But I should have known better, because I remember the same thing from my liberal friends when Bush won in 2000 and 2004.  And to be entirely honest, I know some liberals who thought Bush was evil--or at least Cheney, anyway.  They didn't see Bush's decisive victories as evidence that they were wrong, or needed to reconsider their position.  They just talked about moving to Canada or Mexico (and didn't do it).  Just like some conservatives are now.

I was horrified by some of the political talk going on in the aisles of my mom's Southern Baptist church-- the way they have intertwined their particular political beliefs with a religious justification that makes them see their opinions not just as their beliefs but as God's chosen principles for how government should be run.  But I still love those people.  Their spirit, their energy, their enthusiasm for their beliefs.  I get it, I get what they want and how they want the world to be, I just disagree.  I love that church-- it was my church in junior high and high school-- and in a weird way, it still feels like home.

Sometimes I feel like I'm one of the few people thoroughly aligned with one party (Democrat in my case), who can still respect quite a bit of the other party platform.  For example.  I'm glad that there is a tension between government services and fiscal responsibility in our country.  That's the way it should be, if you ask me.  You have the Democrats, who want to make sure we are taking care of the poor, and the opposing force of the Republicans, who are going to make sure that we don't bankrupt our government to do it.  (and don't say that's already happened, because if you look at the numbers, the blame for our current economic mess has to be shared among a wide variety of causes, including bank/corporate bailouts and war).  I don't want to live in a country where orphans roam the streets in packs, or thousands of people live in shantytowns-- which is what happens when there is no government safety net for the poor.  But I also don't want to live in a country where we can't be realistic about what we can afford.

What upsets me is when these poles get aligned with a religious sense of Right, so that we are no longer able to see the value of the opposing point of view.  Dean and I were appalled recently to listen to a man who is a dedicated Christian, who wouldn't hesitate to say that his commitment to his faith is the most important thing in his life, say emphatically that he was a self-made man, he had worked hard for every cent he had, and he had never accepted any help from anybody, and he shouldn't have to give a single cent to some welfare mom who sits on her butt all day and collects her welfare check.

It was such a contrast to the way I was raised: everything we have comes from God; we are only stewards of it, not owners; if it weren't for the grace of God, we would have nothing.  (Not to mention that he recently retired from a corporation that has received millions if not billions in government tax breaks.)

But on the other hand, there's something to be said to the Liberals here, too.  I've heard many Liberals claim that if Jesus were here, he would be on our side.  Jesus certainly wanted us to be generous with the poor, but he never advocated it as a system of government.  He never advocated any system of government.  His exhortations to generosity were always personal.  You sell what you have and give it to the poor.  Not "sell what you have and give it to the government to redistribute to the poor."  The early Christians lived in commune-like communities, but they were small communities, they were not national governments. 

I vote Democrat for practical reasons, not religious ones.  I want there to be a safety net for the poor, and I think in a country the size of ours, the only way that's going to happen in any meaningful way is for the government to do it.  Yes, it's inefficient, and yes, it's an imperfect system.  But I don't see any way around it.  Rich people and corporations don't usually give money to soup kitchens, day care centers, and homeless shelters.  They give money to build a new building at their alma mater, or have their name on a plaque in symphony hall or an art museum.  But that is a practical reason for voting Democrat, it's not because I think it's capital-R Right.

So, this is the first of two (maybe three) posts responding to various things I heard while I was in Texas.  More to come.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Riffday: dinner's at 6

For some reason that I could no longer remember about noon on Sunday, we invited six neighborhood families over for the Super Bowl (24 total, I think-- I never really stopped to count).  I have not watched a single football game this year, but the Super Bowl is a good time to entertain because nobody expects you to be fancy.  It ended up being really fun, but we had enough food for three times that many people.  We'll be eating leftovers all week.  Muffalettas, red beans and rice, and carrot cake--not to mention a cooler full of beer and pop.  My amazing niece was somewhere in the crowd of kids that ran in and surrounded Beyonce's stage during the half-time show, but we didn't see her. 

The roads around our house are covered with the usual ice and packed snow, making it difficult to walk outside.  So I'm back on the treadmill again.  I can manage 25-30 minutes with music, but my internist really wants me to go 45.  that requires entertainment.  I finished the audiobook I was listening to last week (it was OK, not good enough to recommend), so I started poking around for a new idea.

I've been an Amazon Prime member for years-- the fee ($79/year) paid for itself by the end of a single semester because of shipping all my textbooks, so it was a no-brainer.  I knew Prime members could watch videos for free, but I'd never bothered to figure it out.  So today I decided I would see what I could find.  I kept hearing about the Gilmore Girls a few years ago, but that is $2 per episode even if you're a prime member.  So I went to the "most popular" section, skipped over Downton Abbey since we are already watching that, and tried out "Fringe."  In the first five mintues, there were already zombie like creatures with skin falling off and worse (I won't go into detail in case you're eating lunch).  Not my thing.

So then I went to Sherlock (the TV series, not the movie).  Oh, my.  In three minutes I was intrigued (love Martin Freeman).  By the time I got to "Freak's here, I'm sending him in," I was in love.  The pilot is two hours long, so I'm not done with it yet, but I'm actually excited to get back on the treadmill tomorrow.  Win.

This afternoon I have to start going through all our 2012 financial records.  Since most of our accounts are accessible online, I just let the statements pile up all year.  I can find out what I need to know online, but I'm not quite ready to give up having paper copies around.  So every year I sit down one afternoon in early February and sort the whole mess.  Kind of a dumb system, I know, but it's been working for us for several years now.  It takes 2-3 hours, which I figure is probably about the same amount of time it would take if I did it in 15-20 minute increments every month-- and this way I get it all over with in one afternoon.  Don't judge me.

And that's everything I can think of.  Y'all have a great day.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Reading Report: Jan 2013

Shakespeare's Lady by Alexa Schnee.  I'm not the first person to gripe that historical romances are often just an excuse to put modern people in fancy clothes and old-fashioned social situations.  But Shakespeare's Lady is not anything like a typical historical romance, and it wasn't intended to be.  Alexa has done her homework.  She's imagined--in rich detail-- the life of Emilia Bassano, one of the ladies in Queen Elizabeth I's court who is often mentioned as the most likely candidate for the unnamed Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets.  Emilia is truly a woman of her time-- almost completely powerless to make her own choices, subject to the whims of her queen, the lover to whom the queen first consigns her, and eventually, her husband.  But she takes William Shakespeare as her lover, and they are both changed by their affair.  The affair is imagined--there is no proof that it happened--but Alexa makes it believable.

This review is long overdue.  Alex is the daughter of a dear friend of mine, and you may have noticed that she occasionally comments here as alexinksit (the link is to her blog).  I was able to watch from the sidelines as Alex wrote the book, won an award for it, and got it published.  I bought a copy of it as soon as it came out, of course, but I didn't have time to finish reading it until this week.  Highly recommended.  There is no happily-ever-after, but you'll feel as if you've been transported right back to the sixteenth century.  It's all the more amazing since she wrote it when she was seventeen.

The Black Tower by P. D. James.  I love P. D. James.  Her mysteries aren't always the most intricately plotted, and by 2013 standards, the police procedural aspect is almost ludicrously behind the times (this one was published in 1975).  But her protagonist, Adam Dalgleish, a detective at Scotland Yard, is a complexly interesting man, and P. D. James writes like a dream.  Contemplating a map drawn by an elderly friend, James writes,
The map could be guaranteed to confuse anyone accustomed to depend on the orhodox publications of the National Survey rather than on early seventeen-century charts.  The wavy lines presumably represented the sea. Dalgleish felt the omission of a spouting whale.
Later, she describes another character:
Anstey's smile, when it came, was as sweet as ever but his eyes were preoccupied and his enquiries over his guest's comforts were perfunctory.  Dalgliesh sensed that he wouldn't be sorry to see him go.  Anstey might see himself in the role of a welcoming medieval abbot, always ready with the bread and ale, but what he really craved were the gratifications of hospitality without the inconvenience of a guest.
This one is not her best mystery, but it is still plenty rewarding as an installment in the story of Adam Dalgleish.  The Black Tower opens with Dalgleish in the hospital.  He has been diagnosed with a deadly illness and told he has very little time to live.  Then oops! they find out they were mistaken, and he is almost literally brought back from the dead.  Dalgleish, a poet as well as a police detective, has some lovely meditative thoughts on returning to life after death, while in the midst of dealing with murder.  I'm slowly making my way through James's work--this is the fourth one of hers I've read-- and so far, they have all been excellent.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming.  This is the first book in a series about a woman Anglican priest named Claire Fergusson and the chief of police in her small town, Russ Van Alstyne.  On a cold December night, Claire finds a baby someone has left on the steps of the church.  A week later, out on patrol with Russ to get a better handle on what's going on in their town, Claire finds the body of a young woman who has recently given birth.  Unraveling the mystery behind the birth and death leads to another murder and nearly to Claire's death as well.  It's a little clumsy, but I'm happy to be forgiving for a first novel.  It's definitely good enough that I looked for (and found!) the next one in the series at our library this week.

I seem to be on a mystery kick at the moment.  I don't read them all the time, but sometimes they're exactly what I want to read.

I also read the Gallaghers of Ardmore trilogy by Nora Roberts.  So shoot me.  I just wanted something mindless when I was done with school.  I only started reading Roberts a couple of years ago, and she's so prolific that whenever I'm in the mood for one of hers, there's always another one to read.  If you like Roberts, these three (Jewels of the Sun, Tears of the Moon, and Heart of the Sea) are a good example of her work, but if you don't, they definitely would not convert you.  They're set in Ireland, about three siblings who run the family pub.  In the first one (and best of the three), oldest brother Aidan Gallagher falls in love with Jude, an American who is visiting the land of her ancestors as she recovers from a humiliating divorce.  In the second (and least successful), Brenna O'Toole has to get the attention of the middle Gallagher sibling, Shawn, who has been a brother figure to her since they were in diapers.  In the final one, Darcy Gallagher's incredible voice is discovered by a wealthy American who is building a concert hall in Ardmore.  Roberts has an annoying way of writing dialogue that is all the more annoying because it appears in every single one of her books.  But some of her books are still entertaining, and these are better than average--but not as good as Northern Lights, which I read right before Christmas, and is probably the best one of hers I've read.