Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A tangent of topics

I wonder what the collective noun is for the word "topics"? Not a flock or bevy? I favor alliterative made-up venery terms, myself. Thus we have a tangent of topics, as I often relate them there topics, um, tangentially.

Per my blog almost a month ago, the Bush administration has requested an obscene sum of money ($189 billion) for the Iraq war 2008 budget. Secretary of Defense Gates proposed the budget to Congress today. With no hint of irony, the Reuters story I read states, "In asking for the money, Gates said he was aware of the controversy surrounding the unpopular war." Well, there's good news. The Bush administration is actually paying attention to the American people. Not that it will make a whit of difference to what the Bushies actually do about the war, of course.

There are many things that our government has done over the years that I have not agreed with. None of made me angrier than this war. From the beginning, this war has been based on lies. Just today, yet another Downing Street-type revelation makes it clear that Bush planned to go to war with Iraq no matter what happened with the UN support of any invasion. I could go on and on, listing lie after lie, but I won't. Not enough time or space.

Suffice it to say that Bush has demonstrated repeated throughout his years in the White House that the truth is utterly unimportant. Facts are irrelevant and only to be used in twisted ways to support forgone conclusions. He will say whatever is expedient in the moment to achieve his goals. If it will help him avoid paying for health care for children, he'll say that families with incomes of $80,000 are among those who will benefit from such health care. Even though it's not true.

If Bush wanted to throw around some truth, he could start with these statistics: The money spent on one day of the Iraq war could buy homes for almost 6,500 families or healthcare for 423,529 children.

Can't believe that there were 24 Republicans that actually voted against the health care bill for children in the House. Health care, the war, the state of education in our country--it all makes me sick. And somewhat speechless, I guess.

Speaking of sick, it doesn't make me sick that the world Anglican community has reined in the US Episcopalians in the area of gay acceptance in the faith community. It makes me sad. It is beyond me to view this as a Christ-like response.

And what would Jesus do about his Mozambique servant and head of its Catholic Church,
Maputo Archbishop Francisco Chimoio, who is currently claiming that some condoms made in Europe are deliberately infected with the AIDS virus? Probably not any more nuts as the Catholic church proper being opposed to the use of condoms in this day and age of AIDS and STDs.

But craziest of all stories today? Most shocking? No contest. That would be the Cubs in the race to win the pennant. :-)


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Are Manners Important?

I tend to think so. I'm not a manners wank or anything. I don't carry around Emily Post, making sure that the forks are in their correct positions on the table. Yet I find manners to be an essential part of a civil life.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger's manners were less than impeccable when he "welcomed"
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by calling him a "petty or cruel dictator" during his introduction. Columbia extended an invitation to speak to a known petty and cruel dictator. Such an invitation should by nature include the initial civility that Ahmadinejad (as a petty and cruel dictator) obviously lacks by treating him with the respect we Americans believe he should be according all humans.

Laws protecting human rights and dignity stem from ethical and moral systems that deem all humans ought to give and receive respect, regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, or other differences from the majority rule. How can the US claim a moral high ground against a country like Iran or a dictator like Ahmadinejad if we can't even manage a simple welcoming speech that actual welcomes the individual we invited?

Were Bollinger's statements false? Nope. Ahmadinejad is a cretinous creep. But, if you believe in the freedom of speech, as we Americans profess to do (at least, we do when we agree with the speech being given), we allow people like Ahmadinejad or white supremacists or gay bashers a chance to mount the podium and spread their filth. Doesn't it follow that if you have then invited such a cretinous creep to exercise the American right of free speech that you would not insult the cretinous creep before he even opens his mouth?

For me, it's the invitation extended that makes the difference. If Bollinger (or anyone else, including me) took the podium to speak about Iran and Ahmadinejad's government, making the very same statements, I wouldn't object. I don't usually feel the need to mince words. Obviously.

But if you extend an invitation to someone to speak to you, I believe you have an attendant obligation to greet and listen respectfully to that person. Even if he's not respectful in any way, shape or form to others. Once he's done speaking, responding to his speech or previous behavior is fair game, I think.

If Bollinger felt he needed to put distance between himself and Ahmadinejad's message of fictional history (yep, those six million Jews who died were just a bedtime story) and hatred for others, he had options. Bollinger could have stated that he strongly and completely disagreed with what Ahmadinejad stood for while noting that here in America, unlike in Iran, those with whom we disagree are still allowed to speak. And then Bollinger could have moved off the platform and let Ahmadinejad do so.

Allowing and encouraging free speech in a civil setting sends a message to the world about life in a democracy (ok, republic). Being discourteous sends a message, too. Which message would we rather send to the Middle East?


Monday, September 24, 2007

Tool of the Trade

I am, by trade, a mom and a housewife. In the Thompson/Grapentine household, "housewife" is a noun meaning: one who fixes everything, including (but not limited to) meals, garage door openers, laundry, broken hearts, leaky basements, and leaky children. I am able to accomplish these tasks because of my incredible flexible cognitive nature: if I stare at something long enough, my brain has time to do the necessary flips and handstands until I figure out what the problem is and what I should do about it. That, or I get sick to my stomach from all that movement and the problem resolves itself while I'm leaning over the toilet bowl.

Mostly, though, I am able to accomplish these tasks because of Google. Google is firmly ensconced in my life. It is my partner in keeping my house together, working and in one piece--cheap. I have used Google to learn how to fix my clothes dryer. Found a description of my problem (the dryer turned on but didn't tumble). Found a place to order parts. And even found graphic illustrations of precisely how to take apart said dryer--and put it back together again.

When I put it back together again, there were no pieces left over. And it worked! Parts ran me $5 plus postage. The service charge alone for a visit would've been at least $75. And think of the fun I would've missed as I experienced the sheer terror of having a $500 machine in pieces on my basement floor.

I have used Google to discover how to respond to computer error messages. My computer guru, M, told me to search for my exact error message (in quotes). I was astounded to find out that almost every single error message you can imagine is out there, with discussions of solutions too numerous to read. Yesterday, I figured out why I couldn't get that damn Windows update shield to go away even though I had installed and updated a couple of times.

I have used Google to find answers to niggling questions, like the complete lyrics to Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again, Naturally" (could there be a more depressing song? is that why I liked it as a teen?), the preferred method of seasoning a cast-iron skillet, and just who was that guy in that old sitcom. Would the world have ended had I not learned these things? Well, no. But think of the brain cells freed to work on other more important issues by eliminating the nigglers.

Now, I've discovered a whole new way to use Google: text searching. Say you're at the grocery store and there's a tense game happening between the Cubs and the Brewers. Text "cubs score" to Googl (yes, sans e). Seconds later, a reply comes, magically updating the score for you so that you have missed nothing. Well, other than what exactly happened to bring the game to that score . . . .

Missed the first showing of your Friday night movie? Text "movie (your zip code)" and Google will send you, even if it doesn't even like you all that much, a listing of movies and times in your area. You can even find pizza in a strange town with the same general text!

No one from Google is paying me to wax rhapsodic. No one from Google knows me. Of course, they know of me. I know that because I have, of course, Googled myself. ;-) So I'm really sharing this with you all out of the goodness of my heart. Problems in your life? Big or small, Google will help you solve them all.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday's Feast - 21 September 2007

I'd like to post about something more substantive today. But it's been a busy week. Unfortunately, most of the news will keep until tomorrow, as it will probably be more of the same. Optimistic, aren't I?

What is your favorite type of art?

Harumph. The good kind. Oh, looking for a deeper answer? How about defining by the negative? Not Kincaid, God of Light or whatever he's called. Not black velvet Elvis. Not Andy Warhol.

Went through a brief infatuation with Erte in my 20s. I like Rothko's chunky colors; I find them comforting. Impressionism is nice--don't you think that would piss off many of those revolutionaries? Or would they simply be happy that someone was buying their stuff so they could continue to paint?

I like certain artist's colors. Degas' angry reds. Matisse's stained glass clear blues. Raphael's warm (how does he do that?) blues, too. Have you noticed that few artists make lovely greens outside of landscapes?

When was the last time you got a free lunch (or breakfast or dinner)? Who paid for it?

Well, I think my friend T has treated me recently. But we tend to treat back and forth, usually based on who owes whom money. So I suppose that's not actually a free lunch, as it's a payback. I had many free breakfasts, lunches, and dinners while up north last month, staying at my mom and dad's place. All I had to do in return was be pleasant company, and keep my family from arguing. Which I managed. Mostly.

On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being highest, how emotional are you?

Probably an 8. I'm somewhat taciturn on the outside, while pretty wild on the inside. If you're a Myers Briggs kind of person, I'm an INFJ, though perhaps not as vehemently so as I was 15 years ago.

Main Course
Approximately how long do you spend each day responding to emails?

Oh my. "Responding" is such a fortunate focus, for then I don't need to divulge just how much time I spend actually at the computer. I spend no more than an hour a day responding to emails. Probably closer to a half hour.

To what temperature do you usually set your home’s thermostat?

In the summer, the Thermostat Queen sweats through 77 degree days while basking in73 degree evenings. I hate sweltering in the sheets. Wintertime brings fuzzy blankets, cardigans, and delightful flannel sheets. The Thermostat Queen would be quite happy with 66 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at the beddybye time. The dh? He doesn't believe in flannel anything, and would prefer a far more temperate zone while sleep.

As the Thermostat Queen can hide behind her cry, "It's less expensive!", she is currently winning.

So far.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

OK, Maybe I Take It Back (plus a few other things)

I refer to calling out those spineless Democrats for not taking Bush head-on by tying funding to troop withdrawal deadlines. Suddenly Harry Reid (a leader, even) is sounding hardline about those keeping those deadlines in. Interesting sentence in the article: "Democrats are in a box on the Iraq war debate, lacking the votes to pass legislation ordering troops home but tied to a support base that wants nothing less."

Novel concept. Support what your support base wants you to do, even if it won't win. I know, we're supposed to seek common ground, compromise, be nice.
Democrats have given in, again and again, trying to accomplish something. But I think the time for all of the above is long past because it hasn't accomplished anything in Iraq. No Democracy, no subjugation, no peace. Am I missing any objectives, beyond making America safe?

Petraeus' week of media kiss-up to the contrary, most of the tangible facts point to a country that is mired in civil war. And our presence seems to be a catalyst for more fighting, not less. We've given Bush's solution plenty of time to work, which was a nicety in itself since it was destined to fail from the beginning. Shoving Democracy down a country's throat seems an oxymoron. How often has it worked? Don't republics or democracies usually come from the inside, through revolution?

Add in the challenges of dealing with different religious and cultural sects that, mostly, have no interest in working together and you've got a vinegar and oil soup that no amount of stirring will blend--and no one will swallow even if you could.

Anyone have a good book to recommend on the subject?

So it's time to get out. Will it stop the civil war? No. But at least we won't be killing people. And Americans won't be getting killed. And I think those are two worthwhile objectives.

Did you catch the weird thing with John McCain saying he's a Baptist? He was an Episcopalian the last time around.

Nice to see Barack step up and speak for the middle class.
“Our free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it,” Mr. Obama said. “And so from time to time, we have put in place certain rules of the road to make competition fair and open and honest.” Great.

He mentioned Walmart in passing, saying that some workers have to take minimum wage jobs at Walmart because other jobs are going overseas
. But I'd like to see him propose some new rules of the road to impinge on Walmart's freedom to make money at all costs by sending manufacturing jobs overseas and overpowering small businesses.


Monday, September 17, 2007


First thing. OK. After this weekend's redemptive and restorative activities on the field, you may now discuss Michigan football with me.

Second thing. I am excited by the sudden focus on Universal Health Care from several of our Democratic candidates. Clinton launched her plan today. I'm particularly intrigued by two of the choices she offers: having the same menu of health care from which to choose as Congress, and having a choice similar to Medicare.

The pundits seem to find the plan very similar to the Edwards plan, which has received not enough notice but much praise. That's great, as his plan already had me thinking twice about who I'll support for President. Based on numbers both large and entirely anecdotal, health care is rapidly becoming the biggest issue in the campaign for me. Beyond the war and how it's handled, there is not much that will sway me more for one candidate or another.

Clearly, I don't want this decision to be left in the hands of Republicans. Their current leader, Dubya, recently opined while discussing his planned veto of health care coverage for children, "I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room."
Compassionate conservatism, indeed.

To answer those Republicans who say it will cost too much, read my lips, no new taxes, etc: I heard someone on Sunday wisely say, "We're already paying for it." Adding to that wisdom, I say that if we can afford to spend billions and billions of dollars
killing people in Iraq, we can afford Universal Health Care.

Obama's plan is disappointingly wimpy, with no individual mandate--meaning no requirement that everyone have health insurance. He may change his mind and jump on the bandwagon. But both Edwards and Clinton have been riding this one for a long time. And Edwards is definitely committed to it. He has said that on his first day in office, he will "submit legislation that would pull health insurance for the president, members of Congress and all political appointees unless they pass universal healthcare within six months."

Thing Three. At least Obama has signed onto to another issue important to me: no more war funding without troop withdrawal deadlines attached. The gutless manner in which the Democrats have folded on this again and again is so disappointing. They've let Bush & Co. define what setting such a limit on war funding means for months now.

Hello? The public is not quite that stupid, folks. We can actually understand that the Republicans are manipulating feelings when they suggest that limiting war funding is like stranding soldiers without supplies. And we can also hear those cloying "don't let Congress make us fail by pulling us out before victory" wounded vet ads without our heartstrings tugging our reason out the window. Can't we?

We have far better uses for our money than killing Americans and Iraqis when no earthly good can or has come out of it. Perhaps we could consider taking care of the sick and educating our children, for starters. And, if we take away the tax cuts for those above $200,000, we could actually pay for the former.

Knitting calls.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday's Feast - 14 September 2007

When was the last time you visited a hospital?

I guess it was when Annie had her nasty asthma attack almost 3 years ago. She was in the peds ICU at Rush for 4 days. The first night she was there, I lay in the hospital bed with her, unable to sleep. Her heart was racing, both from being unable to breathe and from the meds she was on. I was really afraid she was going to die. So was she. Not fun.

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being highest, how ambitious are you?

That would be a 1. I am not ambitious in the least. I set a high bar for myself in how I do things, not in what I achieve or what level I reach. I want to do the best job I can whatever task I take on. Except maybe housework. ;-)

Make a sentence using the letters of a body part. (Example: (mouth) My other ukelele tings healthily.)

Finger: For I not go ever right. As in wing.

Main Course

If you were to start a club, what would the subject matter be, and what would you name it?

Today, I am so tired that the only kind of club with appeal would be a napping club. I think I'd call it S.I.E.S.T.A. (Several Indolence Experts Sleep Through All). We'd have special napping t-shirts printed up with the counting sheep sleeping in the clouds. We'd be activists, when we weren't sleeping, advocating for special napping facilities at workplaces. Perhaps, after a few years, we'd branch out into merchandise, selling sleep pods that create private spaces in cubicles or offices for sleeping.

What color is the carpet/flooring in your home?

Combination of oak floors and carpeting, except sagey green ceramic tile in the kitchen (what was I thinking?). Grey shag on the stairs and in our bedroom, which I'd love to rip out and refinish the oak floors beneath. Carl likes it, though. And hunter green carpeting in the den.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Finding my place--very long and rambling

I'm trying to find my place at my new church. I woke up this morning to realize that I'm rather engaged, suddenly. I'm a confirmation mentor, a Stephen Minister, a member of the Chancel and Bell choirs, attendee of that crafty group of women that meet monthly on Friday evenings to talk and create. And I hit a Thursday AM Bible study this morning. Huh. Imagine that. What has possessed me?

I left my old church last fall. The kids and I had been worshiping at P for 10 years, following Carl there when he took a choir director job. I was not wedded to the place, though I found the denomination (United Church of Christ) generally to my liking, if a bit over-pleasing and amorphous. But I stayed on with the kids after Carl left to become a Bach Lutheran. Did a bit of intellectual work and decided it would be best for the kids to stay put.

And I wasn't sure if I would fit in at a church where God always seems to be He and where politics aren't mentioned from the pulpit. Wasn't sure that my likes would be welcomed at Grace. Way liberal both in politics and theology. I meditate. God is neither personal nor puppeteer, if I even know Her at all.

Truth be told, I'm one of those boring souls who isn't ever sure that her likes are welcomed anywhere. I say "boring" because it's so self-involved. Get a life. And I'm hardly alone. Lots of people feel the same way. Guess that's one group I would fit into . . . . But most often, not so much. Anywhere. Church is the least of it. But also perhaps the most, as my life since marriage has revolved around church.

I started out as nothing, denominationally speaking. Raised in a home where Sunday mornings were reserved for very pleasant mornings of bagels and a leisurely perusal of the newspaper. The religious upbringing I took from my growing up was that religion was a crutch for the possibly weak-minded who needed it. And it was a crutch that often seemed to bludgeon its users, taking advantage of them in numerous financial ways.

The day I joined my husband's American Baptist church home was probably not the proudest moment of my parent's lives(though I know they are proud of me, generally speaking). Yet they'd raised me to think and ponder. And I'd always had a hunger to know what it was, exactly, that other people were doing Sunday mornings. Maybe it was a separateness thing, another way that I didn't fit in.

Either way, I read the Bible extensively in high school (you didn't know, did you Dad?), reveling in the language of King James. I came back to the psalms again and again, fixing on the comforting images of God as knowing and knowable shepherd.

We see what we want--or need--to see. :-)

When I hit college, I explored a few churches on my own. I remember the Methodist church most clearly, as it had the best (read loudest) organ, shaking the pews below while voices soared above. I fell into friendships with Christians in my dorm. And they were absolutely capital C Christians of the born again variety.

That was a little much for me. I tried, but utterly failed, to take in the notion of a personal God yanking my strings and a literal inerrant Bible. It seemed terribly comforting, though. And it required little thought. I wasn't sure why Bible study was so attractive in these circles, since actually critical analysis of the texts was not exactly encouraged. Plus, they were all Republicans. Not a good fit.

So I readily left that group to attend church with Carl at First Baptist. May not sound like a step away from the born agains. I guess probably most of those at First Baptist would have answered the altar call.
But there were Democrats there. And thinkers, too. It was an intellectually stimulating and intimidating place, full of Michigan professors.

I spoke little, but did open my mouth wide enough to sing in my first church choir. It was a transformative experience, worshiping through song. My last organized vocal experience was taking the role of Smitty in "How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying". I'd never acted or sung before, having been chosen for the role simply because I could carry a tune and was richly sarcastic. Copping an attitude and pitch production do not an musical actress make.

But making music that wasn't about me, that was about something so much more than one? Doing it well, so that the silence afterward was more than applause, a space that none of us dared inhabit, as we knew the music and where we were had been taken to by it had nothing to do with our mere voices? That was my first indoor encounter with God.

We left First Baptist when we moved to Chicago. And so was launched our period of church shopping. We assumed we'd attend an American Baptist church. It was my husband's denomination of birth--his father and brother were both ABC ministers. ABC is the "liberal" Baptist denomination. So we tried out the local ABC church.

Yikes. Met some wonderful people there. But the pastor was to die for. And I don't mean that in a good way. I mean I think I might've died if I'd had to worship with him on a regular basis. Machiavellian. Bring 'em to Christ by any means feasible. My favorite event was the communion during which he urged everyone to take the wine and bread, even if you were a non-believer. Don't worry, you won't have to take it if you don't want to. Then he did some manipulative song and dance about well you could put it back but why not take it or some such crap. Then there were the candy canes with the blood of Jesus on them . . . .

We left that church. Tried the Methodist church up the block. Nice place, nice organ, nice people. But it was small then, with no kids. Didn't seem right. So, after a few months, we whimsically drove up the North Shore to visit North Shore Baptist one Sunday. Just because.

We stayed 9 years. It was a long trip each Sunday. And Wednesday. And all the evenings in between, as I started serving on various boards and councils and search committees. For a while, it was worth it. Thoughtful pastors, good friends, and great worship made the driving a very necessary evil.

Carl served as music director. Our kids were born and dedicated there. OK, they weren't actually born there . . . though I did go into labor with Annie during the 11am worship service. It was an odd place, with gay pillars of the church firmly ensconced in the closet and multi-culturalism practiced and preached with a fair amount of teeth-bared polite bloodshed.

Oddly enough, though, I felt at home there. It was conservative. I had to do lots of mental tap dancing and u-hauling to make what I believe fit into the general ABC structure around me. Why go through such machinations?

Because God was indoors again, and I saw Him in people I loved. Shocked the hell out of me. Sometimes, during communion, I would look out of the choir loft at the congregation, look around at my singing friends, and weep. Not mist up, which is usually the best I can do in the crying department. But sob with joy because, why?

I was known. I knew. And God was. In some way bigger way than I ever comprehended. You want more, you want clarity? Ask a theologian.

Then the bloodshed grew most impolite. Our beloved pastor "chose" to leave during a nasty fight about gays. He took my best friend, his wife, with him. Even as I sat on the search committee to replace him, it became clear to me that I could no longer worship here, in this place that was so ready to judge and exclude. Absolutely, I know that God doesn't reside in one person or one pastor. But it felt to me like God had left the building and that I should, too.

Plus, the drive was killing us, the kids were getting older, and we wanted a church closer to home so they could easily be involved. That's what we said when we left. and maybe it's why we did leave. Or maybe not.

So Carl saw a poster somewhere advertising the job at P. He asked if he should look into it. Was probably a bit shocked when I said yes. It felt very fated to be when I showed up on a Sunday morning to check it out. Sitting in the pew in front of me were Steve and Karen, dear friends from North Shore who, serendipitously, were also trying out Pilgrim that Sunday. He took the job.

But it was never a good fit, for him or me. Hindsight is 20/20, of course. But there wasn't much going on about God in that church during worship for me. It was mostly about us, and how great we were because we were liberal and celebrated diversity. The self-congratulation was a bit suffocating.

A new pastor came in shortly after we joined. Interesting preacher. Fascinating woman. We became close friends. Then she started in on Carl--and never quit. Without adding several thousand words more than I've already written, let's just say she
was rather unpastoral. Mean. Demeaning and unprofessional. A number of times. It was hard.

She was sorry when he left, but never seemed to understand her role in the leaving. I stayed, but never felt liberal enough. I liked classical music. During worship. I didn't really want to dance or shake maracas. I didn't like Republican ideology, but didn't want Republican people denigrated from the pulpit. I thought a diverse congregation was good, but not the most important thing. At a church, I thought that was supposed to be God.
I wanted worship to be about God, not us. There was no awe in that place for me, even when we sang "Our God is an Awesome God" over and over.

Four years after Carl left Pilgrim, he took a job filling in as choir director at his church, Grace Lutheran. Big fancy place in River Forest. I had come to a few services over the years. Felt out of it as I didn't know the liturgy and the women were dressed to the nines. No one looked unsure or questioning or opinionated. Not that I was judging on looks or anything. But I met parents I liked when Annie attended the great school at Grace. Got a little more comfortable there. Listened to some sermons and heard a theology I could live with.

A year ago, a father of one of Annie's classmate died. I was invited to sing in the choir for the funeral. I did. It was a sweetly (but not saccharine-y) moving service of rock and roll, Bach, and words. When we finished, I turned to Annie and said, "Sometimes, I wish we were going to church here". She said, "Why don't we?" So now we do.

Moving churches has been wrenching each and every time, even if the moves were each voluntary and welcome. We were at each church long enough to make connections. So, even when I didn't "fit", I was a part of things. That at least gives the appearance of belonging to someone who feels apart.

The first years at a church are always hard, even if good. There is so much history surrounding each person--and each of those persons to whom that person is connected. It's like the web of roots beneath a tree. You know it exists, but you don't know who and where and what is connected to whom.

After a year at Grace, I am learning who is connected where. Its history is rich, almost revolutionary in places. Surprising for such a staid-seeming institution. Of course, I feel separate and don't fit in yet. But most everyone has been kind and welcoming, even as they turn back to their portion of that very complex Lutheran web of roots. And, by being active, I've at least crafted the appearance of belonging to it.

The rest will follow, I think. It had better. Because I'm done moving. No more church shopping or denomination hopping. I like being Lutheran. We do good works and have fun. I love the different liturgies, the hymns. Luther intrigues me.

But mostly, I want to stay because I want to put down my own roots here, amidst and amongst all the others. One of my favorite writers, Scott Russell Sanders, said, "Real estate ads offer houses for sale, not homes. A house is a garment, easily put off or on, casually bought and sold; a home is skin. Merely change houses and you will be disoriented; change homes and you bleed. When the shell you live in has taken on the savor of your love, when your dwelling has become a taproot, then your house is a home."

May we all find that home, wherever it may be.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Was talking with a friend today at one of my volunteer gigs (great place--Animal Care League) about our kids. We both have daughters at our local high school, and we occasionally compare notes about how things are going for them. It was a refreshing conversation, as I think we're both in similar places about what we want for our girls--and what we don't want.

Me? I value learning and education. I value giving your best effort every day. I want my kids to grow up to be kind, happy people who aren't afraid of hard work, but want more than 60 hours a week and enough money to go to Disneyworld. But I don't think having my daughter stressed to her maximum physical and emotional capacity every day by school, with incredibly rigorous honors/AP courses that require 4 hours (or more) of homework a night, is the path to those values. My viewpoint seems to be in the minority in our twin towns, where achievement is all.

As I look over my daughter's shoulder, her work reminds me of challenging college classes I took long ago. It was great to be a college student, staying up all hours of the night, discussing Big Life Questions. It seems developmentally appropriate to encourage critical thinking as kids mature into adults, as I want my kids to be able to savor those questions, as well as attempt to figure out their own answers. Crack thinking skills will help them do that.

But is it necessary for them to reach such rigorous depths when they are 15? And to reach them to the exclusion of sleep, down time, and time playing cards with Mom? And what about making time for music and sports? It's awfully hard to cram in these extra activities around 4 hours of homework a night. And it is crammed, with minds racing to the next event, the next assignment, rather than enjoying being in the moment of playing with your teammates, smacking the ball, or making music.

The flip side of extra curricular activities in Achievementland? A was telling me yesterday that she didn't think she'd try out for Jazz Band this year. Too much homework. I had two initial reactions. First, I was disappointed for her, as she really enjoyed Jazz Band last year. Second, I started worrying about how it would look on her college application that she was doing so few extra curricular activities.

Gak. Since when did after school activities become things to do because they look good, rather than activities that are fun or healthy or cool? The idea of 15 year olds compiling their curriculum vitae is incredibly sad. Kids should be learning and growing with their family and their peers, focusing on now, not later.

Looking forward, preparing for the next step, seems to be one of the seminal ideas of current educational thought. Why do kids in middle school have to do so much organizational work? To get ready for high school, of course. Why do second graders have to write research papers? To get ready for middle school, of course.

What are we teaching our children to do, exactly, by always forcing them to look ahead and perform at the next level, rather than mastering the level they are at here and now? What kind of lives do we adults lead when we are constantly pushing forward, focusing on the next thing, rather than being here now? I think these lives become ones where we look back and mourn what we didn't savor at the time. Moments with growing children lost. Time spent visiting with your spouse, hearing about his day, lost.

These are not the lives I want for myself and my children. But what do I know? After all, I'm a failure in Achievementland, where I hold no job with titles, a corner office, and a big fat salary . . . . ;-)


Monday, September 10, 2007


First off, don't make conversation with me about Michigan football. Because I don't want to talk about it. I want to talk about it when we are 12-0, riding high, heading for the traditional OSU/UM showdown with whispers of National Championship in the air. I don't want to talk about it when we, um, UM, stink.

There. Got that off my chest.

Remember how outraged America was quite recently to find out that companies are distributing toys in the US that are full of lead and other toxins? Well, you'll be happy to know that those companies--and the Consumer Products Safety Commission-- continues to take care of this issue quite handily while not suffering at the bottom line.

The CPSC is thrilled to approve of the export of those poisonous toys to other countries, and is doing so on a regular basis for 13 years. In fact, 96% of corporate requests to export toys that have failed the US's safety regs were approved. That means all those lead-filled (or otherwise unsafe) toys are now in the hands of children in countries who have lesser safety standards than we do.

How do these people sleep at night, these government officials and business folks who pass the buck to make bucks at children's expense? Perhaps some of these people are among the bulgingly overpriced CEOs Barbara Ehrenreich writes of in her scathing brief Labor Day commentary.

Speaking of bureaucracy not caring about children, it doesn't much care about their mother's either. Sophie Currier has apparently finished med school at Harvard, completing the process despite being a pregnant dyslexic woman with ADHD. You'd think that, having made it through those hurdles, she'd be home free. Nope, not with the Board of Medical Examiners blocking her way.

What does Sophie want? She wants extra time during the test to pump breastmilk for her 4 month old. The BME says no. She can pump during the alloted break time in the glass-walled monitored testing room. Apparently there's no one on the BME who has actually had children and nursed them--or even had a spouse nurse them. Try to take a 9 hour test with only one 45 minute break to eat, pee, and pump in public? Maybe they should also require that she walk a tightrope and breastfeed while doing so.

Come on. It makes my breasts hurt just thinking about going for 9 hours with just one pumping session with the amount of milk one would be producing for an exclusively breastfed four month old. Can you say rock hard you'll have an infection by the next AM because you didn't empty those puppies out?

And, while once I'd given birth, modesty was no longer an issue--could've pumped out on Michigan Avenue without concern--not everyone feels the same way. For pumping to work, you have to be able to relax for the "let down" reflex to happen. Milk won't come out otherwise. Sounds really relaxing, pumping in a glass room with a monitor watching, doesn't it?

Oh, there's so much more to talk about. My brain compared to Dick Cheney's brain. The Petraeus report (sic). Prisons getting rid of religious and spiritual books because of the ever-lurking boogeyman of terrorism. But the competency of grocery shopping calls.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday's Feast - 7 September 2007

Using only one word, how does grocery shopping make you feel?

Competent. I'm the mom. I'm in charge. I'm choosing the groceries to feed my family. Sad, isn't it?

What is your favorite part about the season of Autumn?

Cool breezes blowing the leaves about my feet while I'm walking a dog--any dog will do--under a canopy of gold and red. If I can't be out in the country in the fall, thank goodness I live in Oak Park, aka Mature Tree City.

Have you ever had any bad experiences online?

Well, yes. As Suna pointed out, anyplace where scads of women gather, challenging relationships will happen. And words sound harsher out here where there's no body language to soften them. But the good experiences have far outweighed the bad.

Main Course
Name three things that make you happy daily.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


What one household cleansing or organizing item would you not want to be without?

Time & Chaos, my PIM. It is an amazing tool that makes it easy for even a scatterhead like me to be organized, keeping all the info I need about everything in my life in one place. And it's not Microsoft, which I also appreciate.


Thursday, September 06, 2007


I'm in the midst of a discussion with a group of friends. Among these women, we have bantered through every conceivable topic, from easy (say, refrigerator filters) to very hard (breast v. bottle and gay rights). There have been hard moments, but mostly illuminating times full of mutual respect for different viewpoints.

A current conversation is making me think a bit. The actual topic of discussion is irrelevant. Let's call it X. It's the back talk on the discussion of X that has me going. Tolerance. A number of us, in response to a call for feedback, expressed negative opinions about X. Either we just didn't like X or felt it was a sign of unprofessionalism to do X in public.

At some point in the convo, a member confronted the rest of us on our intolerance and judgmentalism regarding X. By not liking X, and by making assumptions about those who do like X, we were buying into negative stereotypes of those who like X. She felt this was an unfair bias and wanted to open our eyes to this unseen bias. She judged us judgmental, and found us wanting.

Here, in a spew, is where my head has been going, far beyond the discussion at hand. Sometimes, I feel like Real Liberals are not allowed to have opinions on people's personal choices. Or, if they have them, they are definitely not allowed to judge based on them. The only personal choice that a liberal can be intolerant of is intolerance itself. And, even then, that intolerance can be suspicious.

An example. I used to belong to a church that was avowedly Open and Affirming. That means it declared itself gay-friendly and gay-supportive, so that the GLBT community would know they were safe in coming to worship with us. This church rented its chapel to another church who was most avowedly NOT gay friendly or supportive. In fact, the pastor preached regularly that gays were going to hell.

Seemed to many that it was not very supportive or friendly of us to allow this kind of worship to occur in a place that was supposed to be a sanctuary for gay folks. Others, though, felt that we could not be intolerant of even really icky intolerance. That we should, instead, let those anti-gay folks stay put so that we could lovingly shower them with good examples of why they were wrong.

A similar and parallel discussion existed regarding members of the church who were anti-gay. Could we have anti-gay members if we were going to specifically invite and welcome gays? Yet who were we to turn others away from worship? Whose church is it, anyway?

I am still unclear on my answer for either of those situations. I lean strongly towards not making a business decision to profit from a congregation who believed very differently from ours, particularly when we (as a congregation) felt this opinion was wrong and hurtful. I can't imagine closing the doors to worship, whatever the cost. It's not my door to close. Yet I can't imagine the alternative as receiving the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval by Jesus, either.

There is one other personal choice that Real Liberals are allowed to judge harshly. That is, of course, the choice is to be a conservative Republican. That is very clearly a bad choice, to be judged harshly, indeed. I remember well a church service this same liberal church not to be named where Republicans were sneered at, in a very general way, from the pulpit.

As you may have guess, I am extremely willing to sneer at conservative Republicans almost anywhere. I certainly do right here in cyberspace, on an almost daily basis. But I think a sanctuary is a sanctuary both for me and from me. It is not a place for my judgment--or yours. I may rail against the acts of individuals or nations. I may want my pastor to preach against war, for peace and justice, and for three squares and a health plan a day. But I don't want me or you or our pastors deciding who gets to come and stay and eat at our table. It's not our job.

What do you think?


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Adrift in the pool of genealogy

I got a call today from a cousin. If you are into genealogy, you know not to take the word "cousin" too literally. Everyone who is somehow related to you is a cousin in genealogy land, whether they be a second cousin twice removed or a great great aunt or some relation even less easily describable.

This cousin, D, actually is my cousin. First cousin once removed, to be precise. Her father and my grandma were siblings. The particular branch of the family from which we both come is a rather scattered group, like leaves blown all over hell on a stormy fall evening. My Grandma T was orphaned, both parents having died of black diphtheria before she was three.

Black diphtheria. Isn't that dramatically old fashioned? Nasty disease, though. Called black because the diphtheria caused a black cloth-like substance to form in the throat, covering the airway. People usually die when their airway is covered. Lovely description of how death came--and could be fended off--here.

Grandma T and her older sibs were parceled off, as usually happened. Grandma T and her sister, Audrey, were lucky. Relatives took them in. The two older boys, George and Fred? Not so much. George was told to fend for himself. He was 11. Fred, at 8, was sent to military school in Minnesota. Fred was my cousin D's father.

All of the siblings struggled. George was an alcoholic whose death was hastened by the bottle. Audrey died in her twenties. Family whispers say she bore an illegitimate child before her death, who also died. Fred never talked much about his life to cousin D. And Grandma T? She got pregnant and had to get married to my Grandpa. It wasn't a happy marriage, and she wasn't a happy woman.

My other grandma didn't have a much happier start. Grandma S was left motherless when she was 9. Her father sent her and her four siblings off to live with grandparents while her father rustled up a new mother for them. (Family gossip says that the new mom was possibly an old flame, happy to take back up with the new widower.) I think these siblings fared better, though alcoholism turned up on this side of the family, too.

But I don't think Grandma S ever got over her mother's death. She was--and continues to be, even in her 90s--needy and self-centered, unable to give to others. She married a man who was mentally ill, and ended up having to raise three girls either alone or with the extremely unhelpful presence of an bipolar husband. My mom was on her own, financially, from the age of 14. No more cello lessons when you have to buy your own clothes. And it's awfully hard to study when you have a manic father disturbing the peace in your own home.

Such are some of the stories that I am made from.

Anytime I get a call or email from a cousin, I slip back into the misty gene pools. I can lose myself for hours trying to track down one small historic detail, nailing down one birth or death date. It's like a puzzle, only I don't need to be spatially oriented to succeed at it. I just need to persevere. Which I'm good at. :-)

But what I am even more fascinated by are the stories. And those are even harder to track down. Of course, living relatives who tell the stories are best of all. But even reading between the lines is illuminating.

I don't need to have heard my mom tell the story about Grandpa S. holding them all hostage for a few days while he waved a gun around to know that my mom's growing up taught her people are not always trustworthy and dependable.

Grandma T never told me that she didn't remember her parents and never felt like she belonged with the great aunt and uncle who raised her. But I can guess that she knew she needed to find a man and get out quick when she reached a marriageable age. And so she did--whatever it took.But what it took was so embarrassing that she lied about the year in which she was married for 50 years, even occasionally saying her daughter was a year younger than she truly was.

Hard stories. But I want to know them. Knowing their stories helps me view them all with compassion. Removes the ever-present it's all about me outlook with a broader perspective. And, at the same time, it helps me see more clearly and separately who I am--and am not.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Proud to be a Republican?

I'm still retrieving my jaw from the floor, after my midday perusal of the papers and blogs. Republicans are once again proving they care about money, not people.

Example A is GOP Presidential Candidate Tom Tancredo, who says it's time to end the Katrina tax payer "gravy train". Incredibly ignorant. Has this guy never looked at any current photos of NOLA? Not read anything about how miserably the federal government has supported the rehabilitation efforts from Katrina? Not noticed that the area hit by the hurricane is nowhere near rehabilitated?

The rich? Many of them have gotten their lives back together and have moved on. But those who are actually depending on the federal government to help them do the same? Nada. And basic fixing up of NOLA's infrastructure? Ha.

Republicans are too busy spending money killing Iraqis to repair the damage of Katrina for ordinary folks.

Kos points out this stellar next example of Republicanism. Montana Rep. John Sinrud, whose constituents are busy trying to save their homes from forest fires, believes that the government shouldn't support these efforts and that we should "let them burn." Nice. According to Kos, Sinrud has no problem saving big business timber from those same fires. Nice again.

Republicans are too busy spending money helping big business to repair the damages from forest fires for ordinary folks.

Speaking of money, aren't you feeling sorry for Tony Snow, departing White House Press Secretary? He's leaving because he isn't earning enough as Press Secretary to support his family. Yeah, I've heard it's tough to support a family of five on $168,000. Apparently so tough that he had to take out a loan to take on the job in first place.

Tony, I can recommend some fine thrift shops to help contain expenses. And, if you'd like to continue serving your country rather than feathering your bank account, might I suggest community college for those three children?

Are you seeing a trend here? In the Republican universe, money trumps all.