Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm moving slowly this morning.

Thanksgiving week was a major working holiday for us. We managed to prime the exterior of my father's house, which was exciting for DH who had the happy task of climbing 20 feet up an extension ladder to reach the peaks of the house. I stood at the base of the ladder, steadying it and realizing that if DH fell, I would be the one to break his fall. Scenarios in which both of our bodies were laying in a heap on the lawn--with a shiny ladder pinning us down--ran through my mind.

We get to do it all again over the next week or two, except with actual paint instead of boring, white primer.

Things are slowly coming along in this never-ending project. Once the outside is painted, we're moving on to tiling the bathrooms, something which I am both excited and nervous about. I managed to take a few classes at Home Depot, so I feel like I have a basic grasp of the process....but I'm just nervous and not wanting to screw things up.

I'll post pictures of my handiwork when it's done.....either out of self-satisfaction, or as a warning to any would be do-it-yourself-ers

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving 2009

We've been away working on my father's house for the last few days but have managed to make it to the in-law's for today.....ready to morph into never-ending feast mode.

Pumpkin Pie and Peach Crisp will be our contribution to the annual day of over-indulgence.

Hopefully the sugar coma will subside by Monday.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's In A Name?

Many years ago when DH and I were in the early stage of our relationship before we were married, we wandered through a posh bookstore in Palo Alto. It had a second floor, jazz music playing, and the cool, hip kind of people with dreadlocks and hemp chokers embellished with small shells.

We browsed through the store, pointing out things we found interesting, curious if our interests would match up.

We came across a display in the middle of the store, piled high with books on numerous subjects. DH picked up a book on the meaning of names and decided to look mine up. I don't remember all of the meanings ascribed to my name. The usual is "harvester". However, this description's most prominent meaning was "competent".

DH thought this was hilarious. I was "competent", scare quotes inferred from his laughter.

I was happy with that description. In fact, I thought it was downright praise-worthy. I'd much rather be competent than incompetent.

I realized that we had a different sense of what it meant to be competent. DH saw it as a term for someone who just squeaks by; not exceptional, not special, and possessing the bare minimum of abilities required for a task. I saw it as a mark of solid dependability. A competent person is self-reliant, possessing everything needed for the job, knowledgeable about what they're doing, and trustworthy.

As I've continued to deal with my father's house and estate, I'm always surprised at how many incompetent people I come across. From accountants and lawyers, to plumbers and contractors, the lack of professionalism has been astounding. At almost every turn I have had to correct, and straighten out people who have been in business in their respective careers for years. It's quite astonishing to me that many of them have succeeded.

A few examples:

Two out of three plumbers who were supposed to give me estimates on some work to be done never followed through. One actually came by, looked at what I need don and said he would call me with the numbers. I never heard from him again. The other plumber was supposed to come by one day and never showed up or called me back. I eventually hired someone else, and as that plumber was finishing the job, the other, absent plumber showed up....2 days after he was supposed to, without calling.

The amazing part was that I needed quite a bit of work done, so not following through cost the other plumbers at least $1,000.

I set an appointment with an accountant, two weeks in advance. I showed up to his office, and he wasn't there. His secretary apologized and said her boss was picking up bagels and coffee for the meeting. A half an hour later, he's still not there and hasn't called to say whether he was coming, or to apologize for being late. As I left, I told the secretary that I would have preferred an on-time accountant more than a bagel and coffee. What made it even worse was that I had noticed his price schedule at the office....he charged $275 for an hour's worth of work.

I had to hound my lawyer to file paperwork that needed to be filed by a certain date. I signed the papers I needed to and sent them immediately after receiving them. Almost three weeks later I get an e-mail asking me when I'm going to send those papers because the filing date has passed. After putting my exploding head back together, I send an e-mail explicitly stating that "I am not pleased" and pointing out that the head lawyer had already e-mailed me two weeks before that he was handling it.....and now they claim they don't even have the paperwork I sent.

Then, there's the insurance agent who sent me a bill for an extra $220 for a policy that was paid in full and expired 2 months ago, because the insurance company, three months after the policy was paid for, wanted to increase the coverage. So...I was supposed to pay for a coverage period which had already elapsed and which had been paid for at the rate that the insurance company provided. I quickly explained that I didn't think changing a contract for services after the terms were already agreed upon, and in force, could in any way be legal, and that I would rather throw the $220 in the toilet, because I would be getting the same value for that money anyway. The insurance agent said she understood and that she would handle it with the insurance company.

I could recount at least four more examples, some that are even more glaring, but I will spare you.

Competency is a precious thing.

Perhaps because we are so interested in being "exceptional" we fail to see that competency is the mark of a true professional. It's not exciting or sexy to be "competent"......but it's the competent people of the world that hold things together and get things done.

May my tombstone read "At least she was competent".

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Palin Power

I only caught the end of Palin's interview on Oprah. Luckily, it was the part in which Oprah asked Palin about her resignation.

Palin's response was just more of the same from her resignation speech: she was resigning because she felt she could do more for "America" outside of her governorship.

This is an illusion. What Palin has done is taken on the job of a pundit, a speech-maker. It might be inspiring to view oneself as a communicator or persuader, giving voice to the people's thoughts, but it is really a rather meaningless role as far as personally bringing about change.

I don't know if it's a particularly American bent, but the idea that talking about change is somehow more powerful than actually being involved in the mechanics of change has run rampant through our society. We have more pundits and opinionators than we can shake a stick at. We don't need any more of them.

Feelings don't change society. Feelings don't run a government.

The average person participates in the government by voting for politicians and policies. The average person's involvement in change begins and ends in water cooler talks and maybe the occasional protest if they are truly active in persuading people. All of it means nothing without actual candidates and elected officials to do the work.

Bills have to be written. Laws have to be passed. Decisions have to be made. Budgets have to be created. The will and feelings of the electorate have to be transformed into something tangible by our mayors, senators, and governors.

That is the role that Sarah Palin gave up. She traded in her real, ordinary power for a superficial counterfeit of power that does nothing more than rile people up for a few moments.

It's ironic that the same demographic who thinks Obama was awarded the peace prize based on a perception of being peaceable, rather than actually doing anything to achieve peace, is the same demographic who can't see that Palin's claim to power and eligibility to run for president in 2012 is just as flimsy.

She hasn't done anything to prove herself to be a qualified candidate for president.

She's not qualified, not because she isn't smart enough, or old enough, or ugly enough. She's not qualified because she gave up. She's not qualified because she has shown that she thinks speeches make good government and effect change. She's not qualified because she wasn't willing to work within the system we have.

She has placed herself outside and above the government.

Why should we let her back in?

Why would we let her back in?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Camp Out

The Rationalist and The Intuitive have been tucked into their air mattress beds inside the tent for their first night of camping out in the back yard by themselves.

DH and I listened as they regaled us with ghost stories, after they were finished reading their books by flashlight.

The gate has been locked with a padlock and the dog is standing by ready to protect them from stray cats and squirrels.

The big question is:

Will the two boys become scared and want back inside or will Mom excessively worry and join them in the tent around 11:00 pm?

I'll let you know in the morning.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Christmas Cards for Bloggers

Caption: "Oh, I am so blogging about this."

So that's how we got the gospel of Luke!


This might get morbid...but I do actually have a point to make.

The worst thing about my father's death was not that he died. Everybody dies. It's like the old movie line: Nobody's getting out of here alive!

No. The worst part of his death was that it went unnoticed for a week and a half. He was supposed to be out of town, so no one missed him until he didn't show up for work a week and a half later. He didn't have a cell phone, so when I tried to call him at home and he didn't answer, I figured I was just going to have wait until his vacation was over to speak to him.

A human body left unattended after death begins to deteriorate quite rapidly. Not only does it begin to deteriorate, but it begins to become food for other living things; insects, or animals if it is out in the open.

It is a morbid, unpleasant thing to dwell upon, and we hardly ever think about it because death and its effects are removed from our Western consciousness. When someone dies they are immediately taken to a morgue or a funeral parlor. They are embalmed with preservatives to keep them from rotting. They have their bodies emptied of fecal matter, and bodily fluids. They are dressed in attractive clothing and have their hair and makeup done. They are placed in satin-lined, oak or steel boxes with a polished sheen.

This is all done by other people. We don't see the deceased until all the dirty work is done and what we are left with is something resembling a wax figure. We gaze upon this figure and hold conversations at its side with other mourners, discussing how good he/she looks. We deceive ourselves with the luxurious funeral trappings, concealing from our consciousness the realities of what death means for a physical body. We provide ourselves with a sense of pseudo-immortality for the deceased person who is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

It isn't real.

Not only is it not real, but the entire process creates an impediment to our understanding of life and death.

I have become convinced that the Scriptural descriptions of Life and Death that we find in the Bible are based on simple observation and meditation. When Genesis describes man as being formed form the dust of the earth, it is a true description, because when people die, that is exactly what happens to them. An ancient observer had only to come across the remains of the dead to see that very quickly man transforms from a living being to inert, dusty matter.

When Genesis describes God breathing into the formed figure of man, bringing it to life, it is describing what must have seemed obvious to anyone:
Genesis 2:7

the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Only living people breathe. A baby's life starts with its first breath, an adult's life ends with its last. Once breath permanently leaves your body, you're dead. And yet, what is breath? What is the impetus that makes a body breathe and continue breathing? To an ancient observer it would be a mystery, with no sense of lungs, or involuntary brain impulses that signal the body to continue breathing, how could one explain why death always comes with that last exhalation?

Another common and naturalistic description of life tied up with death appears in the command not to consume an animal's blood because "the life of a creature is in the blood". So life is found in breath and in blood. And just as when breath disappears, or returns to God, one dies, so too when one's blood pours out, life ends.

This is obvious when we think about it.

We keep people alive now by supplementing their breathing or blood supply. Thousands of years later we are still dealing in the same realms of life and death, breath and blood, as the Israelites did. Their words are no less profound or true, though we may think of them in a different light.

We are simultaneously more familiar with the physical, observable, biological processes of life, while being hopelessly disconnected from the physical, observable, biological processes of death. Because of this, we have an impoverished view of a large portion of Scripture as it pertains to life and death.

We don't understand that Death was/is an uncontrollable, unpredictable enemy readying itself to swallow up everybody. The lack of a belief in an after-life in early Judaism lays bare the fact that life was tied to a physical body, and death destroyed life in every sense. To hope for new life was to hope for a new physical existence, to hope for an escape from the decay.

We think that we have outwitted the nastiness of death, the disgust of decay, and the hopelessness of deterioration; but we haven't. We have only turned our gaze away from it.

This is what death looks like:

This is the home of Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland, Ohio man whose home had at least 11 murdered, decaying bodies in it.

What we feel when we think about the 11 bodies left in Anthony Sowell's house is probably quite similar to what an ancient culture might have felt about the despair of death and the mistreatment of human bodies. It's a visceral, raw, gut-wrenching emotion.

Because we have sanitized and trivialized death in its physical sense we have affected how we also see life. We live in our heads. We live in the abstract. We live through our thoughts and not through our actions.

It isn't how we were meant to live. It isn't reflective of the world view that much of Scripture was written in.

Because we misunderstand death, we misunderstand life.

Friday, November 06, 2009


The title speaks for itself.

See you all later!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Changing Insults

School age children can be childish, cruel, and thoughtless. It's a universal trait. So, it came as no surprise to me when The Rationalist related some of the "jokes" his friends at school were using. Typical 4th grade boy humor. Bathroom humor. Making fun of each other humor. Usually it's distasteful to me, but I don't really make a big deal about it. Kids will be kids.

Yesterday, as we were talking about school, he said that one of his friends was asking people if they were happy. If they said "Yes," his friend would laugh and say,"Haha! You must be gay! Happy means gay!" Another friend would tell someone to watch his upraised index finger, which he would slowly move from near his face to his crotch and then say the person was gay because they were looking there.

I asked The Rationalist what he thought his friends meant by their jokes. He said he wasn't sure; saying that maybe "gay" meant "dumb".

We haven't really covered heterosexuality with him, let alone homosexuality. I was pretty sure that he had no idea what "gay" meant....and he didn't. Needless to say he wanted to know what it did mean. He looked it up in the dictionary and asked what homosexual meant, giggling at the fact that sex was in the word, a word he knows usually provokes his parents into changing the channel when they hear it on TV and the kids are in the room.

I gave a simple response about boys "liking" boys instead of girls, but knew it wasn't a complete explanation.

I was disturbed by the whole thing, not just because of having to discuss it with The Rationalist, but because of the use of "You're gay!" as a bandied about insult.

A few weeks before I had heard one of the school's patrols bickering with another child and shouting "You're gay!" at him.

1. How did a term about a person's sexuality becomes a common insult for elementary school students? I know kids tease and say stupid things to each other....but how have things gone from "You're dumb!" "You're gay!"....not that calling someone dumb is acceptable.

2. It reminded me of this story about Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11 year old child who killed himself after constantly being subjected to these kinds of taunts.

I wonder whether the very prominent conflict between gay rights activists and cultural conservatives is somehow trickling down into our children's lives. It seems as if the rhetoric is creeping into their consciousness and becoming a weapon, an insult, and an epithet.

If elementary students, 9 and 10 year olds, are using these words then I can only imagine what middle school and high school students are saying.

How did we get here?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bad Moods Rule!

Jim West posts on the importance of being in a bad mood. Apparently, there are all sorts of mental benefits to being curmudgeonly, cynical, or generally melancholic.

I feel better already.

Working Out My Theology

I've had several months to let my thoughts about annihilation and conditional immortality sink in. (posts about it here, here, here and here.) I've had to spend some time mulling this over, and seeing how it comes into play in my life and how it affects what I think, say and do.

It's been an interesting thought experiment.

One of the first things that happened was that I realized that old habits die hard. A friend of our family lost her elderly mother to age and sickness. In the wake of her death, while we were talking about how sick her mother had been before her death, I instinctively said,"Well, at least she's in a better place now. She's not struggling with sickness anymore." Immediately, I realized that I was saying something that I wasn't sure of any longer. Without a doubt I believed she was no longer suffering, but I wasn't so sure that she was conscious somewhere enjoying restored health and the perfection of life.

It gave me pause.

I continued to feel the impact of my new theology while at church. I share responsibility for teaching Sunday School at our church, and it soon became obvious that all of the children, between 2nd and 5th grade, had already formed strong ideas about hell and who was going there. During one of our lessons, which didn't mention hell at all, while we were talking about good and bad choices, the kids started discussing how they didn't want to go "down there". They animatedly began describing the people who were going "down there" and what it was going to be like....with sound effects and silly voices and pantomime. I reminded them that Jesus promises us eternal life and forgiveness for our bad choices and sins, and slowly pulled them back in the direction of the lesson, but my heart sank as I realized what we as parents, myself included, had already put in the minds of our children.

Because I am part of a community which doesn't necessarily believe what I currently do, I won't teach the children what my specific beliefs are out of respect for that community. However, I have changed the language I use, never referring to salvation as "going to Heaven", or "living in Heaven forever with God". I simply use the term Jesus used--eternal life. I talk about resurrection, having new bodies, and a new heaven and a new earth.....all completely Scriptural descriptions of salvation.

I wonder if that's enough, or if there will come a time when I need to speak openly about what I'm thinking. I don't think that I am quite there yet.

I got involved in the blog comments at dangerous idea, on a post about whether Catholics worship Mary and the saints, a subject which is probably the single biggest stumbling block I would have to converting to Catholicism, and halfway through the conversation I realized that I was arguing about whether Mary and saints could see, hear and respond to people's requests for help on earth.....and it was completely moot to me. Because I was pretty sure that humans weren't residing in a conscious spiritual state in between death and resurrection, arguing about what powers they did or didn't have was quite silly for me. I should have excused myself from commenting at that point.

Another consequence of this theological stance is that death has taken on a completely new meaning for me. It has paradoxically become both more tragic and less tragic in my mind. More tragic, because life seems so much more transitory and valuable. Without the comfort of thinking that those who have passed on are somehow "up there" looking out for us, or having a good time waiting for us to join them, life and death somehow suddenly seem more lonely, and more real, than before.

Death becomes less tragic once the traditional picture of hell is gone. While people may disappear into nothingness, never to exist again, at least the torturous image of eons of punishment dissipates. There is mercy to even the wicked in true death.

I'm not sure where this will continue to take me. Every now and then the implications of this view will pop up in unexpected, unpredictable ways, catching me off guard.

I'm not done figuring this all out, yet.

Just for Fun

In honor of Talon's comment on Future Predictions from the Past:

Storm Troopers have to fill their time somehow when they're not deployed:

Go visit the need a laugh on Monday mornings.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Luckily, our pediatrician has evening hours. The Intuitive was able to get in and get tested for the flu and strep. He did not have the flu, which is good and means we can get him vaccinated for H1N1 once he's better, but tested positive for strep.

After dosing him up on antibiotics, we let him Trick or Treat for a block or two before taking him back home and letting The Rationalist continue raking in the candy. The Rationalist offered to Trick or Treat long enough to make up for his brother's inability to go with him. There is some brotherly love there....even in the face of their normal sibling rivalry.

Because money is tight this year, they were originally going to reuse their costumes from last year. At the last minute they decided they wanted to make their own.

The Rationalist was a "Jailbird":

He made his leg shackles himself.

The Intuitive was a robot:

He decided he didn't want to wear the head and arm portions of his costume.

Before they headed out to amass their sugary collection: