Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 and 15/16ths

Yay! We've almost made it!

It's a hair away from 2007, and life is good. And really, after all the trauma of the last few years, we deserve it.

We're contentedly middle-aged; oddly, gloriously, passionately in love (and how weird is that??), and happy to be settled in the midwest. Or as the newscasters call it, the midsouth. Or as Lori calls it, the NorthSouthEastWest.

I felt a little battered by life in the last few years; all that education and double shifts and new career and homesickness took a toll on me. I'm happy to see that I'm happy to be me again. I have high hopes for 2007. I'm thinking of inventing cold fusion this year...or maybe the internet.

Or maybe I'll just enjoy the sunshine, appreciate my loved ones, and be thankful for this life. :-)


Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Lucky Accident

As I've mentioned a thousand or so times, I got Sirius radio for Christmas, primarily so I could have access to NPR talk radio again. And in the last few days I've heard segments on a variety of topics: Fragile X Syndrome, tips on how to be a more focused and productive writer of fiction, why George Bush can never be honest about Iraq, and a bunch more.

I remember now why I've missed NPR so much. Not just because the stories themselves are so great (they are), but because the depth lets me see life from someone else's perspective.

The Fragile X story today on Diane Rehm was an interview with two mothers who each have two sons with mental retardation and autism due to Fragile X Syndrome. The interview lasted for an hour, and at the beginning, I was thinking how incredibly difficult it must have been for them to have to raise two children with so many challenges. But hearing them laugh and tell their stories about their boys sort of turned that on it's ear. They said felt lucky to have had a chance to experience life that way.

One of the woman, who's name was Megan, said that years ago her mother compared it to a trip to Italy. You always wanted to go to Italy, you did a lot of reading and preparing for your trip to Italy. You packed for the Italian climate, changed your money to Lira, and got on the plane.

But the plane landed in Holland.

"Wait a minute," you tell the flight attendant, "I'm supposed to be in Italy!"

And she replies, "Well, that may be, but you're in Holland. Get used to it."

And you can spend the rest of your life lamenting the trip to Italy that you never got to take, or you can unpack your bags and explore Holland.

What an unbelieveably wonderful way to look at life. I felt privileged to have bumped into these women and their story today. The book the wrote is "Letters to Megan", in case anyone is interested.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


This being our first Christmas as empty-nesters, we found ourselves with three days in which we could do anything we wanted for the holidays ...

So, we went to Boomland!

Is there anywhere else on earth you can buy a sugar cured ham in a bag, an entire dining room full of primitive pine furniture, enough Christmas crap to decorate a small village, a 3-D picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe that follows you when you walk past her, a faux marble tabletop Last Supper with black disciples and glowing fiberoptic lights around the Blessed Black Savior's head ... AND a couple of acres of professional grade, military-sounding fireworks all under one roof!? You can buy Jesus in just about any format or ethnicity ... from fridge magnets and t-shirts to large lighted crucifixes and coffee mugs ... and then blow it all up with a roll of 50,000 Black Cat firecrackers!

I salivated a little over the $1000 "All You Can Blow Up" fireworks set ... on sale for $449.99 ... but the smaller "Shock and Awe" assortment was also verrrrry tempting. And let me tell you, if I had a place to light off the Exploding Bobble-Head Jesus that shoots skyrockets out of his thorny-crowned head, well I don't know that I could have walked away ...

The juxtaposition of all that Jesus and all that firepower ... well ... it's ... just sort of overwhelmingly American. I feel like a better person and a better citizen just for having been there.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Only 364 More Shopping Days!

Hooray! We've survived another Christmas.

Because really, that time between Thanksgiving and New Year's is an endurance test...too much food, money, and joyeauxness. The reward is some excellent food, cool new loot, and, if you're really naughty, festive holiday sex.

Santa brought Lori a nifty new camera, and we took it out for a spin. This is the floodwall outside of Cairo, IL. It's always fascinated me. If the Mississippi and/or Ohio River severely jump their banks, this gate will drop down and seal Cairo off from the rest of Southern Illinois. I appreciate this, but it sort of creeps me out for the citizens of Cairo, who will ostensibly be trapped on the wrong side of this 50 foot tall metal gate in 50 feet of river water.

Talk about suckage!

However, inside of the city of Cairo are a lot of gorgeous old antebellum homes, including Magnolia Manor, shown left.

Cairo was where the money was in Illinois in the 19th century. So much so, in fact, that when Chicago came down looking for a loan to raise the city up and cut down on the swampiness and malaria, Cairo decided that Chicago wasn't ever going to amount to anything and turned them down. Ooops.

So our reward for successfully surviving Christmas was a day of driving around taking pictures and being together.

I love my new Sirius radio and piles of new books, but I love quiet days in the car with Lori even more.

Oh...but Carrie, the new Isabel Allende is fantastic. I'll pass it on to you if you'd like.

Everyone pat yourself on the back. We successfully navigated another holiday season. Yay for us!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Two Taoist sages were standing on a bridge over a stream. One said to the other, "I wish I were a fish. They are so happy." The other replied, "How do you know whether fish are happy or not? You're not a fish!" The first said, "But you're not me, so how do you know whether I know how fish feel?"

I love this blog. It's a fun mixture of science and philosophy, and you'll feel smarter just reading it. I don't know who this person is, what their background is, or whether the "Dr." in the title is an actual earned title, but I love the way he/she thinks and talks.

Take some time and discover this blog. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Conservatize Me

My eagerly anticipated copy of Conservatize Me: How I Tried to Become a Righty With the Help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith, and Beef Jerky arrived yesterday, thanks to the very kind auther, John Moe, who sent me a free copy.

I have a few quiet days coming up that I plan to fritter away on several new books and Netflix films with Lori. Reviews undoubtedly to follow.

Ho ho ho to all you 'ho's. Now that the gifts are bought and we're no longer overburdened with filthy lucre, let the gluttony and sloth begin!

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Second Day of Christmas

Since I don't have access to a case of tampons, and I'm really not all that crafty anyway, I decided to take the lazy way out and go Christmas shopping at the mall.

I found the final spiffy holiday-themed gift for my Secret Santa recipient! (If only the main part of the gift would hurry up and land in my mailbox I could get it sent with a prayer of arriving by Christmas.)

Oh, and while I was at the mall I bought a couple of gifts and loaded up on an assortment of unique stocking stuffers for that "someone special" that I'm pretty darned excited about, if I do say so myself!

No, Ev ... not excited enough to let you open them early.

: )


Tampon Crafts

This is a link to a website that makes fun crafts with tampons. The tampon blowgun, the holiday tree, and that special gift for dad...the tampon toupee.

Check them'll be happy.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The First Day of Christmas

I think our Christmas is looking suspiciously like Hannukah this year. It'll be lasting at least 8 days. Today was the beginning. Maybe I should light a candle or something.

This is not a Special Guest Tree. This is our actual tree. In that special way we get everything done (a piece at a time), we finally managed to get the tree up, decorated and photographed...before MelonKiwi embarked on his climb to the summit.

Actually, Melon (or Mr. Wi, as he is known around here) hasn't shown too much interest in the tree. The biggest obstacle to successful onamentation has been Sage's tail. Every time the UPS man pulls into the driveway, 20 ornaments end up on the floor.'s been worth picking up a few dozen ornaments, because the UPS man brought us a package that Print and BJ sent that included...SPACE NOODLES! They're little pastas in the shape of the Space Needle. Sort of a regional gifty, since they're from Seattle. They also sent, among other things, a wrapped gift for the cats. So far that cats seem underwhelmed with the holiday festivities, but I'm sure they're just trying to impress us with their coolness. I feel like I ought to make some sort of PNW-ish soy-based macaroni dish with our pasta. Carrie...I need those hemp socks speedy quicko.

Katie had a little pre-Christmas Christmas. Since she'll be leaving for Tucson this week, Dane gave her his present early. Holy Cow! He's a good boyfriend! And then we hooked her up with a 30 GB iPod to keep her busy on her trip. She's busy cramming it with music and video as we speak.

Yes feels weird to be having Christmas without kids, but I'm glad you and Katie and Robbie will be spending time together, learning about each other's adult incarnations. I'm tremendously proud of all of you, and I like all of you so much that I'm excited that you'll get a chance to see each other the way I see you. You're lucky that these are the people you'll be spending the next 70 years associating with. :-)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Special Guest Tree, Part 2

This is Nurse Ann's tree. It's slim and svelte, like the Supermodel of Trees. A handsome tree, however, it is conspicuously lacking any pets in it's vicinity.

We STILL haven't taken a picture of ours, but I think tonight may be the night. Katie's going to a basketball game at the high school, and sex is off the table, so that leaves...PHOTOGRAPHY! Or eating out. I guess you'll know later. If there's a picture of our tree, photography beat out restaurants.

Who Americans Are, and What They Do, in Census Data

December 15, 2006

Americans drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water per person in 2004 — about 10 times as much as in 1980. We consumed more than twice as much high fructose corn syrup per person as in 1980 and remained the fattest inhabitants of the planet, although Mexicans, Australians, Greeks, New Zealanders and Britons are not too far behind.

At the same time, Americans spent more of their lives than ever — about eight-and-a-half hours a day — watching television, using computers, listening to the radio, going to the movies or reading.

This eclectic portrait of the American people is drawn from the 1,376 tables in the Census Bureau’s 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States, the annual feast for number crunchers that is being served up by the federal government today.

For the first time, the abstract quantifies same-sex sexual contacts (6 percent of men and 11.2 percent of women say they have had them) and learning disabilities (among population groups, American Indians were most likely to have been told that they have them).

The abstract reveals that the floor space in new private one-family homes has expanded to 2,227 square feet in 2005 from 1,905 square feet in 1990. Americans are getting fatter, but now drink more bottled water per person than beer.

Taller, too. More than 24 percent of Americans in their 70s are shorter than 5-foot-6. Only 10 percent of people in their 20s are.

More people are injured by wheelchairs than by lawnmowers, the abstract reports. Bicycles are involved in more accidents than any other consumer product, but beds rank a close second.
Most of the statistical tables, which come from a variety of government and other sources, are presented raw, without caveats; and because the abstract is so concrete, the statistics can suggest false precision. The table of consumer products involved in injuries does not explain, for example, that one reason nearly as many injuries involve beds as bicycles is that more people use beds.

With medical costs rising, more people said they pray for their health than invest in every form of alternative medicine or therapy combined, the abstract reports.

Adolescents and adults now spend, on average, more than 64 days a year watching television, 41 days listening to the radio and a little over a week using the Internet. Among adults, 97 million Internet users sought news online last year, 92 million bought a product, 91 million made a travel reservation, 16 million used a social or professional networking site and 13 million created a blog.

“The demand for information and entertainment seems almost insatiable,” said James P. Rutherfurd, executive vice president of Veronis Suhler Stevenson, the media investment firm whose research the Census Bureau cited.

Mr. Rutherfurd said time spent with such media increased to 3,543 hours last year from 3,340 hours in 2000, and is projected to rise to 3,620 hours in 2010. The time spent within each category varied, with less on broadcast television (down to 679 hours in 2005 from 793 hours in 2000) and on reading in general, and more using the Internet (up to 183 hours from 104 hours) and on cable and satellite television.

How does all that listening and watching influence the amount of time Americans spend alone? The census does not measure that, but since 2000 the number of hobby and athletic nonprofit associations has risen while the number of labor unions, fraternities and fan clubs has declined.
“The large master trend here is that over the last hundred years, technology has privatized our leisure time,” said Robert D. Putnam, a public policy professor at Harvard and author of “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”

“The distinctive effect of technology has been to enable us to get entertainment and information while remaining entirely alone,” Mr. Putnam said. “That is from many points of view very efficient. I also think it’s fundamentally bad because the lack of social contact, the social isolation means that we don’t share information and values and outlook that we should.”

More Americans were born in 2004 than in any years except 1960 and 1990. Meanwhile, the national divorce rate, 3.7 divorces per 1,000 people, was the lowest since 1970. Among the states, Nevada still claims the highest divorce rate, which slipped to 6.4 per 1,000 in 2004 from 11.4 per 1,000 in 1990, just ahead of Arkansas’s rate.

From 2000 to 2005, the number of manufacturing jobs declined nearly 18 percent. Virtually every job category registered decreases except pharmaceuticals. Employment in textile mills fell by 42 percent. The job projected to grow the fastest by 2014 is home health aide.
One thing Americans produce more of is solid waste — 4.4 pounds per day, up from 3.7 pounds in 1980.

More than half of American households owned stocks and mutual funds in 2005. The 91 million individuals in those households had a median age of 51 and a median household income of $65,000.

That might help explain a shift in what college freshmen described as their primary personal objectives. In 1970, 79 percent said their goal was developing a meaningful philosophy of life. By 2005, 75 percent said their primary objective was to be financially very well off.

Among graduate students, 27 percent had at least one foreign-born parent. The number of foreign students from India enrolled in American colleges soared to 80,000 in 2005 from 10,000 in 1976.

As recently as 1980, only 12 percent of doctors were women; by 2004, 27 percent were.
In 1970, 33,000 men and 2,000 women earned professional degrees; in 2004, the numbers were 42,000 men and 41,000 women.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Special Guest Tree

Although our tree is experiencing maximum gorgeosity, it is still unfortunately bare-assed naked on it's bottom half, due to our inability to find the tree skirt. And since I made that tree skirt myself, I'm somewhat loathe to go out and buy one at Wal-Mart to replace it. So, until I find it, here's a Special Guest Tree.


Lizzie's Christmas Tree!

Festive, isn't it? It has all the requisite gift ornaments, and it's bright and dramatic. We gave it a 4+ on the prettiness scale.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Goose Story

It was a gorgeous day today ... unseasonably warm and sunny with blue, cloudless skies. The drive to work was especially pretty, with a light mist rising and hovering close to the ground and filling up thickets along the road. As I drove around a curve I was greeted by four flocks of geese flying in formation on both sides of the road. I rolled down the window to listen to them, and kept pace with them for a few minutes, watching them change positions in the formation until my route turned and theirs continued straight ahead.

It got me thinking about the famous "goose story" of team-building seminar fame. I can't remember when I first heard it, but I like the way it tells the "birds of a feather flock together" story in a positive way. And because I've heard it, I never see geese without smiling:

The Goose Story

Next fall when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in "V" formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way:

As each bird flaps its wings it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in "V" formation the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way we are.

When the head goose gets tired it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs -- with people or with geese flying South.

Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. What do we say when we honk from behind?

Finally, and this is important, when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshots and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly, or until it dies. Only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation, to catch up with their group. If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

Dr. Harry Clarke Noyes - January 1992


Monday, December 11, 2006

At Swearing In, Congressman Wants to Carry Koran. Outrage Ensues

December 07, 2006

By Jane Lampman Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Keith Ellison hasn't even started his new job, and he's already under fire.

When America's first Muslim congressman, a Democrat from Minnesota, let it be known he will carry a Koran to his swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 4, conservative pundit Dennis Prager called it "an act of hubris ... that undermines American civilization."

In a web column, the talk-show host said, "Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress."

The column has sparked a brouhaha on talk radio, in the blogosphere, and in newspapers across the country. The congressman's office has been inundated with angry e-mails.

The US Constitution says nothing about swearing on the Bible. But some commentators insist the US is a Christian nation, and the proposed act goes against its values and tradition. To others, the uproar shows an ignorance of the Constitution and the principle of religious freedom. Some people worry that it reflects growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

Constitution is clear

To legal experts, no room for confusion exists. "A congressman having to swear an oath on a scripture that he doesn't believe in was unconstitutional from the very moment the Constitution was signed," says Kevin Hasson, head of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. "It would be beyond irony to violate the Constitution in the very act of requiring a congressman to swear his loyalty to uphold the Constitution."

In Congress, newly elected representatives do not put their left hands on any book. They raise their right hands, and are sworn in together as the speaker of the House administers the oath of office. Some do carry a book, according to House historians, and some choose to photograph a private swearing-in afterward with their hand on the Bible. One senator is known to have carried an expanded Bible that included the Book of Mormon.

The Constitution says: "The senators and representatives ... shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Some confusion may come from the long-standing tradition of presidents taking the oath with a hand on the Bible. But this is a choice and matter of custom, as is the phrase, "so help me God." President John Quincy Adams took the oath on a law book including the Constitution. President Theodore Roosevelt didn't use a book.

"The United States is not a Christian state or even a generically religious state," says Derek Davis, a church-state expert at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. "We've worked hard for 200 years plus to uphold a principle of religious freedom for all citizens."
In allowing for an affirmation in place of an oath, the Constitution also makes room for atheists or agnostics.

Prager, who is Jewish, has come under fire from fellow Jews. The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement calling his argument "intolerant, misinformed, and downright un-American." Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, says the text used should be that which "is most sacred to the individual taking the oath. To ask ... otherwise is not only disrespectful to the person and to an entire religious tradition, but is asking the public official to be hypocritical."

The Council for American-Islamic Relations has called for Prager to be dropped from his recent presidential appointment to the Holocaust Memorial Council. "He is trying to marginalize Muslims by making it seem as though any practice of American Muslims is different or 'other' than what America stands for," says Arsalan Iftikhar, CAIR's legal counsel.

What the courts have decided

US courts have dealt with the issue in various ways. In a 1997 federal terrorism case, a Washington, D.C., judge permitted witnesses to swear to Allah. In North Carolina in 2005, a woman was not allowed to take the oath on the Koran when testifying. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued, and the case is in appeal.

At least 17 state constitutions explicitly prohibit discrimination against witnesses or jurors on religious grounds. Some allow people to swear or affirm "under the pains and penalties of perjury," omitting "so help me God." Judges generally have jurisdiction over how oaths are administered in their courts. Mr. Iftikhar says that some judges have allowed the use of the Koran.

The purpose of the court "is not to promote Christianity or Judaism or Islam or any other religion," Dr. Davis emphasizes. "It's to elicit truth from witnesses."

Mr. Ellison's office did not provide the Monitor with a statement, but his incoming chief of staff, Kari Moe, has said the issue is straightforward. "Religious freedom is a tradition in our country," she told the Associated Press.

For his part, Prager has posted a new column on the website in response to the criticism. In a phone interview, he says he agrees that religious freedom does allow Ellison to use whatever book he likes.

"But I'm afraid we are becoming a diverse, secular society without any roots, and this is symbolically an example of that," he says. "The Bible is the repository of our values, not the Constitution ... and I'm asking him to honor that and include the Bible along with the Koran."

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And now, from the perspecive of someone who's rested and fully caffeinated...

It's interesting to me that Congresspeople aren't actually sworn in on any book. Some choose to carry a bible to their swearing-in ceremony, but the swearing-in is a secular event, as it should be in a multicultural society. Those people who insist we're living in a Christian Nation must strap the blinders on very tightly every time they interact with American society. Even here, in tiny backwater rural Nowhere, IL, I know Jews and Muslims. I'll bet it's even more scary and diverse in Washington, DC.

Once again, in lieu of any real issues, it's important to wave a cross and thump your chest and complain about everyone else's loyalties. Give the guy a chance to actually go to Congress and do his job. If he proposes a change in our currency to read "In Allah We Trust" (and please do. I know it would amuse me), then we can revisit the issue of majority vs. minority rule.

Otherwise, I'd say you Christians are safe. You still have a firm grip on the Congress, and no lowly freshman Representative from Minnesota is going to force you to be inclusive against your will. Sleep easy, Dennis're still winning the propaganda war.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

More Ornamentation

Mom grew up during the Depression, so she wasn't very nostalgic about old things. To her, things that were worn out needed to be replaced with shiny new things, so most of the ornaments of my early childhood disappeared when she passed into her "designer tree" period. Her house was always gorgeous at Christmas, but it was the kind of gorgeous you see in a Macy's window ... perfectly coordinated and themed. One year she decorated her tree with big white lights that looked like snowballs, white frosted glass balls and white silk poinsettias. The ornaments I inherited were her last "hurrah," so my first Christmas tree after she died was decorated with her things. The balls were a sort of stained glass montage of purple, blue and magenta in various shapes and sizes, and I was thrilled to find some very fluffy tinsel garland in the exact colors. When the whole thing was assembled it resembled nothing so much as a seven-foot-tall drag queen! Loved it!

However ... it's not really my style. I like old things, homemade things and a more rustic theme for Christmas. Instead of ornaments, I have a lot of memories tied up in the things I set around and decorate with, like the porcelain Santa my sister sent me nearly 20 years ago, and the ceramic Christmas village I painted a few years ago to put under the tree.

The one ornament I own that's precious to me is a tiny blue wooden angel less than an inch tall. Her paper wings are covered in silver glitter and her halo is pretty askew, but I've had her since I was six years old, so some wear-and-tear is to be expected. She was a gift from my first grade teacher, Mrs. Huey, and she came in a little red paper box that looked like a drum. I always hang her where I can see her on the tree, and she's always the first ornament I take off and put away so she won't get lost. I really loved Mrs. Huey! She was the kind of teacher you never forget, and I don't doubt for a minute that she was instrumental in the fact that I liked school and looked forward to it every September. I realize she gave little gifts to all her students, year after year, but I can still remember how special that gift made me feel.

So it's been a good day ... decorating the house, decorating the tree, stories and laughter, Katie and her boyfriend painting Christmas ornaments around the table ... all the memories of holidays past, the happiness of holidays present and the hope for holidays to come.


Christmas Tree Musings

Tree decorating isn't just hanging a bunch of ornaments in visually pleasing combinations all over a tree. It's a trip down memory lane...a family time capsule. Almost all of our onaments are either handmade, or gifts from the people we love. We have the pine cone ornaments that Robbie made in Cub Scouts, the paper plate wreaths the kids all made in kindergarten, all the quilted ones that Robin made, and all the little crafty ones Helen made. We have the "Baby's First Christmas" ones, the cross stitch ones, and the famous Uncle Daniel ornament that gets a place of pride every year. I've hung on to every school project ornament the kids ever made, and part of our holiday ritual is c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y repairing them every year. Finding the right color construction paper and replacing the leaves, gluing the pieces that break off back on, and restoring them to their former glory.

We have some storebought ones that we got in a metalworking shop in Bisbee that look very Arizona-ish...a cactus, a coyote, and some kind of lizard. We have some funny carved and painted wooden ones that weigh a ton that we bought from a street vender in Mexico one 120 degree day in July (I wonder if he thought he'd actually sell any Christmas ornaments?).

And we have 5 cheap colored glass balls that Rob's mom gave us to put on our two foot tall Charlie Brown tree the first year we were married, when we were living on peanut butter sandwiches and sharing a $100 car. They're a little battered, 25 years later, but they remind me every year to be grateful for the people in my life....and maybe to be grateful I drive a better car these days, too. LOL...the driver's door never falls off on my current car.

Christmas trees are a funny combination of who we are, who we were, who we love, and what we value. I think I know more about a person after looking at their tree sometimes than I might by asking specific questions about their belief system.

Our tree says "sappy sentimental goofballs" pretty loudly...and we like it that way.

Carrie, after we get the living room fully cleaned and decorated to Lori's exacting standards, we'll post a picture of the tree. I expect you to do likewise. And maybe stick your brother in front of it, holding today's newspaper, so we can see that he's still among the living.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Great Christmas Tree Hunt

It was a good day in Southern Illinois.

Katie and Dane marched with the AJ Marching Band in the Christmas parade downtown this afternoon. Katie can't march and play the bells at the same time, so she got to carry the banner. : )

Kwachie got a pretty new green holiday sweater with embroidered cardinals and snowflakes on it to wear to Ev's company Christmas party tonight ... and ... the Christmas Tree hunt has ended in success!

We found a perfect tree at the Allan Farm on Lick Creek, and the nice Allan boys cut it down for us and drove it back to their house. Sorry, Ann ... I don't know where you do your tree hunting, but we went the "chainsaw and utility vehicle" route and completely avoided mud, handsaws AND losing the top two feet of the tree! : )

Mr. Allan was shaking the dust and debris out of it on his industrial-strength professional tree shaker when we stepped inside the "wreath shop" in their shed to pay for it. We spent $45 for the tree and a huge handmade wreath ("I treated that so it will last way past Christmas, girls! As long as you want it, really.") and when we exited the shed to load up the tree it was already cleaned, bagged in nylon netting and tied to the roof rack, ready to go.

We visited for a few minutes while we petted the Allans' horse and dogs and told them how different Christmas Tree hunting is in Arizona, where it's 80 degrees and all the trees in the tree lots are really the top six feet of trees that have gone to lumber mills and they've been dead on ice for 6 months before they end up in the WalMart parking lot. They promised to put us on their mailing list for next Christmas, and we promised to be back. "Merry Christmas"es were exchanged all around, and as we drove back up their narrow country road I told Ev again, for the thousandth time, how grateful I am to be living here with her and having the life I used to wish I could have while I'm still young enough to enjoy it.

The tree is having a nice long drink outside now, and we're getting ready to head for the Christmas party.

Happy Holidays!


Friday, December 08, 2006

Hanging Out With Webbie

We had a visit from our special friend Webbie today. She stopped by to visit us and Carrie for 9 HOURS AND 55 MINUTES! She started with Carrie's blog and followed the link to us. We were so exciting that she stayed for 10 hours.

During that time I slept, woke up, ate breakfast, ran some errands, posted to this very blog, went to work, stopped at the store, and came home to my family.

Kwachie went to work, scrubbed 8 surgeries, and drove 45 minutes home.

Webbie? She sat, hour after hour, for almost 10 hours, watching our blog in case something needed watching. What a full, rich life THAT must be.

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From Badness Comes Goodness

During the Stalker's last round of stalking, she dropped a few hints into my mailbox alluding to my last name, and the fact that she's managed to google several other people with the same last name. So the other day, Lori and I also googled my last name and found the most intelligent, community-oriented, high achieving bunch of young people I've ever seen from one family. As I was rattling off their names, location in the family tree, and occupations, Lori said, "Well! Nothing to be ashamed of there, is there?"

It's the immigrant drive to succeed. My ex's grandfather was born in Lithuania and emigrated as a teenager, and his father was a first generation American. They worked hard their whole lives, and made sure that their families were well cared for and well-educated. Those children, in turn, stressed education to their own kids.

I admire families who instill in their children a work ethic, and a drive to succeed and to be active in their community. These kids volunteer with MS fundraisers, they help inner-city kids aquire and learn to play musical instuments, they're active in animal rescue and environmental organizations, and they volunteer in their parish churches. Oh...and our branch can cook like the wind. :-)

They are solid citizens, stable parents and nice people. It was nice to be reminded of how lucky I am to be associated with them.

Children of Heaven

We saw an absolutely wonderful movie the other day, Children of Heaven. It's about an Iranian boy who accidentally loses his younger sister's only pair of shoes when he's bringing them home from being repaired. From then on, he and the sister have to share his shoes, which makes both of their lives extremely difficult. The little boy, Ali, is a plucky little guy, and he works like crazy to make it right.

My tortured genius suicidal crack-addicted prostitute daughter,Katie (whew! Say that three times fast!) and I loved, loved, loved this movie. Lori...Not so much. We loved that the Ali and Zahra, his sister, were so brave and resourceful and kept plugging away at the shoe problem. And by the end, the kids were better for the experience. Lori just worried for the kids the whole time.

And the Iranian street scenes were fascinating. All those narrow streets and twisty alleys, and funny little doors tucked into walls that were apparently homes. I'd like to add Iran to my list of places I'd like to go someday when they don't hate Americans anymore. What a beautiful country!

Carrie...I highly recommend this one. It sort of reminded me of the Beijing Bicycle story...Nice kids, who just can't catch a break. I don't remember how the bicycle movie ended, but this one ends good. Rent it for Christmas. You'll be happy.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

'Tis the Season

I got a day off from work I don't usually get, so I thought I'd blog a little ...

This is our friend, Victor. He looks like a Humbug, doesn't he? But don't be fooled. This picture of him is a prime example of the difference between outside and inside appearances, which is my theme for today.

I've never been a person who gets the blues around a holiday. Holidays have no bad childhood memories for me. The worst they've ever done to me is make me late with the rent in lean years. This year I'm a little less excited about Christmas, because even though the rent is no longer an issue in my life, it will be our first "childless" Christmas in 20 years. Christmas without kids around is like ... well ... Christmas without kids around.

Still, it's not the kind of "less excited" that spirals into depression and humbuggery ... it's just the kind that makes me put off moving the sleeping cat off my lap to go out to the cold shed and sort through the frozen decorations. We've made a promise to each other to get right on that project this weekend. :)

But I've been thinking about the people who do get the severe Holiday Blues ... and really, the severe blues in general. We were talking today, before Ev left for work, about the role of adversity in life.

One of the things that we have in common is our reaction to hardships and losses. We've been accused of being Pollyannas ... or worse ... optimists ... but the analogy we came up with is that life is a set of stairs. Bad stuff happens to everyone. Childhoods are hard, finances fluctuate, relationships end, people we love die, friendships go sour, parenting is hard, health issues change our lives. Every one of those things is an opportunity to move up or down the stairs.

If we are beaten by them, and we internalize a bitter message about our failure and weakness, we step down. We begin to see every obstacle as just another instance where life is unfair and hopeless. We set in motion a downward path of protecting ourselves, being wary of everything and everyone, and eventually we narrow our viewpoint and "small up" our lives until we end up at the bottom of the stairs ... fully validated that life was out to get us and it won.

If we overcome them, and we internalize a message about our success and strength, we step up. We see obstacles as inevitable times when life takes a turn and offers us an opportunity to do something different. We set in motion an upward path of thinking creatively, taking our lessons to heart, and eventually gathering a cornucopia of experiences that "big up" our lives and make us more willing and able to share what worked for us with others.

Between the two of us we have accumulated enough life experience to have lost loved ones, been broke, succumbed to addiction, suffered life-changing medical challenges, raised children alone, worked multiple jobs, gotten an education against all odds, come out of the closet, fallen and gotten back up more times than we can count ... and all of those things have broadened the circle of people we can relate to and choices we can say we've had to make.

I heard an interesting story about my life recently, through the filter of someone else's view of it. The folklore is that I skated through life without ever feeling the bumps in the road very deeply. I've had relationships with wonderful people that I chucked out the window with nary a backward glance, I've been a taker at the table of life, and no matter what happens to me I come out smelling like a rose.

My recollection of my life is somewhat different from the perspective of living inside it.

I spent a lot of years feeling like every rug I ever stood on was jerked out from under me and that my lesson in life was how to repeatedly start back over with nothing until I got really good at it. Those relationships that looked so wonderful on the outside didn't feel so wonderful on the inside.

That charismatic man who was so talented and affable and popular and funny? He was also prone to dark moods, serial philandering and an inability to transfer his outward jovial friendliness to real emotional intimacy. He was the life of the party ... and the mess you have to clean up afterward. But you clean up that mess when everyone else has gone home, so they don't see it.

That woman who adored me and gave me everything? She was also verbally and emotionally abusive to me, physically abusive to my son, jealous and controlling, and prone to threatening my ability to continue living indoors on a bi-monthly basis. Hers was what Ev calls "the checkbook of doom." But if all I show you is how pretty the expensive sink is, it's because I don't want you to know how much it's costing me emotionally.

Later, when I decide to be honest about the internal hard parts, some people will have already made up their minds up to hate me for the outward appearance. That's where those stairs come in. Looking up at people is a bad perspective. Looking down on people is a bad perspective. My sense is that it's brighter the higher you go, so it's a little easier to see what's going on with other people. It's harder to feel empathy with people who are at a place you've never been.

I like who I am. I like who my partner is. I like knowing that if everything I have and love today were gone tomorrow I would grieve and I would rage and I would feel hopeless for awhile, but I would keep showing up to work and I'd vent to my friends and I'd ask for help if I need it and I'd build something new ... and then I'd share that. I've done it before and I'd do it again. I won't like the process, but I'll like the outcome. As I said, I'm an unrepentant optimist. I feel sorry for people who don't like their lives and don't feel they can ever expect to.

Life has been a steady uphill climb for me. Sometimes I get to stand and admire the view for awhile, but there's never going to be a time when I get to camp out and stay in that restful place forever. But I'm pretty sure that the view from the end of the trail will be a broad and beautiful one. In a peaks and valleys world, I'm a peaks girl.

So those are my thoughts on a cold, wintery day. I look out the window at those little snow flurries and think, "Oh, boy!! Snow!" It never occurs to me to think, "Damnit ... I don't have a snow shovel."

Happy Holidays, and a big Thank You to Victor and the rest of the gang, for being examples of the kind of people I want to be when I grow up!


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Lesson

So...The point? The internet can be dangerous for everyone. Be careful what you sow.

P.S. Sorry, Webbie...that's not my aunt. I married into that name, remember? Maybe you can practice stalking yourself in front of a mirror until you get better at it, and then come back and test it on us. Moron.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Blue Spruce Christmas Trees fervent wish is to be able to put up a tree that the cats will leave standing. Aol had a little blurb about trees on it's opening page:

Colorado Blue Spruce
Real SimpleThis beautiful tree ranges in color from silvery blue to dark green and has needles 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches long that grow "bottle brush" style on the strong branches. Cat owners like the prickly needles because their cats don't!

So that sounds like it's the thing for us! Next...concrete ornaments.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Turkey and Christmas and Nice Normal Stuff


After our run-in with the creepy internet stalker, I decided that I needed a good wholesome project to divert my attention and repair my battered psyche. So continuing our theme of the Neverending Thanksgiving, I'm making turkey soup and baking sourdough bread.

And since it's a balmy 10 degrees out, it's perfect weather for cooking. That's the greatest part about cooking and baking in the keeps the kitchen warm, AND you end up with lots of tasty food.

Karen kinda-sorta shamed me into thinking about decorating the tree with her marathon tree decorating weekend. Since thinking about it is the first step to actually doing it, I feel that progress is happening. I'm bringing the ornaments in from the shed to thaw out, and we're aiming for Wednesday to go out and shoot a tree.

Carrie...remember that place we used to go to cut trees down in Kratzinger Hollow? It's no longer a Christmas tree farm, now it's a frou-frou yuppy barbecue restaurant and banquet hall. Apparently, in case you're brave enough to risk eating barbecue in your wedding gown, this is the place to go.

So we're going down to Berryville (practically out of the county!) to cut a tree this year.'s all new to Lori, so even if we ended up with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, she'd be cool with it. The important thing is that we wrestle it to the ground ourselves.

And somehow, we have to figure out a way to keep MelonKiwi from climbing it.

Time to Stalk the Children?

Wow. How disturbed must you be to be a woman in her 40's who stalks other women's children on line?

I guess I didn't really understand just how deranged Web was before. I've seen her bad boundaries and her inclination make stuff up about people a thousand times. And while I can certainly understand disliking someone, and I can even relate to irrational anger, I don't get going after kids. That's some very sick stuff.

My kids have subsequently locked down their various LiveJournal and MySpace accounts so that they are only accessible to friends. And I've gotten a firsthand education in exactly how creepy the underbelly of the internet actually is.

Blech. It'll take a lot of showers to wash this filth off.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Public Service Announcement

Webbie has discovered our happy little blog and posted some slime to it. I, of course, deleted it. But for those of you I care about, I'll have to approve your comments before they appear.

It's like Mom always said, "Tell your sister thank you. She's ruined the fun for all of you."

Except not. I still love the rest of you, and I welcome your comments. Maybe Webbie's imaginary girlfriend will be dropping by with her sedatives soon, and she'll sleep the sleep of the heavily drugged. And we'll all get some rest.

Into every litterbox, a little Webbie must fall. MelonKiwi, bury that before it stinks up the place!


It appear that Fidel Castro is really dying. The Cuban government held a parade and celebration in his honor, and he didn't show up for one final speech. And for a guy who liked to talk as much as Fidel did, that's a significant hint that his death is imminent.

What a fascinating person. Admirable in his devotion to Cuba. Shocking in his brutality. Hilariously funny and stultifyingly boring. He's probably the most three dimensional of all the modern world leaders. I don't know how much Cuba will miss him, but I'm sad to see him go. I think Cuba won't be able to stand up to the lure of the Mighty Dollar without him, and Cuba will, before long, end up being an American playground.

Our goal is to get to Cuba once before it becomes Las Vegas in the Caribbean. I think we'd better hurry.


Friday, December 01, 2006

A Well-Spent Weekend, During the Week

Heh. I had a four day weekend (during the week) that I mostly frittered away with books and naps and watching the rain fall. Oh, and I spent a couple of hours each day being the clingy obnoxious girlfriend who follows the other girlfriend around and gropes her ass, while the other girlfriend pretends she doesn't love it. :-)

So it was a very satisfying, low-impact, underachieving sort of weekend. And then, to top it off, I did that sort of project that people (well, at least people like me) need to do to feel like the emotional plaque isn't collecting on our emotional arteries and setting us up for an emotional stroke.

I went back to an ex-friend with whom I had parted on bad terms, and I apologized.

And nothing has really changed, except I feel free. I feel like that's a place that no longer has unfinished business. She still doesn't like me, and I guess I didn't expect any different. But I like myself a little better, and that's always a good day.

So tomorrow I have to go back to work, but I feel good. I feel all clean and virtuous, like I shaved both legs and my armpits on the same day. If it weren't for that lesbian thing I'd probably even get into heaven. Oh...and the atheist thing. That might slow me down too. But I get a gold star for ex-friending. :-)


The Pretty Pink Nose

"Our worst crime against Catdom is the endless photographing of MelonKiwi, trying to capture the essense of his Pretty Pink Nose."

Actually, my worst crime against Catdom was trying to construct a cat sweater for Cuppy out of an old tube sock. I felt sorry for her furless self when the temperature dipped into the 30's, but she looked even more pathetic wearing a black sock with holes cut out for her head and front legs.

But I think we really have come rather close to capturing the essence of MelonKiwi (nee "Dixie" ... his starter name). He's turning out to be the best of all the cats, probably owing to starting out life under a pickup truck in a parking lot ... he's more appreciative. He knows what life was like out there on the mean streets of Anna.

I wish I could get a picture of him with his eyes open, but at least I got his fluff ... and his Pretty Pink Nose!


Why Cats Attack Their Owners

Although it's never occured to me to dress our cats in citrus, I DO admire the ingenuity.

Our worst crime against Catdom is the endless photographing of MelonKiwi, trying to capture the essense of his Pretty Pink Nose.

We need grandchildren.

Lori tried dressing Cuppy in a sweater on one particularly raw November day. It was not well received.