May 29, 2009

Won With Nature

Ben is in western Tennessee with his girlfriend’s family this week. Both of them have such high grades that they were able to take the last week of school off, having finished all of their work early. (Read that last sentence again, please. I still have a hard time realizing I’m saying these things.)

So, while Male Offspring is galavanting around, it’s up to me to do the yardwork. Although I used to do it all the time, it’s been years since I’ve mowed the lawn. (Hey, that’s why we have kids.) How long, you ask? Long enough for two tree seeds to germinate and grow to eight feet at the side of the house, within a foot of the foundation. So after I mowed, I spent an hour or so hacking down trees, saplings and seedlings that had taken root near the house and fence. Gotta talk to that boy.

We have a pretty big yard that is difficult to maintain, mostly because we don’t want to maintain it. Half of the back yard is euphemistically dubbed “the woods” so that we don’t have to mow it as often. Still, it does give us those pretty white violets every spring. But it also gives us wild raspberries—ouch!— and poison ivy.

You know, a bunch of my favorite bloggers write pastoral posts of working with the earth, nurturing their gardens and feeling one with nature. I wish that was me. Because the only reason I like yardwork is the way the yard looks when it’s done. I would be more just as thrilled to have someone else do it. The way I see it, it’s me vs. nature, and nature would win if I had my way. I emerged victorious this round, but it’s only a matter of time.

I need a smaller house. And a smaller yard.

May 27, 2009

Expectations And Gratitude 1.1

Because of my generally positive outlook on life, I’ve been accused more than once of being a Pollyanna, and not kindly so. This implies that I am naïve and unaware of the potential for evil that exists in human nature and the world. Those people who are under that misconception could not be more wrong.

I have been a victim of and/or a witness to cruelty, abuse, pain and monstrous evil. I have no illusions whatsoever about the human capacity for evil; ancient and modern history show that human nature has not changed in all the millennia of its existence, only its tools have.

But I cannot let this be the only view I have of humanity because I have also been the recipient and observer of amazing kindness, small to sacrificial. In my encounters with people, I do not overlook their weaknesses and failings; I reach beyond that to the good that dwells inside. Some may believe their own kindness is a façade to the “real” person that lies within, but I believe that knowledge of what goodness looks like usually means the capacity for real goodness exists within. I always look for good; sometimes I find God.

We can be hurt by our expectations, so we must take care not to expect too much or inappropriately. In any human relationship, it is expectations that get us into so much trouble. If we do not at least partially understand a person’s history, capabilities, desires and limitations, we are doomed to disappointment. Even with appropriate hopes, we must be ready to forgive the inevitable lapses of which we are all guilty.

Since every single one of us will fail at some time or another, how do we avoid cynicism and pessimism? By actively cultivating a philosophy of gratitude. If all we see is what we do not have, we are failing ourselves; and we must forgive ourselves our failings every bit as we must forgive others theirs. Understand that I am not promoting low standards by encouraging gratitude. But by knowing what terrible conditions exist at any moment in our world, we can embrace what little or abundant grace has come our way.

By all means we must have full vision of our world: its goodness and evil, its abundance and famine, its successes and failures. We can choose bitterness or we can cultivate a sense of joy. Choose gratitude.

May 26, 2009


The post I had here earlier has been removed for rewrite. Upon reading it again this evening, I felt it had a pompous tone to it that is unintentionally arrogant. I will post it again after rewrite. Stay tuned.

May 22, 2009

Siesta Sand

Well, he almost got it right.

"Dr. Beach"—Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, a professor of environmental science—has released this year's list of America's Best Beaches. Siesta Key in Sarasota is listed at number two. While I appreciate that I have visited only one other of those on the rest of the list, Siesta will always be number one on my list.

That sugary white sand is so fine it squeaks when you walk on it. You can walk the entire crescent of the beach in the deep soft stuff (as I did three times a week before I moved to Indiana. What a culture shock). And when the sun sets, everyone on the beach gets still, the waves calm, and a peace descends in the twilight. The crowd is silent and then bursts into applause as the last of the sun disappears on the horizon.

If you ever get a chance to visit Sarasota, this beach is where you want to be.

Image courtesy of

May 20, 2009

Monday Mystery (on Wednesday)

Hoosiers have a driving habit that is driving me crazy. Frequently I will see someone hold back a car length—or even two—while waiting at a traffic light. Clearly, someone has told these people that this is a good idea, but for the life of me I can't figure out a benefit to it.

I took this picture on the way home from work today, while waiting at a light.

No one ever did this for the thirty years I lived in Florida. Can anyone explain this driving strategy?

Update: Oh yeah. Today's Wednesday. But it's felt like Monday all day, so this counts.

May 19, 2009


I was surfing working on my computer the other evening when the doorbell rang. The dog went nuts, of course, so I had to put down my laptop and find out who was here. It was three Mormon missionary boys, fresh-faced and eager to talk. Interestingly, I had been revisiting Rance's writings about his former church. It put me in the proper frame of mind for this visit.

The boys started out with their memorized questions, but I put a stop to that with a couple of kind rebuffs. At first I wanted to just shut the door, but then it struck me that I had a teaching moment here. I told them that instead I wanted to talk about the grave harm the church—theirs and mine—was perpetrating. I told them about how our denominations were literally killing young people, especially young gay men, with the doctrine of rejection they are teaching. 

They wanted to challenge me—politely—with "what the Bible says" about homosexuality. My reply was this: what the Bible says and what the Bible reads are two different things. I discussed the difference between the original languages and our imperfect translations due to the restrictions inherent in the structure and etymology of English; the context of the original writings that is so crucial to understanding; and the overall message of the Bible.

 In scholarly studies we see that there are compelling arguments to both sides of the issue, and there are problems with both sides. So it comes down to this: what is the overall message of the Bible? What do you understand is the nature of God? I understand God's message to be one of loving grace, not judgment and condemnation. So I choose to accept all, just as I believe God does. If I am wrong, God knows what is in my heart. (If I choose condemnation, God knows what is in my heart then as well.) Choose grace.

We said more, but that is the gist of it. I thank God for Rance, for giving me the background and confidence for this unexpected meeting. You never know who needs to hear what you have to say, so you just keep saying it. Maybe one of those boys needed to hear exactly what God put in my mouth that evening.

May 14, 2009

Pontoon Boat

Abe finally got his new company car, his first since 1984. In the shitstorm that was 2008, he was supposed to get a Toyota Highlander Hybrid in November. But on the ship, the container that held his car caught fire and they dumped it in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to prevent the fire from spreading. This event was a mere blip on our disaster radar that year.

It’s taken this long to get another, since all hybrids are sold before they ever leave the factory these days. It’s opalescent white and fancy-schmancy and beautiful.

That means Ben gets my old Bonneville and I get the minivan. I’ve had it for one day and I hate it. But I knew I would. I managed to raise two kids to semi-adulthood without one; I do not want one now. Oh, it’s nice enough, I suppose: a Town and Country with Stow ‘n Go® seats that are pretty cool. But I am so not a minivan owner, which puzzles my husband no end. He likes it.

Once when my brother rented a pontoon boat for our families for the day, Ben watched jet skis and motorboats tooling by and moaned that we were on the minivan of boats. That comparison works both ways: I’m driving the pontoon boat of cars.

I loved that ‘94 Bonneville. She isn’t pretty, but boy she has heart. Tell her to go and she says “How fast?” That 3800cc engine lives forever; not so the rest of the car (especially if you rear-end a truck on the ice in winter). She's had her one missing eye replaced but she still has no teeth and will not get them. Her red paint is beginning to oxidize and the leather interior is cracking. She’ll be a great teen car.

My goal now is to find myself a speedboat convertible. Since I have had only three cars in my life—keeping each for a minimum of ten years—I figure this is my last chance to get a fun car. I start looking next week.

May 12, 2009

Wardrobe Malfunction

I was a brand new elder. At 36, I may well have been one of the youngest ever. I made history by being the first elder to ask for—and get—child care for my one-year-old daughter. It was going to be interesting and exciting to be a part of the governing body of this big church.

Before the year started, we were invited to our senior pastor’s home for a get-together, just to meet and greet and get to know each other. There were about fifty elders —far too many, but we’ve streamlined since then. 

I went home from work to change into a nice new dress I’d just picked up from the cleaner. The dress was very dark navy with a barely-visible paisley pattern, belted at the waist, sweeping skirt to mid-calf, very smart with navy pumps. I felt great as I left for the party.

It was okay as parties go. I’m an introvert, but I knew a few of the elders, the majority of whom were businessmen. I wandered from room to room for a couple of hours, smiling and chatting. While I really didn’t get to know anyone new very well, I thought it was time well spent.

I came home ready to relax. As I stepped in the front entry, I took off my coat. Abe was in the living room. He asked, “Were you at the elders’ party?”

He knew that’s where I’d been. Why did he ask? “Yes...”

“Did you wear that dress?”

Well, duh. I raised my eyebrows and stared. “Yes…”

“Did you know it’s unbuttoned?”

“What?” I looked down. The buttons from the neck to the waist were just fine. “Very funny—”

“Look in back.”

In back? There were buttons in the back? I craned my neck to see and then turned to look back into the hall mirror.

Oh my. Apparently there were buttons in the back, from the waist to the hem. The dry cleaner had unbuttoned every single one of them to facilitate ironing. And failed to button them back.

My mind raced back over events of the past two hours: sweeping through the rooms filled with men, bending over to get snacks or drinks, no doubt exposing a large inverted V of my white satin slip. For two hours. Not one person said a word.

A few weeks later, I had a big presentation to give to the elders. I opened with that story to illustrate how missing information may be crucial. (Always start a speech with a story.) And I told them that the next time they see that to take the person aside and tell her. Jeez. They were rolling with laughter.

The presentation went well.

May 10, 2009

On A Clear Night

How far can the unaided eye see? On a clear night, about 2.5 million light years. That's the distance to the Andromeda Galaxy, the farthest object in space that can be seen without artificial means. 

It's easiest to see Andromeda later this summer, when it rises earlier in the night. Remind me to point it out so that you can find it. The bulge of the galaxy covers a spot in the sky the size of the full moon. The entire galaxy—if we could see it all with just our eyes—would cover the sky the length of eight full moons. But the apparent light is so faint that all we can observe unaided is the central bulge. Because of its size, binoculars are a great way to view Andromeda. It will look like a large fuzzy snowball, faint and gray. 

Remember, you will never witness any view with or without a telescope like the fantastic images you've seen everywhere. That's because the human eye only sees in "real time;" we cannot store information like a computer or film and allow it to accumulate. Because machines can do that, they give us a far more detailed picture, aided by false color assignments to designate certain wavelengths of elements present.

In the photo below, every point of light is a star in our own galaxy. (In fact, all stars we see in visible light are in our galaxy. It takes a different kind of 'scope to "see" distant stars in extreme wavelengths.) The two small fuzzy ovals are satellite galaxies, performing a slow-motion dance of collision with Andromeda. This photo comes courtesy of Astronomy Picture of the Day, and this is today's picture. Happy Mother's Day!

May 7, 2009

A Questionable Practice

You know the forced patter that newscasters and sportscasters are now required to perform as handoffs? And how the segue is inevitably forced laughter, even as they discuss serious topics? Why would my husband decide this is a great conversation technique to parody? How many more chuckles can I hear before I bop him one? And why, knowing it is coming, do I still laugh every time Abe does this? Am I that easy?

Are you answering every question in your head just to give yourself closure? Why do you suppose we do that? How long can I keep this up? Are you ready to bop me one yet? And can you keep it going?

May 5, 2009

The Gray Lady Puts It In Black And White

The New York Times published a wedding announcement on Sunday that warms my heart. May the day come soon when this is just one of many.

These two gentlemen are perfect examples of why all of us need marriage equality; we all win when they can marry.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan.

May 4, 2009

Garden Stroll

Today Sophie and I had our just-about-weekly lunch with the volunteer staff of our church library. She’s been joining me there for four years now, and they love her. The weather, while not sunny, was at least mild and dry; so after lunch I decided to take Sophie to the gardens at the Art Center that I so enjoy.

I had invited Abe to join me last Sunday to see the newly-blooming garden. We had a great time, and I even got to watch two glass artists at work in the studio of the art center. Today my guest was less interested in the art and more in tune with nature.

This is the bench by the river where I sit and read on Sunday afternoons when it's warm out.

Remember Twisted House?

The grounds are just starting to take shape. I spoke briefly with the gardener and thanked him for providing such a peaceful place of respite for me.

On the back door of one of the studios is this great sign.

This flower bed changes colors every month or so.

The ornamental grasses have been cut way back to reveal the statuary.

Remember the pergola? Imbedded in the garden are green speakers that emit sounds when a passerby triggers the sensor. Sophie was briefly intrigued by the rushing water, but then she ignored subsequent crickets, gongs and wind.

We had a great time. Can you tell?