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Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Bully

 

He came into the framing shop fifteen minutes after I did; perhaps 15 years my junior, he was well dressed in crisp chinos, and an oxford cloth shirt. He was joking about getting a free fame. He wanted a poster framed as cheaply as possible, he informed the proprietor of the custom framing and gallery shop.  I was looking for a bargain, too.

I listened to his friendly banter – banter that quickly became an angry diatribe about the debt ceiling problems embroiling Washington.  He went on a great length how everything would collapse – everything, including this shop, would go belly-up immediately because of the bull-headed congressmen who would not just raise the debt ceiling and put off their agenda until later.  He kept it up – talking at the proprietor who remained unflustered but quiet, as she continued estimating the cost of his framing.

When he got the estimate, he became discourteous – exclaiming how could such a little job cost so much.  She offered an option that would have saved him thirty dollars – but he curtly dismissed it. He then asked that the print be wrapped up in brown paper and said he’d think about if the framing of such a print would be worth the money and left.

Very little oxygen remained in the shop. I wonder if this man even wondered how he sounded?

The incivility that passes for political dialogue is depressing on the airwaves, and discouraging on a person-to-person level. It reminds me of the tone emanating from the late ‘60’’s.

I wish I had had answers to each of this man’s accusations and assumptions. But, frankly, I am on information overload.  Some of what he said made sense – but much of it didn’t. However his railing to strangers, and then demeaning the cost of the product for which he asked made it seem like Potomac fever had infected Severna Park.

I don’t have the answer to the current financial crises – it boggles my mind how what seems so simple is so complex. Doug and I are frequently tightening our belts when we catch ourselves overspending.  It is not fun – but when the money is gone what are the other choices?

I want the leaders  -- from the feds to the locals - to stop borrowing and spending – making us think we are entitled to benefits we truly have not earned.  Now if the leaders have been poor stewards – own up to it; if you are trying to clean up a mess someone else, quit whining; you asked for the job! Get working on the solution, or get out of the way so others can. But don’t bully bystanders.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Another Walk Worth Taking


Doug and I had dinner with our grandchildren as their folks went out to celebrate their eighth anniversary.  Before dinner they took a dip in the pool, and then we settled down to enjoy Maryland barbecued chicken from a local restaurant. (Hey, I am still on vacation even when I am on duty!)

How to fill the time before bedtime with fun, considering the huge dissimilarity in our years and abilities?    

A walk!

Off we went, the youngest, content in a stroller, the other happily skipping ahead, eager to show us where they took swimming lessons.  My hips tried complaining about moving after too many days off – but they finally quieted down, and worked! Ten years ago, it rarely crossed my mind to be grateful for just being able to walk.  This year has been quite a tutor in gratitude.

Anyway, I took this neighborhood circuit for ten years before we left for Texas.  I know the houses and their streets. But walking with a five year old and a three year old, I saw many things I hadn’t noticed  -- like which house had a pretty lamp in the window; which house had funny stripes (siding); which house had small red roses and Black-eyed Susans. 

The walk took longer than it ever has – and doubtless doesn’t count as a cardio-vascular workout. But the treasures gleaned – on an early evening in a late July are inestimable.

  • You don't choose your family.  They are God's gift to you, as you are to them.  ~Desmond Tutu 
  • Grandchildren are God's way of compensating us for growing old.  ~Mary H. Waldrip

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thoughts From the Porch

 
Sunday morning and we are enjoying the last day of a refreshing vacation – everybody is moving slowly; the little kids are fighting cold bugs we hope will not visit us. I am sitting on my former back porch – reflecting and writing. One of the greatest pleasures in life on my humble list of pleasures is a screened in porch.  The ceiling fan moves the humid July air slightly, and I am refreshed with recollections, thoughts and hope. 

Years ago, I sat here, often doing a Bible study, journaling – trying to write out what was stirring me up -- good, bad, and indifferent. When I wrote I was, and still am, mindful that committing too much information to paper might do more harm than good, assuming anyone other than myself would read what I wrote. 

This brings me to a problem I have (in) writing: honestly describing what I remember without splashing mud – trying to explain myself, or describe others without pointing fingers – using my “pen” as a brush, not as a hammer. If it is true that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them, then I have a canvas and paints to describe the who, what, why’s, how’s and when’s.

And I remember a good set of “brushes” I found a long time ago in Stories for the Heart, (1996, ed. Alice Gray).


I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the
sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn't my
fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the
sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in. I can't
believe I'm in the same place, but it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the
sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in. It's a
habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the
sidewalk. I walk around it.

I walk down a different street.

This morning I think about being a grandmother, having scooped up and cuddled the three grand kids God has graciously given us. We talk play, and interact – they tell me stuff; they ask me questions.  We draw together – and I am keeping a remembrance/ prayer journal for them – not as devotedly as I could.  I hope the journals will encourage them when they read them.

I have no memories of such experiences with my only grandmother, or the aunt and uncle who raised my mom after her mother died, and her dad left. I remember them, their homes, and then, seeing them in a nursing home for the last few years of their lives.  So, although it doesn’t seem like I have much to work with – these memories  can be sunshine or shadows – both necessary in a landscape of my life.  

 Still not sure how to work these colors into this painting . . .

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Vacation from What?


Vacation means a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday.  Yet I am connected with much that is familiar.  Right now I am describing the wonder of nothing on the agenda with familiar tools – my computer.   The grandkids bustle about in one game after another  – that is a suspension of the quiet activity is our usual routine. What’s more unusual is the view: a long slopping lawn to a dock upon a lovely lake.

Doug is across the table, also connected to news and mail. We are both connected to the world via the technology we brought with us. The TV, our little laptops have forged connections for us that were unbelievable even a decade ago.  Our son-in-law has remarked on our reluctance to disengage from cyberspace. Only the cell-phones testify to the distance we’ve come, for we are on an extended network.  Extended network means we are out range of our network and it will cost extra to chat or text.  So, in that sense I have suspended myself from my other world.

One chance encounter the other night led to a wonderful adventure day, after we unplugged ourselves.

We ate dinner at a restaurant recommended by a friend. Our waitress   mentioned Black Water Falls in West Virginia as a possible adventure. We decided to explore it and saw some great country. We took yet another hike, this one climbing down 214 steps, and back up those same 214 steps. (http://www.blackwaterfalls.com/) And yes, Doug and I did it – a bit more slowly, but successfully. Kudos to the engineers who designed and built those steps.

We stopped for a late lunch in Thomas, W VA. In some ways parts of the town seem to be reviving – people are opening shops and restaurants along the river.  A few of the shops were depressing – projecting a kind of hip hopelessness.  One gallery ‘s eclectic displays included paintings of rotting fruit and portraits of men whose age and bearing belied any dignity in humanity. Yet, alongside these displays were whimsical stick-figure prints, pottery and jewelry.  

Perhaps this experience, so soon after seeing the splendid sights of forests and falls, God’s creation, was the reality check that even the best of vacations, which this one is, can be windows into hurting hearts.                 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

J.K. Rowling and Harriet Beecher Stowe

 
The final movie, drawn from the last in the Harry Potter series opened to startling numbers; it generated cash and crowds, and commentary that psychologists might need to help “muggles” (Non-wizards) come to terms with the ending of their childhood, which some have expressed over this last movie.  One fan said: "I love Harry Potter," she said. "It's been such a big part of my life. I don't know what I'll do without it." (source) Indeed on a recent Charlie Rose Show (PBS) a critic said the Harry Potter series “ . . . have become part of the canon of English literature – comparable to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. “
 
Really? 

I can spot some similarities – but which ones make Ms. Rowling’s series comparable to Mrs. Stowe’s serials?

Disclaimer: I haven’t read J.K. Rowling’s books; I have seen a few of the movies and enjoyed them thoroughly. I can’t say if or how Ms Rowling portrayed the hot topics convulsing our times, as Mrs. Stowe depicted slavery.  So, it’s my sense that the battles her heroes fight are against mythological evil  -- and are not an allegory of contemporary problems, even as the times in which Ms. Rowling wrote the series became dark. 

J.K. Rowling said her series, Harry Potter, is about death:

According to Rowling, a major theme in the series is death: "My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry's parents. There is Voldemort's obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic. I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We're all frightened of it." (Wikipedia)

And she is reported to have said that she struggles with her Christian faith.

Mrs. Stowe wrote, wrestling with such topics as slavery and Calvinism, (The Minister’s Wooing).   And Mrs. Stowe struggled with her faith, especially when she lost two of her sons to premature deaths.  Mrs. Stowe created authentic characters who were men and women crippled by real-life horrors.  Mrs. Stowe showed a way through the horror that [any] death is. (“A Little Bit of a Woman”)  

Ms. Rowling’s books are extolled because not only are they great tales, they have generated movie jobs and wealth for many; Mrs. Stowe’s one book is said to have sparked the Civil War – a war that freed millions of African slaves.  But it made an unfortunate motion picture!

Writing about death and evil in such a way that makes readers reflect without recoiling and rejecting such a simple truth is tough.   Both Mrs. Stowe and Ms Rowling have set a high bar for aspiring writers who wish to engage readers and make them think about forces and powers that are personal, powerful and yet unseen. Whether Ms. Rowling has helped us look at the evil that afflicts us today, making us weep for the lives that are crushed – and then be willing to fight for them – as the North did, remains to be seen. 

Who today could create an engrossing series exposing the human cost of abortion,  illegal immigration  and the moral failure of our governmental, judicial, and financial institutions, the several generations of Americans we have permitted to become enslaved to handouts from a government that is spending itself onto bankruptcy? 

And what would the movie version look like?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Those Walks Paid Off!



 We had a great adventure at Swallow Falls Maryland this morning trekking down and up the trails on a cool, sunny Maryland summer’s day – reminding me that sometimes there is more to the summers here than humidity.  (http://www.mgs.md.gov/esic/features/swallow.html)   The park was the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Men who needed work in desperate times were given an opportunity to use or learn engineering skills as well as craftsmanship.  What could we accomplish with such a commitment to renovation, discipline and creativity?  But I digress.

We had the endurance to keep up with our kids!

Woo-hoo! 

All the weeks of early morning or late evening walking around our neighborhood prepared me to keep moving. Still,  walking on level sidewalks didn’t prepare my hips and knees for scrambling up and down rocky paths.  But it was glorious – walking in an ancient forest of white pines and white rhododendrons, gazing up at massive sedimentary rocks from which smaller trees sprouted, listening to sounds of an unseen waterfall – catching glimpses of our grandkids scampering ahead with their dad – and reaching out to grab hold our daughter’s hand to steady ourselves – it was a jewel of a day! 


Oscar Wilde wrote that, “Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us.”
(The Importance of Being Earnest)
 
Everybody needs his memories.  They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.  ~Saul Bellow

Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer Vacation: Part I


I had forgotten about rain. It has been hot and dry for so many weeks in Dallas that, although I thought about it, when we set off I forgot to take rain gear.  (I was too impressed with our relatively on-time and calm departure!) The first day’s journey was sunny and hot with building humidity; the next day equally bright, hot and damp. Two hundred miles later, in Kentucky I was startled to see towering black clouds when we got back on the highway after lunch.

Now had we been listening to the radio news, I might have been prepared – but we were alternating between listening to our favorite satellite stations and the audio books I borrowed from the library  -- and my texting friends – when I was not driving. Moreover, we were following  two GPS devices. The one built into Doug’s car, though recently updated, had us in Oklahoma initially. So, we booted up the new portable device we use in my car.  Two different voices, female, computer generated giving us directions slightly different from each other, preceded by distinct bells. Who could think about one more thing, like weather forecasts?

Sixty years ago car trips were somewhat different. Our trips were only to South Carolina.  I carried no books of any kind because I was prone to motion sickness; I sat in the back seat and heard no radio unless we were approaching a large city – between Baltimore in the 1950’s and Jonesville, SC – there weren’t many.  The first audio book to which we listened reminded me of many impressions I have of the early trips south: John Grisham’s collection of short stories,  Ford County

We took 29 South for most of the way – a two-lane highway. for most of the 535 miles.  My father drove; my mother rarely took the wheel.  Nobody talked about weather – it was hot and rarely rained. The best part was stopping for gas – and it was also the grimmest part. Washrooms were rudimentary and untended. But the large outdoor enameled ice chests filled with ice and sodas were wonderful.  Coca-Cola’s, Nehi’s, and Dr. Peppers have never tasted better. 

Our recent road trip is three times the distance of those early journeys – all four-lane highways, with average speeds of 70 mph. We do in one day what took my parents two or three days.  The rest rooms are way better – but not the sodas.  

The second book is one recommended heartily by a friend before we left Texas, What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell.   Listening to several of  this collection’s  essays  I can understand his enthusiasm. Mr. Gladwell  writes well and whimsically describing  puzzles and mysteries ranging from why Heinz ketchup is such a favorite to WWII espionage; from WMD’s to the dog whisperer. 

 Points worth Pondering:

Laughter is an instant vacation.  ~Milton Berle

God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.  ~J.M. Barrie, Courage, 1922


Saturday, July 9, 2011

The View from My Window, Part 2 – A Well-Watered Garden

 

A few weeks ago  I described the lawns across the street – one well watered, one not.  Since that time, the lawn that was languishing in the relentlessly dry Texas heat is showing a creeping greenness. Why? Our neighbor turned on the sprinkling system that now irrigates the lawn in the wee early hours of the day. The brown patches are receding, even as the temperatures climb. The blessing of water – consistently and gently available – is having an obvious effect before my eyes. 

However the same water that waters this lawn is creating problems elsewhere in the neighborhood. I described my encounter with the torrents of dirty water a broken water main released yesterday. Today on our early morning walk, we encountered the results of the city opening up a fire hydrant. At one point a city worker hopped from his truck and dropped what we think were large chlorine tablets into the rushing water.  Some curbs were so inundated with muddy water, crossing them was a challenge – taking wide strides across water and mud is tricky with balance issues and bifocals. 

Looking up one alley, we saw a large excavation – something was wrong. We don’t know whether this is scheduled repair work on an old system, or an unexpected problem. But the same water that is refreshing a dying lawn is creating obstacles for our walks.

Water is a hot topic of conversation any day. Whether we talk about its power revealed in tsunamis, floods and storms; lament its excess or absence, or, lament its pollution praise its life-giving properties we can’t live long without it, and we can’t live with too much of it! In my little world I see what too little and too much can do – and I can see how wise watering can revitalize a barren lawn.  

In Scripture water also is a powerful image of God’s Holy Spirit and His righteous wrath. 
(See Isa 12:3; 35:6-7; 55:1; John 7:37-38; Hos. 5:10.)  In my little world, I have seen how thirsty I become when I will not come and drink. And I see too many thirsty folks decline God’s offer of free refreshment. (Isaiah 55; 65:2-5)

But I have sadly seen myself spout out too many words – like that opened water hydrant. Thinking I was offering help I may only have created unnecessary puddles for others to ford.  However, I know the blessed refreshment of words used wisely.  “ . . . Reliable friends who do what they say are like cool drinks in sweltering heat — refreshing!”  (Prov. 25:11-13 from THE MESSAGE)
Thank you all!

Hoping that you dear reader, and I will be refreshed in the word, by God’s Holy Spirit to refresh a thirsty world:  . . . Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing." (Matt 10:41-42 from THE MESSAGE)


P.S. Yesterday we hit 105 degrees, but low humidity  . . . It did not feel cooler for all the dryness. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Getting Sloppy Wet

I have maintained the walking regime.  Why I couldn’t rustle my stumps in cooler weather, I can’t say – but walking now is a priority.

This morning as I began, I met Doug, who had gotten out earlier. He reported a water main break in an alley close by that impeded his constitutional. I would not be so deterred, I believed, unable to imagine how much water flows from such a rupture – I would simply by pass it, and get in my thirty minutes. 

Then I caught sight of it. The force of the flow affected at least five streets, and water burbled along their curbs and corners. I successfully navigated the first challenges – but on the home stretch, I misjudged the depth. Cool water mixed with grit and mud inundated my shoes, soaking even the bottom of my pants. 

And I was three blocks from home.

Walking in wet shoes with wet hems slapping at my ankles, feeling the fine grit grind about my feet slowed me down – I seriously considered calling Doug and asking him to come fetch me. (I never claimed to be a pioneering woman!) But did not relish the prospect of explaining why I wound up where he’d warned me not to go.

Hmmmmm.  Could this have been an apt metaphor for how I got to be me?

Being warned of watery impediments, I strode on, convinced one little break would not inhibit me.  Or, maybe I thought the break would be repaired by the time I made it past the alley? 

This made me think of other times when I chose to disregard friendly warnings – the sum of which might be the back story of the great America novel I’m hatching. A working title might be Ah, But, You Were Warned, _______________.    

Too often I read Aesop and others’ fables approving the wisdom for other folks but not applying it to me. And too often, I saw how Solomon’s wisdom could teach others, and did not learn for myself.  Taking long walks gives me time to think about how often I ignored wise counsel – and the merciful interventions God enabled. I wonder if the determination that gets me up, out of the house and walking means I am a little more teachable this season.  Mr. Thoreau, once said, “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”  

Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their life, or else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other.  (Matthew Henry)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Cost of Our Conduct


My generation – the Boomers – made “Free Love” a more widely acceptable decision in times convulsed by war and racial strife.  It seemed to many an antidote that would give peace a chance.  Without the constraints of marriage and commitment, we could fulfill ourselves and become better people.

But we did not understand the cost – to our economy. Leaving aside for the moment the emotional and physical cost of “free love” Americans have paid since the mid sixties, consider, please, statistical evidence that   sex outside the bounds of marriage has become a threatening part of our debt crises.

Mona Chareon ‘s recent column reported the following familiar statistics:

 In 1970, 85.2 percent of children under 18 lived in a two-parent family. In 2005, it was 68.3 percent and dropping. Forty percent of births in America are to unwed parents. Broken down by ethnic group, the figures are 30 percent among whites, 50 percent for Hispanics and 70 percent for blacks.

Single mothers (and occasionally fathers) find it much more difficult to be the kind of autonomous, self-supporting individuals that our system of government was designed for. Single parents turn to the government for assistance in dozens of ways. Pearlstein cites economist Benjamin Scafidi, who has offered a rough calculation of how much family breakdown costs American taxpayers annually. Scafidi considered TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), Food Stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid, S-Chip, child welfare services, justice system costs, WIC, LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), Head Start, school breakfast and lunch programs, and foregone tax receipts. The annual bill to taxpayers: $112 billion.

Imagine if even one-twentieth of the attention we devote to gay marriage were turned to the state of heterosexual marriage -- we might begin to see the true emergency.  (Mona Chareon's Column)
And this information does not include the economic and human cost of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Nor, does it address the bloody cost of abortion: almost fifty million unborn children a year since 1972.  

“If it feels good do it” wasn’t so inconsequential a choice.  Our personal choices have racked up quite a debt – threatening to crash the US economy – and far more.  From what did we free ourselves? And to what have we enslaved ourselves? 

God warned about the cost of the freedom His people would demand, and this ancient warning sounds contemporary:

 But if you refuse to obey me and won't observe my commandments, despising my decrees and holding my laws in contempt by your disobedience, making a shambles of my covenant, I’ll step in and pour on the trouble: debilitating disease, high fevers, blindness, your life leaking out bit by bit. You'll plant seed but your enemies will eat the crops.   I'll turn my back on you and stand by while your enemies defeat you. People who hate you will govern you. You'll run scared even when there's no one chasing you . . .  (Lev 26:14-39 from THE MESSAGE.)


 His offer of deliverance is as timely:

 If I ever shut off the supply of rain from the skies or order the locusts to eat the crops or send a plague on my people, and my people, my God-defined people, respond by humbling themselves, praying, seeking my presence, and turning their backs on their wicked lives, I'll be there ready for you: I'll listen from heaven, forgive their sins, and restore their land to health.
(2 Chronicles 7:14 from THE MESSAGE;  also see Isaiah 1:18-19; Lev 26:40-46)    

Now,  a humble word to the wise: Take all the time you need-- but hurry up:
Defer not till tomorrow to be wise,
Tomorrow's sun to thee may never rise.

William Congreve. 1670-1729. Letter to Cobham.(From Christians Quoting)