Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Words and Feelings, in Writ and Melody

After the Grammys the other week, all the news was of singer and songwriter, Adele.  Adele had vocal chord hemorrhage last fall, had laser surgery for her condition in November, and gave her comeback performance the night of the Grammys singing "Rolling in the Deep."  Not only that, Adele won awards in all of the six categories for which her work was nominated.

Wow!  What a voice.   I've heard a number of her songs on my Jar of Hearts station on Pandora, and am always captivated.

After the Grammys, during all the Adele publicity, my friend, Tom R. posted  on facebook a Wall Street Journal article called "Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker."   The author of the article attempted to explain, in a scientific way, why some songs are more likely than others to pull at our heartstrings.

I was reminded of this this morning on my way home from my morning exercise excursion at a neighbor's house.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.   I had to exercise alone today, because of a transportation mix-up getting the kids to school this morning.  I was approaching Lana's from the west just as Connie's vehicle was leaving, pulling out of her driveway to the east.  The other ladies were done and I was just arriving, so I knew I would not have any company this morning.

As I was spending time on the treadmill, I began to be plagued by the boredom that generally sets in for me during solitary indoor exercise.  "Time to use that imagination, Mary.  Find something with which to occupy your brain."  Hmmm.  Various ideas flitted through my head.  I wished I had my mp3 player.  Or a radio.  Or my laptop with a wi-fi connection so I could finish listening to that lecture in the free Hillsdale College class I signed up for.

Since the treadmill I was using faces the window, which looks out upon a little bit of snow-covered yard between the house and the woods, I decided to engage in a writing exercise, while the treadmill demanded exertion of a different sort from my body.  I've occasionally bemoaned the fact that I am not a good photographer.  I often see things that are visually rich or emotionally compelling.  But when I try to capture such an image, or the feeling it draws forth, with a photo, it always falls short.  I usually find I have better success painting pictures with words and phrases.  But it takes practice and work.  So it's not unusual for me to see something during my daily life, and spend some time thinking about how best to capture such an image with words.

With this challenge of capturing images with words in the front of my mind, I looked out the window at the snowy and blustery landscape.  I made myself notice the details.  I concentrated on all those little things that we don't generally have time to think about consciously, but which get into the periphery of our minds.  I made myself think of ways to describe what I saw, using engaging turns of phrase and descriptive language to paint a picture with words.

Most of what I pondered today as I treaded and watched, is not worthy of remembering.  Just images and ideas.  But there was one scene that challenged me.  I couldn't find just the right words while I was there, but I'm going to try to work it out here.  
As I gazed upon the snowy woods, I caught a stir of movement out of the corner of my eye.  A patch of deep golden color skittered into the whiteness of the scene.  A dry leaf caught up in the winter wind.  The wind had not yet captured the leaf completely.  It traveled across my view in a hesitant manner, sliding forward a few inches at a time, only to get hung up on something that forced its stop. The snowfield that looked smooth and glossy apparently held obstacles that remained undetected to my eye.

I continued to watch as the leaf made its way across the snow.

Slide and stop.  Slide a little.  And then stop again.  Hesitant.  Fluttering slightly in the wind.  Tipping upward in a teasing sort of manner, only to settle back down against the snow.  Then slowly sliding forward again.

Until suddenly, with a jolt and a tumble, as quickly as it had entered my line of sight, the leaf was gone in a rush of wind.  Up into the air, end over end.  It floated into the trees, and was lost to sight among the gray trunks of the poplars.
As I drove home, I was still lost in my world of words.  Vocabulary and phrases.  Word pictures.  How to breathe life into mere words, to portray a scene as visually rich and constantly changing as life itself?
The black line of the winter road led me forward into the vast whiteness that is winter here in Northern Minnesota.  The view seemed to stretch forever.  The blackness of the highway was broken here and there.  Unsettled.  A blur of whiteness above the black.  When the lay of the adjacent land allowed, the whipping winds lifted the loose snow from the fields.  It hovered along the ground, in a swiftly moving cloud.

As I passed the woods which surround Glen V's farm, I approached a ford.  A snow ford.  One of those spots where the writhing cloud of snow had found a suitable place to cross the highway.  Just as travelers in the old days sought out the best place to cross a river, so too the blowing snow finds its favorite places to ford the impasse which we call a roadway.

The drifting snow seemed to rise up to threaten me as I passed.  It billowed across the road in a thick whirl.  A drift was growing at the side of the road, building a ridge along the highway that would soon stretch across the road, first in little fingers, and then finally, in a thickened mound.
I was plucked suddenly from my world of words.  A haunting strain of music trickled from the car radio.  I heard the opening cadences of the song and instantly felt a beautiful sort of melancholy pull at my heart.  I don't know that I've ever heard Alan Jackson's "Remember When," before.  But as the combination of music and lyrics toyed with my emotions, I recalled that article about music and emotions, Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker.  I don't have the musical skills to easily analyze "Remember When," according to the tear-jerker rubric described in the article.  But I do know that whatever combination of musical techniques that song employs, it works for me.  It got me...right...right...right there.

I may play around with words.  I may try to be interesting and compelling and vivid.  I may even imagine I succeed a little bit.  But I will probably never be able to make my words work like the poetry in this song spins its magic in combination with the musical strains.

My favorite line, by the way, "Remember when the sound of little feet was the music we danced to week to week."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Those Increasingly Frequent Rare Occasions

Over the weekend, I told Joe about my sudden inclination to drink pop.  I only drink pop on rare occasions.  Really.  It's just that suddenly, those rare occasions are coming with increasing frequency.  Joe thought that was a very funny ways of saying it, but it's true.  I don't consider myself a pop drinker, but lately I just can't help myself.

Eek!  I am embarrassed to say that I've bought a Coke at a gas station about seven times in the last month.   What a waste of money!  And, my poor pancreas!  "I'm really sorry, Mr. Pancreas, please don't stop working."  I'm sure this won't be a long term inclination.  But for some reason, I am just craving Coke.

And chips.  I've probably eaten more Doritos and potato chips (I'm so totally hooked on all those flavored kettle chips) in the last three months than I have in my entire life put together.  What's up with that?  I feel like Carol Cantell.  And just for the record, the answer is, "No, I am not pregnant!"  I know some of my readers well enough.  I can hear your little brains ticking, see you biting your tongues, just waiting for an opportune time to ask.  But no.  That is not the reason for these snack attacks.

But this post is not about chips.  It's about caffeine, and more particularly my sudden need for Coke. 

I never used to enjoy caffeine.  Really, it's true.  It made me sick to my stomach.  During my college years, for instance, if we had a big test to study for, or a paper to write, all my cohorts would keep themselves up all night with a Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper.  I would occasionally try it, but I always regretted it later.  Instead of staying up all night studying, I'd be hunched up in bed wondering if I would make it to the bathroom when I needed to get there.

I don't know what changed.  I rarely get sick to my stomach from caffeine now.  Occasionally, if I have a sugary coffee drink on an empty stomach I might feel icky, so I mostly avoid sugary coffee drinks.  But for the most part, I find caffeine a great boon in my life.  Almost a life jacket of sorts.

This change came upon me about the time I had a mere four kids.  Only four!  Just imagine.  It's a bit hard for me to remember back that far, to what life was like.  I remember feeling overwhelmed.  I remember feeling like I was always behind.  And always a little bit crazy.  (I guess some things don't change, huh?)  But it was different then.  I felt more need to try to keep up.  God had not yet taught me that He does, in fact, fill in where we can't do it.  I still thought I needed to do it ALL.

Joe was very busy in those days.  He worked at Bethany College, in Mankato, MN.  His official title was Associate Director of Library, but under that mantle, his main job was to maintain the computers in the library, including the student computer lab.  He also coordinated technology things with the other techy guys around campus, and cared for various other media needs around the college.  Besides his full time library job, though, he also served as an adjunct faculty member, teaching variously religion, archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, self-defense, or any other classes for which he was qualified, if the need arose.  These teaching responsibilities were over and above his full time library position.

So while I was busy taking care of an ever increasing number of babies, Joe was working between 50 and 60 hours a week.  I didn't see much of him.  But while he often had to be gone into the evenings or work during the weekends, we lived near enough to Bethany that he could come home for many meals.  There were many times, however, when he'd arrive home for lunch, and I would be at my wit's end.  We came up with a little survival mechanism that we would employ on such days.  Joe would do lunch with the kids.  And I'd get to run down to the Citgo and pick up my usual:  an individual pizza, a Coke, and an Almond Joy.  Mmmm.

I'd park the car alongside some prettily tree lined avenue, or adjacent to one of the city parks.  I'd tune the radio to whatever I wanted.  I'd indulge in my junkie lunch.   Besides the junk food, though, there were the social bonuses, too.  I had quiet or noise, according to my own preference.  No pinching, pulling, yelling, fighting, or other form of altercation to resolve.  No disasters to avert or worse yet to clean up.  No responsibilities for that 30-45 minutes.  For me, at that busy time of my life, it was a little nugget of peace on earth.

Another thing I found though, that I totally didn't expect, is that the caffeine in the pop did not bother me.  Not at all.  It gave me a little energy boost in the midday.  And in fact, it seemed to lend me a touch of something else.  I noticed a bit of mental clarity, a focus that was new.  A definite improvement to my typically chaotic thought process.

In short order I was making coffee to enjoy at home every morning.  I felt as though I had attained some sort of landmark in growing up.  I had joined the ranks of coffee drinkers.  I could now engage in the pleasure of a cup of coffee shared with a friend.  But more than that, I was also a part of the general coffee drinker community.  I could appreciate and contribute to the coffee drinker conversation, the shared experiences of spilling on a new shirt or missing my first cup of the day; or the crisis of running out of grounds or having a coffee maker break-down.  I was finally part of the coffee world.  It was as though I had finally come of age.

I still enjoyed a periodic bottle of Coke, but not as often.  Part of the boon of caffeine, as I said before was the energy.  Because I was using coffee to start my day, I enjoyed a little boost to get me going on the day's tasks.  But the other and almost more pertinent aspect was the increased mental acuity, the clarity and focus.  And this is what changed my life as a young mother.  Although I still needed a periodic rescue by my dear husband, most often when he came home for lunch, I was not in any dire need of escape.  There was still a little bit left of me, to stay and help Joe do the lunch-with-little-ones thing, or to visit with him about his day.  What a blessed change! 

Coffee is still my primary caffeine source.  Until recently, I've never been much of a pop drinker.  It's a treat for rare occasions.  I'll buy a pop for a road trip, or very occasionally on a hot summer day.  Normally, when I'm thirsty I drink water; when I need caffeine, it's coffee.  I just can't justify spending money on pop.  It's a hugely expensive habit that is rife with the potential for ill effects.

But suddenly, lately, the last month or so, I... Want... Pop.

I can't fill the car with gas, without hearing the pop call from the coolers inside the station. That little whisper inside my head, coaxing me to indulge.  And when I pick up groceries, I can't get through the checkout aisle without raiding those coolers strategically placed to tempt impulse buyers.  And much to my chagrin, contrary to everything I would like to think of myself, an impulse buyer I have become.  At least regarding Coke.  Last Friday, while checking out at Wal-mart, I bought two Cokes.  Two!  One for the trip home and one for later in the weekend.

I've been trying to figure this out.  What's with this sudden urge to drink pop?  Is it some latent self-destructive leaning that is needing to squeak out suddenly?  Maybe after ten years of being a pastor's wife, is the pressure of always being good is finally getting to me?

Is it a nutritional imbalance?  Is there some component of Coke that supplies some micro-nutrient of which I'm running low? 

Or is it simply that in this season of my life, my particular brand of busyness is taxing my mental faculties?

I suspect that it's this last one.  I often find myself in short supply of mental clarity.  Real short.  I mean, really, really short.

Of late I am most often overwrought with the mass of those things of which I need to keep track.  I'm told this can be normal at my age.  That certain chemical changes that are likely beginning to occur in my body can bring on a confused and distracted state.  Combine that with the escalating outside activities to which the older kids are obligated, and the increase in younger children activities, too, now that they are in public school.

At least one of my daughters thinks I accomplish nothing all day.  I've tried to explain to her how mentally exhausting I find just keeping track of everything that needs to be kept track of.   A friend of mine who has ADD has described his mental state, prior to learning he had ADD, as continually circling the block trying to pull into the driveway, but never quite being able to pull in.  Building on that metaphor, I find my mental state most of the time as not even being able to tell whether I am arriving by boat or plane, train, bus or car.  And where is it I'm trying to get, anyway?  Remind me one more time, please.

And so, the pop.  Ah, yes, the pop.  Aaaaah, yesssss.   Mmm.  Just take a sip and feel the clarity return.  Coke particularly is just so good.  It brings back to me a little hint of the acuity I remember feeling when I first discovered the pleasures of caffeine.  For some reason, the coffee alone must not be quite cutting it any more.  I must need that evil high fructose corn syrup along with the caffeine.

I may never know why this works, or why I'm craving pop.  But I don't really care about the reason, anyway.  It makes me curious, but it doesn't really matter.  And I sincerely hope my pancreas suffers no long term ill effects from these sudden lapses of self-control.  I also hope that because of our very limited income my indulgent habit doesn't send us to the poor house.

But for now, I'm just going to enjoy the ride.  I just can't seem to resist these increasingly frequent rare occasions when I need a Coke.  And I guess I'm OK with it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Vince Flynn

Several years ago, I believe it was in the spring of '09, I discovered Minnesota author, Vince Flynn.  I've been trying to recall how I stumbled upon his books.  I think it was a mention on Kelly the Kitchen Kop's website, about a new book coming out, maybe with a link to her favorite reads page.  I followed Kelly's link to Flynn's first book, Term Limits, and was intrigued.  I quickly requested it through the library.  I liked it well enough to immediately request the next one, Transfer of Power, also.  It was after Transfer of Power, the first of the Mitch Rapp books, that I was really hooked.  I haven't read them all yet, but I look forward to such an indulgence. (As a little aside, if you are interested in learning to cook with more nutritive ingredients and methods, Kelly's website is a great place to start.)

From a fan perspective, Vince Flynn is an all around great author to admire.  He writes excellent political thrillers.  He researches his material well.  He's one of those authors who writes about things that might be, and later we find out they were in fact true all along.  His book, Memorial Day, was so accurate that Flynn fell under the watchful eye of the Department of Energy.

Mr. Flynn is from Minnesota, from the Twin Cities area.  He self-published his first book, which is very cool from a writing standpoint.  It is not easy to gain enough of a following in the self-publishing world to garner the attention of a major publishing house.  Mr. Flynn is a family man with fairly traditional values.

Mr. Flynn has a new book out just recently.  The new book, Kill Shot, is the second prequel in the Mitch Rapp series.  I heard in one interview I've listened to that Flynn has a third prequel in his mind that he hopes to write one day, but that his next book will continue the later Mitch Rapp story. 

Mr. Flynn's new books are usually released in the fall, October, I think.  Kill Shot was released several months late, but it's quite amazing that Mr. Flynn was able to finish the book at all.  He was diagnosed with stage three metastatic prostate cancer in November of 2010, in the middle of the book tour for what was at that time his latest book, American Assassin.  The cancer had moved into his hip bone and he at first thought he might have only months to live.  After consultation with his specialists, however, Mr. Flynn was assured that, although his prognosis was certainly serious, it was not as dire as it would have been even a few years ago.  Treatments for his type of cancer have progressed to the point that they gave him a likelihood of living at least five years, but that depending upon how his system handled the treatments, he could very well live a long and full life.

What great news for him and his family!  But also for us fans.  I've really enjoyed reading about his experience, and listening to some interviews.  It's always heartening to hear of someone joining the ranks of cancer survivors.  He is not out of the woods yet, but his treatments seem to be progressing well, and the cancer is diminishing in a predictable fashion, as they hoped.  But Mr. Flynn's story is very inspirational.  He talks openly in interviews about his Catholic faith, his writing career, the importance of his family.  Mr. Flynn has a 16 year old step-son, and two daughters, ages 11 and 9.   He projects such an over-all great attitude that it has reminded me to make better use of my own time here on earth.

Minnesota blogger, Caryn Sullivan, wrote a nice piece on Mr. Flynn and his struggle to produce this recent book while undergoing his cancer treatments.

The most extensive interview that I came across is this one from the Dan Barreiro Show out of the Twin Cities, on KFAN, 100.3. The interview is an hour long, so I wasn't able to listen very carefully to the whole thing, but it was really fun to listen to as much as I did.  Mr. Flynn talks about writing during this cancer battle, about his fear of prescription pain medications, and the frustration of undergoing hormone treatments.  Mr. Barreiro asks about Mr. Flynn's writing career and where he plans to go from here.  And they talk about national security and the very real threats to such security.

I can't wait to read Kill Shot.  If you've never read any of Mr. Flynn's Mitch Rapp books, you'll have to give one a try.  They are a pretty fast read, with excellent characters, and lots of suspense.  I do suggest reading them in order, starting with Transfer of Power.  The characters really develop as the stories unfold.  And although someone could make the argument that one could start with the prequels, I think the mystery about Rapp's background might be less interesting when read in that order.  It's like getting to know a friend.  One doesn't generally gush everything out at the first meeting, right?

Happy reading!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rattlesnakes and Temper Tantrums

I got lost again this morning.  On the internet, that is.  I shared a photo earlier today on Facebook that my cousin's son, Tanner, had shared.  It's of another cousin's barn that sits just up over the rim of Pine Canyon along the Sunset Highway between Wenatchee and Waterville.

That little Facebook post led to an unstoppable urge to see some pictures of Pine Canyon.  I have a different blog post rattling around my head, that will maybe feature a funny story or two, and would include a detailed description of driving up Pine Canyon in a lemon of a Buick Regal.  But the post is simply not forthcoming today.

What started out as a really good post in my mind, turned into a lengthy stream of consciousness with too many thoughts squished into a single paragraph with hugely ran-on sentences.  (Is a run-on sentence written in the past a ran-on sentence I suppose not, since all sentences one reads are written in the past and if this were the case they would all be ran-on sentences instead of run-on sentences so I suppose there is no such thing as a ran-on sentence what to you think?)

But one thing I did find warranted its own smaller blog post.

Joe often dreams of us being able to buy property in Washington that we could use when we visit the relatives.  It's just a dream, really, because we don't get there often enough to want to maintain a property there.

When I stumbled upon this ad for a couple of lots for sale in the Rimrock Meadows neighborhood, it made me feel nostalgic.  And it called to mind two somewhat poignant memories.

Rimrock Meadows appears to be some sort of resort association where members can go to camp and swim and play tennis or Foosball.  But what I associate with Rimrock Meadows is the rodeo.  There was the Omak Stampede, too.  Rimrock Meadows and the Omak Stampede.  Those two names, in my little girl's mind, meant rodeo.

I have two memories that I think happened at Rimrock Meadows.  I have no idea if they really did; but I'm pretty sure they happened somewhere.  And I'm pretty sure it was at some sort of rodeo or horse and cowboy thing.  I think I was probably three or four years old at the time.

We were walking along the dusty pathway, in some facility that was was set amidst the sage hills and rocky terrain of Eastern Washington.  Prime rattlesnake country.  There was a large group of us there, friends and relatives.  I believe I was walking with either my aunt Elinor or my mom's best friend, Mary Ann, who is also kind of my aunt.  It just might have been Mary Ann's daughter, Peggy, too.  She's mixed up with this memory somewhere, in that crazy way memories get jumbled up. I remember that whoever I was with had strappy seventies sandals on.  Probably Wrangler jeans, too.  But the jeans are not important to this memory, as the sandals are.  Probably my small size at the time made the visual impact of what happened next more lasting.

Suddenly a rattlesnake slithered over the open toe of my companion's sandal.  With a wisk and a whisper, the snake was gone as quickly as it had appeared, seemingly in a hurry to escape the meandering crowds. No harm was done, but I remember it being talked about throughout the day.  I'm pretty sure I asked both ladies about this episode at one time or another later, and nobody remembered it.  But it's a very real memory for me.

The other memory I have is of a possibly more humorous and slightly embarrassing nature.  I threw a temper tantrum.  A raging temper tantrum.  Apparently I liked the flavor of onion rings.  Apparently I didn't know they sometimes had discernible onions within them.  Again, there was a group of us.  We were in one of those outdoor eating pavilions that one finds at a county fair or festival.  I remember the wall going about half way up.  We were able to look out above the wall at all the passers by.  The group of us were sitting at several tables.  The menu items were the type of fare that came in a plastic basket with red checked tissue paper to soak up the grease.

I had ordered onion rings and was really looking forward to them.  The fragrance on the air screamed out grease and salt, and I couldn't wait for my food to come.  But as I took the first bite of my much anticipated onion rings, imagine my youthful chagrin when I pulled that bite away from the crispy salty edges, and a string of onion dangled from my chin.  Horror of horrors!  An onion in my onion rings!  Who put that there?  I don't want them!  I don't want onion rings with onions!  Take them back and get me some different ones!  Waaaaaah!  Waaaaaah! Sob and wracking sob.

I don't know how long I carried on, and I really don't know if it was as much of a production as it is in my memory.  But I remember first my mom, then my dad, then a variety of other friends and relations all trying in futility to calm me down. I remember my dad, particularly, trying to explain to me that all onion rings had onions.  But I was having none of it!  You can't fool me!  I was absolutely convinced that they were all lying to me, in that grown-up sort of way, in order to pacify me in my anger.  What did they take me for, anyway?  I'm not as gullible as all that.  Hmmph.

I did a little search on google to see if I could find anything about the Rimrock Meadows of my memory.  I didn't find much.  But this little news article from the June 7, 1972 edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle was kind of fun.  I would have been five that summer, and it appears that Rimrock Meadows was being dedicated that year. 

What this tells me, though, is that if my memory has any basis in reality, I'm ashamed to realize I behaved in such manner at the ripe old age of five. I had really hoped it was a mere three or four.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


In my family, I'm the second oldest of eight children.  My siblings and I attended a Lutheran prep school during my high school years.  Martin Luther Prep School was in Prairie du Chien,Wisconsin.  Our home was in Washington state.  Most years, during the school year, we only got home at Christmas. 

But what a joyful homecoming it always was.  For those few days we were home, we were the center of attention. 

First was the buzz of activity at the airport.  The excited greetings from Mom and Dad first, and then all the younger siblings.  A happy circle of attention.  But how did those little ones get so big?  They were always so much bigger than when we left home!

Next was the hellos and hugs with the families of the other students from our area who also attended MLPS.  There were three families besides ours, in the Puget Sound area, whose kids attended school with us.  It was always great fun to see everyone at those airport reunions each fall when school started, returning and leaving again at the Christmas holiday, and at the end of the school year each spring. 

After the initial greetings, and a frantic look to make sure everyone was accounted for, we took off on the mad rush to the baggage claim and eventually out to the parking ramp.  There was the ride on the subway from the satellite terminal to the main one.    Escalators, subways, more escalators, the baggage claim conveyors, at each point the recorded voice, in several languages, directing newcomers in the right direction and warning all to use due caution with the automated doors and other dangers.  Everyone aglow with the excitement of togetherness.  Families reunited.  Loved ones together after a lengthy separation.

Eventually Mom and Dad managed to get us all in the suburban.  Then the trip home.  We lived about 45 minutes from the airport, so we had a little bit of a drive amidst all the excitement.  Everyone had so much to tell about and ask about.  Everyone talking at once. I was always eager to show off how much more mature and intelligent I was than when I left.  "Really. Mom. Dad. See. I am growing up."

Often it was late when we got home, so the first meal home might be breakfast the next day.  But again, that buzz of excitement.  Younger siblings wanting to sit closest to big sisters.   Big sisters eager to make up for all the love and affection from these dear little ones that they had missed while away.  And to shower them with the same.

I'm thinking of this today because my Jeremy is home.  Yesterday, after Joe went into Thief River Falls to help Jeremy pack his things to move into his new apartment, he came home with Joe.  Jeremy has two days to stay.  This reunion is somewhat different than those from my childhood.  There is no airport, no lengthy car ride with everyone talking at once.  But there is the same buzz of excitement.  Everyone wants to be with Jeremy.  Everyone wants to be his favorite.

Jeremy, in his way, showers the little ones with affection.  He brought his "Magic the Gathering" cards to play with those who enjoy such escapes from reality.  He brought, believe it or not, a TV, a wii, and a ps3.  Right now, as I'm writing here in the living room, Jeremy has the TV set up on the piano bench.  The little ones are gathered around on stools and couches.  They are watching Jeremy play something.  Probably I don't want to ask.  Sophie just commented on the pool of blood...

"What game is that Jeremy?"

"Dark Souls.  The hardest game to come out this year."


Yes, my son is a gamer.  Shaggy hair, ripped trousers, shoes taped together.  At least that's how he looked last week. I did the parental bale-out thing and bought him new pants and shoes.  I was glad to note yesterday when he arrived, that he was wearing his new things.  I have no idea what he wears when he is away, but at least he appeased his mom by wearing decent clothes when he came to visit.  Apparently, customers at the Wal-Mart where he works have commented on his shaggy hair, because he mentioned that he had to buy some hairbands to use at work, to keep the jungle out of his face.

But yes, this older sibling homecoming thing seems to be universal.  Mom watching for signs of maturity.  Younger siblings excited to see their brother and get his attention.  Big brother bringing toys along to ingratiate himself with the younger ones.  Different but the same.  Families together.  Love.

I love my oldest son.  Heart and soul.  I love to see everyone so happy together.  I love the familiar feeling of such homecomings and the memories it called forth this morning.

Friday, February 10, 2012

That's Good, That's Bad

Did any of you ever read That's Good, That's Bad, by Joan Lexau, as a child?  It is a book that stands out in my mind from my early childhood and Weekly Reader days.  It tells the story of a jungle boy who at the start of the story is taking a walk in the jungle.  In turn, he gets pursued and then makes an escape from various jungle animals.  As the narration progresses, each of these events is followed by either a, "That's good," or, "That's bad," depending upon whether the boy is being pursued or making an escape.

I feel kind of like that today.

Lately I've had so very many things weighing on my mind, about which I'm trying not to obsess and wrest control from God. 
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Philipians 4:6-7
Last nigh something big transpired that brought me a modicum of peace and comfort.  That's good.
Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.  Psalm 50:15
But then one of daughters confessed to me some mischief she had been about, and some unintended results of that mischief.  This brought me a modicum of angst.  That's bad.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30.
And so things go in this temporal life.  God blesses us in some obvious way.  That's good.  We have troubles.  We worry.  That's bad.

We remember the promises of God's presence with us and His provision.  That's good.

We sin and need God's forgiveness.  That's bad.

We are given such forgiveness through Jesus.  In the Word of God.  Through our Baptism.  Through Holy Communion.  Through Confession and Absolution.  That's good.

We have the promises God's grace and forgiveness to give us eternal peace and comfort.  That's good. 

That's very good.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I'm Starting to Get a Little Excited...

Just starting.  The excitement is trickling into my system at a pathetically slow rate.  But Rick Santorum's excellent showing yesterday is helping to get the election juices flowing.

We've had such a whirlwind of ups and downs in Conservative politics and society in general the last several years.  There was ambivalence during the last campaign until the "Republican machine" candidate, John McCain, chose Sarah Palin as a running mate.  That choice generated a little bit of excitement.  People became energized.

We had the economic crises and bailouts, both before and after the election.  Obama was elected and initiated so very many power grabs I wouldn't even know where to begin.  The health care bill stands out as the uber power grab.

There's been the TEA Party movement (and the left's vitriolic misrepresentation of it), Wisconsin's "Governor Walker vs the Teachers' Unions" battle, and the Occupy movement.

It's really been too much.

Somewhere along the way, I lost all interest in current events.  I even started listening to country music.  Really.  That's how bad things are.  If getting drunk and getting ditched by your best girl is better than real life, isn't that pathetic?

I threw up my arms and said with the psalmist,
Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together, ...
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.
And really, that's so true.  What do our little participations in such things matter, anyway?
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.
But here's the rub.  Even knowing full well that God controls things, and believing that He works everything out for good, we still have a responsibility.  God has placed us in a land with many freedoms.  He has blessed us to live under a government system in which we are privileged to be able to participle.  How far each person takes such a privilege is between them and God.  But for me, that means doing what I can to at least try to help the candidates closest to my views attain office.

Usually that means I try to keep up with current events and the issues facing our nations and the different sides of each issue and the variety of opinions about how to solve such issues.   I try to attend precinct caucuses.  I try to help my local political party of choice in whatever way I'm able.  I give money to candidates when we can.

But that "doing what I can" thing, that gets a little bit gray.  God has given Joe and I many little hands to train and hearts to love and souls to fill with knowledge of Him.  And what is a more primary responsibility?  Being involved in politics, or raising children?  Kind of a no-brainer there.

I complain frequently about the busyness in our lives and our lack of family evenings.  I begrudge the fact that our kids, being in public school all day, now also have occasional evening obligations.  We don't allow them to participate in many things.  But even so, considering how many children have, it still adds up to considerable disruption in the evenings.

With that in mind, I was very unsure this last week or so, whether I was going to attend last night's Pennington County Republican caucus.  When I consider how few nights we have together as a family, taken with my political ambivalence of late, and remembering that God controls all such things anyway, I was rather disinclined to attend.

But then I thought about all the Ron Paul supporters who I knew would be out in droves ... Just kidding... that's for two good friends who I hope know I love them ...

I don't really know why I decided to attend.  Probably a very wide and indefinable set of factors.  Not the least of which was the supper fiasco during the final minutes within which I needed to make my decision.  Nothing like a little supper time fiasco to drive a mother out for the evening, right?

But I must say that I'm cautiously happy about Rick Santorum's victories around the country last night.  Cautious because it's too early to tell whether these victories will be another step in a bigger victory, and also because no candidate is perfect.   Anything can happen.

But suddenly, the primary season is just a little bit more exciting than it was at this time yesterday.

Adrift in Etherland

There is, oh, so much information in the world.  So many things one could learn.  So many things that are most definitely not important, in which one could lose oneself.    Maybe someone with a tendency toward ADD is more susceptible to such wanderings than others?  It always amazes me, though, when I go on such a tour of google or wikipedia or even the World Book Encyclopedia, me how many things there are to be interested in.

This morning, for instance, I'm trying to write a post about my ambivalence toward the election process this year, how strange that is for me, and how Santorum's Minnesota straw-poll victory, combined with a similar caucus victory in Colorado and a non-binding primary victory in Missouri made me happy enough I'm feeling the stirrings of political excitement.  See, it only took four lines to say that, but somehow I got lost along the way.  Badly lost.

I was looking for a quote I've seen attributed to Edmond Burke.  "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."  Then I discovered that this particular quote is not even an actual documented quote.  It is considered a contested quote.  It, and many similar versions, is currently thought to be a conglomerate of Burke's views.

I also discovered that a version of this quote shows up in Tolstoy's War and Peace, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."  I've never read War and Peace.  It's been on my list.  But after taking about two months one winter to read The Brothers Karamazov I decided I didn't have time in my life for War and Peace.  There are only so many hours in a day.  And a busy mom has no business reading tomes.  Especially when the only reason she wants to read such a book is to be able to say, "I did it!"  Which truthfully, is pretty much the only reason I'd do it. To be able to slide it into conversation, to drop a line every now and then about the a certain character or philosophy or quote. To be able to look smart and well read and be admired for being an academically accomplished person.  (Yes, I have a little vanity thing which which I struggle.)

After reading a little while about Tolstoy, I went back to Burke and found this little nugget that pleased me.
Manners are of more importance than laws. The law can touch us here and there, now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation like that of the air we breathe in.  from Letter #1 of Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796)

That quote put me in mind of the reason Joe and I had originally decided to homeschool our children and my one big regret with sending them into public school.  The quote is not altogether similar, but it did remind me of one of my primary parenting philosophies.  Kids in school can learn school stuff, the rules or rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic.  But, their little persons, their characters, are so much more important than those rules and basics of academics.  This shaping and building of character is simply not a teacher's job.  How can a parent accomplish such a monumental task in a few short evening hours?

Leaving aside parenting philosophies, the next stop on my morning wanderings through the world of information took me to Burke's Letters on a Regicide Peace.  Did you see that in the quote above?  What an interesting title!  Whatever does it mean?  It was irresistible to me.

Apparently Burke did not think much of Prime Minister William Pitt's attempts to make peace with the revolutionary government in France in the early years after her revolution.  France's governing body was officially called, in English, the French Directory, but Burke referred to it as the Regicide Directory, because of its renegade abolition of the Monarchy (or Regent).

But interestingly, the letters are written in the Juvenalian style.   Hmmm.  Does that mean written as through from the mouth of a youth?

As a matter of fact, no.  Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, who is also known by the English form of his last name, Juvenal, was a Roman poet in the early centuries AD. 

Oh, and look, he wrote in dactylic hexameter.  Wow, that's so cool!  I remember learning about iambic pentameter, and I can guess that hexameter must mean that there are maybe six sets of beats...but what about the dactylic part?  Doesn't it just make you want to know more?

According to wikipedia,
Dactylic hexameter (also known as "heroic hexameter") is a form of meter in poetry or a rhythmic scheme. It is traditionally associated with the quantitative meter of classical epic poetry in both Greek and Latin, and was consequently considered to be the Grand Style of classical poetry. The premier examples of its use are Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid.
Oh, boy, more food for thought.  Where can I go from here?

Take a breath, Mary.  Your coffee is cold, your writing time is used up, and what have you to show for your time?  A few assorted bits of trivia rattling around your brain?  That's about it, and not very important to your primary vocations of child rearing and homemaking.  Also not very important to the secondary (or is it tertiary?) vocation of blogger. 

And in case you're wondering, as I was, what comes after tertiary, it's quaternary, quinary, senary, septenary, octonary, nonary, and denary.  Sadly, there is no similar number relating to the eleventh of something, but the twelfth, in case you ever need to use it, would be duodenary.   Just imagine,... it doesn't have quite the same ring, though,...Duodenary Night, by William Shakespeare...hmm.

Vvvvvvveeerrrrryyy bbbbiiiiggggg ssssiiiiiggggghhhhhh.

So in order to say I at least accomplished something, I quickly wrote this up so that you, my readers, can maybe smile a little.  Maybe you can pat yourself on the back, and say to yourself, "At least I am not as bad as theMom."  Or maybe even, you'll go on to some big and important earth shattering accomplishment because of the little seeds of curiosity planted by accompanying me on my little informational junket through the ether world.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Arranged: Three Takes

Last night I watched the movie, Arranged, by Cicala Filmworks, starring Zoe Lister-Jones and Francis Benhamou.  The film pleased me very much on an emotional level; but at an intellectual level it gave me many things to think about.

As far as appealing to the senses, this film is a prize. It it beautiful. The actors and actresses are lovely to look upon, and excellently cast.  The settings, too are wonderful.  And not just beautiful, but bleak, lonely, uncomfortable, confused, according to need. The visual touches coincide perfectly with the various aspects of the plot.

The primary story line is based upon the true story of an Orthodox Jewish teacher in Brooklyn, who develops a close friendship with a devout Islamic woman, the mother of one of her students.  In the movie, the friendship is similar.  But in the film, both young women, Rochel and Nasira, are teachers in a Brooklyn public school.  The women share the obvious bond of living within a traditional societal system, and yet also participating in the mainstream world.   But it soon becomes apparent that they have another thing in common.  The parents of both young women are in the process of finding a match for their daughters.

After I watched the move, my mind was spinning with contradictions.  Firstly, I loved the movie!  Besides the beauty of the movie, I loved the respect shown to those of traditional lifestyle.  Although we have few blatant religious rules that dictate such a lifestyle, we do choose rules for our family that are more traditional than many.  I have many friends who have chosen a much more traditional lifestyle than we have.  I have Lutheran Christian acquaintances who even now discuss the merits of arranged marriage and encourage the idea that marriage is bigger than in individual choice. 

We don't allow our children to "date."  We've tried to teach them that dating ought to be a way of finding someone to marry, not just passing time socially with a peer of the opposite gender.  In that light, it is to be reserved for people of a certain maturity, and participated in only by those who are ready for marriage and actively looking for a spouse.  And their behavior during the process ought to reflect a respect for the goal of finding a Godly spouse. 

I very much appreciated the respect shown by the producers of Arranged to not only a traditional lifestyle, but toward religion itself and devout people of faith.

I liked the stereotyped personality of the principle.  She was quite one-dimensional, which in general detracts from a production.  But by including such a personality, but the film was able to encapsulate in a short amount of time, the kind of pressures and bigotry against which people of traditional lifestyles and strongly held religious convictions stand, and the insulting attitudes to which they are routinely subjected.

However, as I thought more about the film, and tried to set the emotional appeal aside in order to really think about the movie, there were a few things I didn't like.

OK, here comes a big paragraph of statement insurance.  I don't want anyone to think I'm claiming any kind of expertise in this.  These are just some thoughts based on the limited experiences I've accumulated and the somewhat eclectic reading I've done.  I realize I live a fairly sheltered life, in the sense that I've mostly lived in homogeneous communities.  When I have lived in more multicultural areas, it was years ago.  And I've never lived in an ultra-urban, mixed city like Brooklyn.

However, I found the movie to be a little bit more pro-Muslim than pro-Jewish.  Not outside of what might be considered normal character sketches.  It's entirely possible that the producers simply chose two kinds of family  personality and two kinds of individual personality and randomly assigned them.  But this bent was noticeable enough that it made me question the motives of the producers.  While Nasira was very confident and comfortable in her own skin, Rochel was reserved, sometimes to the point of social awkwardness.  Nasira's family seemed mostly comfortable with the friendship between these two girls, whereas Rochel's family could not accept it (it appeared to have more to do with the social risk to Rochel's marital prospects than to any innate bias against Muslims; ie, what would the neighbors think?).

I don't have much first hand experience with either of these people groups, so perhaps the cultures are accurately portrayed.  I'm finding it difficult to express my concerns without engaging in judgement based upon mere stereotypes, which is exactly the sort of thing the movie seems to stand against. 

The Witherspoon Institute conservative thinktank in Princeton, NJ, gave the film a positive write-up in, "Arranged: Happily Wholesome in a Brooklyn World".

New York Times movie reviewer, Jeannette Catoulis, reflected what I believe to be a rather typical contemporary lack of understanding  toward traditional religion and traditional lifestyle choices in "Teachers United".

But I read some of the variety of comments on the New York Times article.  I think they capture some of my mixed thoughts on the movie.  Comment #14 reflects perfectly why I enjoyed the film.

Comment #17 reflects some of my negative instincts about the film. The commenter here seems more extreme and vitriolic in his opinion than I feel.  But I can see the validity in some of his concerns.  In fact, I had noticed several of them myself.  I think the commenter goes too far; but the film does seem somewhat self-conscious in its mainstream portrayal of the Muslim family.

Most of my discomfort with this film stems from an issue I have read and written about in the past.  We in our western world, however multicultural we like to think we are, always run into a catch-22 with the religion of Islam.  When discussing a film about intercultural relationships, and respect for differences, a person feels somewhat shallow or calloused taking stand against a certain culture.  But that is the exact dilemma our multicultural, global world cannot escape with Islam.

Extreme Christianity is often compared to strict Islam.  But there is a significant difference.  The violent element of what might be called extreme Christianity, is outside of a true Biblical perspective and therefore marginalized.  Whereas in Islam, the most extreme elements are those who are most faithful to the original intent of the religion.  I have only a cursory familiarity with any Islamic people at this time in my life, although I have known a few previously, well enough to engage in polite conversation, but not really know them.  But I have read and studied the religion quite a bit, including several books written by people both currently within Islam and also former Muslims, who live in fear of their lives because of leaving their religion.  My husband has read the Koran several times and has assured me that the violence espoused by the most extreme factions of Islam, and by the main of Islam during the Middle ages, is in fact very much in line with the teachings in the Koran.

The truest interpretation of Islam's holy writings demand either the destruction of or conversion of anyone outside itself.  The religion also allows for adherents to punish its followers who are not ardent enough.  And Islam also allows its followers to lie to anyone who is not Islamic.  That leaves those of us outside the religion at a decided disadvantage in understanding, and in bridging any cultural divides.

I am not saying here that a woman like Arranged's Nasira, or a family like hers, could not exist.  I'm trying to show an intrinsic difficulty with it.  There are many Islamic families that do not support the extreme elements of the religion.  But they are in danger if they are too obvious about their dislike of it.  In many areas they cannot safely be too friendly with those outside their religion.  There are individuals and families each year, especially in Islamic countries, but even in the West, who are persecuted through physical, emotional, and economic means for being too accepting of other people and ideas.  It happens.

And simply because of the permission within the tenets of the religion to lie to those they consider infidels, a person outside Islam who has interaction with an Islamic family or individual, can never be confident that what they are seeing is the true face of Islam, or of the individuals with whom they are acquainted.

In our multicultural, global world, we like to think we can all just get along, but the very essence of the religion of Islam is so far removed from our western ideas that I'm not altogether sure that particular bridge can be crossed.

For a look at true Islam and it's difficulties in the West, see Cruel and Usual Punishment, by Nonie Darwish, and Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Both books also highlight the violent nature of Islam in Islamic countries.  Saved by her Enemy is another book that shows the danger to Muslims who are too friendly toward those outside the religion.  There are many others with first hand experience who have written on this subject, but these are three books that I found very compelling.

Joe has read several things by Bet Ye'or, and highly recommends them.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Foggy, with a Chance of Hoarfrost

As I was leaving Lana's, I saw this pretty scene

We've had several foggy days in a row.  That thick, soupy fog that can make a person feel a little desperate after consecutive days.  I missed my walk on Wednesday, because a couple of my little ones were sick.  But I was out there today, really grateful to be a part of the foggy outdoors rather than viewing it from my living room window.

Or from the windshield of the car.  But that would be a different story.  A story that would involve blowing through a stop sign at 55 mph last night on the way into Oklee to see the girls' One Act Play.  A story that would also include a woman who is very thankful that God protected her from any cross traffic.  Said woman is also thankful God allowed her to slow down enough while flying thorugh the intersection, so as to land safely on the gravel road that continued after the stop sign.  But, like I said, that would be another story.

Today's story is one of a lovely walk with friends on a mild and frosty morning.  And really that's all there there would be to say about it.  Except that Joe handed me the camera on my way out of the house.  I probably reacted a bit skeptically, since he's the picture guy around here and I get nervous any time someone hands me a camera.

While we walked, I tried to put myself into Joe mode.  It took awhile to get started.  The camera stayed securely within it's case around my neck for the first several laps around Lana's farm.  But then I remembered I had it, so the ladies and I started looking for things that would make nice pictures.  Joe always gets all these cool close-ups, but I don't' think I have the eye for that.  Mine just ended up looking kind of dumb.  I really like several of the scenery type shots I got.  It's too bad we have gunk in our camera lens that shows up well in several of the shots.  But if you look past that, you can enjoy a photo-journal walk with us, on the farm, on a frosty morning.

I love the fences in this shot, and the bale in the foreground.

Heading north, between the cattle yard and the woods

The roadway curves to the west.

We don't walk this route when the weather is inclement. It's too exposed.  But its very picturesque to look upon.

Brad's cattle are standing like statues.

One of Lana's flower beds during its winter slumber

Hoary trees along the path

A shrub bedecked in her lace shawl

Although not a great shot, it shows the main driveway into the farm. It's another area we sometimes have to avoid when the wind is bad.