Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday fun

Not just human youngsters play in sprinklers.

And the largest known...

...carnivorous dinosaur is...?

I got it wrong. So much for my geek status. :)

Sometimes it all works out

Remember four years ago, when track star Tasha Danvers of Great Britain withdrew from Olympic contention because she was pregnant and refused to get an abortion? She's won a bronze in this year's games.

From Olympian shunned abortion; now has son & bronze medal (Baptist Press, August 22, 2008.):

Danvers reportedly was pressured by some in the track and field world to have an abortion. She admitted later that she and her American husband-coach Darrell Smith briefly considered that choice.

"[T]he thought did cross our minds as an option," Danvers told the Telegraph, a London newspaper, in May 2004 before citing Mark 8:36. "But this line from the Scriptures kept coming into my head: 'For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?'

"For me, the whole world was the Olympics. At the same time, I felt I would be losing my soul."

She gave birth to a son, Jaden, in December 2004 and started on the road back to the Olympics. Her surprising bronze medal in Beijing came after a series of health setbacks, including an injured Achilles tendon and torn hamstring muscle, had produced a disappointing pre-Olympics season.

"Don't ever give up," Danvers said after winning the bronze medal, according to The Times of London. "That's what I want the next generation to understand. Everything doesn't come up all roses all the time. That is the nature of this athletics game."

Not to mention the nature of life in general, I might add...

Full Baptist Press story

Surface versus heart

Looks can be deceiving, as Robert J. Avrech rediscovered at a restaurant in Israel (see second half of the post). The comments so far are pretty interesting, too.

Now, ladies, I'm all for dressing modestly (by all means, let us support and promote ladylike dress and manners, especially amongst godly women), but he possibly has a point, don't you think?

OK, so in my life I've misjudged people based on how they dress, so I know he has a point. And for those of you who think that by linking to Mr. Avrech's post I'm campaigning for ritual, I'm not. But, I've learned the hard way that it's as easy to misjudge somebody because he engages in ritual as it is to misjudge him because of how he dresses. Ritual can shove aside honest faith, to be sure - but it doesn't have to, and often doesn't, as far as I've seen.

In the full disclosure department, and while we're kind of on the subject, I spent about half of my childhood believing I was half-Jew, on my mother's side. It turned out that I was the victim of a disinformation campaign run by my then teen aged cousin Harvey. Harvey, it seems, got sick and tired of certain anti-Semitic relatives, and thought he'd hoist them by their own petard, by convincing very young (read: gullible, excitable, ignorant) visiting out-of-state cousins that they were part Jew, and sending them out to babble this extremely cool information far and wide. (Hey, we were all related to Anne Frank! We were descendants of oppressed people! We were survivors! We had reasons for our big noses!) To make it more fun, Harvey insisted that we were Polish Jew. Polack jokes were all the rage then, you see, and so it was doubly cool to be the butt of jokes but keep our heads held high. (Did I mention we fancied we were survivors?)

The grown-ups all feigned surprise at our claims (which irritated us, as I recall - it seemed so dishonest of them), and then denied the Jewish heritage, but Harvey convinced some of us kids that the grown-ups were afraid of being thought Jewish. Us, though, we were too brave and smart to fall for, or go along with, cowardly lies denying our heritage...

(What? None of your cousins or brothers fed you stories that you swallowed, hook, line and sinker when you were a kid? Never? Ah, c'mon...)

Harvey's hope, as I understand it, was that the anti-Semitic friends of the anti-Semitic relatives would hear that they had been lunching with closet Jews, and kick the supposedly tainted people out of their too-cozy little cliques, thereby making the anti-Semitic relatives get what they'd dished out. I never heard if the campaign worked. And I've never quite decided whether to be proud of Harvey's efforts, or mortified, or a combination thereof. Usually, I feel like it's a combination thereof, with a heavy leaning toward mortified whenever I stop to think how he kept me duped and defending him for years and years.

Anyway, for years I thought I was part Jewish, and I've never quite gotten over my fascination with the more charming of the Jewish traditions. I don't subscribe to them, or practice them, but I still like learning about them.

Years after Harvey shamelessly misled us in the name of a good cause, my mother took me to Tennessee to meet the woman for whom I'd been named.

Actually, I was given my mother's name, and she had been named for this woman, but at the time I was adamantly against having been named for my mother (no other woman or girl where I grew up was named for her mother - It Simply Was Not Done - and besides which it was embarrassing to be named for a woman who had a knack, or so I thought, for causing me embarrassment with my friends), so my parents were riding out my rebellion by claiming that I'd really been named for this woman, despite what they'd told me when I was younger.

Anyway, I met this woman, and she was a remarkable sight to see. She was poised and polished, well dressed, every inch the picture of a southern lady, and she had a voice to die for, liquid, mellow, clear, with a gorgeous accent. We went out to eat, my mother, my aunt, this remarkable creature for whom I'd been named (I was honored beyond words to be her namesake now that I'd seen her), and me. When the waitress came, I quite naturally said please and thank you and looked the waitress in the eye and otherwise treated her like a human being. What else are you supposed to do, confronted with another human being, I ask you?

"We do not talk to people like that," the gorgeous creature for whom I'd been named said, dispensing instruction, dripping scorn.

Long story short, the woman for whom my mother was named, and then for whom I was named, was not prepared to regard waitresses as anything other than subhuman, nor were blacks fully human in her book, and therefore our black waitress was doubly beneath notice. My mother and my aunt were loath to ruffle the revered elder Kathryn's feathers, all the more so because she was the guest of honor at this little dinner, and so they sat there cooing at me not to disagree with her, at least in public.

I wished I could become invisible, and afterwards I briefly tried to switch to my middle name.

I'm over it now.

But it took some getting over, I tell you.

A few years after The Dinner of The Incompatible Kathryns, I considered marrying a black man - not because he was black, but because he was himself - and in the back of my mind, while I was mulling the pros and cons of the match, I treasured the idea of inviting Kathryn Mine Elder to such a wedding.

I think Harvey, at least, would have approved of the gesture.

Anyway, looks can be deceiving.

As if you didn't know that already... :)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Book note: Mere Christianity, The Shack, and more

David Skeel wants to know if anyone knows a book they feel measures up to C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. Here's an op-ed he wrote on the subject (also linked above): Après Lewis (Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2008). Here's a follow-up blog post by his colleague William Stuntz: More on Lewis's Uniqueness (Less than the Least, August 16, 2008).

I'm also on the hunt for books along this line, to stock in our bookstore. The bestselling book at our store right now, hands down, is The Shack, by William P. Young. People are buying it in stacks off the shelf, and special ordering it in even larger stacks. If you aren't familiar with it, it's a novel in which a man thinks he might have encountered the triune God in highly unusual forms, as he struggles to deal with the murder of his young daughter. It's a controversial book, but having read it, and after comparing notes, the team decided that Mr. Young was extremely and properly careful in how he presented the unorthodox aspects of his book, and he almost invariably maneuvered from there to doses of orthodoxy. And, although we disagree with him on a few disputable points, it's a fantastic book for trimming away nearly all the most favorite arguments against belief in God and/or God's goodness.

I can't recommend it entirely without reservations, because I'm not comfortable with God being used fictionally, much less how He is used in The Shack, and there are a few places it promotes ideas I'm not too sure are true or helpful. On the other hand, I can't tell you how much really good discussion it has generated in this community, and amongst a remarkable variety of people at that, and how many Christians who had become lukewarm are re-energized by it. And it's generating a hunger for more Christian books, even among people who wouldn't have been caught dead with an overtly Christian book before this. And then there's that whole undercutting atheist arguments thing that I mentioned above. I'm a convert. Mr. Young seems to understand where I came from, and what mental and cultural thickets I had to hack through to get where I am.

So I'm applying the 'good fruit' rule to it, even though some of it bothers me. But, I'm trying to make sure that right along it are copies of books like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, both by C.S. Lewis, and Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris (when we can get our hands on a copy of Do Hard Things, that is - it's also a bestseller around here, but our suppliers can't seem to keep up with orders, and so our orders get pared or back ordered). We also have Bibles in stock pretty much as a matter of course. What else would you suggest we stock, for us to recommend to readers of The Shack?

All on its own it's revved up demand for Pilgrim's Progress (which is mentioned in a cover blurb). I think this is wonderful, because The Shack and Pilgrim's Progress are radically different books, with Pilgrim's Progress providing the "narrow path" emphasis that The Shack lacks, and The Shack emphasizing a personal relationship with God, something that isn't altogether evident in the 'going to heaven' story in Pilgrim's Progress (as far as I remember).

What else? This book has opened the door wide for some good Christian apologetics. Name some. I prefer the mere Christianity types, that emphasize the body of Christ and the universal church, but I'm amiable to stocking denominational books from across the spectrum if they don't trash other believers or obsess over doctrinal distinctives.

P.S. Open note to whoever is in charge of the Blogger spell checker. Triune and distinctives are words. Really. I don't mind the second one being flagged, because it's not used much, so it's probably more likely that someone would mean distinctive, and therefore should be notified that a double-check was in order. But triune?

(Maybe they need to read The Shack? It's heavy on triune-ness. Which I doubt is a word, but you get the drift, I hope.)

Things are a bit crazy around here

I am laughing as I type this. Life has been so swirly and busy and crazy and grief-struck that I haven't even tried to get online for a week. So, this morning I thought I'd better at least check email, and then I thought I'd get online and say howdy. After getting kicked off once (the tech guys promise they're working on the connection problems - I hear talk of overloads which must be addressed...) I finally made it to Blogger. Blogger has been doing all sorts of tweaking since I was last on. There is, for instance, a new dashboard. Fine. I can handle a new dashboard. For that matter, it looks pretty straightforward. But my mouse pointer disappears every time it passes over a button on the dashboard. To make a new post, I couldn't click the new post button (aka 'Create') but had to go to 'Edit Posts' and work my way around to here from there.

Why this struck me as funny, I don't know. But it did.

It's certainly more humorous than much of what's been going on around here. This weekend, a man was shot to death a couple blocks from here, as the crow flies (taking roads, you have to round a few corners). The last time homicide detectives had anything to investigate in this town, it was 16 years ago, if the news reports are right. We don't even have homicide detectives. Some had to be imported for the occasion.

As strange as it sounds, I'm not sure yet if I know either the dead man or the man in jail on murder charges. They both have common first names, and this is a part of the world that doesn't use full names much. In fact, we don't even use first names much, in the general course of things. I'm guessing it's a holdover from Wild West days, when it was considered risky as well as rude to insist upon knowing somebody's name. Or perhaps we've just reinstituted the old, old ways. In a sense, we're a Giles the Butcher society, you might say. In our case, it's more like Jim At The Hardware Store, to take an example. Except, in that case, you have to go a step further, because at the hardware store, there are multiple Jims. In informal usage, they are Old Jim, Young Jim, Big Jim. This gets a bit ridiculous when it comes to the matter of obits, which are generally put out under legal names. I can't tell you how often we listen to an obit on the radio and then turn to each other and ask 'Is that somebody we know?'

We do use full names in some situations and with some people, you understand. It's just that we're perfectly content to let most folks operate without them, if they like. It's just the style of the place.

While we're on the subject, I don't know why that "everybody knows everybody in a small town" myth gets so much mileage. We have our circles and cliques and workplace acquaintances like everybody else. Plus, we have a lot of people who like to keep to themselves. Plus, we have a lot of turnover. It's hard to make a living in a small town, and people bail out all the time, especially starry-eyed newcomers who had blithely assumed they'd be able to find a job once they moved to a place because it was quiet and appealing. There are reasons we have lots of telecommuters and online sellers in our midst, believe me.

I am acquainted with the man interviewed on television and identified as the dead man's best friend. I haven't seen him or his wife yet, though. I'm not quite sure what to say to them when I see them, except 'I'm sorry to hear about your friend.' They're Catholics, which helps some. I'm not Catholic, but as fellow Christians we can look at each other and say 'it will all come out all right, in the only ways that really matter' and know at the deepest levels it's true. That doesn't eliminate the grief, by any stretch, but having God to turn to and to lean on is a good thing in a mad world.

This is, as it happens, the third killing I've been at the far edges of in about as many years. One of the soldiers kidnapped, tortured, and killed in Iraq was the grandson of a former neighbor of ours, who had his store across from our bookstore when we had it downtown in a mall. When I ran into the grandfather a few weeks afterward, I said I was sorry to hear what had happened, and then just stood there while he poured out his anger and his grief. It was mostly anger at that point, and most of it aimed at heartless and/or sloppy journalists. Then, this past winter, I sat and listened as relatives of a young mother murdered a few hundred miles from here told me what they knew about it: how she'd gone to use a neighbor's phone, and happened to be there when a gang decided to wipe out some supposed doublecrossers, and burst in, firing. This young woman wasn't in on whatever disputes were going on, they said. She just caught bullets meant for somebody else. At any rate, in both those cases I didn't need to say much. What they wanted was somebody to listen, and I can do that, I guess. It hurts. But obviously not as much as losing a loved one.

As for this weekend's shooting, somehow I missed the furor while it was going on, and it went on quite a while. The man was shot before noon on Saturday, in the front yard of his home. The cops arrived a few minutes later. The body wasn't removed until something like 4 or 5 Sunday morning, or so I understand.

You would think, this being the first killing in nearly a generation, that this would be the talk of the town. But I haven't heard even a snippet of conversation about it while out and around on my normal errands, or even at church. I expect that to change today, when the weekly paper gets solidly into circulation, and people who don't know the people involved and who don't listen to the radio get in on things. (Pause while I look up the story online to see how the newspaper handled it... Hey, now I know where both men worked, which helps some, but I still can't picture them. The story is handled professionally. Yay. The radio reports have been trying to outguess the jury, and have been calling it a homicide. The newspaper reporters have better lawyers, or better training, or more sense, or actually believe in 'innocent until proven guilty', or something. They're doing it right, at least in this article. I worked as a newspaper reporter for a number of years and although there were times I could have strangled the legal eagles or the publisher or the managing editor or the folks who wrote the style book, and although there were times I felt a perfect fool using what struck me as 'weasel words,' since then I've sat on a jury that brought in a verdict of not guilty by reason of self defense in a case where attempted murder was charged, and I know now, without question, why those rules are in place. Before it was a laudable standard, but mostly theoretical. But when you're one of the very few people who has to sift through sworn testimony and physical evidence, and then bring in a verdict not expected by people who have been primed for a guilty verdict by the press, it's no joke. And I can't even imagine what it was like for the defendant and his family.)

Anyway, on top of this, my father-in-law fell and broke a hip and we've been sweating that out. We were told, as he was taken into surgery, that at his age it was about a 50-50 chance that the surgery would kill him.

He's been up and walking already, and he's now in a nice rehab center that specializes in that sort of thing. Things are still a bit dicey, mostly because he's in his 80s, but all in all he seems to be doing amazingly well, so now we've switched to joking about how we hope he's not talking his roommate's ear off...

And then we got word that a nice young man we know was in a motorcycle accident and at last report is in a coma in a hospital out of the area...

There's more, but I'm going to go to work now.

...I am now laughing again. I went to hit the 'Publish Post' button, and my pointer disappeared. But, it stays on at the very border of the button. Maybe that will work? Testing. Testing...

Update: It occurs to me, rereading the above, that I might leave the impression that the killing in the neighborhood hasn't affected me. It has. I've had my weeping over it. I am heartsick when I think what the friends and families of everyone involved are going through. But since it seems to have been a personal argument gone bad, and since there is no indication that any sort of culture of violence seems to be brewing in the vicinity, I don't see any need to go out and buy extra bolts for the door, or stop taking walks, or otherwise feel that the town itself has become less safe. Plus, I'm dealing with my own family emergencies at the moment, which kind of sort of pushes this to the side a bit, whether it should or not.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Technical difficulties

Getting on the Internet, and staying on, has been a hit and miss proposition around here this month. I've only been kicked off a couple of times today, which is really good by recent standards, so if posts suddenly appear on dates before now, it's because I've finally managed to finish a post and get it up.

Also, I'm back to having extra lines appear in drafts. For no apparent reason, I'll have two or three lines between paragraphs. I've figured out how to take them out, but I'd rather they never imposed themselves in the first place. Is this a Blogger quirk? Does anybody know a solution? A possible solution? It's not a big problem, but it is time consuming and annoying.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Old potatoes

I went to make potato salad this morning, but found that some of the potatoes had gone moldy, and others had dark spots that went deep into the potato. So I said phooey on that batch of potatoes and threw them away. Not wanting mold in the house, I tied up the trash bag and hauled it to the dumpster at the end of the block.

En route, I met a retired gentleman, who called out "Here comes trouble!" when he saw me. As far as I know, that's how he greets everybody he considers a friend. (This is the American West. We have our characters.) I told him, just to pass the time of day, that I'd gone to make potato salad but the potatoes had gone bad, to which he replied that I sounded like his wife.

How so? I asked, when the spoiled veggies were properly dumped.

'She's such a tightwad,' he said. 'She always buys big bags of potatoes, but we don't use many. I'd like potatoes every day, but she doesn't like to fuss with them. They're the easiest thing to make, really, but... well... whatever. The thing is, she never waits until we're out before she buys more, but she always cooks the oldest ones first, and so we never eat anything but old potatoes.'

At this point he faltered, suddenly realizing, I think, that he was telling tales on his wife, and possibly sounding like he was accusing me of always feeding my husband old potatoes (which I don't). He shifted his eyes away from mine and muttered, apologetically, 'Anyway, that's where she is this morning. Making potato salad, to use up some of them old potatoes.'

Uhm. I hope I don't have to say this, but frugality ill applied is not a blessing, ladies. And, gentlemen, neither is being distressed by something in one's household but not addressing it. Privately. Politely.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pale face

Last week I had a bit of dental surgery. I got one broken tooth fixed, and another broken tooth taken out. There wasn't enough of the latter tooth to fix, nor was there enough to get hold of to pull out all in one piece. (Not that the dentist didn't give it a go. I had no idea how much twist-factor the human head has built into it. I think I was happier not knowing...) Finally he drilled the tooth into pieces, and took it out slick as anything.

I declined an offer of prescription painkiller. The dentist told me that alternating Tylenol and Advil at three hour intervals was just as good. I got home to discover that in all my pre-op preparations - laying in of homemade soups, etc. - I had utterly forgotten to lay in pain pills. I had on hand enteric coated aspirin (not a good choice for anything involving active bleeding, I thought), and some generic Tylenol-type pills, which had expired in March. Not feeling up to a trip to the drugstore, and my husband being sick in bed (but valiantly offering to drag himself to the drugstore if I needed anything), about four and a half hours after the surgery I took a couple of the outdated generic Tylenol-type pills. Four and a half hours later, I took another couple. That was it. That was all I needed, and I wasn't sure I needed that. Amazing. I expected to be flattened with pain. Didn't happen. (I am now stocked with fresh pills, btw, and the outdated ones are in the trash. I don't like pushing my luck with old pills.)

I did have some face swelling, but not enough to stop people in their tracks when they saw me out and about on my usual errands. Instead I got puzzled looks, as if they could tell something was different about me, but they didn't know what.

I also, late in the game, developed a bruise on my face. But it looked less like a bruise than a smudge.

So, the other night my husband was heading for our gas station cum bookstore, which shares a parking lot with the grocery store. We'd arranged that I'd ride along and go get groceries while he got his chores done at the gas station. A few minutes before heading out, I looked in the mirror, decided I didn't like looking like a middle-aged woman who doesn't know how to wash her strangely asymmetrical face, and went digging for some face powder I thought I remembered buying a couple years ago when I got a rash or something. (I wear make-up less often than I take pain pills. These are just not things I have on hand except for special occasions.) I found the face powder, and remembered another reason I don't use it besides not liking to mess around with make-up. Being quite fair, I had bought the palest face powder. This was a mistake. It is paler than I am. By quite a bit.

I looked in the mirror again, and wished that the bruise had the decency to look like a bruise instead of a dirty face. Wishing didn't help anything. So I reasoned that if I put on the powder lightly, it might sort of kind of even out my face color a bit and thereby, logically, make the bruise less noticeable.


I looked in the mirror after I'd done the deed, and saw a sickly pale middle aged woman who didn't know how to wash her strangely asymmetrical face. Worse yet, something about taking away some of the pink tones made the bruise look more like dirt than ever.

But my husband was calling that it was time to go and so I laughed at myself and went. Nobody commented on my face, one way or another, so I guess it wasn't too bad overall. But when I got home I took another gander in the mirror, and laughed out loud. My 'fix' had definitely made things worse. I went to the kitchen still chuckling at my misstep, and told my husband that I'd tried to hide my bruise with face powder, but thought I'd only made things worse by making myself look paler.

My husband about melted in relief. "I hadn't wanted to say anything," he said. "But when I dropped you off at the store I thought you looked really pale and it concerned me. I didn't notice the make-up..." Of course he didn't notice the make-up. There was no reason for him to think about make-up. I almost never wear make-up. And I'd put this on lightly, and adeptly for me.

Oh great. I made myself look worse and I scared my hubby. A twofer mistake.

(In case you are wasting brainpower wondering how I could break two teeth, I was eating a salad. The salad was composed mostly of iceberg lettuce. There was nothing hard in it. But I managed to bite down just wrong. It was one of those things where you know just before it happens that something bad is going to happen, but somehow you can't stop it. For an instant, there was terrific strain, and then two molars, one above the other, exploded into pieces. This was back in November. I could have been regaling you since then with stories of trying to get a dentist appointment in this town. I'm sure that if I had lied and claimed to be in agony, this could have been fixed before now, but I wasn't in agony, so I kept getting bumped. Finally a new dentist moved to town, and I managed to be one of his first patients here. I was pleased to see that he was a white-haired gentleman instead of a kid just out of school, but I didn't know that until after I'd arrived for my first appointment. I was braced for being the patient of a rookie, if it came to that.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

This year's kitten

The kitten noise underneath the front porch has turned out to be an only kitten. It's a bit on the wild side yet, and quite stand-offish as far as dealing with people, but we're working on that. It thinks it owns the back yard, and its poor mother keeps having to call it off from trying to take on the mule deer. I am presuming that, given enough time, it will figure out that deer are dangerous, and we're not. But for now I usually see it in flashes, running for its life when it sees me. (And never mind that the grown cats it hangs out with are affectionate to the point of being pests. While it trusts them on other matters of judgment, I guess it's decided they're deluded when it comes to humans.)

Seen out the window this morning...

Usually we only get two mule deer fawns at a time (and sometimes only one), but sometimes we have three, as you can see. They're getting pretty big (that's a full size doe they're with), but they still have spots.