Saturday, December 31, 2011


My feeling about New Year's Eve has long been "Been there done that."  Never liked it.   I'd attend parties more as an obligation, or as a way to not feel isolated and pathetic. Many New Year's Eves I spent watching TV and washing my hair.

One notable exception was a year in which I'd undergone a break-up in the fall. That year (1991?  Not even sure!), I forced myself to go to a dance, and, what's more, I decided I could not leave the dance until I had danced with 7 guys. Any adult male counted, but I had to stay until 7 different men had filled spots in my mental dance card. I did it. It took until 2AM, but that also was a good thing. Getting home too early seemed only marginally better than staying home altogether.

I really am just as susceptible as anyone, to the symbolic "fresh new year" thing, though I'd be more inclined to say that the year turns at the solstice.  I've weakly made resolutions, then quit making real ones and made spoof ones, and now I skip it.  Every day is a chance to do my best and some days I do and some days I don't.  That's not likely to change.

I'm blessed with a spouse who's not into New Year's Eve either and we spend a quiet evening. We have to stay awake because the Traditional New Year Phone Calls come in from the kids and sometimes other kin, so going to bed only to be jarred awake by the phone is worse than the tiredness.

I also took some last-day-of-the-year photos today, so here are a few photos of the environs this afternoon:
Camellias starting to bloom
It's camellia season --  they will be loaded with blooms in a couple weeks.

Tiny garden spider babies recently hatched

We fear for these baby garden spiders.  They hatched too soon, but their mom laid the egg sac awfully early and the extended warm weather brought them out.  Even at 16x zoom with camera braced against the porch wall, the photo isn't too clear, but there they are. 

And they're fascinating.  In the picture below, you see this same bunch -- top-center -- with the egg sac that they left, back there in the corner above the door.  They move in a group and are actually not on the ceiling but suspended just underneath it in a group web.
Baby spiders in cluster - top center

Wild grape vines, finished for the year

Annual autumn sea oat wash-in
Every fall,  the sea oats die back and lots of them float in on the tide and get stranded.  I was delighted that this picture really shows the way they get suspended on top of the vegetation.  I'd tried many times to capture that with other cameras!

Scooter accompanied me on my photo shoot.  He makes a nice closing shot.  Happy flip of the calendar, everybody!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas morning

About 8:30 AM, 12-25-2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve - from Beyond Sing the Woods

Beyond Sing the Woods (and its sequel, The Wind from the Mountains) are the saga of the Björndal family from about 1760 to 1826.  The books were published in the US in 1936 and 1937 -- and it's odd that they haven't come back into print, while so much else from the bad to the good-but-obscure has, in this digital age.

From these novels, I am posting TWO Christmas descriptions tonight --- but the other excerpt is on the book blog, so go here to read another one.

Here is Christmas in about 1809(?) from the first novel, Beyond Sing the Woods:


There was an old custom at Björndal by which all the gaard ate together on Christmas Eve.  In earlier days the old living room had been big enough, but so many more people now lived at the manor that it had grown too small, and for twenty years now the Christmas meal had been spread in the sal.  This had been built for feasts in the days when the rococo style still lived and laughed in the northern countries.

There were chairs enough for all, and handsome they were for the most part.  Some were from Holland, some from England, and some had been made at Björndal by Jörn Mangfoldig.  They were not alike for they dated from widely different times.  The finest had high backs and were upholstered in yellow leather and of these there were eighteen.

There must have been parties in that room before, with dancing and music;  but long since, thought Adelaide, for tonight it looked very solemn.  The candles hanging from the ceiling were unlit.  All the light there was came from the table--from the holy Christmas candles.  There they stood in straight lines in sticks of silver, brass, and iron.  In the middle of the table stood the candle of the Three Kings in a stick of heavy silver, and before it lay the Bible flanked with two tall wax candles as in church.

Adelaide did not take in much of all this, but the solemnity of the hour stole into her.  It was very quiet in the hall among all those many people.

Glasses were filled with spirit and ale, and the food was brought and set upon the table.

Then Old Dag read the Christmas text as in all years.  Hands were folded and heads bent in silence.  Major Barre, the tough old soldier, laid first his left hand upon his right, and then his right hand upon his left--then he, too, folded them together.  Adelaide's eyes stole round to Young Dag sitting at her side.  His hands were clenched together, iron within iron;  he was leaning a little forward over the table, and his head was bent as though listening to something far away.

Old Dag's voice carried the words of the Scripture firmly and gravely out into the room, and the sputter of the candles as the flames flickered was the only other sound.  The air was heavy with food, candles, ceremony and newly-washed people.  Adelaide was conscious of all this, as she sat beside him she wished to be beside, and the happy spirit of Christmas and festival penetrated her as never before.  The Bible images of shepherds, star, stable and manger and Kings from the Orient passed living through her mind as in her happy childhood.

Those at the table who had lived at Björndal for some years--and there were many--looked in surprise at Old Dag this evening.  His voice was strange and fuller of meaning than ever before.  He shut the Bible with slow dignity and said Amen;  there followed creaks from chairs and breathings from people as all began to eat.

When all had had their first taste of meat, Old Dag took his glass in his hand and surveyed them all.

"There is much to be remembered on this evening," he began, "much good from the long year which is past."  Every man should therefore thank Him who governs all, he said, and he himself gave thanks especially because he still had health to see them gathered about him once more.  Then he wished God's peace on the house and upon all, and with this was given the signal for them to take up their glasses.

Adelaide peeped stealthily out from beneath her lashes, and fixed these pictures in her memory.  She had never thought to sit down at meat with so many sorts of people.

Nearest the door sat mostly vagrants, some very white-haired, shaky old fellows among them.  Some had furtive eyes and bent heads, others sent sly or greedy glances at the food, and ate as if never to eat again.  Life has been hard for them, thought Adelaide;  they have had but little food in their time.  And she thought kindly of all she saw.

There were many and varied people at Björndal and all had their places at this table.  There was Stygg-Hans and Espen Fillehaug and Ruske-Per and Lang-Ola and Stum Jens and Anette Paasa--these and many others who could work no longer.  Then there were some among them who could still use their hands, such as Jörn Mangfoldig who was once so skilled at carpentry.  Now his eyes were dim and his hand shaky, but he still had work to do mending things, he imagined, and he had his safe home at Björndal until the end of his days.  He was one of those who had Dag's cast-off clothes, so he was finely dressed for the party.

Here and there all around the table were those who were young and strong, like Syver and the other grooms, and there were wild young people among them, but at this table they behaved themselves.  People from the woods were here too, and Martin Hogger himself, the most powerful tree-feller in the forest.

Chairs scraped and shoes shuffled when every one left the table.  Each in his turn, according to his station, walked past Old Dag and shook hands to thank him for the meal and wish him a happy Christmas.  The old man took each one's hand with special warmth this year.  Then chairs were shifted back against the wall, the table was cleared, and all went back to their own quarters about the gaard.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Christmas rudeness

I've been waffling about posting this for 5 years.  Seriously.  It has sat in draft mode since December 2006, while I worried about whether it was too mean and snarky, too ill-timed, always too-something-or-other.  Apologies.  I want the yearly "Should I post it?"  dilemma to go away, so here it is.

I wrote it to vent my frustration, back when very dear relatives were sending me the most godawful glurge emails ever.  Though I was tempted, I never actually emailed this spoof back out to them in response.  It's been so long that long-form glurge is really a thing of the past.  It lives on in short form as Facebook posts  ("If you don't copy and post this as your status, then you do not love - [your spouse, your kid, Jesus, America]!!  C'mon folks, who's with me?!").

But meanwhile, 5 years is a long time to leave an unposted draft in the queue, and I'm tired of looking at it every December and wondering, "Should I ....? Nah, let me think it over a little longer."  Lemme just "publish" and get it over with...

•*¨`*•. ☆ .•*¨`*•

Once there was an elderly shopkeeper. One snowy Christmas Eve he was closing up for the night when a little boy and a woman came to the door.

"Please!" begged the little boy. "Have you seen a puppy?"

"Why no, son," answered the old man. "I haven't seen any puppies. Have you lost one?"

The boy looked very sad. "He was my Christmas present. I told mom I wanted a puppy more than anything in the whole world, and she got me one, but he's missing! Somebody mighta stole him!"

The boy's mother finally spoke up. "Timmy, why don't you go check the alley in the back. Mister, is it OK for him to go to your back door and check the alley there?"

"Certainly, young man. Right through there." The man pointed.

"Say, that's a swell idea!" said Timmy and headed for the back door.

When he was out of hearing the woman said to the old man, "Please, mister! There was never any puppy. We can't afford one, but Timmy wanted one so much, I told him that the puppy was stolen, so he'd think I could give him his heart's desire. Please go along with it so he will think I got him a puppy!"

"Of course," said the old man.

Just then, Timmy came back in the front, looking glum. "I didn't see him in the alley."

The old man looked down and said, "Timmy, there's something I have to tell you. I cooked your puppy and ate him for dinner. I'm very poor and I thought he was a stray that had no one to care about him. I'm so sorry."

Timmy screamed and burst into tears. His mother looked at the man in horror and then she knelt down and held her son. "Timmy that's not true!  Nobody cooked your puppy!  There never was any puppy!  I couldn't afford one, so I told you he was stolen!  I didn't mean to hurt you."

Timmy wiped his eyes and said, "That was mean!" and went out to the car.

His mother said to the man, "How could you say that to him?!"

The old man answered, "I bet you never lie to your kid again." Then he went home and brewed up a nice cup of spicy Christmas tea.


Monday, December 05, 2011

Daer Episcopal church - yur doin it rong

You can't be more tired of my rants about the division in the Episcopal Church than I am, but this may be the last one, because they've, pretty much, cut the baby in half, and it's not really my issue anymore except in being there for my dad. He gets around fine by day but doesn't drive at night, so I accompanied him and endured a meeting about this a few nights ago.  It wasn't fun.

Most of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina is on the conservative Anglican side of the debate.  Not just the churches, but the Bishop of SC his very own self, who's distancing the diocese from the national policies. 
(For clarity here's the deal:

Technically, all sides, Episcopalians and Anglicans are ... Anglicans.  It's all part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, but the views of its various offshoots differ so radically that the sides need IDs.

So when I say "TEC," that's The Episcopal Church with its affirmation of gay unions and its liberal theology.   "Anglicans" will have to refer to the conservative sub-groups who oppose TEC's direction.)
Dad is ardently in favor of the conservative view.  My mother, though, despised the controversy, thought the church should proclaim the basics, embrace all people, and help the poor, and was furious that this parish she'd given so much time and heart to was withdrawing much support from TEC.  She marched into the rector's office 7 years ago and said that she expected her pledge to be shared with TEC as always.

My parents were a life lesson for couples in embracing your commonalities, while uncompromisingly standing for important beliefs when you differ.  I learned a lot from these people.

I rarely miss her more than I do when confronting the fundamentalist mentality here in RedStatistan.  Yet I don't speak "for" her.  I am appalled at the whole controversy, right here on my own, but differ in my willingness to say "Buh-bye!" and let them go.

The meeting was not even about the various points of view, but assumed that all of those present were on one solid side, certainly trying to coexist, but united and unquestioningly against "them" and their liberal policies.

I will hand it to them, that they, the Anglican conservatives, hope to keep the denomination intact and not split away, but they are as uncompromising as TEC is and it's hard to blame just one side for slicing the baby in two. One woman stood and said she hated the idea that her lifelong identity as an Episcopalian might, if things go badly, be something she has to leave behind, but that, and I quote, she'd "rather be a Christian than an Episcopalian."

Gee, that's funny, so would I.

I get the disgust with TEC.  I'm with the Anglicans on some of it.  TEC has been unable to affirm even the most basic Christian doctrine as its foundation, and that could make them a big teetering organization about nothing.

Some of my best friends  (you know who you are)  repudiate all supernatural elements and the whole Bible narrative of miraculous events and incarnate God.  I have no quarrel with what anyone believes, because I honestly -- it's a whole 'nother topic -- think belief is not at all a choice.

But why the  %$*@!   be a Christian church then??  Rename yourself Secular Liberals United for world Betterment (SLUB), employ all those people on the enormous TEC campus in the Cause, and quit claiming you're a "church."  It's OK, you can keep your non-profit status and everything.

I've said before that it probably should just split if it can't find common ground, but both sides are pointing out stats on declining membership, and many of us are emotionally long-gone.  I don't think they have a clue how thoroughly any split would fail to neatly give each side a comfort zone.   If they tear the sheet in half, a lot more disconnected tatters will fall loose to the ground than they realize.

In my family, my generation pretty much symbolizes the slice-the-kid-in-half aspect of this battle.  Already, my brother is an ardent fundamentalist, and he has no interest in the Anglican permutation of that.  He's an active member of his Baptist church.  And when the time comes, I'll be on my way. 

It's OK. I sat through this meeting, and I'll probably sit through more services and meetings I despise, to be there for Dad who may need help getting there in the future and deserves to participate as his conscience directs him.  And then I will have no more to do with either branch.  Because, like the conservative lady who spoke, I'd rather be Christian than either a nothing's-true EC or a submissive-women, anti-gay-marriage Anglican.

I'm cool. I took my Serenity pills. I'm still in the process of watching an important part of my childhood implode, but I am processing it, though a 2009 trip to the church we attended from the time I was 3 til I was 14 did kind of give me pause.

It was my uncle's funeral in Dec 2009, in this church in which I was a toddler in the nursery school, Confirmed at age 12, a truant from Sunday School at 13, and even came sort-of full-circle as a teen assistant in that same nursery, when I was 13-14.

Photo by Larry, while I drove.

It was an astonishing experience to see it in 2009, for the first time since I was 14 years old --41 years!-- and not see the typical unrecognizable updating that I've come to expect when I visit old haunting grounds.

Neither the neighborhood nor the building had changed. No idiots had "modernized" its design or feel. The peace of the place, which clearly spent its money on good solid maintenance but not on "Hipness Appeal! Relevancy! Make it Pop!" amazed me. The feeling that it was serenely outside the current crisis was undoubtedly deceptive, but it felt really good.

I keep hearing that a split is "inevitable" since both sides seem to be so rigid.  Such a split will affect my old church too. I'm not sure which way they'd go, but I'll never live there again and neither denomination will have a place for me anyway. But it's the feel of that place that I'm looking for. A place that actually pays attention to the Red Letters, and helps the poor, and shuts its mouth about politics.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An anecdotal weather ... thingamajig

I often have insomnia which cuts the center out of my night, and last night was one of those. I was up at 3AM, net surfing, drinking a protein shake, reading, wandering, tripping over cats who always think "The hooman finally gets it!  This is prime activity time!"

So there was my weather widget up in the corner of my google page.  It told me that the current temperature was 70 degrees (f).

That widget has been wacko before. It can pull the wrong data for a location.

I've also blogged about how hot it can get year round here in coastal SC.

But....but....!!  [sputter sputter] ....I never.....

Not at 3 AM.  Not in the middle of the night the day before Thanksgiving.  I went to weather dot com and got the US map and was so amazed that I took a screenshot.  Zoom it and you can see the time of night,  "3:15 EST"  at the bottom of the map.

This is just creepy.  When the temp does not fall below 70 degrees at night, that's in, like, July/Aug, when we're having 90s during the day.

We've got a holiday and guests coming in tonight and I can't give any kind of time to research right now, but I did a cursory search for record night temperatures in SC.  I can't say that this doesn't happen regularly.  I coulda' missed it.

Unfortunately, nobody cares about records on the warmest nights, only the coldest.  They love to tell you how hot it got on a particular day and how low it dropped at night, but the dilemma of how to research "how low it did NOT drop" is something I can't devote time to today!

Just know that even for hot and muggy SC, where we get odd shorts-weather days in every month of the year .... 70 degrees f, deep in the night, on 11-23,  crossed the line into being kinda disturbing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

OK, the zoom is mindblowing

My new camera offers  - it says on the case -  a "4x optical zoom."  That's one reason I picked it over another similar PowerShot that had only the same 3.5 zoom that my old one had.

So I'm standing around taking outdoor pictures a couple days ago.....

.... and I noticed people out in the marsh oystering, which they do at low tide.  I thought I'd see if the 4x got enough detail to show what's going on out there.  I hit the zoom lever and it crept up to 4x, then hesitated.  Before I could think to let go of the lever, it started up again and kept zooming until the display told me it was giving me 16x.

I.  am.  in.  awe.
Here's another one.  From this:


My happiness level with the new PowerShot is increasing.  A lot.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My little love and I

 I love it. I'm keeping it.

My beloved camera is what I'm talking about.  My dear 2004 Canon PowerShot.  Heavy as a hand grenade, took great pictures in its prime.  It's having trouble now.  Every shoot has more unusable shots.

In each shoot, more turn out like this.

So I had to get another camera, and I went with another PowerShot since I liked the last one so much.  Below are a few from the first batch of photos. 

Good, because I could get a photo when I tried to get a photo.  Not good, in that I'm not happy with them.  I was hoping the old Canon would last until I could get a true upgrade, but it wasn't meant to be.

Still, taking pictures is fun again.

The first photo, of course, had to be of The Boss.

Oysters in the creek at low tide.  This one's OK.

Gone to seed

Fun book!

If you have to go away...I'll leave your shoes beside the bed.

Several of these were taken at Dad's house.

About 4:30 PM, sun sinking, golden fall marsh and flag on 11-11.  This is the only one that turned out as nice as I'd hoped.

The grocery store didn't charge me for either of these 2 little potted mums, since they were nearly dead.  One has succumbed but the other is reviving.

And maybe I'll gain mastery over the settings on this camera and get sharper images.  If all else fails, I can read the manual!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

There are things I will never understand

A 2008 photo from the start of the development.  These are 200-year-old live oak trees, destroyed.  Then the real estate crash halted the project until this year (2011)

The  development across our town highway is back in gear.

In 2008, a different developer had Big Plans, and cleared and paved it.  Then 2008 happened and he tanked.  Another developer bought it from him recently and the voice of the buzz saw now echoes through the land.

As I've mentioned before, there's a strip of woodland between us and that highway.

The new developer is building houses along that strip of land, above where I put the Wi-Fi sign, and wants to do clearing about where I've placed the "Woods" label

So the doorbell rings.

"I'm here to offer the services of the developer.  He'd like his residents to have a view of the marsh, and he's offering to clean out that tangle of vines and growth and brush on your lot, at his expense."

Understandable from his point of view, but no, no, a thousand times NO.

To be polite, I went out there and let him show me what the developer was talking about, and it would really be carefully done, and would not hurt any trees.

Just one problem though.  That wood, with its impenetrable wild tangle, is ALL THAT STANDS BETWEEN US AND STATE PARK CAMPER INCURSION.  It is also all that stands between us and the endless endless road noise.

He could not get it.  He could not comprehend what I was saying.  Clearing the marsh end of that wood, so it's still a wood, but more manicured and park-like, would put traffic and its noise right in our eyes and ears.  It barely dulls the noise now.

A lovely clear view for the buyers of those houses, through our wood to the marsh, would mean a hideous clear view in the other direction, for us, of their houses, and the cars whooshing by. Tree trunks, no matter how many, won't help.

"But it's a trashy mess" was his, and I'm sure, many peoples' feelings about wild undergrowth. He really thought the appearance was not only bad, but that the buffering ability was irrelevant to living here.

People often say "I can't understand his point of view," when what they really mean is "I disagree with it," but this is a case in which I really mean it;

I can't understand people who think that woods are ugly;  that nature is too messy.  That wildness is  visually unappealing and needs to be neatened up.

Are we really the same species?  Do others really not see the beauty in those brambles and wildflowers?  Or at least see the value they have as a border to an estuary?

I want to leave this house, this precarious location, so badly, it's not funny.  9 years ago, it was such a gift to be able to stay here and reduce our debts, and have the woods around us.  Not anymore.  I want out.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Third grade - peace, love, commas

My elementary school, photo taken 1999.

Writer Natalie Goldberg has advice for writers and blogger Xtreme English posted a passage from it, which included some writing exercises.  And THANK YOU, XE, it's wonderful advice, plus it got me started on one of Goldberg's exercises; to write everything you remember about third grade.

Third grade for me was the 1962-3 school year, and my first thought about the Goldberg exercise was that third grade was a big nothing.  Any interesting events, any particularly good or bad teachers, came in other years, so Third was notable for not being notable.

About 18 years ago, when I was in a writers' group, I wrote a nostalgic essay about 1964. I posted it to this blog (wow. 4 years ago!).  It's here if you want to read it (or read it again) but I never felt happy with it, and later, realized it was not only kind of substandard, but actually inaccurate.

I certainly wrote it honestly --  i.e., that was how i remembered things -- but that memory of 1964 being the last serene summer before awful life events changed our world was false. In fact, Sally and Patsy's father died in the same fall of 1963 that Kennedy was shot, and that next summer was about trying to regain "back to normal" feelings like we'd had before, not a time of still having them for real.

The calm year, the real last-year-of-innocence, was third grade, fall 1962 through spring 63.

Nostalgic visit to the primary-grades building, 1999. The 3rd grade wing is behind me, up the hill.  That hill was much higher in 1962.

Third Grade was a big rite of passage at my elementary school, because we moved up the hill.  The school sat along a hilltop that looked enormous to me then. Grades 3-6 were all in one L-shaped building, with the primary grade building beneath and behind it, down a hillside flight of stairs.  Of course we hiked up and down the concrete steps to library and cafeteria sessions, but our home base as 1st and 2nd graders was the bright little-kid-oriented rooms.

When I walked into my assigned Third Grade room, I got a clear message that sunny Primary life was over and we were getting down to serious business. Intimidating maps and historic portraits on the wall portended demanding studies.  No more bright paint.  No long wall was devoted to a window looking out at the leafy world.  Upper class schoolroom windows started at the shoulder height of taller kids. Rows of worn readers that we were expected to use for self-improvement when we finished an assignment with time left, and sets of occasional-use books ("Now, would Ricky and Karen please pass out the music books?") filled shelves underneath it.  My class met in a blue-gray room that sun rarely touched.

And this year, we'd get grades.  Not just checkmarks in Fair, Good, Swell categories, accompanied by narrative about our effort and attitude, but A, B, C ... and other, unthinkable letters. The year started, as they all did to some degree, with stomach-knot anxiety about what would be demanded of me.

And, as they all did, it turned out to be just more school. We had a nice enough teacher and a year without drama.  I got good reports at the first two quarters.  I felt more relieved than proud, or even interested. An achievement ethic wasn't in me yet.

Which is why, at the third quarter report, I was stunned to see straight A's down the column.

I hadn't tried for those, or any, grades.  I worked because it was assigned, though I put more into it when the task interested me.  I thought of report cards much the way I thought of bubble gum fortunes.  You opened the paper, you saw what had been declared for you.

I wasn't much into thinking ahead. This was the year I put a leftover half of a peanut butter sandwich in the back of my desk and forgot about it until clean-out day before Christmas break.  It was barely recognizable, stuck to its wax paper with green mold.

But third grade was the year of punctuation.  I mean, serious punctuation; quotation marks, complex sentences with commas.

I hung onto every word.  This was something I wanted. These were the writer's tools for expression and clarity.  I might not have mastered clarity yet, but I got pretty good at commas.

In fourth grade, big things happened, in the neighborhood and in the world, but in third, September to June ambled through their mundane lessons and vacations and seasons.  It was the last year of my unshaken life.  After my friend's father committed suicide that fall, and the President was shot and killed, the world never again seemed trustworthy, but in Third I had the tranquility to let me take an interest in a subject for its own sake.  Which was pretty cool.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I get it! It's pumpkin-colored for Halloween, right?

Dear Local Newspaper Social Pages:

Yall'll have to forgive me for my reaction to this wedding announcement, since its peculiarities may have been around in other places for years, and only just got here.

I want the paper to survive, and if this brings in money, then way cool!  Design the yazzoo out of wedding announcements if you want to.  I mean it.  I sound sarcastic but it really is a pretty clever way to boost the ol' income on non-essential but cool things that people will pay extra for.

I'm actually old enough to find nothing new about the fashion details and the Cast of Thousands in this celebration of the Extreme Specialness of this couple.  Newspapers used to do that all the time, and it was always a premium for the folks in the nice part of town.  Uppercrusters had big, top of the page announcements so relatives could clip it and get the date and paper's name in the clipping, while the tract house families had to remember to snip enough margin for room to write in the date with a Flair pen. The high-falutin' brides - or really, the parental outlay for their dresses - were displayed in 2-column photos, and accompanied by a family history and all the stuff about how the embroidery on the dress wasn't just done by any old sweatshop seamstress, but by the one who got Employee of the Year, and everything.  They probably paid extra for the detailed report, and I bet these folks did too.

I like that.

Here's the thing.  The orange background's gotta go.  It looks like one of those ads-that-look-like-news-stories for Performance Improvement Pills, if you know what I mean.

As for the headline, I don't know who wrote it, but it's a little confusing. The Impressive Specialness of their vows kind of makes me laugh, like I am at the rest of this  announcement, but kind of doesn't, and that's partly because I, this is the truth, read it to see what was unusual about their vows, but didn't find out.  Do some people take rully rully serious, special vows?  Like, bravely hitting the "Play" button at Expert instead of Basic level? I don't mean the write-their-own thing with unique quotes and poems (been there, done that), but a church's required vows?

They seem like nice kids and I wish them luck, so don't tell them that last week in their same church, Tammy Retread and Doug Plywood made the exact same vows that they made.  Even if Tammy and Doug's clothes came from BridalMart and they all celebrated at Waffle House afterwards.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Even I have some standards.

I'm am so crafts-challenged (poor digital dexterity and no patience) that my standards for my own work are pretty low.  But I do have standards.  Really.

I am never going to crochet like the experts.  Never never never, and that's because I have NO desire to.  Such intricate work makes me stark raving insane.

Hand made by my mom-in-law. This kind of skill floors me.

Larry's mom crocheted this gorgeous tablecloth for us.  It's enormous, covers a nice big farmhouse-sized table for a big gathering.  I've just folded out a corner to show the pattern.  How anyone can do something this big and this beautiful, stitch by tiny stitch, much less do it in a few months, boggles my mind.  I have enough trouble with simple mufflers.

And then, there's my lumpy work...

The all-blue one on the right is designed and being made (it's maybe half-done) for a friend for Christmas.  The blue and green one on the left (also incomplete, but about 2/3 done) wasn't made for anybody.  It's a test piece, to try out stitch ideas and see what makes the kind of final product I want to make.

My conundrum is that I don't want to do time-consuming stitches, but I get sick of the basic crochet stitch that makes all those little bow-tie-looking rows.  Bored with them.  Tired of that granny look.

So!  The question was, how could I make a piece that looked like I worked really hard, without actually working really hard?  I approach life this way whenever possible:  easier paths, shortcuts, magic formulas, etc etc.

On the blue/green one, I started doing rows of various stitches to see if I could make something that has a more interesting appearance, but was not too thick to wrap comfortably.   That job has taught me a lot.  It's too thick and stiff, some of the rows too uncomfortably ridge-like, and the variety of stitches looks as amateurish and randomized as it is, but as an experiment, it helped me figure out an easy stitch for a muffler that's decent-looking and feels good.  I'll finish it anyway, but only because I've started, and hated, and unraveled about 6 previous attempts and just don't want to throw out another one.

Maybe I'll give it to Goodwill, or use it myself, but it doesn't meet my standards for gift-giving.

This is where people say stuff like "The recipient won't care about the endearing goofiness!  You made it with your Very Own Loving Hands!"

Bullcrap.  Maybe she would find it all endearing, but it bugs me when women get told that, when it comes to the work of their hands, the lu-u-u-v is what matters.  Insipid, sexist swill.  Ever notice how, if a guy's woodwork or metalwork or whatever is lopsided, out of proportion, painted sloppily, or otherwise stupid-looking, nobody says, "Oh who cares, it's so cute, you made it with lu-u-uv!"?

At a glance, the blue one doesn't look that much nicer, but it does look a little nicer when you see it in person, and feels better, and meets my standards, which are mediocre.  This isn't about Being Too Hard On Myself.  It's competent, not Excellent.  My yarn tension is uneven, so there are some stitches you could drive a Humvee through, others so tight I can barely find the place to insert the hook for the next row.  It will look homemade, and I'm fine with that, but it has to be a certain level of well-made.

As for making anything with Love, it's sort of not in me to work serenely.  Even my simple project fouls up at moments, and the language I use ... let's just say that New Age people who think that your feelings and mental state infuse your products with good or bad vibes would be horrified by my attitude.

Maybe I should order some of those "made by" personalized labels for my goods:

Handmade For You - with Creative Profanity!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

They like us. They really like us.

Not enough, of course, to acknowledge our high buyer rating with any kind of reward, but ...

Maybe for our 15 year anniversary, they'll send us a refrigerator magnet!  It's good to have something to look forward to.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Life in general

There's this little problem.  I feel like all I do is rant and complain, but when I find myself thinking, OK, haven't posted in awhile, need to give my blog some attention,  I feel the urge to rant start building.

Politics - I can't see any willingness to listen, on the part of anybody on any side of anything.  It seems to me that politics has become nothing but quips.  Every issue begins and ends with a sound-byte-trade and then moves on.  9-9-9 becomes "Well that's 666 upside down."  Any math teacher -- hell, for that matter, any 6 year old could tell you that nine isn't six.  The barbs are worse than superficial, they're meaningless.

Then you come to the Episcopal Church, in which each side claims it is "the true church" and the other is one that has no right to represent it in policy or pulpit.  It's come up again because the Bishop of South Carolina has been distancing the SC church from the main group because he disagrees with its direction, and the US church is calling him on the carpet for it.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church.  To many people, the church they're gone to all their lives means nearly as much as family does, and I also find it painful to watch it wreck itself, but I can't find a side to like.  The US Episcopal Church that's adopted all kinds of liberal policies might seem like it's more to my taste than the backlash is, but (long ago) when I went to its site and -- after much clicking -- found the annual reports, all I could think was that this denomination is a massive, useless, self-serving bureaucratic behemoth.

The cash comes in, the cash goes out, to buildings, and utilities, and landscaping, and boardrooms, and desks, and tables, and chairs, and filing cabinets, and computers, and coffee-makers, and printers, and copiers, and executives, and secretaries, and building maintenance, and shipping supplies, and managers, and managers of managers, and committees, and paper-generation, and megatons of absolutely nothing, while the fund for relief gets a small sliver of the pie.

Obviously, it's a big employer.  But so is WalMart, and, I fear, for similar reasons.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, I can't sleep thinking of our kids struggling to get the pile of outrageous rents and tuition fees off their backs so they can get a little ahead, a whole lot harder than we ever had it, prices for life as a student way beyond what an ordinary hardworking kid, even with two jobs, can pay. And how we can help, while feeling like we're trying to help Sisyphus get that goddam rock over the top of that hill.

On some of those occasions, my stomach starts growling and I hit the refrigerator at 3AM, pour a little grape/blueberry/pomegranate juice and eat a little of that good homemade bread that Larry's been making  (What a blessing), and think, this is all the church is really supposed to be.  People, dare I say like me, living my screwy inefficient life as best I can, finding in a piece of bread a reminder of the only human being who has ever lived into whose hands i can completely entrust myself or my loved ones.  None of the bureaucracy makes any spiritual sense.

We can do things to help the kids, and we are doing them, and the fact that getting a degree and putting together a life that has some fulfillment and meaning beyond crappy hourly jobs is a slower process now than it was for our generation, doesn't mean it's not doable and progressing.

I now have office space, for crafts and for storing more of my too-many books and toys.

Life isn't bad at all, except at 3AM.  And a little bread to shut my stomach up, and a good book, get me out of seething over things I can't change, and, eventually, back to sleep, knowing that there are things I can.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In honor of Banned Books Week....

I usually do a banned book post every year.  This year I have a blog devoted to books, so it's over there:

       How to Avoid Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Can capital punishment be justice?

You might not expect me to be undecided, but I am.

I've jumped from side to side on this issue.  My first stand was pro-death penalty.  I was a teenager, and encountered -- in a brochure about fighting child abuse, not about criminal justice -- a story of a little boy's death after abuse so horrible that it seemed that such criminals have forfeited their right to live, in the sight of the community, God, in every way.

Later, I changed my mind, then still later, changed it back.  Altogether, I've re-thought it probably half a dozen times and ever since the execution of the OK City bomber, I've been stuck in a muddy, uncertain middle.  I thought that one was the right thing.  I still do.

Here's my thing.

When I read that laws have been written to say that the burden of proof no longer falls on the prosecution at a late stage in appeals, even when the evidence and testimony that is now available would have brought acquittal if it had appeared at the original trial;

when I see that some states fight to execute people who are asking for DNA testing of their evidence, which didn't exist years ago at conviction, and the state takes the unconscionable stand that procedure has been fully carried out and that this makes execution "right";

when I encounter these things, I know that, if capital punishment can be just, it is not now. 

And my own endless heart-changes indicate that, like the people who crafted the system, my stand had been based on primitive emotion.  Not reason, or justice, but pre-verbal, primitive gut reaction.

I think we're hardwired to react with fear, rage and revulsion against the deeds of some, and that we write up loads of procedural legal convolution and spin reasonable arguments, to feel OK about claiming the right to kill.

I think this because, if we really wanted simple justice, deterrence, and safety for the community, we would write laws that never, ever tolerated anything less than going to the utmost length to make sure that only the undoubtedly guilty are executed.

Whenever we can do that, then I will revisit the issue of whether the death penalty can possibly be right or just.  Maybe it can.  I can't even imagine it now because all I see is barbarism cloaked in robes and business suits.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I am ashamed of my country

The execution of a man of whom there is more than reasonable, there is huge, doubt of guilt is the most shameful thing I have encountered in my life.

Am I overstating?  I remember My Lai.  I remember Kent State.  I remember Waco.  Why is this worse?

This is the darkest of them all, even if the number of unjustly killed can't compare, because it's so cruelly and unthinkingly Correct.  Procedure has been followed.  The paperwork is in order.

Procedure failed in all of the other cases, but procedure will always have limits within which it can affect justice or right.  There's a point, like the edge of The Matrix, beyond which the structure can't go and we're in the realm of individual blind judgment.  That judgment is subject to crippling fear, psychosis, greed and rage.

This unconscionable execution is more horrible because procedure has been sanctified and itself is corrupt.

I live in a country where the truth does not matter.  None of the mountain of evidence matters.  It can't stand up against the soul-dead ash-storm of Procedure.  The legalities allow this vicious murder to take place.  The legalities, which exist to support justice, are in the hands of the ugliest human souls imaginable.  They have no reason to fight for the right to kill him, except a craving to kill.

The claim that Procedure is that important is a lie.  Such people care no more about legality than they care about murder of an innocent man.  Procedure becomes God, Truth, and Justice, it doesn't serve them.  The truth is not a goal and the knowledge that he's probably innocent isn't disbelieved, it's irrelevant. They want to kill.  That Procedure, like a game, places rules above reality. Those who play it want a clean, neat way, a way paved with degrees and licenses and performance evaluations, to have what they crave, the power to kill.

I live in a country that calls this justice.  I live in a country where legally sanctioned criminals maintain states' rights, even when that state is the epitome of corruption and its purveyers of justice crawl under the rock of Procedure to deliberately -- not ignorantly, but with full knowledge of the travesty that they're committing  -- serve lies.

I live in a country that is capable of allowing the State Of Georgia that right. A nation that sanctions the "right" of a state to destroy a human being and if that person may be innocent, what a God Damned shame, but it's Within Proper Procedure. 

I live in a country I am ashamed of, because the whole country allows its citizens to be destroyed, to be subject to such state autonomy, to fall to the ice-cold subhuman Proceduralists who jockey into positions of power on a scale small enough to give them the power to craft a system of inculpable killing because they want to kill.

The worst thing I can wish for these bastards is that they live out long lives with an internal system failure of the deadening that has shielded their souls, and answer to some Higher Power when they leave this life.

Troy Davis died at 11:08 PM

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Try not to heave while I do a rare Gratitude post

I'm not much on doing nice humble gratitude posts.  I'd rather gripe.  But this week has brought too many things to love and to be grateful for, so bear with me.

1.  3 healthy cats.  Both sick guys are back to their usual selves, and Little Gray has not shown symptoms.

Downy rests up from the heavy demands of his life

2.  Fall!  The first nice cool overcast days of the season. I actually wore a sweater over the weekend. I'm also a fan of gentle gray days and cool weather, so the cool, cloudy weekend was like a gift. And today, we're getting rain!  Huzzah!

3.  Time with my dad, and the fact that he's still getting around and finding good in life.

4.  A husband who decides to spend the afternoon baking bread.  On his birthday.  That was Friday.


5.  And who walked all over the grocery store to find the chips I craved, on a special display, after I'd glumly given up on them when they weren't on the regular chip aisle.  I didn't make him do it, honest - I'm not that much of a High Maintenance Woman. Probably too much of one, but not that much of one. He disappeared and next thing I knew, he was guiding me to a chip rack.

6.  Books.  At every stage of my life, books have moved me, expanded my world, and kept me sane. This is only a few of the ones that have been the right book at the right time over the decades.

7. The invention of the slow cooker.  It's more than just an easy method of cooking for ADDs.  As luck would have it, the slow-cooker also makes the kind of food I like best, thick soups and stews, one-dish meals.  Slow cooking has existed for eons, but this little wonder of the world lets you do it without keeping watch over it, and without leaving your stove or oven on all day if you're out.

Back to my usual crabbiness without delay....

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whatever it is, it's contagious

Now that Scooter, the Previously Sick Cat, is back to normal, Downyflake, who never gets sick, not in 8-9 years or so, has come down with what looks like the same bug.

Slightly different symptoms, in that Downy was panting.  Panting can mean various things and some of those things are pretty bad.

But Downy is The Nice One, and was considerate enough to get sick during regular weekday work hours.  So our regular vet worked him in and found he has a fever and some upper respiratory crud.

Home now, after THREE shots.  One of the shots was benedryl so he's rather mellow.

That's one nasty bug if we passed it by hand from Scooter to Downy -- who never meet in person.  That probably means Graymatter will get it too.  Unless her Personal pH balance is so acidic that it kills the germs.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Too soon.

A few days ago I posted on facebook that I intended to miss as much of the 9/11 commemorative activity as possible.  I got a fair number of "Yeah, me too" responses.  Here I am, writing about it anyway.

I've never liked tragedy-anniversaries, but I honestly do understand their importance.  Something terrible happens.  It rips us apart.  Some events require recovery, others need both recovery and assimilation of a new reality, and either way, take a lot of time.  As I heal, I mark that healing : how a year later it's still painful but life is renewing; how 5 years later it's a scar that will always be part of me and in some ways makes me better, more compassionate, more grateful for what's good.  Ten years later, I've survived, grown, hopefully built something good out of what it taught me.

Regarding 9/11, that's crap.  The wound is still raw, the issues still unresolved, and whatever progress in getting-past-it usually comes in a year, or 5 or 10, feels like it hasn't even bloody started yet.

On the contrary, its siren has kept wailing through every day of these ten years.

So - the dialog kind of goes like this:

    "Never forget!"
    "Will you LET me forget?!"
    "See?  You want to!  America-hater!"

No, I don't want to forget.  I want us to move beyond, and I feel like we aren't.  Anniversary rituals seem like something that should come after that.

I'm using "I feel" a lot and that's because that's all it is, my feelings.  It's unquantifiable, and impossible to pass along to anyone else who doesn't feel the same way.

The film footage never stops running.  Not a day goes by that someone does not evoke 9/11 because it's a direct cause of an action, a policy, a debate of the day.

There are those on the one side who say that this is what makes the particular enemy that attacked us so vile - its relentlessness, its determination to exterminate free, democratic western society, so that the conflagration it starts never ends.

And on the other side, there's the feeling that the vilest SOBs of all have exploited the event for perpetual-war mongering and the profits derived therefrom, silencing questions with sneers about "peace at any price" and hating America and cowardice.

I realize that almost no one takes one or the other of those views exclusively.  Most of us see some degree of each going on, even if we disagree about which predominates.

But in either case, 9/11 has barely gotten anywhere near as far, in its process, as a commemoration usually marks.  Anniversaries revisit events precisely because the event is slowly transforming from open bleeding to scar tissue.

Mulling it over, I realize that something in me rebels at letting profiteers and opponents of all non-Christian faiths whip us all up again in a rush of anger/grief/fear which they're just waiting to exploit again.  "9/11 fatigue" might be legitimate on any other day of the decade but this one, and to ignore the day is to pretty much hand it over to the exploiters. It's vital to take it back and give its sole ownership to those who died and who performed stunningly heroic deeds that day.

We need to honor them, but it seems so much like we've all done it every day of this endlessly fresh conflict.

You revisit an event because you've moved away from it.  This one, we pull forward with us, day by day, and I'm having a whole bunch of trouble finding a 10-year marker in the rubble of discord that's not only never been cleared away, but that we keep adding to.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Hurricanes, Twitter, and Sylvia Plath's typewriter

No, it's not a Royal.

I recently read a blog post from a young woman who tells us what she's interested in from Twitter tweeters.

There's not a thing wrong with her preferences, but they prove beyond any doubt *I* had that Twitter is a young person's game.

She's uninterested in following people who mostly tweet retweets and links, instead of their own thoughts.  Items 3, 6, and 7 on her list eliminate me from her world right now, not to mention book promotion, which I'll be doing eventually.

OK, social networking is all about finding people who share your interests, so she can be into "Be original! Say something!" while others might enjoy mostly pass-alongs.

Being original or interesting in 140 characters seems to me to be something only occasionally possible. Does that show my age, or does it show the mundanity of my life, or does her generation really care about trivia like the fact that today I hauled out my small crockpot for the first time in 10 years so I could make a smaller batch of vegetable soup? OK, Larry had to haul it out of a high cabinet. And he cleaned the top of the refrigerator while he was up there.

I can share that fairly succinctly, but what's interesting about it isn't really a 140-letter thing. Would tweeting, maybe, be a good exercise in curbing my longwindedness?

Here's what's going on : another hurricane is out there, and I realized while scrubbing the tray for the toaster oven that my whole life from spring to fall is about (a.) prepping for losing everything and (b.) hoping not to.  For that, and the heat and the bugs, summer has become a stretch of grumpy lethargy. Yard and garden work, I give up, and that probably won't change soon, since the heat and bugs are too much for a few more weeks.  But I dismiss indoor projects too.

We're currently watching the immensely fun Warehouse 13.  It's, for the uninitiated, a steampunky series in which the US goverment finds and stores various highly dangerous "artifacts" under lock, key, and "neutralizer" which is a purple goo that disables artifact misbehavior and is always on hand.

The writers have great fun with this.

In the one we watched last night, agent Pete stepped into the evil force-field emitted by Sylvia Plath's typewriter.

The typewriter causes despair.  The team has only minutes to solve a dangerous problem but Pete, roped in by Plath's Royal Manual, stares at it and can't move.  "What's the difference?" he says dully. Who cares?  Nothing matters. There's no point, etc etc.

I might, possibly, have a sick sense of humor but, despite finding Plath talented and her death tragic, I found this hilarious. A soul-sucking typewriter.  Another agent pushes him out of its field and the agents move on to their task.

Today, I made soup and washed up, and found myself thinking, Might as well clean this toaster oven tray. It's all discolored and cruddy, and I've looked at it many times and thought I should give it a scrub.

As I worked it over with Barkeeper's Friend [TM], I thought, "Why bother?  What's the point?  I'm cleaning this so Hurricane Marie can hit us at Cat 4-5 and take it and everything out to sea....."

I realized that I have my very own Inner Plath Typewriter.  I have no idea whether this is learned behavior from a family of rather anxious and sensitive people, or whether it's brain chemistry.  I think its brain chemistry. At least, I can't think of any family members I might have learned it from.  The sort of gloomy pessimism I see on both sides of my family has rarely made them lethargic.  Every one of them has always lived actively, always done the chores, done projects, lived to the fullest, even while being pessimistic about it, and I am the one exception. I retreat into a sort of functional-catatonic state in which I do what has to be done, but not much more. If a task can sit, it sits.

I kept scrubbing (it's still splotchy-looking but usable), and thought, This is good.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?  Live anyway.

It's not really a breakthrough. I periodically kick the pessimism/sapped energy habit but fall back in.  The Inner Typewriter will activate its gloom-field but I need to neutralize it when it does. Purple goo.  Maybe a brain-food blueberry shake.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Home. Eating. Grumpy.

That could describe me on any day of the year, but in this particular case, it refers to Scooter.

They couldn't find anything wrong with him.  Joyful joyful!!

He still wouldn't eat much when we got him back here, but he also was sneezing.  Cats insist on testing food aroma before they will eat it and whatever the systemic illness was, it put his smeller off.  He'd eat the smellier treats in our repertoire, but that was all, last night, apart from a syringe-feeding that did not go well.  It seems to be slowly improving, and he's now eating odoriferous wet food. 

Still not allowed outdoors until we get him back to normal.  Not happy, but no lethargy. Grateful tonight.

And just WHEN are you going to open this &$^% door??!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Scooter isn't well

We spent yesterday evening at the emergency vet with Scooter, the downstairs, indoor-outdoor cat. He had no symptoms except lethargy and refusal to eat. At the vet (those wonderful wonderful people! They open when all others close, nights, weekends, holidays. Bless them forever) they found he had a fever, so we left him overnight for bloodwork, etc.

Called this morning. His fever is gone! and bloodwork is normal. ?? That's good but he still won't eat.

This cat has usually lost a lot of weight when away from us. Maybe he had some run-of-the-mill infection and got over it but can't cope with (perceived) abandonment and confinement.

He's also not young, age unknown, but not young, and the dreaded day will come, however much I say PLEASE, not today. He get an x-ray later, and then I pray and pray we can bring him home.

I can't describe the uniqueness of this cat. I can tell you how he comes when he's called, how he takes walks with us, how he converses and signals and all that, but you'd have to live with him on a daily basis to really get the experience. I've lived with a lot of cats, and Larry with many more, and neither of us has ever met anyone like Scooter. All our cats have been producers of good endorphins during the stress of recent years, but Scooter gets way and gone the most credit.

So here we sit. I decided I'd illustrate this post with the most recent photo I'd taken of him, no matter what it looked like, and this is it, above. Hanging around the upstairs front door begging for attention.

I hate that we can't have him up here with us. I hate that Graymatter can't tolerate another cat, and I hate that the one who most "deserves" full time with humans he's clearly uber-attached to can't live in the house where he'd be safer and live longer just by avoiding the scrapes and bites and little venoms of nature.

He wants to come in the upstairs where we are, but he wants to enter and leave freely, and to roam. He lived outside too long to tolerate confinement. We tell ourselves that. Maybe if Little Gray Lucretia Borgia wasn't here, he'd be fine with it, but that's not to be.

We know people, and know others through media, who provide safe havens for a lot of animals and we've thought, because we love the idea so much, that one of our callings in life might be to do that. Then Graymatter intervenes and I'm starting to realize that, if there is some Great Plan, we've, maybe, been assigned a different version of the job. We can take in fewer cats, but we get "sent" the ones with few other options.

Scooter ... well, anyone would adore him, but he chose here, and seems to like this Best Of Both Worlds situation.

It's Graymatter who'd be relocated from a lot of homes. She's who she is, she can't help her high anxiety and her .... um .... need to assure herself that her space is hers by peeing on anything whose ownership isn't clearly marked. That picture of Scooter shows him outside our front door. He approaches it and yowls regularly, and we sometimes seen raccoon pawprints out there. To Graymatter, that's where Enemies try to breach the fortress, and she has peed on the door so often that the paint is dissolving.

Who else would both give her a home and love her? She might get shelter, but not the kind of enmeshed bond she gets with us, and that she needs, little psycho that she is. We're certainly not the only difficult-cat tolerators, but we're the ones who got the job. And I do love her, with all my heart.

Meanwhile, I'll call the emergency vet hospital again in a couple hours, and see if we can get our little Crock of Gold back here. He's our luck, best we ever had.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The chick in the mirror

A few days ago I wrote up a major frustration-venting over selling to self-professed "Christian" customers on ebay.

Then I decided, "OK, this was ONE obnoxious person, I shouldn't make a big generalized deal over it and rant away about all Christians everywhere." I got it out of my system, fine, no need to post it.

Today I get another one.

Is two prissy Christians my tipping point? I dunno, but however much it sounds like I'm painting a big population with a wide brush, I have experienced this enough to truly believe it:

A great many people who identify themselves, in largely unrelated matters and venues, as "Christians" seem to feel a massive sense of entitlement to correct and criticize every aspect of others' lives.

First there was a book I labored over creating the listing for, with multiple photos and description, to eliminate the possibility that anyone looking at it could find it deceptive in any way.

Specifically, I listed the condition of a 1960 design textbook as Very Good, which it was - maybe never used, clean, crisp and bright - even though it didn't have its original dustjacket. Jackets survive rarely on those old textbooks, since they got much much harder wear than other one-use reading books did.

A potential buyer sent a snotty sarcastic "question" couched in sweetness, in which she (or he?) talked to me as though I were a small and errant child who needed to be Guided about book condition. Unfortunately, before we had a chance to place a "block this bidder" on her (or him?), she also bid on the book, despite making it clear in her email that she didn't want it as it really was. Now, why would she buy it if...?

Oh crap. She wants the title, midcentury design is very desireable right now, but the cheapest with a decent jacket is $64 and she's given up on affording that, so she'll buy this superior unjacketed copy and then...

This was negative feedback just begging to happen.

We blocked her anyway, but too late, so there was nothing to do but close the listing.

Why exactly I was targeted for this Lesson From The Righteous, I don't really know. While most sellers are using stock photos and pre-filled information, I take multiple photos of important features and flaws, and write up this detailed description that Larry says nobody reads. 8~)

I'm under no illusions about that, but it does cover me. I can point to it and say, "But I said there are spine creases. Clearly. Right there. Line two. See?"

The potential buyer did read it. Her sarcasm was employed in informing me that she was Terribly excited!! to find this book with its dustjacket, because you called it VG so it must have its jacket, yay!!! The sarcasm with which she pretended shock that it didn't have one was pretty obvious. She wasn't misunderstanding.

I do know how to deal with creeps, and I know that it's dangerous to assume that they are not really misunderstanding.

I expressed my Deep Sorrow that my listing had been "unclear" and explained, in equally kind and gentle terms, how book sellers will give separate ratings for book and jacket, so books can be rated apart from their jackets, and how you can get actual information from an ebay listing, by merely reading it and looking at the pictures! It's fun and easy too! No no, I was more subtle than that. Really. But when she wrote again, instructing me again, it was time to bail.

What does this have to do with tightywhitey Christians? Why do I think she set out to Improve Our Walk In Truth by leaving us negative feedback so as to obey Biblical Edicts to Admonish miscreants? In Christian Love? Her user name is (I'll deliberately paraphrase and misspell this) a variation of ChrisstianLuv.

Keep spreadin' the Luv, honey.

Honest, I know that obnoxious people come in all creeds and associations, probably in about equal numbers. Sample any group, whether it's Christians or Pepsodent users or vegetarians, and you'll get x-number of trolls who have some kind of need to claim victimhood, or feel big by correcting others, or otherwise cause battles just because they feel like it.

Then today, the sale of one of my brand-new Bibles, which I packed carefully and securely in protective packaging, got slammed for using the recycled materials. Why the customer cares what the mailing box looks like -- holy bleep, I boxed it and padded it, instead of using an envelope -- is beyond me unless it was intended as a gift and even then, don't most of us order a book, take it out of the mailing box and gift wrap/bag it??

In my librarian days, I was in charge of inter-library loans. We'd get loaners of requested books from the state library or from other libraries all over the country and returns were particularly important. Each customer was cautioned that this wasn't just any loan, it was a trust from a distant library which had no authority in our state/county to get the material back with, and that our library could be blacklisted from the inter-library loan system if too many out-of-state loans to our patrons disappeared.

Exactly two non-returns happened on my 10+ year watch. BOTH procured for church matters or activities. In both cases, the borrower took the dismissive attitude that God's Work made return unimportant, and we could go jump.

Christians are assuredly not any more obnoxious than are others, but there's one difference. Other groups don't seem to think that the group itself issues the blanket license to assume authority over others.

A specific license? Sometimes, sure. Vegetarians can cop an attitude about animal welfare and food matters, sewing enthusiasts will critique garment workmanship.

But blanket license? The belief that their Fight For Truth applies to every single aspect of other peoples' work and lives, and that they are called by Jesus to correct posture, parenting and purveyance of ebay goods? I'm seein' it.

While internet selling is a good choice for someone with a thin skin, I still let them get to me on occasion. This has to be about my inner peace. I joke about Opportunities for Growth and how annoying they are, but the advice I want to give these complainers, which is "Start with the person in the frikkin mirror!" applies to me.

Whatever motivates these people -- and this is one stressed-out society right now. We've had more complaints in the last 3-4 years, in relation to vastly fewer sales, than in the whole 1998-2007 stetch on ebay before that -- but whatever motivates them, I have to do my best and then quit caring. I did well by the customer, with secure packaging, timely service and a good deal, and I have to turn him over to whatever version of Higher Power he's into.

Does this sound like something I should have learned many decades ago? I did and I didn't, because it's one of those lessons that come back and come back and come back and come back.....

The lesson being that avoiding criticism by working overtime to please people (in this case, customers) doesn't solve my inner problem of a thin skin. It reduces the number of occasions on which I have to confront it. It's my job to thicken my skin.

Larry pointed out a unique feature of life in our times that I hadn't really thought about. In selling, or any interaction done online, we're not just dealing with the bad (or good) personalities in a limited geographical area. We're dealing with them all over the planet, and maybe in higher percentages. Just as I like to protect my too-thin skin by putting online access to me between me and the buyers, unhealthy personalities can also find the internet protective. They can lob their stinkbombs over the fence and run away unseen.

Which is why the problem always -- always -- comes from a customer whose displeasure I wasn't expecting. Always. The ones I worry about? Never. The ones I think would have absolutely nothing to find wanting?? It's them, every time.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene a video by nickelshrink on Flickr.

Apologies for the oversized screen - I cannot seem to change it manually.

One minute of the storm, August 26th at about 4:30 PM.

The marsh (yes, this is the marsh, not the ocean!) is submerged by the storm surge! Seabirds are screeching there in the sound portion - there were lots of them swooping and diving as though they were having a great time.

And to think - we got off easy.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Craving Christmas

Our tree 2002

It's August and the Christmas catalogs are starting to pour in. Most years, they irritate the bejesus outta me. Tacky, ridiculous stuff and besides, it's still summer, etc. etc.

This year, for the first time probably ever, I keep feasting my eyes on them, not so much on the giftable goods as the Christmas cards, with their images and their messages.

This craving has a bunch of reasons, one being the relentless heat and mosquitoes. I crave fall and winter. I'm even sick of thunderstorms, which I usually love. Our recent lightning strike shook my storm enjoyment. By the way, it fried every smoke detector in the house, necessitating a full set of replacements.

My grandmother's childhood ornament string, circa 1910

Another is that it's been so long since I really experienced Christmas that I miss it. Last year was something to get through, and actually, the year before wasn't much better. Dad's only brother died and we took a difficult trip in an ice storm to the funeral on December 17th 2009, with my very frail mom, so the next week was recovery and grieving. Christmas 2010 happened and happened well but it didn't happen in my heart, just in cars, shops and rooms. I'm feeling more ready to love Christmas as a way of sharing something with people in my past as well as my present. I need renewal. I feel like I'm running on empty, just over halfway through the year.

The cards in the National Wildlife catalog are a mental vacation. Quiet idealized woods and cottages in snow, little birds puffed against the cold, sparkling lights spattering out of windows at dusk, peace on earth, wishing you peace, let there be peace....

The pre-written lines on the cards ... Well, let's just say that they're exercising my brain. I have the leisure at this time of year to think about what they say and how I feel about it.

"Season's Greetings" is the one I hate. The only one. It's a venerable meaningless sentiment, having been around for business-networking-decades before the culture wars bled over into Christmas.

I'm OK with "Happy Holidays." To deny that there are other holidays is silly. The statistics as to how many more people celebrate "this" one over "that" one mean zilch. It's not a majority-win-all issue, and I fail to see how anyone could embrace the loving spirit of Christmas without liking the idea of wishing happiness for others who aren't interested in Christmas happiness.

"Happy Holidays" is a good thing to offer. "Season's Greetings" is emotionless, soulless, so robotic you can smell the machine oil of the "Don't really care if you're happy" thought that lubricates its dead gears.

But I do Christmas because I believe in it, and that means that the reason I send cards is Christmas. And the reason I'm glad others find something joyful in the turn of the year is that it, I certainly hope, gives them not just happy holidays, but renewal for the year. Strength for a full-year's journey.

So, I guess the next category of card-sentiments that I don't like are the ones that say only "I wish you a wonderful season." Just the season?

Honestly, just me, but I'd get a better holiday that provides a little soul-sustenance year-round.

I need to like both the art and the message. This one (below) has a good sentiment (which you need to click it, to read).

If only the art didn't look like somebody found a distant planet on which all life had been scorched off by a gamma-ray burst, and inexplicably planted a church there.

Last but maybe best is rediscovering a gift I got long ago.

Beyond Sing the Woods was given to me by my writer-grandmother, when I was about 16. I couldn't get into it then. I picked it up again a couple weeks ago and have been Wowed. Some gifts wait till the right time and this was the right time, most certainly.

Beyond Sing the Woods has rich, glorious Christmas scenes. The novel takes place in a vague era that's probably the late 1700's or early 1800's, and the goods and food are varied and opulent, but the power in the festival comes from something more nebulous than that opulence, and gift-giving is practically an afterthought. The feast renews an awareness of something higher, especially in the poorer residents too careworn most of the year to think long about the beliefs that they do hold.

The book is filled with visions of the new added to, or built onto, the old; the new 18th century house, attached to the older hall with its heavy leaded glass windows and its multiple generations of weapons and ironware piled back in the shadows, and, opening off of another room and still older, the house from antiquity with its hearth in the middle of the floor and smokehole in the roof. The past isn't gone, it's encompassed in the new. The rituals have tied past to present since memory began.

I'm craving cool weather and time outside, and the short days that ease into night. And gifts are good, I like gifts when they're in proportion to the purpose of the festival. There has to be a way to give, without gift-giving becoming the disproportionate thing it can become, like a bowling ball balancing on a straight pin. I want Christmas for the connection with people in my past, and connection with people who will remember our Christmases when we're gone.