Thursday, August 29, 2013

Spare in the Square

It was a muggy morning. I had just finished getting a hair cut when I got a phone call from my daughter The Spare.

(For those of you just joining "The Gods Are Bored," we have two daughters: Heir and Spare. This is what the British press called Prince William and Prince Henry back when they were kids, and ... well, it works.)

Over the phone, Spare said, "Mom, I'm having a panic attack. It's only three days until I go to college!"

I told her to come up and meet me at Starbucks.

We live in Snobville, New Jersey, and like every other hamlet on the map, it has a Starbucks in the dead center of town. I've never liked the joint. It rarely wrenches ducats from my hands. But it was nearby, and I was pretty certain that Spare hadn't eaten anything, although it was almost noon.

Quick as a wink, here came Spare on her cruiser bicycle. She must have peddled like mad to get to the center of Snobville from the far side of the tracks. And when she sat down at an outside table with me, she was shaking and blinking. She said she felt sick. Then she closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, she said, "I can't see." She closed her eyes again, and when she opened them she said, "I can't see. I can't hear either."

Next thing I knew, she was sliding out of her chair as if her bones had turned to mush. She fainted in my arms. I laid her down on the sidewalk, center of town, and put my purse under her head.

Needless to say, this unusual drama attracted a lot of interest from the locals. One fellow went to fetch the paramedics from the fire house across the street. Another lady went into Starbucks and brought out a cup of ice water, with lid and straw. As Spare came around, another lady hovered, saying she was a nurse.

Spare was lucid again within about 20 seconds, and ten seconds later she remembered to be embarrassed. This was, after all, the square of her home town, and she was lying on the sidewalk with a purse under her head.

The paramedics arrived in the ambulance (from right across the street they had to come by truck). They got Spare seated again and took her vitals. Spare's dad came around the corner and was shocked to see the health care professionals surrounding his pale offspring.

No, Spare had eaten nothing that morning.
No, she had nothing to drink.
No, she had not taken her medication.
Yes, she was wearing a cardigan even though it was muggy.

Spare's blood pressure was a little bit low. We got her some orange juice and a bagel, and she drank both the juice and the water the lady had brought to her. The paramedics stayed for awhile and suggested that Spare go see a doctor, or go to the emergency room.

Spare and I sat in front of Starbucks for over an hour. She inhaled a bagel with cream cheese, an apple, and some grapes, which bucked her up considerably. Then her dad drove her home, while I, Anne Johnson, rode her bike. And it's true. You never forget how.

Long story short, I called the doctor, and we got an appointment. Our usual physician, Doctor Mushroom, was out of town. But he recently got shoved into a multi-doctor practice, so there was another doctor in the office.

We went there. Another set of vitals was obtained, and yet another just in case, because Spare's blood pressure was still low.

I'm sure I've written before about my dear Doctor Mushroom, so named because he would rather rub moss over you than prescribe some fancy drug. (His predecessor used pendulums, so it's all good.) Lo and behold, the lady doctor in this multi-doctor unit is rather of the same mindset. It's refreshing.

Upon ascertaining that Spare's blood pressure was still a little low, this estimable physician did not inundate us with blue prescription slips. She gave sound medical advice. She told Spare to eat something salty. Like potato chips.

There you have it, my dear readers. Under certain circumstances, the very best thing you can do for your health is to eat potato chips. Don't let anyone tell you to take those vitamins! Potato chips are the go-to cure for low blood pressure.

If you're not sure whether your blood pressure is low or not, my advice would be to eat potato chips just to be on the safe side.

And yes, Spare is fine now. She had a hamburger and a milk shake with her potato chips, ensuring she'll live to be 100.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stronger Than the Storm... OK, Yeah, Right

Day before yesterday, my daughter The Heir and I set out on a little New Jersey road trip. Heir just loves New Jersey. She has done everything she could to win me over to this gritty state, and her sheer enthusiasm for its smoky grandeur is indeed inspiring.

We both like to look for beach glass, so we set our sights on a place we had never been before, a little fishing village on the Delaware Bay about 25 miles south of the nuclear power plant.

It only took us about 80 minutes to drive to this village, and I have to admit, if you like salt marshes, there's a lot of prime salt marsh in that vicinity. You would never know you're in New Jersey down there in the lower reaches of the Delaware Bay.

From a distance, the village sat perched, oh so picturesquely, at the water's edge. When we got up close to it, though, we found a virtual ghost town.

Most of the houses were boarded up or damaged somehow. Some were completely gutted. Others looked okay but showed no sign of recent habitation.

I looked around me at the desolation, and all I could think was, "Whose bright idea was it to build these houses anyway?" The homes in question were almost literally on the water, standing on stilts or right across the street from a sea wall against which the high tide beat dramatically.

There were two nice ladies in the street, and I struck up a conversation with them. Of course we started talking about Hurricane Sandy. The storm decimated the village. The storm surge was 18 feet in places ... way higher than the stilts, vastly higher than the sea wall.

One of the ladies said that everyone (population 400) evacuated when necessary. Upon their return to their hamlet, their furniture was floating in the Delaware Bay, and most of the homes were severely damaged. She told me that grown men cried. Some people lost everything.

Ten months later, the fishermen cannot put to bay, because the storm shifted sand bars all over the place. At least one in three houses has a "for sale" sign in the front yard. The beach, at high tide, is a yard wide.

"Well," one of the ladies sighed, "We get one of these storms every 50 years or so. It's just the way of things."

You know what the way of things should be? People should have respect for the coastline.

Humans have always loved living on beaches, but the smart cultures of old, the ones who worship the bored gods (and modern Third World folks too), those people respected the nature of the sea and kept all seaside habitation of an impermanent nature.

Permanent structures do not belong on the edge of the ocean. They do not belong at the edge of a bay. nor, for that matter, do they belong in the flood plain of a little ol' country creek. Water is lovely to look at on a good day. On a bad day, it wants your furniture.

This summer, the state of New Jersey has tried to attract tourists with the theme song, "We're stronger than the storm." What a conceit! No one is stronger than a hurricane. No one should be living cheek-to-jowl with the sea. We don't even need global warming as a rationale for keeping a safe distance between ourselves and the surf: barrier islands have never been suitable for development.

If there are any bored deities deserving attention, they are Triton and Oshun. Respect them. Water is pretty, until it isn't. And no one is stronger than the storm.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

On Dragon Queens

It's official. I've read over 3,000 pages this summer. I usually gorge on summer reading, but this is a record ... at least since 8th grade.

The lion's share of my summer reading has been the first three volumes of "Song of Ice and Fire," by George R. R. Martin. This is the series of books upon which "Game of Thrones" is based.

I had gotten about 60 pages into the first Martin behemoth when Mr. J brought home a new novel by Carl Hiaasen, Bad Monkey. Carl Hiaasen is my favorite pleasure-reading-author. Having a brand new novel of his in my hands is like Christmas and summer vacation, rolled into one. However, I let Mr. J read Bad Monkey while I surged on with "Ice and Fire."

It turns out that Bad Monkey and "Ice and Fire" have something in common: They both feature Dragon Queens.

You may recognize this Dragon Queen. She is Daenerys, from "Ice and Fire." Through almost 3,000 pages she has evolved from a frightened young teenager into a formidable warrior queen. I won't spoil. Suffice it to say that she is blonde, mirthless, and ambitious.

Bad Monkey's Dragon Queen is a drunken voodoo crone on the island of Andros in the Bahamas. Again I won't spoil, except to say that she will put a curse on a white devil for you in return for good rum and good sex, and perhaps your pet monkey.

Both Dragon Queens have followers, and both inspire a good deal of anxiety. But there the difference ends. If you are considering this a book review, then you decide how you like your Dragon Queens ... and choose your reading accordingly.

Daenerys has not an ounce of humor in her nubile young frame. She doesn't even get to toss out the witty one-liners that are the only stab at humor in "Ice and Fire." Her movements are stiff and respectable, her decisions based on a dragon's share of ambition. See how serious she looks in the photo? That's how she's written. Well, I mean so far. I have another 2,000-plus pages to read. Maybe she lightens up, but the word I would use to describe her is "dour."

Bad Monkey's Dragon Queen might be considered politically incorrect from the pen of a white writer, except that I always get the impression that Carl Hiaasen bases his characters on people he has at least read about, if not actually met. At any rate, this Dragon Queen (that's the only name we get for her) is so far beyond the pale that she cannot possibly have arisen strictly from imagination. She swills rum, she flashes her male customers, she switches loyalties at whim, she makes outrageous demands, and she never seems to practice enough voodoo to make her offensive to earnest Pagans like myself. This character's lines are delivered in a dead-on Bahamian accent that only makes her antics funnier.

In Carl Hiaasen's novels, even the heroes behave badly ... they just have loftier motives than the villains. But two things elevate this writer above the pack. One is that he's funny. The descriptions of character, action, and dastardly deeds are all done with an understated wittiness that leaves me howling and teary-eyed. The other thing is that all of the author's novels are infused with righteous indignation at the rape of the Florida landscape. Hiaasen is a lifelong resident of that state, and I, for one, can deeply identify with his frustration over the rampant erection of strip malls, condos, etc. etc. etc., and the graft and corruption that attend such enterprises. How does this author take indignation and make it funny? Wowsa. His characters actually do what we all would like to do! In large or small ways (usually both), his heroes and heroines are eco-terrorists. We root for them because we all have a gut feeling that only the bad behavior of a few renegades can save us all from the white devils.

As for witty one-liners ... George R. R. Martin doesn't turn as many successful ones in 3,000 pages as Carl Hiaasen manages in a slender 300.

It cracks me up that both of my summer reads had Dragon Queens. As far as Dragon Queens go, I like mine lewd, drunk, flamboyant, untrustworthy, and greedy. I bow a knee to funny, and that's what I got in Bad Monkey. Hoorah for the Dragon Queen on Andros Island!

Postscript to this sermon: If you have never read any of Carl Hiaasen's work, I suggest beginning with Sick Puppy or Stormy Weather. Avoid this author at all costs if you are politically correct or sexually prim. There's a reason his books aren't on HBO. Are you easily offended? Move on to "Ice and Fire." Is nothing sacred to you? Have you got a sick sense of humor? Hiaasen.

Oh yeah, one last thing: While Carl Hiaasen's novels sometimes require a suspension of disbelief, his characters tend to stay dead when they're killed. Most times. And in no case do they return as zombies.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Runnin against the Wind

This morning I had to go to the pharmacy for allergy pills. I saw a school bus in the parking lot that had the name of my Vo-Tech on it. I thought the placement of the bus curious but didn't give it much more thought.

Driving home I have to pass through a county park that has a lot of running trails. As I was driving, I saw a bunch of girls running along the street. "Oh!" I thought. "That looks like Kay'sha!" And then I saw another girl who I recognized.

So, quick as a wink, I pulled over and cheered them on. They were the girls' cross country team from my school, out for a run before it gets too hot!

My girls. The other ones. The ones who don't live in my house.

Kay'sha was out in front. She's the best runner on the team. Last year her brother was shot and killed in a drive-by. Crystal, who stopped briefly to say hello to me, has a sister who is battling lupus with inadequate and indifferent health care.

Last spring, Clarissa had a baby and fell short on the high school proficiency test. We all thought she would pass. She cried. Today she was out running with the rest.

The world is arrayed against these young women. As I prepare for a new school year, in which I will be teaching to a national proficiency test that I have not yet seen, I think about all the smackdowns challenges my girls face. Even their African American president is making the test standards tougher, making it harder if not impossible for them to earn that essential high school diploma.

The new high school proficiency tests are being designed by college professors, based on the skills these professors think are lacking in students who get high school diplomas. My students start lacking skills the minute they walk in the door in kindergarten. They never catch up. In the case of the Vo-Tech, my girls are learning trades like nursing assistance and medical record keeping -- making them employable right out of high school, so long as they get their diplomas and pass proficiency tests in their trades. Yes, you are reading right. My students, all of them, have to take two tests: one for academic high school, another for the trade they've studied.

I would feel more zealous about the new, tougher high school standards if I hadn't been in a group this summer that toured businesses and industries in my area. It is still possible to get an entry-level job with a high school diploma (good attendance, no tattoos) where one can learn the skills necessary for the business in-house and move up through the ranks. My students have done this at the fancy grocery stores too. Even at Home Depot. But they all needed that high school diploma.

This is so blatantly unfair, it makes me want to weep. We expect our most disadvantaged students to be bright enough to compete not with China's worst (Flower Lace Bra; see below), but with China's best. You know what happens in the inner city schools? Kids turn 16 and drop out. "I wouldn't pass the proficiency test anyway," they say.

Stop this madness! Find a way to educate and train all children, without trying to fit them all into a single mold! Does my auto mechanic need to have read Ovid?

I'm repeating myself. Guilty as charged. It just fills my heart with ache to see my girls out running in the park. What is waiting for them at the finish line?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

More Embarrassing than Free Porn

The other day, Spare and I found ourselves at the shopping mall. I don't like to go there, because have you noticed? There's nothing at the mall that you need to buy. It's all frivolity.

Spare likes a store called Forever 21. This store caters to a young clientele, so it has sexy clothing at low prices. I saw a rack of denim jeans, priced at $7.99. They were dyed, thick cloth, and seemed well put together. But that price! It's a thrift store price, almost. Like, within a dollar or two of Goodwill, for a brand-new pair of pants.

I was intrigued by the notion that a company could make a profit from an eight dollar pair of pants, so I looked (and looked and looked) for the tag that gave the "made in" information. Found it: Made in China.

Figure that Forever 21 has to pay its executives, its store staff, rents on the mall locations, shipping, and probably some designers or buyers. All of this has to come out of these low clothing prices before we even get to production. On the production side, there's the physical plant and machinery, supervisors, and training personnel even before we get to the individual laboring to make the pants.

All this for an eight dollar pair of pants. Basically, everything in the store is similarly "priced to sell." Forever 21 makes a dollar holler.

When you buy something at Forever 21, the clerk puts it in a plastic bag with "John 3:16" on the bottom of the bag. Forever 21 is a Christian company. They do not try to hide that fact.

Well, honestly, I think they do hide it pretty well. Many of the clothes for sale in the place are, if not daring, at least alluring. It's not the kind of garb you would expect a Christian company to sell. Spare and I found ourselves looking at a long, clingy tank dress that had a Cross on it with the words "Never Break the Rules." It didn't compute. I can't remember ever seeing anything with more of a mixed message in my life.

Forever 21 casts itself as a Christian company, but judging by the style of the clothing sold there, it is not upholding standards of modesty expected of modern-day Christian young women. Worse than that, the $7.99 pair of jeans made in China indicate most strongly that this company operates sweat shops. There's just no other way to account for that price for a brand-new piece of sturdy denim with all the usual pockets, studs, and double-stitched seams. How shamefully deceiving! You throw a Bible verse on a plastic bag, and that makes it okay to indulge in questionable taste in fashion and slave labor?

Another black eye for the busy God.

Which brings me to the next plot turn in this sermon. I got an email from a reader that said, yes, indeed, somewhere there are people being paid to leave comments on blogs by just sitting and typing in captchas, thus bypassing the spam protections. I already knew there are people in China who are paid to play online games for online money that is then sold on Ebay. This is terrible! Can you imagine sitting for long hours, staring at words you can hardly read, and duplicating the blurry captchas just to link to pornography sites?

We all know how bad it is in the Third World, but sometimes, something comes along that just puts the exclamation point on it. For me it's the $7.99 Christian jeans at Forever 21 and the indecipherable comment with pornography links in my comment list. We have one percenters who control most of the wealthy in this nation. Even so, for much of the rest of the world, we are the one percent, even if we struggle financially.

I feel horrible for Flower Lace Bra (see below). I shouldn't have made light of it. I picture some kid sitting in a hovel, cranking out captchas, perhaps being told that it will improve his or her English in hopes of a better job. Probably not even being told that. Just a few pennies to keep some rice in the bowl.

At least I have the grace not to slap a religious verse on this glaring act of inhumanity. But that's not saying much.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Frank Talk : What Flower Lace Bra Said

Hello, howdy, and welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!"

I really don't know who reads the drivel on this site, except for 178 people who are kind enough to follow me. I have been told that my readers number fewer than the colors in a jumbo box of Crayolas, but I've also been told (by someone who didn't like something I wrote) that "everybody" reads "The Gods Are Bored." My guess is that it's a hell of a lot closer to the Crayola number than to the "everybody" number.

I don't get many comments on what I write. I attribute this to my ability to be 100 percent correct about everything at all times. It's a talent. Then again, I might not get many comments because I don't have trolls, and I don't respond to my commenters enough.

My husband just won a major literary award (see below), and I was pleased to get 7 comments on the post. I really do know how complicated that captcha thing is, if you want to leave a comment. Sometimes it takes me three or four tries to get my own comments posted. As an aside, I do have a filter that keeps the comments from appearing automatically, and sometimes it takes a few days for them to show up. I see them, though, and I post them.

One of the comments in the previous post was from someone named Flower Lace Bra. I have copied the content of the comment. Here it is:

"I am consequently's only the top news at any time..and something point about this e-book..Level by no means quit all of us sensation i am sorry for just about any of these..sad for the children indeed,however never ever does Personally i think i'm sorry for anyone"

This thoughtful commentary was followed by a link to something called Male Masturbators. Flower Lace Bra also was a link.

This morning, looking at my back-dated, uposted comments, I got something similar from a commenter called Sexy Lingerie. With a similar ending tag, Free Porn.

I am wearing a lace bra. Sometimes I wear sexy lingerie. But I think it risky to follow links to such items on the Internet. To me, free porn is a book or some pictures you find in someone else's recycle bucket ... or a mirror on the ceiling. Everything else has a price, even if it's just doctor bills for a virus on the computer.

What intrigues me, though, is how these comments showed up in my thread. How did they elude the captcha? If they didn't, then why did Flower Lace Bra become Sexy Lingerie? The pithy commentary seems to be the work of someone who looked at previous comments on the thread, then either wrote something under the influence of a synthetic hallucinogen or a minimal command of English.

Can it be possible that somewhere, some poor soul is being paid to slap pornographic links onto incomprehensible commentary, then actually post it by completing the captcha, over and over and over again? If so, what a tragic commentary on commentary!

To conclude this sermon, please note the following:

*I wear flower lace bras. I think they're pretty. But I would not link to them. You know where to get them, if you need one. I like Aerie, myself.

*I do not indulge in male masturbation. I'm not a male. I wouldn't link to it because if you are so inclined, you know where to look for that too.

*I love sexy lingerie. By definition of "sexy lingerie," I mean anything that is silk, satin, or minimally lacy that drapes without binding too tightly. Personal preference, I don't like garter belts or stuff that is fantasy-themed. Heck, I wear the fantasy-themed items on the outside sometimes, to the distinct embarrassment of The Spare. If you are in search of this kind of thing, you know darned well you need a fitting room, because lingerie is hard to size! Go to the mall.

I removed Sexy Lingerie but left Flower Lace Bra in the comments below the previous post. Circling back to my previous thought ... how dreary would it be to outsmart captchas for a smattering of ducats! I'd rather fill sand bags.

Thank you for reading.

Hot Chicks

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

More Congratulations to Mark Kram Jr., Winner PEN/ESPN Award!

Well, how do you like that? We were just sitting here with Decibel the parrot and Beta Cat and our new/used Beta fish, and all of a sudden, the Titans and the Valkyries descended together, shouting praises for Mark Kram, Jr. and his book, Like Any Normal Day!

What a loud and fearsome lot! And yet, at the end of two hours, the only thing they had showered upon my chateau was rose petals. And laurel wreaths. They've gone over to Snobville's new artificial turf field now, where they're playing a friendly game of "From the Rubble." (You'd think They would at least give me some cool armor to wear to ComiCon.)

Why did they leave my house smelling all flowery-fresh? Because They just got around to reading Like Any Normal Day, and They loved it! I had to talk Them out of elevating Mark to Titanic status, out of fear that he wouldn't fit through the front door. We are considering the offer of a golden chariot, because that sure would be an improvement over our 1997 Chrysler, so long as we didn't have to stable and feed hungry supernatural horses.

However, the Titans and the Valkyries weren't the only folks doling out laurels today. A little closer to home, Mark's book won the 2013 PEN/ESPN Award for literary sports writing!

PEN stands for Poets, Essayists, and Novelists. For lo, these many years PEN has been recognizing the best literary work in creative genres. It's a big deal to win a PEN award. In certain highly literate circles, it's even better than the Pulitzer Prize. Anyway, a few years ago, PEN (in association with ESPN) began giving awards to sports books that would qualify as fine literature. In 2013, that person is Mark Kram, Jr., and that book is Like Any Normal Day.

There are oodles of sports titles published in any given year, and it's easy for even the good ones to slip through the cracks and be quickly forgotten. This citation will keep Like Any Normal Day from disappearing with a sniff and a whimper, that's for sure.

Mark Kram, Jr. is my husband, and I can tell you, Gods Are Bored fans, this book was a steel-tempering experience for me. (I won't speak for him.) I'm not the same person now that I was before he began writing it. The process of living through the creation of a book, from the first sad interview with a thwarted athlete, to this day of award and acclaim, has been something like being turned on a potter's wheel. The bowl didn't always unfold perfectly under the potter's hands. At times it was a pretty lumpy bad mess. But here it sits, fresh out of the white-hot kiln, blinking at the universe, changed.

Now I'll turn this sermon over to the PEN judges' comments on the book, which you can see yourself at the PEN America Center, or (like you usually have to do), just take my word for it:

"Mark Kram Jr.'s  Like Any Normal Day  is a small tale of great moment, rendered with exquisite understatement and elegant restraint. In telling the story of Buddy Miley, a high school quarterback turned quadriplegic whose life snaps in half with one snap of the ball, Kram compels readers to consider the violence routinely enacted on fields of play, and the actions we'd be willing to take to alleviate its consequences. Each of the characters in Buddy's world -- the mother turned caregiver, the girlfriend who loved him as long and as well as she could, the father handcuffed by emotion, the linebacker whose hit snaps life in half, the younger brother who helps him die -- is treated with humanity and respect.

"... In the hands of a less magnanimous, less gifted author, Like Any Normal Day might have plunged into bathos or unwanted moralizing about assisted suicide. Instead, with his first book, Kram has given us a small, polished jewel that enlarges the world of sports and ennobles the genre of literary sports journalism."

 Yes, I know, I know ... literary sports journalism sounds like something impossible to produce. Trust me, it isn't. I'm proud of Mark. I know what it took for him to write this.

If you're a book collector, I suggest the hard cover first edition. If you just like a good read, it's out in quality paperback. Here's the link to the hard cover:

The Valkyries are back! They won "From the Rubble!" I'm off to take a free ride, yah yah yah!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Not So Fast...

The news today on my Yahoo feed is that studies show that religious people are not as smart as atheists.

Very amusing, actually. There have been 63 comprehensive studies, and 53 of them have reached the conclusion that people with higher IQs tend to be less religious.

If only life really was that simple.

First of all, there's religious as in following some doctrine without questioning it, following it because your parents did and everyone around you does, following it without inspecting it closely, following it because it helps you get through the days of your difficult life.

Then there's religious as in appreciating the underlying philosophy in a particular path or paths, without a comprehensive belief in each and every particular of the path, independent of others who follow the path but sharing affinity with some of those others, and embracing the philosophy as a way to better understand yourself and others.

Then there's religious as in approaching the universe with the humble wonder about the limitations of the human brain, its ability to comprehend the complexities of the universe at this current stage in its evolution. This type of religiosity may lead to experimentation with mind-altering substances. It might also lead the seeker to try to discern symbolic patterns in the collective unconscious that have driven widely varied segments of humanity in oddly similar directions.

Then there's religious as in taking a particular religion and posing and/or answering deep philosophical questions about the nature of humankind based on the tenets of that religion. Your basic Kierkegaard.

Then there's atheism, which is quickly becoming the repository for a number of smug people who are perfectly content to believe they're smarter than religious people. Note that I am not saying all atheists are smug, but we are getting a louder and louder chorus of the ones who are, at the expense of the ones who aren't.

I don't know what criteria these 63 studies used for determining the level of religion in people. Did the researchers just ask, "Do you believe in God?" Which God? Which underlying concept of God? What about the Goddess? Is believing in the Goddess the same as believing in God? How do you define "religious?" What's the difference between religion and superstition? For that matter, is there a simple test that can determine the intelligence of an individual, measuring for all the qualities that go into a member of the species, drawn from anywhere in the world?

"I don't believe in religion. I believe in science." How many times have you heard that? As if the two could never share the same park bench. My father and grandfather were scientists. They both went to church every Sunday. For the love of fruit flies, Charles Darwin was a devout Christian!

It doesn't boil down to whether or not you're religious. It boils down to the level of intensity with which you engage the world.

Want to hear something stupid? Try this one: "I don't believe in God. What's God ever done for me?" Oh, but there's no such thing as a stupid atheist!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Just Say No to Crafting

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored" and another episode of JUST SAY NO!

A few years ago I vowed to say no to volunteering. For the most part I've kept my word. Life has been better.

Now I'm saying no to another pesky thing that never turns out the way you want it to. SAY NO TO CRAFTING!

I can't craft my way out of a Ziploc bag, even when it's already half open.

One of my good friends, who is by the way a peerless crafter, posted a craft idea on Facebook. Here it is:

Aren't those gorgeous? The directions were really, really simple. Elmer's glue, food coloring, and water. Apply with sponge brush.

It happened that I had some old bottles that I scavenged from the old midden heap at the family farm. In the days of yore (oh, heck ... until about 1992) there was no garbage collection in the mountains, so you just threw all the stuff out in the woods. What the critters didn't eat just sat there. Mother Earth swallows it up, trust me. I had to dig around to get some jars that were in one piece.

So! Old jars in the basement, great easy craft instructions... what can go wrong?

The instructions and ingredients can be in the hands of an uncrafty person, that's what.

The photo doesn't do them justice. They look worse.

No amount of stained hands, tweaking, or advice from The Heir (art major) made any difference to these pathetic attempts at art.

You know what I'm going to do with the next wonderful craft idea I see? I'm going to say NO.

Free advice from Anne: If it took you a long time to learn how to tie your shoes, you are never going to be a competent crafter. Say no. There are socks to sort.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Bill of Wrongs

Yesterday I cleared some English ivy from a big pine tree in front of my house. I used large pruning clippers and some smaller thingy. I cannot find a picture of that thingy on Google Images or the Home Depot web site. So I must resort to words: The thingy is hand-held, about 8 inches long. It has a sharp hoe/trowel side and a sharp three-prong rake side. Like two tools in one.

As I was using this tool to rake back the damned invasive pain in the ass ornamental ivy, I got to thinking about my sister. It seems she has joined the well-regulated militia.

Sis told me that she bought a handgun and is learning how to use it because an intruder might come into her house to rape her. She says this has happened to friends of hers. Her ten-year-old has a shotgun, which he is not yet allowed to use. Sis keeps her gun separate from her ammo and says the kid doesn't know where the ammo is.

This is the self-same sister who has four dogs and three parrots.

Anyway, it's very heartening to me to know that, when the British invade and try to move into our houses and steal our crops, Sis will have at them in defense of this nation. As for the well-regulated part, well ... she's not in any branch of military service, nor has she been. But she is taking target practice.

This brings me back to my little garden thingy.

As I held the tool in my hand, it occurred to me that this simple thingy, strategically placed by a bed, would be far more effective as a rapist deterrent than an unloaded pistol with ammo in some other location. I base this thought on the presumption that someone bent on rape will steal quietly into my home and be upon me before I have time to react. (Also presumes that Decibel the parrot and Mr. J are out on the town somewhere.) Maybe I've been reading too much Game of Thrones, but I'm starting to look at my garden equipment in a whole new light.

School teachers need to assess their classrooms for weapons as well. So far we have not been asked to join the well-regulated militia and carry firearms in our classrooms. That being the case, my students have always asked me, "Miss, what would you do if a gunman shot his way into the room?" Giving it some thought, I would have a moment while the person was blasting in to grab a chair and at least attempt to give the sucker a solid whack with it. And if I was spot on, well, those chairs are heavy. The assailant might actually be staggered. I would sure try.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that people are not paying close heed to the Second Amendment. The Constitution specifically states that Americans have a right to bear arms because we need a well-regulated militia.

We're falling down on the well-regulated militia part.

My sister is 49 years old. She wears glasses. She has no military training. I'm not saying she shouldn't own a gun. I'm just saying she ought to pass the entrance exam for the U.S. Army and then do basic training so that she really is ready to defend our republic in its hour of need. I think that everyone who purchases a firearm should be required to do the same testing and training.

 It would be lovely to have a well-trained citizen army in this country. What we have right now are requirements of gun ownership that are about as strict as what you go through to adopt a ferret.

Alas, the cat's out of the bag. There are so many firearms at loose in America that we will never, ever be able to account for half of them. Which either makes us a country that cannot possibly be invaded, or our own worst enemy. You choose.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Hardest Thing about Religion

Hello out there! Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Lest we stray from our objective, please remember that this space is dedicated to all the deities who have been lost to recorded history, as well as to their praise and worship teams.

What is a praise and worship team?

Well, I got the term from my sister when she was attending a Pentecostal church. The people who run the show -- the musicians, singers, church ladies who make casseroles, accountants, tithe collectors, ushers, etc. -- are the team. They are the movers and shakers that work their butts off so that you can go right into the church and have a fabulous faith experience. Make no mistake, these people work hard. They are often frustrated, especially by those of us who just sit there, enjoying the view.

If a praise and worship team likes a particular pastor, and that pastor is re-located, the team will often go along to the new church, if at all feasible. Sometimes teams start churches of their own. Sometimes team players will get angry at the voluntary work load and say, "No more. This is unappreciated. Let someone else do it." This is what happened to me way back when I was a Methodist. I got scolded for being late to the diaper baby room where I volunteered. There was a sleet storm raging, but no matter ... a well-coiffed grandmother in stilettos was angry because she was missing the opening hymn.

 Have you gone to a church where you just didn't feel at home, even if you approved the doctrine? Have you tried to fit a shoe onto your foot, religion-wise, because that shoe is the only game in town? Have you said or done something that turned everyone against you? Have you felt uncompensated for all your hard and thankless work?

I'm preaching to my intelligent choir here when I say that these sorts of problems are not religious problems, they are human problems. There's not a religion or a Path on the planet that is invulnerable to the vagaries of the human condition. I'll take it a step further. If dolphins have religions, I'll bet they behave the same way.

Personalities go into the mix of every single Path. Have you ever read an active thread being generated by a Witch War? These can be really dreadful. They can make you cringe. Why is that? Because you are a Pagan, and you intrinsically feel that Pagans should be above such behavior. But Pagans are human too.

I've read many thoughtful essays about how Pagans should find like-minded individuals with whom to worship the gods and goddesses. Oh, if that were only easy! People are people. Someone is going to be frustrated about having to make all the masks for Body Tribal. Someone is quietly judging you for showing up in cut-off shorts. Disrespectful to the deities, right? BAMP. A point of contention for the humans. Bored gods are notorious for loving you in your cut-off shorts, just because you care about Them. Don't try to explain this to someone who has spent eight years and a thousand dollars on Ritual attire.

We really don't even need to go to the extremes. Sometimes it's as simple as not rocking the vibe in a certain group where everyone else is perfectly content. This has happened to me with a Pagan community that is in my immediate vicinity, with members who have tried hard to get me to come and to feel at home when I get there. I can't fault these folks. They were all very nice to me. I pledged membership and regretted it immediately. Just did not work for me.

I do feel like group worship is a good thing, though. So it was with special pleasure that (thanks, Facebook!) my first Grove re-united for a Lughnasadh Ritual. This is the weird thing. I just like this Grove. I like where we meet. I like the Ritual. I love the people. We have no dues, no ties to any national or international organization, and no leadership. So yeah, being small in numbers and meeting in a fairly remote location, it is hard for us to get together. But when we do, it's a high and holy moment for the bored gods.

The moral of this sermon is simple: If you cannot find a group, a Coven, a Blot, a Grove, where you feel sympatico, I think it's perfectly fine for you to rock on solitary. I would even offer this advice to Christians. Go praise Jesus alone in the forest! He'll hear you.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Take Your Vitamins

When I was a tot back in high school, my biology teacher told the class that, if we ate a balanced diet according to the food pyramid, we would never need to take vitamins. Teacher said that the amount of vitamins and minerals we need are pretty much covered in an average and varied diet.

Since I've never liked swallowing those mammoth daily vitamin pills, I've opted for bio teacher's advice. Basically, except for one notable season at band camp, I've steered clear of the All-Gummy-Bear Diet.

My sister just finished a visit here at Chateau Johnson. She comes to every meal with a little baggy full of pills. I mean full of pills -- more than a dozen, three times a day. She claims that the aluminum pots our mom used destroyed her body's ability to absorb vitamins from food. Sis has thyroid problems as well.

She takes two zinc tablets each day to keep from getting the flu.

As she spread the tablets out across her place mat, I asked her what they were for, and there was actually one -- pretty big one, too -- that she couldn't identify. She took it anyway.

Sis says she is going to start taking Alzheimer's medication when she turns 60, even if she shows no signs of the illness. Just in case.

Geez, I don't know about all this. I ate from those same aluminum pans, and I feel pretty doggone good. I get tired after a long day's work, but isn't that how I'm supposed to feel? As for getting Alzheimer's, I think I'll wait for the symptoms. What if taking Alzheimer's medicine when you don't need it makes you remember too many things that you'd rather forget?

I'm no doctor, and I don't know what Sis's doctor has told her regarding the fistfuls of vitamins and minerals she takes in pill form. It does seem alarming to me, though. Isn't zinc something we should only imbibe in tiny amounts? And, why take it in the middle of the summer? Heir caught a bad cold a month ago, but it wasn't the flu.

In case you're wondering, I did mention my biology teacher to Sis, suggesting gently that she ought to look closely at her ingestion of pills. Seems to me she needs one pill that she isn't getting -- the medication that would eradicate fear.

Do you take vitamins? Is there a good rationale for it? I haven't ever met an American with scurvy ... even the ones who eat Big Macs every day.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Blah blah blah

My sister is coming for a visit today.

We should all love our siblings. After all, they are blood. I guess I do love my sister, but she reminds me of bad times. She also reminds me of the responsibilities I had as a kid to take care of her, in fact often to be her mother.

Sis goes through acquisition phases, but she is always acquiring something. Right now she has five dogs and three birds. I don't know how many cats she has. I guess I'll find out. The only stated objective she has for this visit is to go shopping. At least she likes thrift stores.

Snobville's annual sidewalk sale starts today. This is always an amusing adventure ... except, for a refreshing change, it's pouring (sarcasm -- it's been raining all summer). I always get a kick out of what constitutes a "sale" in Snobville. Fifty percent off of ridiculously expensive is still ridiculously expensive. The teddy bears and Christmas decorations are set out at semi-affordable prices, but trust me. I'm not thinking Christmas right now, and I'm between teddy bear phases.

We've had several fish come and go here at Chateau Johnson lately. Spare wanted a ghost shrimp as a pet, so we got her one, and three others (one donated). Of that cohort, only one remains, the others having gone to King Neptune's Fish Heaven. Ghost shrimp perished, alas. With me, it is always thus with fish. Then a friend of Heir's gave her a Beta. Now this is an interesting fish. It begs for food and makes rings of bubbles, and it lives in a large flower vase.

My business luncheon went well. The professor was very intelligent, and he asked probing questions, but in an affable way. He thought my proposal worthy of the university's Project-Based Initiative program, which is free right now but will soon cost money.

Sunday there's a little reunion of my former Black Oak Grove members. I have missed them dreadfully. It will be great to see them again! I don't think we'll have numbers for a proper ritual, but some hiking and meditation will be nice.

That's all the news that's fit to print from this Pagan in New Jersey. If you have any advice on how to raise a Black Molly, please send it. If you need water, I'll put a bucket out for you. Feels like it's been pouring nonstop since April.