Monday, June 30, 2014

Ten Fun Hobbies You Can Pursue without Going to Hobby Lobby

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," chock a block with free advice in times of need! Look to the bored gods first and forever. They love a challenge!

Today's free advice is aimed at getting you out of that evil super-Christian corporation called Hobby Lobby. I know you shop there for all your hobby supplies. But maybe you don't want to now. If you've been hiding under a rock (a nice hobby for which you need nothing from Hobby Lobby), you might have missed the Supreme Court decision allowing Hobby Lobby to choose what medications it will allow its female employees to have through their health plans. Never mind what those conservative Christian activists impartial SCOTUS judges say about this decision being very narrow.  The Grand Canyon was narrow once, too.

You may be a regular customer of Hobby Lobby. Don't be. Don't darken the doorstep of that place again. Ever.

"But Anne," you say. "Where else can I get latch-hook kits?"

Ditch those dumb hobbies! Here are ten great pastimes that will keep you the hell out of that Christian emporium!

1. Whittle. You need a piece of wood and a knife. It's not even considered real whittling if you get your supplies from a store. Go out in the woods and find a big ol' log. Grab a knife from the kitchen. Remember, the goal of whittling is not necessarily to make something beautiful or useful. It's just meant to modify a big ol' log into something smaller. This was a very popular hobby long before Hobby Lobby came into being. It ought to be revived.

2. Beachcomb. Maybe this is easy for me because I live near a beach. But wowsa, you sure don't need Hobby Lobby! One day I could have brought home a whole dead baby shark. (It smelled kind of bad, so I didn't.) If your beach is pretty much sand and surf, use your imagination! Grab that shiny razor blade sticking out of the sand, or that quaint syringe floating in the rip current. Or wrench that plastic spoon out of the sea gull's beak! Beachcombing is fun. You don't have to collect sea glass. In fact, I would advise against it. There's too much competition.

3. Read a book. I'll bet you can't find a single book worth reading at the Hobby Lobby, but the library has lots of them.

4. Cosplay. The whole idea behind cosplay is to make your own stuff without the use of kits, instructional manuals, or cheap stuff from Hobby Lobby. Must admit I don't know my way around the tools and machines used to make pith helmets with weird goggles on them, or Princess Leia armor, but maybe you do. Or maybe you suddenly want to, just to rid yourself of the Hobby Lobby jones. First stop: YouTube. With this hobby, the devil's in the details.

5. Drum. Yeah, baby! There's not enough drumming in this world! I can't imagine that Hobby Lobby sells djembe drums, but you can get one from the Internet or from anywhere that sells rock music instruments. I'm living proof that you don't need too many lessons to be able to drum. Just count to four and hit the top with your hand. Keep at it and you'll never miss those model trains.

6. Memorize poetry. This is the best free advice I've ever given.

7. Fix up your house. Yes, I know that cross stitch is more fun than caulking cracks in the plaster and ripping up the old basement tiles. But what good is that cross stitch going to do you in the long run? Trust me, no matter how good it is, your grandchildren will toss it. They'll be far more interested in getting a great price on the old chateau. So fix it up. Be family-minded! As for the stuff you'll need to do the repairs, well, I have lots of that stuff sitting around just gathering dust. Message me.

8. Pole dance. Now here's something I double-dog guarantee you that you won't find the supplies for in a Hobby Lobby.

9. Press plants. I've never been in a Hobby Lobby, but I'll bet they've got those fancy leaf-pressers in there -- you know, the ones with the tightening screws, all those bells and whistles. News flash. Get some leaves. Get an old dictionary. Put the leaves in the dictionary according to words you like. Write down the words on a piece of paper. Stack a bunch of other books onto the dictionary. You don't need Hobby Lobby to press plants! Just use your dictionary. When was the last time you looked up a word in a dictionary, instead of going online? Case closed.

10. Act weird. This is a fun and rewarding hobby. I've been doing it for years, and I just love it! I've never needed a Hobby Lobby to pursue this pastime ... but I may start practicing it in front of a Hobby Lobby. What can they do, arrest me for acting weird? I have a Constitutional right to free speech! Please excuse me now, I have to go practice making fart noises by shoving my hand in my armpit and flapping like a chicken. I call it my "Hobby Lobby Routine."

Bonus free advice for the highly motivated Hobby Lobby hater: You need to actually go into the Hobby Lobby to do this one. Find the most expensive item. Ask a salesperson to explain in detail how it works. Examine it slowly and carefully. Be sure to take it out of the box and ask to see how it is assembled and cared for. Then, when it's lying in bits and pieces halfway up and down the aisle, just shrug your shoulders, thank the kind salesperson, and say, "I'm going to get this on Amazon." Don't forget to smile and wave as you leave the store.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Keeper of a Shrine

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," beginning of summer vacation edition! Is that my pulse I feel, tapping gently in my wrist? Oh! I'm alive! Not yet defeated by my work!

A few weeks ago I took stock of my backyard shrine (The Shrine of the Mists, dedicated to all deities who have been forgotten by humankind). It needed some attention. The pebble base was dirty and hard-packed, a consequence of being buried under snow for five weeks. So I pulled out all the treasures: the crystals, sea glass, marbles, jacks, bits of pottery, minerals, geo-cache trinkets, Marcellus shale from home. All of this I put into a bag.

Yesterday, Mr. J and I went to the Jersey Shore. I got about six pounds of pebbles from the sea glass beach. It was my idea to add the shore pebbles to the base before cleaning the treasures and returning them to the shrine.

This morning when I opened the bag of shore pebbles, I noticed something right away. The color skewed to dark gray. There were tons of dark gray pebbles.

Life is a mixture of light and darkness. We don't want either to prevail. So I sifted the pebbles and removed a number of the slate-gray ones ... but not all of them. Just enough to make the mixture more polyglot. Then I washed the treasures and placed them overtop the pebbles.

Here's the final result. Must admit I don't have a good camera.

This shrine contains rocks from Appalachia, crystals from Arkansas, sea glass from the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, a broken ceramic horse head from my uncle Earl's midden pile, a trident-shaped miniature fork from a beach in Absecon, and marbles from the thrift store. There's a dragon made by The Heir long ago -- that's it on the left upper corner. And a little faerie ball ornament that I bought at a local landscape place. But this is not an inert monument. Mosquitoes lurk in its recesses, and pears fall on it from the tree above.

I've been toying with the idea of solar-powered lights, but just now I light a candle at dusk and place it in the center of the shrine. Depending upon the mosquitoes (who have as much right to the place as me), I say prayers for whoever needs them, petitioning the ancient bored deities and praising Them.

This little shrine is easy to maintain, and if I move I can take it along. It's built on a brick base, and the rocks are not secured. I don't plan to make it any larger. The only expense is the candles, and I get those at the thrift store mostly.

Okay, digressed from the sermon a bit. When I had restored the Shrine of the Mists to its better-than-ever glory, I found myself staring at a smallish pile of very negative-looking slate-gray pebbles. What to do with all that negative energy? I mulled and mulled. Then I flung the pebbles randomly into the overgrown ivy at the edge of the yard. In this way I dissipated the extra darkness in a non-threatening way.

Keeping a shrine is a marvelous thing. There's a place of peace in my yard. It glows at night. The deities it serves are happy with its Neolithic simplicity. May there be peace in all the Quarters. May there be peace at my shrine.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

As the Sun Slips Away

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," unable to keep a straight face since 2005! I'm Anne Johnson, and if I had to teach three more days of school, I think I would die. Luckily I'm down to two.

Summer Solstice is always a bittersweet time for me, because it marks the day when the hours of daylight reach their peak. From here the daylight diminishes until December. By that time, the life-giving star sets at 4:45. Right now we have gentle twilight until 8:45. So that's a four-hour difference (well, three if you figure in Eastern Standard Time).

I'm fond of saying that we don't appreciate summer without the chills of winter. The same must hold true of the hours in a day. On those foggy winter afternoons when the darkness descends extra-early, it's good to know that a time will come when an 8:00 dinner is held in the daylight. Likewise, on this long, long day I have the intention to review all the things I love about winter ... most especially the candlelight, the fireplace, the crazy Christmas houses, the possibility of a snow day.

Oh, snow days, snow days! How long this month of June has seemed, because the Vo Tech had to make up five snow days! It's been a perfect eternity since Memorial Day. And yet the time has passed. The Wheel has turned. And on that Wheel are the seasons of snow days and beach days, of festival days and work days, of light and darkness and in-between, when the sea glass collecting is good.

So here's to summertime! Calloo, callay! So what if the days start getting shorter? What goes around comes around. This is the work of the bored gods, and we should be glad in it.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Well well! Here we are at Solstice, and I still have another week of school to teach! It was a very, very snowy winter ... and now we at the Vo Tech are paying the price for all those cold, white days.

I'm already switching into summertime mode, though. I've got the micro meadow planted with good New Jersey native flora. The Shrine of the Mists is undergoing a cleanup and restoration, and my summer get-away is only ten days hence!

Out in south central Pennsylvania there's an interfaith campground called Four Quarters Farm. It's in the same Zip code as the former Johnson family farm, as well as the resting places of my ancestors for 13 generations, going back to the French & Indian War.

Used to be, when I wanted to clear my head, I would go to the family property and spend long days swimming, hiking, and reading. But all the Johnsons have cleared off the mountain now. There are a few here and there, in other parts of the township ... and maybe they would remember my name and face, but most likely not. This makes ambling about a bit of a dicey proposition. The last time I took a hike there alone I came upon a man in camouflage, carrying a hunting rifle, and nothing was in season. (Thankfully that included female hikers.)

Since I need to put the ancestral land beneath my feet, and since Four Quarters Farm is such a grand Pagan campground, I switched my recharge place. Today I am anticipating my five-day sojourn there, to an event called Drum and Splash, July 2 through 6.

Drumming and splashing are the two things you do at this event. There are several first-rate swimming holes on the campground property. One of them is clothing optional. This is delightful. So that's how I'll spend the day... swimming and reading. In the evenings the drum circles begin at dusk and go pretty much all night. I'm a firm believer that drumming is meditation for people who don't want to sit still. At Drum and Splash, I find like-minded souls, including even a few teachers who workshop the whole meditative drumming thing.

The folks at Four Quarters Farm had to go to county court and prove that they were a religious organization before they were accorded the tax exemptions that all other churches take for granted. That feat has been accomplished. As for the opinion of the regular residents of that Zip code regarding a Pagan campground in their midst, all I can say is that only the very few most ardent fundamentalist Christians have any beef with the place. Growing up in that area, I can tell you that the free spirits outnumbered the Christians, and the badasses outnumbered both. There's a refreshing "live and let live" attitude out there, bolstered in no small part by the shopping the campers do in the area during the summertime. Money talks, and Four Quarters Farm is good for the local economy, without doing any damage to the land.

If I lived closer to Four Quarters Farm, I would be a full member of the church and attend their Lunar celebrations. For now, though, I go drumming and splashing on the deluxe package, with a bunk in the bunkhouse and two meals a day, fires made by experts, and hikes led by guides.

So that is what I'm thinking about on this precious long day of Summer Solstice. Soon I'll be going to pay my respects to my ancestors. Soon I'll be taking the waters. Soon I will walk the land. Safely.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Where Do They Go?

There's a really funny movie called Tin Men that starts in a car dealership. A customer is staring at a gleaming Cadillac, and the salesman says, "She sure is a beauty, isn't she?" The customer looks up and all around and says, "Who's a beauty?" The dealer replies, "Why, the car, of course." To which the customer replies, "Oh. I thought there was a chick in here somewhere." The customer goes on to muse about why people call cars "she."

Not all of my cars have been female. The first car I owned, inherited from my wonderful grandfather, was a male named Brownie. Brownie came to live with me in 1987 and was towed away with a bouquet of flowers on his front seat in 1998. Then we got Silver Flash, a Chrysler 300M. That one was entirely male ... macho, even. That was Mr. J's car.

In tandem with Flash, I owned an economy car, female, named Trusty. She was a 1994 Ford Escort. My daughter The Heir totaled her in 2008, but it was all body damage, so I drove her for another six months until the open windows let in too much cold air. Then I gave her to my school's auto tech shop.

Trusty was the best car I ever had. I loved her. All these years that I've been at the Vo Tech, I've always hugged her in the parking lot.

By and by, Silver Flash needed more and more maintenance, and the mechanic soaked us for plenty, and then the timing belt went and the car imploded. It sailed to a stop, never to move of its own volition again.

For a long time, Mr. J had Flash, and I had a little Dodge Neon (male) named Dusty. I won't say one bad word about the Dodge Neon. When I got him in 2008, he was three years old with 40,000 miles on him. I took him to 100,000 and then some, and he was still running (with some clunking and screechy noises) when we traded him in last week on a brand new Subaru. I kissed him goodbye at the Subaru dealership.

Today, as I was on hallway monitor duty, the auto tech students were using blow torches to chop up a car. The car was my own dear Trusty. The auto teacher warned me and even gave me a little metal ID card from somewhere in her interior.

The students were taking chunks of Trusty and putting her into a big dumpster for metal recycling. I stood there and cried.

Cars are mechanical objects, but don't they also have some kind of soul? I don't know. We do love our cars. At least I loved mine, Trusty especially. And isn't the metal recycling facility sort of like a reincarnation destination for cars? Won't the metal get melted and used in something else?

You tell me.

My dear, beloved Trusty. Comfortable, reliable car. Useful teaching tool. Now a pile of metal. May she have found the Summer Daytona in the Great Beyond. My heart is wrenched.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


When I was a kid, I loved playing with milkweed. At the end of the summer, when everything was getting boring, the milkweed pods would dry out and break open, and you could blow the little puffy white seed parachutes around and watch them take to the sky.

This is a picture of common milkweed, requested by one of my three readers:
Trust me, even the most clueless gardener can get these to grow. All you have to do is drop the seeds into some dirt. After a year or two, you'll have a good stand of it.

When my milkweed blooms, I'll post a picture of the blossoms. They smell really good.

I didn't know until lately that monarch butterflies love milkweed. Considering the pressures facing monarchs, I do suggest you plant some milkweed in your yard, if you don't already have it. To grow well it needs full sun, but mine is in part shade. It gets over-tall and falls over, but not until it has produced seed pods.

If you want some certified common milkweed seeds from Johnson Nurseries of Snobville, just let me know now and remind me in the fall. I will mail you some seeds. You can scatter them in the fall or the spring. I've done both.

And remember, a weed is any plant that is growing where you don't want it to grow. So in this case, milkWEED is a misnomer. I want it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Not Just Another Garden Blog Post

I sometimes think that gardening is a competitive sport. Maybe it's just me. I'm a competitive type person, easily made jealous (like the busy god). Long story short, today a sweet spirit breezed into my garden and made me look at it a whole new way.

The spirit is one of The Spare's professors from college. For years I have been trying to find someone who would help me make a little mini-meadow in my yard with native American perennials. This professor was the first ever to offer her help, and she arrived today with a tray of seedlings and a great, big, beautiful smile.

She brought me asters, and goldenrod, and black-eyed susans, and sawgrass from the shore. She also brought this little charmer. Oh my goodness! I've seen big stands of prickly pear in the cemetery at Lawnside, but I'd never have guessed that they were native to New Jersey. And yes, master gardener, I do know what I just planted -- a spiny cactus that will get stingers on it and spread. Never mind. It belongs here. A cactus in New Jersey!

This story gets better, because it's not all about the plants she gave to me.

Turns out this fabulous woman has been looking all over the place for North America's only native lily plant. You won't believe this, reader, but I swear by all the bored gods that I have that lily growing in my yard. I took some seeds from my parents' garden back in Appalachia, a long time ago, and those lilies have been coming up every year in my yard, literally since 1988. So I was able to promise lily seeds. The professor also does not have the same kind of milkweed I have in my yard. I've got (better than ever this year) a big stand of common milkweed. So she'll get some of that, too.

We dug up a tulip poplar for her, and an autumn-leaf fern, and I even offered the most precious plant in my yard, the bloodroot.

Spare just got home from the beach. When I told her I dug up a bloodroot for her professor, Spare said, "Gosh. You must have liked her.  No one ever dares mess with your bloodroot!

Basically, the kindly professor left with as many plants, and promises of plants, as she arrived with. To me, this is an awesome thing. The tangled mess outside my back door is full of gems!

Now this sermon takes a deeper step yet.

I'm a fan of the blogger Hecate Demeter, who writes frequently about loving the land you're in. It's very difficult for me to bond with New Jersey, and it always has been. But today, as I reviewed the plant life in my  back yard and noted where it came from, I realized something. My garden is chock-a-block with plants from Appalachia. It's a green oasis from home! I brought the milkweed seeds from there, and the lily seeds. The bloodroot grows there, although my particular specimens didn't come from those parts.

I planted Polish Mountain in my yard, and it's growing. I made a shrine of rocks from Polish Mountain, and it's beautiful.

It only took one kindly professor asking me where my milkweed came from to figure it out. I moved a mountain. My plants and I, we have sturdy Appalachian roots. We'll see this through together.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Slender Man Is Real

Last week, two 12-year-old girls stabbed another girl repeatedly. When asked why they did it, the girls said they were trying to appease Slender Man.

This past Sunday, the august New York Times featured an opinion piece on Slender Man, written by an associate professor of folk studies and anthropology. (That sounds just like the New York Times, doesn't it?)

The name of the story is "The Ghosts in the Machine," and the professor states beyond doubt that Slender Man is an urban legend, created by an individual on the Internet and popularized by horror fan fiction and the ability to photoshop images with alacrity.

With all due apologies to author Timothy H. Evans and the New York Times, I submit that Slender Man is indeed a real phenomenon. I have seen him myself, long before personal computers existed.

I was sixteen and in bed. I was not dreaming. The state was between totally awake and asleep. A tall, faceless man in a black suit came to my bed, placed his arms on either side of me, and stood there, looming over me. I could not make out his features.

I wasn't even afraid. I just asked him who he was.

A moment later, the light went on in the bedroom. It was my mother. She said I had been screaming at the top of my lungs.

I was not afraid. Ever. Just curious.

Although I was an avid reader, I had never read anything about Men in Black, and certainly nothing about Slender Man (who ... ahem ... just started existing when the Internet came around, right?). But this experience with Slender Man was a watershed moment in my life. It still remains vivid in my mind, decades later.

Before the tall man in black called in my bedroom, I had minor psychic abilities. I had out-of-body experiences as a young kid and frequently saw flashing lights in my bedroom. After Slender Man, I never had another psychic experience. That was it. He shut it down.

For the record, this was 1975.

After having had this experience, I set out to research the apparition to see if I could find out something about him. This is how I learned about the phenomenon of the Men in Black, who erase the memories of people who see aliens.

And then, of course, we come to images of the Grim Reaper. How is the Reaper portrayed? Traditionally the Grim Reaper is male and dressed all in black, with face either hooded or skeletal.

So, my three readers know me to be honest and forthright, and when I'm serious, I'm serious.

I am serious about this. I saw Slender Man in 1975.

Here's what I think about Slender Man. Choose your explanation below. Note that "urban legend" is not one of the choices.

1. Slender Man is an archetype of the collective unconscious, a harbinger of death or adulthood that appears in many cultures in similar forms.

2, Slender Man dwells on the astral plane and visits people who frequent that plane. This does not mean that he actually inspired those young girls to stab their friend. That action did stem from the Internet. But there's a slender male spirit out there, and he does make visitations to people who have never heard of him. Given his attire, he might be a faerie.

3. Slender Man exists in neural pathways in the brain that are misunderstood or yet to be discovered. He's a bit of rogue biology that also accounts for OBE and psychic experiences. Some day we will understand how this works.

I take Option 2 on this, perhaps Option 3. Of one thing I am absolutely certain, however. Slender Man is not an urban legend. Nor will he be content to be portrayed as such. He holds no blame for stabbings, but he was not created by some clever Internet geek. He's been around, around, around. I can vouch for 1975.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

What Did I Do with the Money?

In case you were wondering, here are the Route 70 kittens, named for the highway where they were found. They have survived a fit of something that nearly carried them away, due to my diligence (should have said no).
But this sermon is not about kittens. It's about saving money.

Mr. J and I have always had trouble keeping up with the expenses of owning a home in Sunny Snobville. One place where we've never had money to spare is the outdoors. Around here people pay big bucks (or sweat away long hours) composing perfect front lawns and putting-green back yards.

When I was young I put a lot of hard work into making my house look like the other ones in Snobville. I bought begonias and New Guinea impatiens and marigolds and tomato plants. Nothing ever took. The only year I had a good tomato crop was the year my neighbor had a pony party, and I offered to clean up his yard. I don't like Miracle Gro, and I don't often get near enough to a pony to get good fertilizer.

By and by I got busy, had kids, had more work to do. More recently I've gotten even busier. My back yard has grown up in stuff I only half know. I've got jewel weed and milkweed, but I also have a ground cover that I call "creeping crud" that I think must be native to New Jersey. I also have wild strawberries, which I'm fairly sure are native as well.

Today I took stock of the Johnson landmass in preparation for creating a wildlife-friendly back yard full of native species. Seems like I'm already well on the way. It's not like the place is barren. It's quite brimming with the green stuff.

Tomorrow a kind lady is coming over with seedlings from a variety of native species. I have unearthed all the dirt I could get from my compost pile, and I'm really hoping I will be creating a self-sustaining environment.

The seedlings are free.

I've never spent any money on Chateau Johnson's lawn (except for mowing expenses). I've only minimally invested in annuals and tomato plants. Compared to the rest of Snobville, I've hardly cracked the safe for the green environs.

Wonder what I did with all that saved cash? Maybe I spent it on cats.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Unfit To Govern

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," your first stop for all breaking news and hard facts!

Okay, ahem, maybe not.

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," we get it right sometimes!


One more try:

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" We don't know whether or not we get it right! This is a blog.

That's better.

When the august New York Times ran an obituary about Maya Angelou under the fold, I decided I didn't need the damn daily paper anymore. So now, pressed as I am for time, I get my news from the Internet. Today on my Yahoo news feed, there was a story about how much weight Chris Christie has lost (in the neighborhood of 85 pounds) since he had lap band surgery in 2013. Of course the article was about whether or not the slenderized Christie would appeal to voters as a presidential candidate.

As is often the case with Yahoo articles, the comments section becomes a kind of opinion poll. (Will Gallup be the next company put out of business by the Internet?)

To hell with the stupid article, I wanted to see what The Vox Populi had to say.

Readers, I believe Governor Christie is screwed even if he wakes up one morning looking like this guy.

Out of the 50-plus comments I read on the Christie story, the vast majority said that his weight is not important, he is unfit to govern.

But what I liked even better was the commentary from the red side of the aisle.

It seems the loathsome Mr. Christie is detested by the right-wing fringe. They have neither forgotten nor forgiven his hearty handshake with President Obama during Hurricane Sandy. They think he's too much of a lefty. And that, I hope, spells the end of the despicable bully Chris Christie.

Short sermon tonight. I just wanted to record my glee in seeing CC skewered not only by Democrats and New Jersey residents, but also by people who vote Republican.

This sermon is also abbreviated because the author has become distracted by the photograph and is off to watch Guatemalan music videos.