Monthly Archives: December 2013

Aren’t we all just basically like me?

While a student delegate to a leadership conference, I heard a talk by one of the senior staff, also senior pastor at a large church, who in the course of his talk, said something like, “We have to admit that we all want to be in control. Let’s face it–that’s why we’re here, why we are in the positions we are.” It didn’t sit right with me, and I thought, even if it’s true for some in the room (all top level national student ministry leaders, almost all men in their forties through sixties), it seemed disrespectful, invasive somehow to make such assumptions about everyone based on the speaker’s own personality or inclination. Was I supposed to recognize that at the base of my interest in being a leader was necessarily a controlling personality? So I, we, could confess it, choose to “let go and let God” and so on. But that shoe just didn’t fit. I don’t really want to be a leader. I don’t like being in charge, and the more influence I may have over people, the more trepidation and sense of burdensome responsibility I feel. Sure I want to influence, but because of principle, and in the way I would want to be influenced–through education, reason, relationship, example, for my own good and willing usefulness to others. Not through any kind of control, however subtle.

Now I have a mental antenna for such statements, in speeches, books, sermons, advertisements, and conversation. When I read on a book overleaf that “Every educated person must read this” or “no one can fail to conclude…” or some such, I shake my head. It’s just another form of “Do this, and you’ll fit in with the group.” Again, it overlooks individuality, appeals to the herd instinct, that desire to be moving along with the crowd. I suppose some people want to be influenced that way–in a sense they don’t feel comfortable believing or doing things that aren’t already accepted by a critical mass of others, or seem to be.

We have all succumbed to the temptation to make choices based on majority choices. Which MP3 player to buy? You ask the guy working on the floor. He shows you the “best seller.” As if that’s necessarily the best choice. No intelligent person would think so. See, now I’m doing it to you–did you notice? “We have all…”, “No intelligent person would think…” making assumptions about you and inviting you to believe them in order to move you on to accept my next idea. Watch out.

On the other hand, maybe there’s a lesson here. It’s true, apparently, that influencing people, whole bunches of people, is about convincing a few, a laborious and seemingly fruitless process at times, but who then make the masses believe it’s the new normal, by a kind of cultural diffusion. It’s the scientifically tested ten percent rule. Essentially, once ideas are accepted by a critical mass of ten percent of folks, the majority will accept the same ideas. Read more here:

Gives me hope that maybe soon we’ll reach the tipping point for ideas about peak oil, global climate change, the need to power down and transition to a low energy lifestyle and resilient local economies. A little late, because of the tipping point of the changes themselves, but still, maybe we can survive them better, lighten the blow on the most vulnerable, share the burdens, and eventually thrive in some new way.

That ten percent will be a hard-won accomplishment, a labor of generations, even. A constant telling and retelling. Talked to my dad on the phone the other night about that, how he had to tell us over and over to turn off the lights when we left rooms, close the door and keep the heat in, put on a sweater instead of asking to turn up the heat. We just want our kids to get it, understand the whys, and be motivated to do what’s right on their own, but instead there’s a need to remind over and over and at least help them form the necessary habits. I thanked him for not giving up, for telling and retelling us. He knew way back that our over consumption would come back to bite us, and in his writings, lifestyle and conversations chipped away at the erroneous majority opinion.

So press on, prophets, preachers, workers, writers, artists, parents, leaders, all. As the apostle Paul said, ‘let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)


Posted by on December 27, 2013 in Culture & Society, Parenting & Family


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‘Twas three days before Christmas, and I fell apart

‘Twas three days before Christmas, and I fell apart

Weeping in my husband’s embrace on December 22nd. Reminds me of last year, but without the embrace–under the pressure of getting ready for Christmas gift giving. Pressure I’m putting on myself–it’s too much, and I need release. Again I have disappointed myself and not got packages mailed in time to my family back east. Not shown them I love them enough to plan better, not shown myself to be a put-together daughter and sister. And too much time taken on all that anyway perhaps with so many family members to think of here. I discover that my gift piles are lopsided and I have more for my older kids than for the younger. The daughter who actually begins getting disappointed before she even sees her presents, to get a head start, and the son who wails at any perceived injustice or sense of personal injury, are undergifted. Will I have time to finish the special school-colors blanket for her? Can I find a decent Lego set for him in the time remaining? Should I add up the totals and give extra money to make things even? Or just give the warning my mom used to give that it might not be everyone’s year this year, so be prepared.

I’m also sad that we have not read any Christmas books or scriptures, sung any songs, made any crafts together. The tree is up, lights hung, nativity scenes in place, but I’ve left it to the others to ask for anything special beyond that, and no one has cared. No advent calendar doors with candy, even. No working at the food bank, helping with Angel Tree, inviting stranded student in for the holidays. Just a few charity checks in the mail. This isn’t Christmas, I moan.

Then there’s the extended family gifts. White elephant and an exchange, which for us adds up to twelve presents. I grumble that it’s too much, and they’re all adults and can each buy their own, while I have to help my kids choose, or at least drive them to stores. Will the bath salts my son bought from a big box store really suffice for a dear grandmother? Will my niece appreciate the earth tone, locally made mugs, or should I switch out for the bath salts? I’m told I made my father-in-law a hat last year, so that plan is shot. My sisters-in-law and their very organized children were done weeks ago, I’m sure.

No pretty plates of cookies or even boxes of chocolates for the neighbors, who have watched my animals, taken in the mail, and shared their salmon catch with us, and I really wanted to show appreciation. Will they be hurt?

My husband leaves his paid hourly work on the computer, listens, holds me, rubs my back and says the equivalent of “There, there; it’s going to be all right.” He doesn’t argue that I’m being unreasonable, or demand that I pull myself together. He offers to find my father-in-law’s gift and our son’s Lego set, take the girls to shop for what they need, asks what else he can do, and pretty much comes to my rescue. Of course I realize I need to pull myself together, and after letting myself receive his comfort, I do. Of course I know I’m being unreasonable, and manage to invite some more sensible thoughts to the forefront of my mind after I calm down. Yes, I’ve probably had too much coffee and too little regular food, so I sit down and eat some leftover rustic chicken pizza I had the sense to pick up the night before. I don’t have to get up early tomorrow, I can stay up and sew, mail the packages tomorrow, and do what needs to be done, which is less than I think it is in my perfectionist frenzy. It’s going to be all right.


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Week of Christmas

Out again in town filling time, for the love of a girl who loves horses. She’s riding along the snowy trails and working in the ring with a leased mare on trotting, loping, barrel racing. She’s decided she’s content to lease and not own a horse, as long as we buy a new house in our current school district, which is too far away from pasture. Says she can’t stand to live in that house any more. She and her sister are sharing a room in the semi-converted garage, and the space heater can’t quite compensate for the cold air seeping through the two garage doors. And she claims that her sister is unbearably messy. Perhaps a self-fulfilled prophesy by now–she struggled, she was nagged at, she gave up. It takes an impeding loss of privilege to move her in that direction now, even though her desire to have order still exists. Just discouraged. Ever feel discouraged like that? Like all the key observers have judged you inadequate, so what’s the point of making efforts that probably won’t be noticed as improvements if they still fall below standard? None of them have the wherewithal to come alongside and mentor you through it and show you what you’re doing right, which is surely what’s needed.

So I remind myself, NO NAGGING. I remember reading a definition of nagging once in a parenting book. It was saying the same thing repetitively, especially in a higher, more intense, or irritated voice. Requests, directions, reminders are okay. I tend to nag people when I’m failing most myself. The undercurrent: I can’t get myself in line, so at least could you improve my life by fixing what I see is wrong in yours? I try incentives: those who have their rooms clean can open a gift early.

I’ve picked up a cartload of poly fleece remnants at the big box fabric store to make more hats and mitts, maybe socks if I can learn to flatlock seams. For now I’ve slackened on sit-down meals at the table in favor of sewing on the dining room table. For meals I facilitate the provision of heatable leftovers or easy-fixings, encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables, check on protein quality of plates taken to the living room. Until weekend, when I try to make a special effort for my husband’s sake. I like them too, but with schedules, the difficulty of pleasing everyone, and the knowledge I’ll be left with the cleanup, I’m less motivated than I used to be.

I buy a few more things–a cool swim cap, a new pair of swim jammers for my youngest son, who will be working out with a swim club soon. Then take forty-five minutes to injest some Woods Coffee and write (aware that some are boycotting Woods, but I already bought the card and haven’t been convinced yet that the owner is particularly deserving of disdain. My son said he heard they only hire good-looking women as baristas (which, I am glad to see, he considers unfair), and I say that’s a common problem in the industry–haven’t seen even a token plain barista in a coffee chain in a long while. Woods coffee is weak (though not burnt-tasting like Starbucks), so I have them add an extra shot of decaf to create enough flavor. When the coffee card’s empty it’s back to the independent place near the college for me. The barista there might be called middle aged and dour, but I’m guessing has a dynamite personality hidden away for those who make the effort. If I can only charm her into turning up the heat a tad…

I guess I’m doing my part in keeping the economy growing. When I wanted to help slow it down.

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Posted by on December 21, 2013 in Places & Experiences


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Snow day in a snow-starved coastal town

Squeals of delight at 5:30 am wake me from a warm slumber. The forecast was for overnight snow, and my younger daughter has discovered it and is excitedly waking her sister to tell her. After peering out at the flakes falling through the porch light, they sensibly go back to sleep to wait for daylight, then jump out of bed and wake little brother. Minutes later they discover school has been cancelled, and jabber lightheartedly as they pull on boots and mitts. My oldest daughter keeps saying “I’m so happy! I’m so happy!” It’s the perfect start to winter vacation.

I test the road for slipperiness, then jog off to my exercise class, which is never cancelled for weather. The car noises are muffled and my feet are cushioned as I run.

When I get back home, spent, there are several snow people in the yard, and snowball trails crisscross the lawn. In the kitchen I find the kids have made waffles with berries and cream for breakfast. My legs are ready to collapse and my nerves are buzzing again. Is it a problem with blood sugar? Electrolytes? I shower, have some breakfast and lie down. Time to get back on track with vitamins and royal jelly, I guess, with some glucosamine chondritin for the aging joints. Feeling a bit better after twenty minutes of prone time.

An argument erupts in the yard and my son comes in fuming and wants to play a computer game, since the girls won’t play make a fort with him. The snow still falls, but we know it’s wet and due to melt later in the day. He settles down with a book and the girls come in and cozy up together on the couch with their music devices.

I start gathering supplies for a day of sewing presents, but am reminded I need to drive one daughter to the horse barn and the other to a friend’s house to make gingerbread cookies. Since my husband and oldest son are away at a swim meet, that means my ten-year old has to accompany us, which he will not like. He fusses a good deal at the news, but finally gathers up his books and dons his winter wear.

The driving is safe enough, though I have to shift into low gear in places and slide once. New car handles it okay, and the major roads are mostly clear. But I’m flustered at having to get into the storage unit on the way to get packaging for the new family computer. It stopped working and I’ve been assigned the job of taking it back. I find the packaging, but of course can’t figure out the puzzle of how to get the computer properly packed into it, so I pile it all in the trunk. Also returning speakers that were too big, coffee that the brother-in-law no longer drinks, and Christmas lights with the wrong colored wire. Then there’s the jeans from JC Penny with the ink tag still attached and the title transfer paperwork to take in to the Auditor’s office. After dropping off the girls we have five hours until final pickup, and I hope to get to the ReStore to look for a bench to modify. I didn’t picture my snow day this way.

I take my son to lunch at the new restaurant that replaced the old KFC. Excellent burger and fries followed by a cupcake for him and a latte for me. Some of the fruits of frugality in other things. While waiting for our meal my son gets up, intending to go outside and play in the snow, but I explain that I am his date and he would be walking out on me, and he laughs and sits back down. We discuss Harry Potter and Redwall books and play pun wars, then visit the library and do our final errands.

When I pick up my older daughter, she and her friend show me their perfectly rendered One Direction gingerbread boys. Driving home she tells me how much fun she had, and we try to imagine what the friend’s snow day would have been like if they hadn’t hung out–she’s an only child, and her parents were at work. Wonderful parents–I got to know them from the swim team and carpooling. Now the girls take the city bus and save us both several drives a week, my suggestion as a mother of four wanting to reduce driving. Protective mother was concerned, and in constant contact with her daughter by phone the first trip, but it has turned out well.

My youngest daughter is also happy and tired. She is bonding with her mare, and glad to ride one that knows the paces instead of the one she almost leased, which was beautiful and sensitive, but untrained. She enjoys having her own grooming gear and a blanket so her horse will be sleek instead of furry soon because of the extra protection.

The children go to bed on time for once, and I’m ready to sew. Four polar fleece hats later, I am satisfied with my day’s work. I wish you a wonderful day, and a wonderful winter break.


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Du courage, my friend

I have developed a tremor of some kind, low grade neural white noise. Surely a manifestation of some kind of disjoint between who I feel am meant to be, if I may imagine there is such a person, and the role to which I am trying, oft resentfully, to adapt. Not a tremor anyone would notice, but when I am coming up against obstacles, fielding impossible requests, looking at the fruits of apparently wasted efforts, I sense it in my hands first, sometimes my arms and legs so I have to sink into a chair and plan for my next move. When it goes on too long, it steals the physical strength I need for my weekly Pilates class, and puts my body into some kind of hangover the next day. Not normal, and I wonder if something’s wrong.

I do a web search on “muscle tremors” and find links to neurological disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, generalized anxiety disorder, multiple sclerosis, and stress. I’ll take stress, please, for five thousand. Or maybe generalized anxiety, if it means I can take a ferry to an island next week and hang out at a beach cabin, drinking coffee with cream and taking occasional visitors. And let’s have a tidy diagnosis, a simple and effective treatment, and no one will get hurt. My friends and family don’t need me falling apart right now. “Why didn’t she tell anyone?!” We all know dang well why–because we had enough on our plates, and it’s better to know after the fact, when it’s too late to fail to know how to help.

But I do have help. No one knows how much general anxiety my dear, doughnut-delivering friend relieves in this world, preventing the onset of ever so many tremors and worse. Always a hug from her, no matter how brief the passing while exchanging kids for a play date, dropping off a borrowed book. No one knows how dear is the encouragement of a fellow writer as he explores the angst of existence and finds the sparks, the reasons for hope, the unmistakeable beauty in every life. How sweet is the “Good night; I love you” of a daughter or son. As the apostle Peter said, “Love each other deeply, because covers a multitude of sins.” Pushes back the darkness, fortifies my sinews and begins to restore that neural electrolyte balance. The unspoken whispers of “Du courage.”


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Pee Pot Chronicles #2: No progress after Week 1

Continued from Urine, You’re On!

The morning after my resolution to build and deploy an environmentally friendly urine depository for the “master” bathroom. I sit in my usual spot, and look at the only corner where there’s room for it. And I hear the “Change back!” voices. They say, “What? Mom, no one does that!” It is all in my head, as I haven’t shared my plans in an I mean it” kind of way. I feel tension, but still a little boldness, and I breathe, thinking, “I made a commitment, and I’m going through with it. All beginnings are hard.” The last is from Chaim Poyok, In the Beginning.

Speaking of master bedroom, sounds biblical, as in masters of creation. I always took that as like in Jesus’ parables, in which, when the real master comes home, the temporary master–the steward–gets in deep do-do if he hasn’t been taking care of the vineyard and paying fair wages. So this will be an appropriate master bedroom project. I am responsible for what I know.

Yet here it is Thursday and I have done nothing but think. I realize I have been unrealistic to add in a new project at this time, while I am helping at swim meets, refinishing cabinets, making hats and doing extra shopping and wrapping. Still, if I have time I’ll go to the ReStore this weekend and look for a suitable bench to modify. I have disappointed myself.


Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Technology



Is there an abbreviation for Halleluia?

Haven’t you been loving the tributes to Nelson Mandela and the work of the anti-Apartheid movement? My favorite moment so far was a few days after Mandela’s death, an interview on PRI hosted by Travis Smiley and Cornell West with Ron Dellums, who was the congressman who introduced the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1972, which was passed in 1986. In the interview he described how after Mandela’s release from prison, he came to Dellum’s home to thank him for his work. At one point in the interview, the two other men were so moved by the description, that they just made this noise which I can only describe as an African abbreviation for Halleluia. It was in unison, from deep down, and only sounded like “Mm!” Do you know the sound? I was driving, but I almost had to pull over to raise my hands.

The whole interview is here, including Tavis Smiley’s equally moving account of his escorting Sidney Poitier and Muhammad Ali to meet Nelson Mandela:


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