Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In Which I Get a Sister

The day after my nineteenth birthday, my boyfriend took me out to celebrate.  I got home pretty early, though, because my job that summer, for the Indiana Department of Highways, required me to get up at five am.  When I walked into the living room my parents were acting odd--giggly, but it a weird way.  My Dad held a magazine over his face like a shield.  "You tell her," he said, from behind it.

"Oh, I have to tell her?"  My mother laughed.  She paused for a moment, while I wondered what on earth was going on, and then she came out with, "your brother isn't the baby of the family any more."

It took me about five seconds to work it out.  A baby!  A baby!  I hugged my mother, kissed my father, and said, "Wow, Dad, I didn't know you had it in you," which caused him to go beet red and dive behind his magazine again.  My mother said, "I told you she'd be happy."

My mother was due in late November, five months from then.  She'd been a bit late figuring out she was pregnant because, well, because.  She was forty-three, with a son in high school and a daughter in college.  "Don't tell anyone yet," my mother said, and I agreed.

As soon as I got upstairs, my brother knocked on the door.  "Can I use your phone?" he asked.  (This was before cell phones were even dreamed of, natch.  But I had a phone in my room, a privilege I'd been granted after years of whining about it.)  "I need to call a few people."

"As soon as I'm done," I said.  I was already dialing my boyfriend.  (My father kept his vow of secrecy until noon the next day, when he went out to lunch with the most gossipy of all his friends.)

After we'd called the most important people, my brother and I fell into an argument.  Boy or girl?  He, naturally, preferred a boy, but I argued that I already had one little brother, whereas if he had an older sister and a younger sister that would be two entirely different things.  We finally agreed to settle it with a coin flip.  I won.  Despite her Advanced Maternal Age, my mother never had amniocentesis, and the ultrasounds back then weren't detailed enough to show gender.  But it didn't matter.  From the day after my nineteenth birthday, my brother and I knew the baby would be a girl.

"Besides," I told him, "I need a sister."

Twenty-seven years ago today, my mother had a healthy baby girl.  Lauren's a mother herself now, to a wide-eyed beautiful boy, so she understands how happy were all were, so long ago, to know she was on the way.

Monday, November 25, 2013

How do I navigate a Fair Trade Christmas? (Besides knitting, I mean.)

On Saturday morning, at 7:27 am, my daughter said, "Mom?  This entire day is off-limits for blogging."

I can not tell you how much that cramped my style.  I could have written an excellent blog post about Saturday.  At 7:27 am, it was already taking place in my head.

This is going to be a strange week.  It's not as though I didn't realize it was November, but yet Thanksgiving Week has come as something of a surprise.  Yesterday I was shocked to see that it was already the feast of Christ The King, ie., the last Sunday of the Catholic liturgical year.  Ie, the first Sunday of Advent is next Sunday

Today I have an empty schedule.  I drove my daughter to school.  (We live in the county, and she attends the city high school.  Therefore, no buses.  And my husband had surgeries scheduled and left at 6:17 am.)  I'll pick her up at 2:30.  I don't need to fuss too much about cleaning the house, because we're going to our mountain place for Thanksgiving and our family is meeting us there.  I don't need to go to the grocery--I'm picking up our organic free-range never-frozen turkey at Earth Fare in Johnson City tomorrow morning, along with what I'm sure will end up being a cartful of happy organic specialty items, and cheese, and then I'll do a big shop in Linville for potatoes and such.  I'm doing laundry, but I always do laundry on Mondays.  I'll have a whale of a lot of barn chores, because we're expecting freezing rain and all the horses will have to be snugged inside the barn, but I'll wait until my daughter's home to help me.  I'll write, sure.  The new novel--a sequel to my "England" book, which is now (still tentatively) titled The War That Saved My Life, but which still doesn't have a release date--is nicely underway, but since I know I won't be writing at all from tomorrow until next Monday, it's difficult to find a lot of momentum.  I have some articles to write.  I could iron. 

Mostly, though, I'm thinking about Christmas.  I've bought some gifts and planned others, and have a nice pile of knitting.  (Oooh, the yarn store!  Inconveniently closed yesterday, when I first realized I did not have a specific color and weight of yarn in my stash.  I must go to the yarn store.  It's always a bit perilous--those wool fumes can completely intoxicate a person--but yet, I have my duty to fulfill. 

There are rules regarding the gifting of handknits.   The rule widely felt to be most important is that you never knit a sweater for a boyfriend until you are engaged.  I didn't know that one back when I broke it, but it hasn't seemed to hamper our relationship--we've been married 24 years.  (I think he still has the sweater.  I'm not sure he's ever worn it.)  You can give handknits once to anyone you please; however, no recipient is ever required to be rapturous about receiving a handknit.  At the same time, anyone who does not sincerely appreciate a handknit can be struck off the handknit gift list without guilt or reproach.  Handknits are simply not for everyone. 

I'm trying to think hard about my other giving, too.  I'd like to be Fair Trade and responsible.  I really don't need cheap t-shirts that require the slave labor of children.  But I'm having trouble deciding which companies are more or less ethical than others.  I can find loads of "Eco-Gifts"--recycled Christmas ornaments from Haiti, bracelets made in Africa, ugly loose-fitting clothing made from the scraps of saris.  That's all good.  But what about golf balls?  Bras?  Blue jeans?  Stylish boots?  Are there ethically-produced clothes that don't make you look like you live in a yurt?  I can buy organic coffee, but I'm at a loss when it comes to an ethically-produced espresso machine.

Anyone want to help me out?  Anyone know what to do?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bye, Liz. Thanks for All the Fish.

Bonus points if you get the title reference.

My lovely editor Liz is leaving me.  I'm devastated very happy for her.  She's leaving for the best of all possible reasons, to be at home with the baby she's about to have.  I worked as a research chemist before my children were born, and I know I never would have been able to hand them over to a caretaker for 10 hours a day, so my heart is completely on Liz's side here.  Except, of course, for the part that isn't.

She's so good, and so clear-eyed, and she makes me work much harder than I want to.  She sent Jefferson's Sons back for revision 5 times.  The fifth time I wasn't sure whether to throw myself off a high cliff somewhere, or go back to bed for a year, but in the end I trusted Liz's judgement, and she was right: I could still make the manuscript better.  I can not tell you how much I hated that appreciated it.

I would like Liz to clone herself, please, so that one Liz can lavish love on her firstborn child, and the other can hold my hand while I embark on yet another perilous journey into my imagination.  Baring that, I would prefer to be her Most Special Writer, the one she can't possibly do without, so that she'll break her own rules just a little and edit only my work.  She should be able to do it while the baby's napping.  Really.  I'm not unreasonable.

Most of all I wish her joy on her own journey into motherhood.  When she broke the news to me on the phone the other day, I told her about my son in college.  I told her that, in the next few years, there would be individual days and nights that seemed to last several years, but that, in the end, the time would speed by faster than she or I or anyone else could believe.  I told her that she could always return to being an editor, but that she'd never be able to turn back the clock once her babies were grown.

Then I felt mawkishly sentimental, and went off to force my daughter to watch another episode of Downton Abbey with me.  It seemed like the only thing to do.

P.S.  When I first started watching Downton Abbey, Liz told me that she'd been swimming at a pool in NYC and got slammed into by Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley, and that she told him off for it.  Once I'd watched the first few episodes, and began to fully appreciate Dan Stevens, I offered to come swim in her place.  Sheesh.  That sort of thing doesn't happen in Bristol.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Indirect TV

My thoughts are a little incoherent today.  I'm blaming it on DirecTV.

I am a little bit anti-television.  I don't think I'm stridently anti-television (though other members of my family may disagree) but I'm pretty sure that, with the exception of events like the Olympic Games and Kentucky Rolex, I could live without it just fine.  (For the record, I vastly preferred the British version of the Olympics on BBC--all actual sports events, all the time, nary a commercial or special in-depth feature at all.)  At home we currently have 3 televisions--in the family room, in the basement workout room, and in my bedroom.  We put one in our bedroom because my husband wanted one there when we built the house, but the truth is, the only time we ever watch it is at 6 am on snowy mornings, when we're trying to find out if the children have a snow delay.   The television in the basement can only be used for watching DVDs, because we don't have a DirecTV receiver down there.  Since my husband would like to watch sports while he exercises, and since I don't care either way at all, we're getting the DirecTV receiver moved from our bedroom to our basement.  Also, since he'd like to chose which sports he watches, and when, we're getting a DVR so that he can record games to view at leisure.

I have no problem, none at all, with any of this.  What irritated me beyond reason, however, was calling DirecTV.

Step one: speak to an automated voice.  What do I want?  "I want to order a DVR," I say.

"You want to order the movie, 'The Man,'" the automated voice replies.

"NO," I say.  "NO.  NO."

"This will become available to you starting on Thursday, November 22nd--"


"At 10 am, and will cost nine dollars--"


"And ninety-nine cents.  Is this correct?"


"You do not want to order the movie, 'The Man'?"


"Please tell us what you want."


"You want to order the movie, 'Dead on Arrival."  This will be available--"

"NO! NO!"  Finally I scream, "REPRESENTATIVE!"

The automated voice sighs.  It's not clear if she thinks I'm being unreasonable, or she's just relieved to finally be getting some sense out of me.  "One moment, please."

Then I get a human.  Alas, not a rational one.  Or perhaps in her regular life she's perfectly rational, but in DirecTVland her script forces her into irrationality.

I explain what I want.  It's no problem, no problem at all.  Only first, while they have me on the line, they want to look over my service and explain some exciting new options.

I do not want options, no matter how exciting.  I want to get off the phone.

So many movies available, all these movie channels that we're not getting--

--we don't really watch movies, I explain.  Really, we don't.  We watch sports, and at the same time I knit or read.  We have NFL Sunday ticket so we can watch every football game played in America.  We don't have time for movies.

But there are some really good movies coming up.  Also a new channel that will show old Christmas movies 24/7.  Winter Wonderland and It's A Wonderful Life, 'round the clock.

Seen 'em both, I say.  Don't need to see them again.

But right now I could get a movie channel for free.  Completely free for the next 3 months.

Yes, I say, and then it would cost me a bundle, and I'd forget to cancel it.  Also, I think but don't say, when I tried to cancel I'd get stuck in another phone call like this one.  I say, no thank you.

But no risk--

I really don't watch movies.

Finally, we move on to what I do want.  My options are explained to me.  They're actually pretty straightforward.  We already have Hi-Def service even though we don't have Hi-Def TVs ("You don't have flat-screens?" the woman asks in disbelief.  Um, no.) because our local channels only work in Hi-Def (I didn't know this, but I don't care) and that's GOOD because the new DVR thingie only works in Hi-Def.

In other words, I can buy what I'm hoping to buy.  Excellent.  I'm not sure why we're spending so much time discussing it.

It will cost blah blah blah blah.  And they have to send one guy out to move the receiver and another to install the DVR, and that's all free, only there's a new monthly charge, and I'm expected to keep my DVR and pay the monthly charge for 2 years.

I think I'll be able to cope with that.  After all, I've kept the two televisions for ten.

We set a date in which I'll be imprisoned by DirecTV for 8 hours, as one technician will arrive between 8 and noon and the other between noon and 4.  They will give me a courtesy call one half hour before they arrive, which is guaranteed to take place the moment I step into the shower.  Also, do I have dogs?

I do.  I will put them in their crates.

The woman writes this down, muttering, "will put them in crates."

At last I think we're finished.  But no.  As part of their commitment to service excellence, they put me through to a second human.  I am required to verbally confirm every single aspect of everything I just arranged with the first human.  Do I want my receiver moved?  Yes, yes I do.  Do I want the DVR?  Why yes.  Do I understand the charges, which are as follows....at this point I 'm pretty sure she could say, "One million dollars," and I'd agree.

The moment after I hang up my husband calls.  He's just finished his morning's surgery, restoring sight to half a dozen grateful people before lunch.  "Big deal," I say, "I just talked to DirecTV."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bad Mommy (Bad Dog!)

I have traumatized my dog, and it makes me feel like Bad Mommy all over again.

Remember that feeling?  The one you get when your four-year-old announces cheerfully at breakfast that she's sick and can't go to school, and you think she's malingering and send her anyway, and she spikes a fever and vomits in the lunch line and when you go to the school office to pick her up sobs accusingly, "I told you I was sick!"?  Yeah, that one.  Only maybe a little worse.

Yesterday I got home from appointments and errands to find a polite note from the water company on my door, saying that if I owned the green barn that fronted Booher Road I should do something, since I apparently had a water leak that had used 40,000 gallons of water in the past few weeks.

I hotfooted over to the green barn, which is indeed ours, only metered separately from the rest of our farm, and turned the water off, and could not find a leak, and consulted the water company, and with their help determined that the leak is probably somewhere in the 60-year-old pipe running beneath the 100-foot-long concrete center aisle.


I returned home to two joyous small dogs, the old one and the younger one, apparently celebrating the fact that they'd pulled a bottle of Under Dog's cardiac medicine down from a high windowsill, chewed the top off, and eaten all the pills.

Frantic, I called our vet, who immediately consulted an online toxicology source and told me that if I could get the dogs to vomit right away, all should be well.  Per the vet's suggestion, I poured half a cup of household hydrogen peroxide down Under Dog's throat.  He swallowed, looked vaguely apologetic, and urped up a big puddle that clearly contained some of the pills.

Polly, our gentle dog, morphed into 18 pounds of ferocious resistance.  She clenched her teeth and thrashed her body until we were both drenched and the peroxide bottle was empty.  I poured salt and water into a cup and tried to make her swallow that.  She heaved and fought; it took half an hour before finally, wretched, she puked up her share of the pills.  Then she cowered in her crate the rest of the night.

This morning I had to take her to the vet's for her regular grooming appointment.  As soon as I walked into the mudroom, where her crate is, she started to shake.  She trembled all the way to the vet's, and I felt so awful that I tried to hold her on my lap and pet her while I drove.  She wasn't having it.   At the vet's, however, I became the lesser of two evils, and she stuck her head in my armpit and leaned against me while her groomer cooed reassuringly and our vet came out to see how she was doing.

I feel like such a bad mommy.  My one consolation is that when my daughter came down the stairs this morning and told me she was sick, I didn't make her go to school.  I sent her back to bed.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chain Free Bristol Needs Your Help!

A couple of years ago, a Bristol woman named Liza Conway started an organization called Chain Free Bristol.  Liza's my friend's sister, and my son's friend's aunt, so I've known her for years, and I always liked her, but when she got going on this I thought she was just a tiny bit off her rocker.

Liza's a realtor, so she sees a lot of Bristol's housing close up, and she was bothered by the number of dogs she encountered who were spending their entire lives living outdoors, on a chain.  We're in a relatively cool part of the south; we get freezing rain and snow in the winter.  Liza saw suffering dogs, and couldn't stand it, so she decided to do something about it.  She started raising money to purchase chain-link fence, and then she recruited friends, went up to homeowners, and offered to build a fence around their yard for free so their dogs could be off tether.

That's not what made me think she was off her rocker.  What I questioned was the scale of the problem.  No one likes to see any dog suffer, but I thought, how many dogs in Bristol actually spend their whole lives on a chain?  After all, in my childhood we had a brief period of time where we lived without a yard fence.  We had our dogs out on chains then--in the daytime, under shelter of some trees.  They came in at night.  They weren't suffering. Also, how many of the owners of those dogs were going to accept free fences?  If you know anything about Appalachia, you know folks here are mighty set in their ways.  I could just imagine how the good ol' boys would respond when Liza rang their doorbell and said they were abusing their dogs.

Well.  I was wrong.  I reckoned without Liza's personal knowledge and indomitable energy.  Liza set about building fences, one at a time, raising money by collecting recycling, setting up a website and a formal charitable organization, drumming up workers and donations.  In two years Chain Free Bristol has built fences for over 50 local dogs who otherwise would have spent their entire lives tethered outdoors.

The whole time, Liza's also been asking the city councils (we live in a border town, so we have two) to ban the lifetime, unattended chaining of dogs.  Today Bristol Tennessee has offered to listen.  Liza's giving a power point presentation to the council during their work session tonight. 

This is what she needs now:  people.  Community support in its most visible form.  If you want to help, please come to the work session, tonight, at 7 pm.  It's in the Municipal Annex Building on the corner of 8th Street and Shelby, and the entrance is on Shelby Street.  You won't have to speak or do anything but attend. 

Liza thanks you.  I thank you.  And so do the dogs.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Nerdfighters, Unite!

I was on my way back from church with my daughter yesterday when I mentioned someone who was making the best of a difficult situation.

"Ah," said my daughter, nodding sagely, "decreasing World Suck.  Like a Nerdfighter."

"Decreasing what?" I said.

"World Suck.  You know, stuff in the world that just sucks."

"And Nerdfighter--that's not someone who's fighting the nerds?"

Impatient sigh.  "No, Mom.  That's a nerd that doing the fighting--fighting against World Suck."

"Ha!" I said happily.  "I'm a Nerdfighter!"

My daughter argued that I could not possibly be a Nerdfighter, because 'Nerdfighter', along with the phrase 'World Suck,' and the radically more obscure phrase 'French the llama!' were all invented or at least made popular by YA writer John Green, my daughter's new hero.  In addition to writing best-selling, beautifully-written novels, John, along with his brother Hank, publish a vlog series (that's video blog for you Luddites) which gets something like 8 million views a week.  My daughter believes that since I haven't actually read any of John Green's work (in my defense: has he read any of mine?) (also: I've owned The Fault In Our Stars for at least two years, in hardback, and plan to read it as soon as I want to be tragically sad) I can't be a fan of John Green (wrong) and therefore can't be a Nerdfighter (double wrong).

As soon as we got home, my daughter called up a vlog episode, "Nerdfighting FAQs," or something like that, and I watched it, and in it John Green himself said, "If you want to be a Nerdfighter, you are a Nerdfighter."  So ha. 

I'm a Nerdfighter.  Fighting against World Suck!

P.S.  I told my daughter that John Green seemed to be more popular among her peers than, say, me.  She flipped her hair at me.  "Well," she said, "why don't you start by making the New York Times Bestseller list.  Then see what happens."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tell All The Truth

Well.  I can tell this is going to be a funky blog post, and I'm not sure, frankly, if it wouldn't be better for all of us if I just went back to bed.

I woke up this morning thinking about Ranger Rick.  Heaven knows why.  I haven't thought about him in years.

Yesterday I wrote about evangelicals and Catholics and the whole feminism/religion thing, and I noticed afterwards that I was a little more strident than people whose opinions may be similar to mine, but who are themselves evangelical.  Perhaps they hesitated to call one of their own a "Christian misogynist" because the word misogynist is seen by some as just a touch inflammatory.  Sarah Bessey's post, for example, is full of power, but also quiet grace much different from mine.  I thought about this difference.  I thought about how, if you're wanting to change your own church, you've got to work a little more quietly, be the voice of reason, the calm stillness after the storm.  If you call a well-known pastor names, people who like that pastor will quit listening to you, not him.  You'll be strengthening the opposition's position, not your own.

And yet. 

I went to Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  I graduated in 1985.  The high school, built in the 1960s, included apartments at the back for priests who lived there--two, I think, though more than that commuted in to teach the religion classes that were a required part of our curriculum.  Rick Stieglitz lived in one of them while I attended Dwenger; he taught my sophomore class on Mass and Sacraments.  And he was a pedophile, and we knew it.

In 1985 sexual abuse was very rarely spoken of.   But I still don't know why not.  It seemed like all the students knew about Father Stieglitz.  I knew I was safe around him, because he didn't go for girls, but he put the long-legged good-looking boys in the front rows of his classrooms, and a friend of mine, male, once told me that it was common knowledge that when Father Stieglitz wandered through the boys' locker room, as he very often did, you didn't turn your back on him. 

The biggest issue with the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church isn't that some priests were sexual predators.  Unfortunately, that seems to happen in all religions, in any place where charismatic creeps can obtain power and access to victims.  The biggest issue is that the Church covered it up.  Pedophiles were moved from parish to parish instead of arrested and sent to jail.  Rick Stieglitz lived at the high school, where he could go into the locker room at any time.  This was insane.

So I woke up today thinking about the priest the high school students called Ranger Rick, and how while we all knew what he was doing, it never occurred to me at least to tell any of the adults.  It's odd now, to compare my basic complicity then with how quickly I'd respond if one of my children told me about a potential pedophile in their school.

I never lived in Fort Wayne again after I graduated from college, but through the magic of Google was able to find out more about Rick Stieglitz.  At some point in the late 1980s he became pastor of Queen of Angels Church.  In 1992 he legally adopted 4 boys from Haiti and moved them into the rectory with him, ostensibly so that they could be educated in the States.  The new Bishop, John D'Arcy, who had actually gotten derailed from a more promising career track in Boston when he spoke out against reassigning John Geoghan (a notorious pedophile priest who was eventually defrocked and then killed in prison), ordered that Stieglitz resign and made him live apart from the Haitian boys.  D'Arcy removed Stieglitz from any full-time assignment.  Later a man filed suit against Stieglitz, alleging he'd been abused while a student at a Catholic elementary school; the suit settled out of court.  Stieglitz was officially laicized--meaning, made unable to serve as a priest--in 2007, though I couldn't find out why.  Bishop D'Arcy died in 2013.

So there you are.  Speaking the truth in 1983 is something we students should have done.  But we didn't know that.  We knew not to turn our backs, but we didn't know to open our mouths.

Meanwhile today is Ruby Bridges Day.  On this day, fifty-three years ago, a six-year-old black girl walked under federal marshall protection into a formerly whites-only school in New Orleans.  Only one teacher would agree to teach her.  Parents pulled all the other children from her class.  She was shouted at and spat upon; one woman threatened daily to poison her.  Another set up a coffin outside the school, with a black doll inside it.  The six-year-old--someone's precious child--had to walk past that coffin every day.

She never cried.  She kept walking.  She sat alone in her classroom with her sympathetic teacher, and she learned, and she changed the world.  I marvel at her strength; more than that, I marvel at her mother's.  I don't know if I could send my babies into a lion's den.

Through the magic of Google, I was able to find out more about Ruby Bridges.  Married and with four adult sons, she now volunteers in the same school she desegregated.  A photo of Bridges' recent visit to the White House shows her standing beside President Obama, both of them studying Norman Rockwell's famous painting of Bridges' first walk to school.

This is such a mess of a post.  I know it is.  Here's the other thing I know:  the only way to freedom is to live in the truth.  Walk in the truth.  Speak the truth.  However, wherever, in whatever manner you can.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Twitter fight with a Christian Misogynist

Remember my puzzlement over "Jesus Feminist?"  I was trying to see how-admittedly, without reading the book of the same title--the idea worked in my faith tradition, Catholicism.  Now I know a lot of people who feel that the Catholic Church, of which I am a proud though not always fully compliant member, demeans women due to its patriarchal hierarchy, lack of women priests, and emphasis, at least in this country, on speaking out against abortion, birth control, and gay marriage.  For the record, the new Pope has told the American bishops, and the American bishops have reported to their congregations, to knock it off: quit emphasizing ideology and start pushing mercy, grace, and love.  Yea, Francis!  It's also pretty well known that most Catholics use birth control at exactly the same rates that non-Catholics use it, and that more and more American Catholics, exactly in line with Americans in general, support gay equality and gay marriage.  In other words, the patriachy starts at the top, but probably doesn't work all the way down to the bottom. 

What I'm starting to realize is that in some traditions, particularly the Evangelical Christian tradition, which is pretty huge down here in the south, there is a lot more oppression of women than in Catholicism.  And some of the pastors feel that the oppression is biblically based--that God thinks women should never be allowed to preach to men, for example.  The arguments put forth for this viewpoint sound a lot like the arguments put forth 150 years ago saying that God thought black people should be enslaved.  Funny how God, specifically Jesus, who in His lifetime preached and ministered continually to the downtrodden, disenfranchised, and oppressed, now in modern America has totally switched sides.

Or not.  If, say, you're a Jesus Feminist.

Anyway, I've taken to following several of these Jesus feminists online, and yesterday gender issues within the Evangelical church hit the fan.  Rachel Held Evans, a well-known Christian speaker and writer (who is coming to Bristol in February), pointed out on Twitter that The Nines, a big evangelical conference, had exactly 4 women speakers out of 110.  There followed this exchange, in which the conference organizer, Todd Rhoades, said, "A female leader adds new perspective on important female specific topics such as pregnancy, abortion, and marriage."  And, apparently, that's all.

Blogger Kristen Howerton suggested that he forgot menstruation, and I, unable to keep my mouth shut, added childcare.  And a lot of people wrote about the subject.  Here.  Here.  Here.  If you're interested.

So here we go:  pregnancy, abortion, and marriage are "female-specific"?  Because my marriage, my pregnancies, certainly involved two people, and one of them was not female.  My husband had better be concerned about his marriage, his children. 

And what about church issues: evangelization, social justice, spreading the Gospel?  Those are "male-specific"?  Not in my world.  I decided to do a bit of searching this morning regarding Catholic conferences.  These are all either 2013 or early 2014 agendas.

National Catholic Bible Conference:  11 speakers.  2 priests, 2 women.

Midwest Catholic Family Conference:  21 listed speakers.  5 priest, 2 brothers, 2 couples or mixed groups, 8 women.

Focus National Conference (for college students):  28 speakers. 5 priests, 9 women.

National Catholic Collegiate Conference:  3 speakers.  1 priest, 2 women (one black)

National Catholic Youth Conference:  3 speakers.  2 men (1 black), 2 woman.

National Catholic Singles Conference:  5 speakers.  1 priest, 2 men (1 black), 2 women

Catholic Social Tradition Conference:  6 speakers.  2 priest, 2 women.

So of these conferences, the speakers are 65% men (1/3 of them ordained) and 35% women.  And when I look at the programs, it doesn't seem that women are being relegated to "women's issues."  Take Kerry Robinson, whose title is Executive Director, National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.  She doesn't seem to be sitting in the corner to me.

I haven't felt silenced in my church.  I've been invited to run for pastoral council.  I've argued with my priest.  I've not be compartmentalized.  But I feel myself taking on the title Jesus Feminist.  I always have trouble keeping my mouth shut.  I guess I might as well speak for my sisters.

You?  How do you see the role of women in the church?  Now and in the future?  What does Jesus say to you?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Another Conversation with my Nephew

When my nephew Huey (no, that is not his real name.  Of course.) was 2 1/2, he worked himself into a bit of a state about his upcoming trip to my farm.  Huey lives 10 hours away and couldn't remember Aunt Kim's farm, but he knew that there would be ponies there.  Ponies made Huey nervous.  They were the only animals at his zoo that weren't safely behind bars, and once, when he ventured close to one, it made a very loud noise.  So several times before his visit, Huey got on the phone with me to say, "Aunt Kim--no ponies in the house."  I assured him repeatedly, no ponies in the house.  Finally I went a little farther.  "Huey," I said, "The ponies will stay at the barn.  You do not have to go to the barn.  You do not have to ride the ponies, and you do not have to touch the ponies.  But you might like to feed them a carrot."

For some reason this turned the tide.  "Oh," he said, "OHOHOHOHOH--I will FEED the ponies!"

And he did.  At arms' length, with his eyes half-closed, brandishing the carrot like a sword.  But then he noticed something odd.  Hot Wheels was my son's pony.  Gully was my pony.  Mickey was my daughter's pony.  And Shakespeare?  Shakespeare was not my husband's pony.  ("Is Uncle Bart going to get a pony?"  "Probably not.")  Shakespeare was my daughter's OTHER pony.

Now that, to Huey, was just crazy, particularly after my daughter admitted that she didn't ride Shakespeare any more, because she was too big.  Clearly Shakespeare needed to belong to Huey.  So, from that day, he did.  There was nothing more adorable in the world than my tiny red-headed nephew blithely informing his friends, "I have a pony named Shakespeare.  He lives in Bristoltennessee."

Huey, now 3 1/2 takes the responsibilities of pony ownership seriously.  When he visits, he brushes Shakespeare.  He rides him.  Once, when he was angry with his parents, he told them he was going to come live in my barn, with his pony.  I told him in that case, he would be responsible for cleaning Shakespeare's stall.  Huey replied, "Oh--I'll wear gloves."

Yesterday Huey had a cold, so stayed at my mom's house instead of going to preschool.  When I called my mom with the excellent news that we were not going to have to put Shakespeare down that day, Huey overheard enough of the conversation that he started asking questions.  So my Mom put us all on speakerphone.

"What's wrong with Shakespeare?" 
"He had a rotten tooth.  It was making him sick."
"Why did he have a rotten tooth?"
"I don't know.  He just did."
"How did you fix it?"
"We pulled it out."
"You pulled it out?"
"The vet pulled it out.  A vet is a doctor and dentist for animals."
"Where did he pull it?"
"At his office."
Will the tooth grow back?  What made it rotten?  Why won't it grow back?  Does he need that tooth?  Can I still ride him?  Does he feel better?  How did you get to the office?  Why did you use the horse trailer?  Did Shakespeare mind the horse trailer?  What if it was raining?  Can you use the horse trailer in the rain?

"Huey," I said, "You have used up all your questions for today.  You can't ask any more questions until tomorrow."

Slight pause.  Then, "Okay.  Bye, Aunt Kim.  I love you."
"Bye, Huey.  I love you, too."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Shakespeare Lives

Awhile back I noticed that my sweet picture book The Perfect Pony had received a one-star review from a very disgruntled Amazon customer.  The reviewer found the book disgusting since its plot involved "buying a very expensive animal" for a small girl.  It made me laugh, for a couple of reasons, the primary one being that the pony the story is based on, my daughter's beloved Shakespeare, didn't cost us a dime.

When we moved to our farm my daughter was four, and by no conceivable definition of the word could she have been said to "need" a pony.  We already had a pony, my son's, a sweetheart named Hot Wheels, and my daughter was allowed to ride him.  Also, she was four.  But my daughter persisted, telling the workmen who were building the stable to hang the bucket hooks in the first stall low, "because my pony is small."  She talked relentlessly about, and to, her pony, who may have been imaginary but seemed very real to her.  "Hurry, pony," she said.

Then one day our farrier, Tom, came out to shoe my horse.  "You want a pony?" he asked.

I sighed.  "If it's small, elderly, broke to death, kid-friendly, and free."

Tom grinned.  "Yep," he said.

Shakespeare had been a high-dollar A-circuit show pony until a severe bout of laminitis very nearly ended his life.  Tom's radical care saved him but could only partially reduce the damage to the pony's feet:  he would never be sound enough for the show circuit again.  But he was perfectly sound enough to cart around a four-year-old child.  His owners didn't have their own land and were paying expensive board for a pony they could no longer use--besides his injuries, he was now too small for their growing child--and so Tom brokered a deal.  We got Shakespeare, free, on the condition that we care for him for the rest of his life.

He adored my daughter.  She adored him.  When she grew too big for him he became the turnout partner for my friend's gangly thoroughbred.  My nephews brush him; he gives them pony rides.

Shakespeare is thirty now.  On Saturday his face started to swell, and by nighttime, when I returned from an out-of-town meeting, he looked awful, one side of his face lopsided and his eyelids swelling shut.  I called my vet, Dr. E., who came out, lanced a horrible abscess on the pony's head, and looked grave, with discussions of sinus tumors and other possible problems, most of which meant saying good-bye.  On Sunday the pony looked better, but I did not feel hopeful, and my daughter, coming home from a friend's house, wept.  But this morning at the vet's, Dr. E extracted a rotten molar, and a great river of pus came with it, and I think, I hope, we may have Shakespeare with us a little longer still.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Am I A "Jesus Feminist"?

Sarah Bessey's new book, Jesus Feminist, came out this week to some pretty heady acclaim--good reviews from her friends in the blog community, as you'd expect, but also good critical reviews from Booklist and Publisher's Weekly (Kirkus hasn't reviewed it.).

I haven't read Jesus Feminist, but I've read a lot about it, and it got me thinking--am I a 'Jesus Feminist'?

Can I be?  I'm Catholic.  I love being Catholic, I don't want to be anything else.  But 'Catholic feminist' sounds like an oxymoron.  I'm also a graduate of a fantastic women's liberal arts college, so I know full well that I'm not nearly as much a feminist as those who prefer the spelling 'womyn' (doesn't contain "men").  Can you be against abortion and still a feminist?

Now there are plenty of people who view the Catholic Church as intensely patriarchal, and, in many respects, they're right.  The rules are all made by men who don't want to share their power.  They like having power.  I bet some priests might disagree with me--but I've never met a priest, even those I've been close to, who didn't insist on being called Father Joe, Father Fred, Father whatever, even in close conversation on my living room couch, while at the same time, from the first instance of knowing me, calling me from the start of our aquaintence only by my first name.  No Mrs. Bradley until I suggest otherwise.  Not even the perfectly polite Southern honorific Miss Kim.  It's a subtle thing, but it's a power thing, and it does get under my skin.

(Pope Francis seems to be shedding the trappings of papal power as fast as he can:  no red shoes, no living in the luxurious papal apartments, washing the feet of non-Christian women.  It'll be interesting to see where he goes.)

But--and this is a big but, at least for me--the center of the Catholic liturgy is the Eucharist, not the priest.  The Eucharist, holy and all-encompassing, male and female both.  So while I did feel slighted in the sixth grade, when my church wouldn't let me be an altar server (most churches now open this to girls), I don't feel slighted that I'm not a priest.

On the other hand, I don't understand why Catholics limit priesthood to men.  I've never heard a single argument that made sense to me.  One of my best friends on earth is a cloistered Episcopalian nun who is also an ordained Episcopalian priest.  I've worshiped in the pew beside Sarah countless times, but I also participated in her ordination.  I've received Eucharist she consecrated, and knelt to receive her blessing, and neither the Eucharist nor the blessing felt less valid for passing through the hands of a human who had ovaries instead of testicles.

Once, when I was at Smith, someone asked me how I could support the idea of an all-women's college but not an all-men's college.  I replied, "In the same way I can support an all-black college, but not an all-white one."  Even if your true position is in the center--equality--you might have to shift to the side of oppression just to create enough momentum to swing the scales.

I guess that does make me a Jesus Feminist after all.

This is part of the Jesus Feminist synchroblog.  Read more contributions here.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In Which I Learn To Fly

I have such a story to tell you.

It's about horses, except it isn't really.  It's about learning, and persistence, and hard work, but it's also about a sort of kick-ass freedom that's hard to describe. 

I competed at a horse trial this weekend.  That's what we call our standard (non-international level) competitions in my little quirky sport, eventing.  On the whole it didn't go well.  Our final placing, the results of three separate phases added together, was awful, and the first two phases were, to put it bluntly, utter crap.  I could tell you a very long story about why, but I'll spare you.  Just trust me.  They were a "learning experience," which is code for, "Yikes, I'll have to figure out how to fix that."

But I once heard eventing described as "the only sport in which you can finish 35th and be unable to sleep that night for sheer transcendent joy," and that was how I felt after our third phase, cross country. 

Cross country means galloping a couple of miles, through open fields, jumping things that are big, wide, and don't fall down.  You go across ditches, up and down banks, and through water.  You're supposed to do it at a particular optimum speed, which varies by level:  the bigger the fences, the faster you go.  At the lower levels, however you can get penalized for going too fast as well as too slow, on the grounds that you're supposed to develop control first, then speed.

Historically, I've never had a problem with control.  My beloved Gully was all about control; any time he wasn't sure about a situation, he slowed down.  At our very first event we trotted most of cross country.  We had time faults up the wazoo.  We continued to struggle with time as we moved up the levels, and, despite all I could do to get him fit and try to move him forward, we never did make the time at the third level, which was the highest we ever accomplished. 

"Kim," my trainer Angelica once said, shaking her head, "Go faster."

It just never was that easy.  I know now that it took more than an average amount of effort to steer Gully around a cross country course.  He leaned into my hands; he wanted to go slowly.  I had to hold and kick and work--but he was my only point of reference, the only horse I'd ever evented, so I took him to be normal.   He also had metabolic issues--real, not man-made--and he was astonishingly hard to get or keep fit.  (On the plus side, he tried his heart out for me, jumped whatever I put in front of him, loved me and his job, and kept me from hurting myself when I did some very stupid things.)

So now I've got Sarah.  She's a big mare, with a broad butt and heavy bone courtesy of her draft-horse daddy, and the stamina and desire to run of her thoroughbred mama.  She's naturally balanced, carries herself well, and is a whole heckuva lot easier to ride cross country than Gully.  Sarah's young yet, and for this year--our first real year of competition--I decided to not wear a watch cross country, but to just let her go and work on our pace together.

There are all sorts of things to think about cross country.  When a horse gallops, it carries its weight on its forehand, its front two legs.  To jump, it needs its weight on its back legs--otherwise it can't get a good trajectory and risks hitting the fence.  If a horse hits a cross country fence, it risks flipping over it--which is, needless to say, very bad.  So as a rider you've got to monitor and change the horse's balance; how much you have to do that depends on the terrain and the type of fence you're approaching; how quickly you can do it affects your overall speed.

When I rode Sarah at the same venue two months ago, our course was set at 350 meters per minute.  Sarah got a little tired on the hills, and we made the time, but not by much.  Over the last 2 months I'd worked on her fitness quite a bit, but I couldn't really tell if I was making much of a difference.

Sunday's course was set at 400 meters per minute.  The optimum time was five minutes exactly--the course was two kilometers long.  We set out from the starting box, and from the first strides it was fabulous.  My best cross country round.  Ever.  Sarah was forward and eager, but came back into balance easily; she listened, she steered.  She was beautifully fit--at the top of the big hill I put my hands down to let her coast and catch her breath, and she accelerated.  It was so much fun.  Honestly, the sort of round to keep me up at night, smiling at the ceiling.

Then I looked the results up on my phone.  I couldn't believe it.  Time faults.  My old bugaboo.  That beautiful round, all the learning and work that went into it, and I had time faults.  "I really thought we were fast enough," I moaned to my daughter.  "I really thought we were going to make time." 

I sloped off to the scoreboard to see my actual time.  Ran my finger down the row of numbers, stopped, stared.


I had gotten penalties for going too fast.

Oh, it was six kinds of awesome.  Too fast!  My lovely wonderful beautiful round!  Too fast.  I laughed, I danced, I skipped around the horse park until my daughter made me stop.  I texted Angelica.

She texted back, immediately.  You go, girl!  I am SOOOOO proud of you!

Ridiculous the sort of things that can bring you joy.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When Bad Things Happen to People Who Really Deserve It

So of course we're still reeling from the deaths of these high school students.  How could we not be?  And they seemed to be such good kids.

A friend of mine consoled me with a text:  Bad things really do happen to good people.  And I thought, well, yes.  We'd all like it to be different, because then we could stick ourselves and our loved ones firmly on the side of the Good People, and nothing bad would ever happen to us.  If bad things only happened to bad people, that would be awesome.

Except, the more I think on it, the less qualified I feel to decide who is or isn't a bad person.  Have you ever heard of a "bad" six-year-old?  An undisciplined one, sure.  A pain in the neck.  But bad?

A college friend of mine is principal at an elementary school on a Native American Reservation out west.  Poverty and despair are her students' close companions.  Yesterday she had to work with the local sheriff to find somewhere safe for one of her six-year-olds to go--the child's father was long gone, and mom was out getting roaring drunk instead of picking her child up from school. 

What sort of damage is being done to this child?  What will be the result?  In ten years, will people say, "that's a bad kid," instead of "that's a kid who's been through hell?"

Earlier this week I tried to console my daughter with a quote from Winston Churchill:  "when you're going through hell, keep going."  She said, without irony, "Yeah, I've pretty much heard the same thing from a country-western song."

Bad things happen to people.  Oh, how it hurts.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Radical Self-Care and Love

One funeral last night.  One funeral tonight.  One funeral (of a church member) that I'm skipping today, because I can't do two in one day.  And my neighbor had to put her old dog to sleep.

Back when I fell to pieces, several years ago, I made a physical list of self-care strategies to use before the medication and therapy kicked in.  It had to be a physical list--I was in a state where I simply couldn't hold anything in my head.  And at the beginning some of these seemed rather silly.  Hold ice cubes?  (I got that one out of a book.  It seemed ridiculous, but it helped.)  Read romance novels?  (It was not the time for serious literature.) One of my best friends sent me regular care packages of excellent chocolate, whack sci-fi novels, and yarn.

Self-care seems about the only way to get through the next few days.  So:
-hot baths
-lavendar oil
-comfortable clothes
-books you love and almost know by heart
-books that employ only 10% of your brain
-big glasses of water; small glasses of wine
-herbal neck wraps you can heat in the microwave, that lay heavy on your neck
-heavy blankets
-mild exercise
-handknit socks
-spinning (yarn, not the exercise class)
-weaving (yarn, not the horse vice)
-friends who don't ask questions
-walks outdoors

Take your pick, and live it up.  It's the only choice we have.

What else works for you? 

Monday, November 4, 2013


On Friday afternoon, two boys from my daughter's high school were killed in a single-car crash.

It's actually difficult for me not to write more about it, because writing is how I process emotion, but this is not my story.  All I will say is that our hearts are shattered.  Our little community has two funerals in the next two days.  Please pray for us.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Who Are We Saving?

I thought I'd write about the saints today, since it's All Saints Day, and since I'm in the middle of reading a book called The Afterlives of the Saints.  By and large, the saints were weird--most of the early ones would today be seen not as holy but as completely whackadoodle.  I'm not sure which perception is more accurate.

Anyhow, that was the plan.  Then yesterday happened.

Yesterday I was, for a few brief heady hours, the Big Boss at Faith in Action.  One of the directors was on vacation (but answered her cell phone long enough to tell me how to disable the new alarm system, thank you!) and the other was taking care of a family member.  In came an interesting problem.

Now, please understand, we have rules at Faith in Action.  We have lots and lots of rules, and we kept them almost all the time.  We are very good about keeping our rules.  Except for when we aren't.

I'm going to be very deliberately vague here, so don't get frustrated with my lack of detail.  Our client is a real person who deserves privacy. 

I was sitting at the center desk, enjoying the view, when one of our interviewers came in and asked where the directors were.  Then she looked at me, sighed, and said, "You'd better come here about this."  I went, and heard a long, complicated, and fully documented story from a client and an accompanying social services employee, and the gist of it was this:

We could keep all our rules, and put this person onto the streets, OR
we could break several rules, some of them mightily, guarantee the person a safe place to live and give him or her a real shot at a vastly improved life.

What would you do?

For the record, I read through the client's file--we'd helped this person sporadically with small amounts of financial help--less than $100 each time, perhaps 3 or 4 times in the past ten years.  The files showed that the client had a strong track record of both work, for very low pay, and the ability to manage on a budget that would send most of us underwater fast.  I'm trying to work out this morning how much all that influenced my decision making--what if the client had been a former drug-using pedophile just released from prison?--because I woke to this quote from the pope in my email inbox:  I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else – God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.  I still can't say for sure I'd have bent the rules for a pedophile.

Meanwhile, though, I had the real, non-pedophile, client sitting in front of me, looking exhausted.  I went back to my office, and did what we in these agencies tend to do when we're confronted with a difficult case:  called all the other social justice agencies in town and asked them to pitch in.  (For the record: the final solution represented the combined efforts of 3 different organizations.)  One of them said, "We don't help with that.  It's against our rules."

"Yes," I said.  "I know that.  It's against our rules, too.  But I think in this case we might make an exception."

The person said, "We don't make exceptions."

It wasn't until much later, thinking over the day, that I recalled the Pharisees who got mad at Jesus for healing someone on the Sabbath.  Not because healing people was wrong, but because no one was supposed to work on the Sabbath.  No exceptions.

But I wasn't thinking about Pharisees then.  I was thinking about this client and how hard it had to be when you were faced with hideous choices and no clear way to resolve them.  I went back into the interview room and I broke all the rules, and when the real director returned I tried to confess my sins, except that you can only get absolution when you feel sorry for what you'd done, and I didn't.  And that was okay, because the director agreed with me.  And later in the day, when I was finishing up some of the paperwork, someone asked me how old the client was.  I flipped through the paperwork.

My age.  To the month.