Friday, January 31, 2014

The Olympics: Badminton Matters

The other night my husband, daughter, and I stumbled upon an ESPN special about Tanya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, and the attack on Kerrigan before the 1994 (Lillehammer) Olympic Games. My daughter was fascinated--she'd never heard any part of the story before. At one point, a news reporter in a clip from 1994 suggested that, whether guilty or innocent, Harding should bow out of the Games out of a sense of justice.

I laughed pretty hard at that. Not because I doubt Harding has a sense of justice (though I do), but because it was clear to me that the news reporter had no idea what the Olympics mean to those who compete in them. Almost no one who'd made a team would step down. They worked so long to get there. They rose so far. They weren't going to stop on their own.

[Actually, in yesterday's Sports Illustrated, I did read about one athlete who stepped down this week--but it was to give her slot to her twin sister, who'd had an uncharacteristic mistake in the trials.]

It is so hard to make the Olympic Games. It is, for us mortals, nearly unfathomably hard. My little sport, eventing, is one of the 3 Olympic equestrian sports. For eventers, and for everyone who competes in a small sport, which is all of the winter games and most of the summer ones, the Olympics are a very big deal. They drive a lot of the excellence--where would badminton be, for example, without a gold medal to strive for?

I hear you. You're saying, who cares? You're thinking that a world where badminton was only a way to pass a few hours at a summer barbeque--beer in one hand, racket in the other--is pretty much the same world you live in right now. International badminton isn't exactly on your radar.

I went to badminton at the London Olympics. I picked badminton in the ticket lottery because I figured I had a decent shot of getting a ticket to it, and also because I find badminton more comprehensible than, say, Greco-Roman wrestling. I joined a big crowd at Wembley Arena, which is a small indoor venue next to Britain's historic Wembley Stadium, and I watched people play a game that was as far from backyard badminton as I am from the surface of the moon. I barely had the eye coordination to watch Olympic badminton. The players hit 30 or 40 volleys per point, in less than a minute each. Whapwhapwhapwhapwhapwhapwhap. It was impossible. It was amazing.

Somewhere in the world are people born with this kind of skill, who are willing to hone it by relentless work. I was mesmerized watching them-not just badminton, but archery, diving, fencing, and, of course, my beloved eventing--going to watch the Olympics, in person, I realized just how much some humans can achieve. It was wonderful, in all ways.

My husband's favorite movie, Chariots Of Fire, tells the story of a few of Britain's runners going to the 1924 games. One of them, Eric Lidell, planned to become a missionary in China, and his sister was dismayed that he was delaying that for the Olympics, which she saw as silly. He explains to her, "God also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his glory."

Sometimes we need to see where the limits aren't. That's all.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

More Blatherings about the Poor

I'll get off this anti-poverty kick in a few days, I'm sure. For one thing, I'm about to spend a couple of weeks in Ocala with my horse, which is pretty damn far away from helping the poor. Also, the Olympics are coming, and I'm planning a whole week of posts ramping up to the Olympics. I LOVE the Olympics. Warning: you'll find out why.

But. Yesterday I did haul my whining self to FIA. Good thing, too, because on a normal day we're staffed by the executive director, the program director, and 6 volunteers. Yesterday 2 of the volunteers didn't make it in, and another, who was just out of the hospital and should have known better than to even try to come in, bless her, had to go home partway through. All the clients with appointments showed up, and also quite a few more, and the phones never. stopped. ringing. We were flying.

About halfway through the day I paused long enough to post on Facebook, "Attention Bristolians: Bristol Faith in Action needs your cold hard cash." I'm always an advocate for BFIA, but I rarely solicit directly like that. Only, yesterday has become typical for us, in terms of need. At the start of 2014 we upped the number of interviews we do (for financial assistance, as opposed to commodities like diapers) from 10-12 per day to 12-15. We're still booked solid until next Friday. Not tomorrow--the week after that. And since people typically call us within a few days of being in real trouble (such as having their lights cut off) this sort of lead time means that some people won't even bother to make appointments. We're bracing ourselves for next month, when the electricity bills associated with this round of cold weather come in.

[As an aside, down here in the South we mostly heat with heat pumps. They're quite efficient as air conditioners, and pretty good heaters until it gets below 20 degrees, when they really can't keep up. So even people with very energy-efficient homes are going to get some staggering bills next month.]

So. I threw out the bat-signal, and people responded. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but I was. The only time I started to cry yesterday was not in front of a client, or when telling our director about a client. It was when my phone beeped and a long-time friend who lives a long way from Bristol emailed to tell me she'd decided to make regular monthly donations to FIA. It was so unexpected, and so loving--though I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, as I've seen evidence of her heart before. Her initials are the same as mine, and we've always called each other by them. So thanks, KBB. You know who you are.

Here's the only client story from yesterday that I'll share. I call a man (substantially younger than me) in from the waiting room, and notice he limps. "Oh no," I say, "did you sprain your ankle?"

"No, ma'am," he says politely. "It's from a few years back. Combat injury."

P.S. Just before I left the house yesterday morning, my sleepy tousled daughter came down the stairs reading my blog post on her phone. "Oh, Mama," she said, "we'll have tea and cookies and watch Downton when you get home." And we did.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Want Another Snow Day

So here's my Christian activist self, checking the local website to be *sure* our Executive Director didn't close Bristol Faith in Action. Because if it's open, I have to go, and what I'd really rather do is have a repeat of yesterday.

Yesterday it snowed. The first few hours it snowed tiny little ice pellets, and when I nearly wiped out walking across the bottom of the driveway while taking out the dogs, I decided not to risk going out. Our driveway, for what it's worth, is not like most driveways. It's about a quarter mile long, and runs downhill from the house with a long swooping curve. The steepest part is also the curviest part, which may be a design flaw; I'm not the only driver who has come perilously close to taking out a section of our pasture fence when my wheels slid through the turn. So. Yesterday I rescheduled two appointments and stayed home with my daughter. It snowed the entire day. In the morning I wrote and she slept in. In the afternoon we enjoyed tea and cookies and Downton Abbey, while I also worked my way through my mending and darning pile.

It was just about as enjoyable as a day could be.

Now I've got the same daughter with a second snow day. The sun's shining, my husband made tracks up and down the driveway, and I'm pretty sure I can get down it fine. I work at Faith in Action on Wednesdays. I've written about that enough that you know I really love being there. Also, I'm out of mending. But what I really want to do today is make some more cookies and another pot of tea, and enjoy one more snow day with my exquisite nearly-grown-up child.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Googling How to Help the Poor

Let us begin today’s blog entry with prayer:

Dear Jesus,

If it must continue to snow, thank you for inspiring Bristol Tennessee city schools to cancel classes on this, my daughter’s first day with a driver’s license. While I did not wish to take away her glory by driving her myself, neither did I want to pull her out of a ditch. I truly appreciate your divine benevolence and care. Although, honestly, a little spell of decent weather wouldn’t hurt us either.


OK. Now down to today’s topic: how do you help the poor? I don’t mean in personally, how do YOU help the poor—although wait, maybe I do. Anybody with good strategies, stuff that works, stuff that helps—I want to know about it. Because I just Googled “how to help the poor,” and I got a lot of really useless information:

            --prayer.  This was way up the list on a lot of posts. I’m not suggesting it doesn’t help, but “prayer without works is dead,” and if we all sit on our hands we won’t do much practical good. I’m all for practical, baby.

            --advocacy. Write your legislatures. Well, okay, maybe. I see two problems with this: one, our politics have become so hopelessly entrenched in stupidity that I think it’s going to take some cataclysmic event for the government to ever become useful again, and two, nobody seems to know which government programs actually work. For example. they've pretty much proven that Head Start is useless, but we keep on pouring money into it, because it sounds like such a good idea.

I have strong opinions on two government-based issues:

1. I am against cutting food stamps. Despite the fact that some people will find a way to abuse anything, SNAP and WIC are two of the most non-abused government programs. They give poor people food. That’s about it. We can argue all we want about root causes of poverty, but I don’t think any of us feel that children who are hungry and malnourished are as likely to grow up as well as those who are not.

 2. I support a higher minimum wage. I know this will have some repercussive effects, but I think many of them will be good ones. I see so many people at Faith in Action working 25 hours a week at $7.25 an hour because that’s all the job they can get. I don’t care who you are, you’re not going to thrive on $725/month. Raise the minimum wage to $11, and that same worker gets $1100—which is still very hard, but starts to become possible, especially if there are 2 wage-earners in the household.  

 If people start to earn enough for themselves, they won’t need food stamps. Right now we’re subsidizing our very low minimum wage with other forms of government assistance.)

 OK, back to my first list, “how to help the poor.” Still with me? Here's the least-useful suggestion I found: 
            --as a money-saving tip, "buy your jewelry at discount stores.” I kid you not. Everybody write it down.

            The Gates Foundation, by the way, has a ton of really excellent information about their efforts to fight global poverty.  Their annual newsletter shows how much we’ve gained on a global scale in recent years, and it bears reading if you haven’t seen it. But in our own country it’s a bit harder.

            I’m thinking about all this because the Executive Committee of Bristol Faith in Action was supposed to have met this morning, until the President couldn’t get down her icy driveway. We’re working on hiring a part-time social worker to help transition some of our clients to self-sufficiency. I really want to know how to do that. When I think about the people I was so concerned for last week—the disabled elderly person can’t ever work, but could possibly move into subsidized housing. The couple who are dying could really use a social worker to walk them through their issues. The two women from the abused shelter, who will share an apartment—I’d love to get to know them better, find out how to help them become permanently safe and well.

            I know very well that we can’t help everyone. I see the mentally ill, the addicts, the ones that are just plain mean. But yesterday I read a really moving article on the difference between Pope Francis and Phil Robertson. I’m not going to try to summarize it; you can look it up if you’re curious. Basically, do we see people first, or do we see what we perceive as their faults? Do we love them? Do we try to form relationships with them?

             I’m convinced we can, I’m just trying to figure out how.  Help me, if you can.

Monday, January 27, 2014

An Epoch Moment

The other day I was telling someone with a baby that they should enjoy every minute, because the time would fly by, and the person of course gave me that look exhausted moms everywhere have, the one that says, "I couldn't even get last night to fly by, let alone the next eighteen years." And then my husband told me later that he didn't agree with me, that he thought time passed at a normal speed, we just had a lot more of it in our rear-view mirrors now that we were 46.

Sorry. They're both wrong. Time is flying, baby. Somebody just lately gave that sucker wings.

Today my daughter gets her driver's license.

Do you understand what this means?

Sure, for her it means she's hit a certain level of age, skill (I hope), and maturity. It means she will wear her seatbelt, turn off her phone, never ever ever drive impaired, and with luck not even listen to the radio. She will follow the good example set by her big brother (except that one time--well, never mind) and be a safe, courteous, above all safe, driver.

She will be on her own.

That's part of what it means, but not the whole thing. There's also this: she will be on her own WITHOUT ME.

Since my son was an infant, I've had to drive my children places. To preschool, to the library, to playdates. Eventually to t-ball practice, and soccer, and music lessons. To riding lessons and basketball and tennis and Winterguard and some of this was all on the same day. My husband and I have shared the driving-to-school gig (I do days when he leaves early for surgery, he does days when he doesn't) but pickup has been almost exclusively mine. Last year, when my son had his license and still lived at home, he occasionally took my daughter to her after-school things, but mostly I still did it, because he so often had activities of his own.

Two weeks ago, on a Thursday, I went out in the early afternoon to body-clip my mare. This takes several hours. At 2:15 I left off, went to the high school, and picked up my daughter. Returned and recommenced clipping. Left off to take my daughter to tennis. Returned and recommenced clipping. Finished just in time to go pick my daughter up and take her to guard practice. Came home, showered--and still had to go pick her back up.

This is what this Thursday will look like, should I decide to body-clip another horse: I went out to the barn and body-clipped a horse. Then I walked back inside and showered.

Whoa, baby. This is going to be epic. This is going to be the biggest thing since the halcyon day when I donated our last half-pack of diapers to the food bank.

I'm not sure I'm ready at all.

P.S. In another sign that the earth rotates ever faster, a small boy who told me earnestly back when he was a first-grader that his newborn sister was, "Off the ventilator, Mrs. Bradley, but they're still keeping her in the NICU," which he pronounced "Nick-you," told me at church yesterday (he towers above me now) that he'd been accepted into the Air Force Academy. Way to go! I think that will bring the number of Tennessee High grads currently enrolled in our service academies to five.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sarah and Angelica Are Friends

Last weekend I went to a riding clinic taught by my trainer Angelica. I last worked with her a year ago, in winter, and frankly it was a bit of a mess. Angelica had some stuff going on; it was surprising she was able to teach me at all (and, indeed, I got some hostile, "She's teaching you?" remarks from people who ride much better than me.  But whatev). She was not very happy, which means she was snarkier than usual; when she met my darling mare Sarah for the first time, her first words were, "That thing should be pulling a cart. Why on earth did you buy it?"

Now, I knew going in that Angelica's view of the horse I should buy and my view were somewhat different, but I was the one riding the horse, so I bought what I wanted, which was something I could hunt first flight right off the bat, that wouldn't kill me cross-country or when I screwed up working by myself for months at a time. Angelica most likely feels I could have bought all that in something weighing less than 1200 pounds that wouldn't make the ground tremble when it galloped on its forehand, but whatev. I wasn't bothered. "Her name's Sarah," I said.

Angelica frowned and said, "There are too many horses named Sarah."

"Here's another," I said.

I might have felt indignant over Angelica's dismissiveness except 1) she had some stuff going on; and 2) Sarah acted like a complete ignorant unbroken fool every time she got within 600 feet of Angelica.  She was awful. For two straight weeks. I'd be working at the neighboring farm with my other trainer, Betty, and Sarah would be all lovely and soft and would be trying really hard, and I'd feel terrifically proud of her, and then we'd ride over to Angelica's and Sarah would go stark raving mad. We spent one lesson galloping in circles with Sarah's nose in the air while she screamed the most annoying horse whinny in the world. For forty-five minutes straight.

So they didn't part friends, Angelica and my sweet mare.

This last weekend, at the start of my group's session, I told Angelica that some of our progress had stalled, because Sarah's full-on enthusiasm in the hunt field wasn't translating well back in the confines of the ring. Angelica pointed out, to the large crowd of auditors (she's good enough that people pay to watch her teach--seriously), how Sarah's back hip conformation makes it markedly harder for her to canter with collection than the horse who was standing beside her (and markedly easier for her to gallop like a fool). She said, "Kim'll make this into a good horse, but it's going to take work. She bought a horse that you could tell was going to struggle with collection."

I said, "I bought a made field hunter."
Angelica said, "That couldn't canter," and we nodded with perfect amity, because this was the non-snarky truth.

When we did canter Angelica said I'd brought her a long way, and I could see how far I had yet to come. It's hard to explain for nonhorsey folks, but by the end of the lesson I knew where I had to go, and how to get there, and why, I just couldn't do it yet. That's an awful lot to get out of a single lesson, so I was pretty thrilled. It's one of the reasons I love Angelica.

The next day was supposed to have been cross-country jumping, but, due to the wretched weather and footing, we stayed indoors. Some of the riders were unhappy; I was jubilant. Sarah and I had a chance to put things together. And we did. At one point Sarah hesitated at the start of a jumping exercise. I got out my whip and whaled her, feeling virtuous: Angelica hollered, "Put that stick away! She's not stopping, she's thinking!" And then we did it again, and it was lovely; later, lovelier still. We finished, the four of us in my group, with a twisty difficult course of a dozen jumps; Sarah couldn't make all the turns at the canter, but I was not to punish her if she took them at the trot. And the last time through, myself the last rider, we went around the final hairpin turn, and held the canter, and cantered the jump, and halted square on the other side.  "Good job, Beautiful," Angelica said, to the horse, not me, while rubbing Sarah's forehead, and Sarah dropped her head and sighed.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Further Thoughts on the Book of Job

Yesterday I put up a post about it being a hard day at Faith in Action. It was. Some days are harder than others. I got a lot of comments (most on Facebook), which I really appreciate, but it's difficult for me to accept the ones that say, "You are so fantastic to be helping people!"

I am not fantastic. I know I'm not, and that's part of the reason I work at FIA, part of the reason I need to be in that ministry. It's not self-abdignation; it's reality. I live a life of ridiculous privilege, and yes, I work hard, and so does my husband, and we made a lot of good choices, but, on the other hand, we were born into situations that enabled us to reap the rewards of hard work and good choices. I will tell you now that if I'd been born in the slums of Bangladesh, I would not be typing these words on my laptop.

Sure, you say. Third-world poverty. Obviously, being born in America or Bangladesh or Norway or Ghana is just chance, what one writer calls, "the birth lottery." But, if you're born in America, you've got the same chance as anyone else, right? Isn't this the land of opportunity?

It sounds great, because then we can all take credit for our comfortable middle-class lives. I did work hard; I got good grades. I graduated from high school and got married before I became pregnant, which are two of the big things you can do to avoid poverty. And, as I've alluded to on these pages before, my childhood wasn't all a bed of roses. I had stuff to overcome. But I never in my life went hungry to bed. I never worried about becoming homeless. (There are 300 homeless schoolchildren on the Bristol, VA, side alone.) I was never forced to chose between moving out on my own at age 16 or letting my mother's current hook-up attack me (I read yesterday that children living with a mother and an unrelated man are 90 times more likely to be abused than children living with both parents.) Nobody did drugs in my house. Nobody sold drugs, or passed out on the couch, or ignored whether or not I attended school. My parents were (and are) of above-average intelligence and curiosity, in good health, and not crazy. None of these things are my doing.

Every week, I meet people who have triumphed by completing their GED, or getting a job at McDonald's, or by being able to feed their child and sent it clean and dressed to school. Every week I meet people battling far greater odds than I will likely ever face. I am humbled by their courage.

Every week I meet some batshit crazy mean liars, too. I mean, I want to keep it real. But you'd be surprised, most of you, reading this from your comfortable home, how many people really don't get much of a chance, not even here in America. How few choices some people have.

I'm not doing anything profound. I'm listening. I'm trying. But I fall very short, and I'm not saying this to get anyone to disagree with me. I read a book recently about the genetic origins of human morality. It pointed out that most of us would ruin a pair of expensive leather shoes to wade into a pond and save a child from death by drowning, and yet most of us would not forgo buying those shoes in order to donate the money to save a child from starving. And yet, from a philosophical point of view, the two situations--no shoes, a child saved from death--are equalt.

I have so many pairs of shoes.

I wanted to comment on my friend Mark's comments to yesterday's post. It's always great to think out of the box and I always would love to hear suggestions from anyone. As far as installing solar panels to help with the elderly person's electricity--since they live in an apartment, I don't think it would be possible. For the dying couple, we are trying to make sure that custody for the children is arranged, and we want to start a relationship with whoever will have custody, so that we can keep an eye on the kids (FIA is soon to be hiring a social worker so that we can develop more relational care for some of our clients.) In the meantime, we hired a client who wants more housecleaning work to go clean the house of the dying couple, because the woman is so ashamed of not being able to keep it nice. That's not the sort of thing we usually do, but it felt right to us.

Some clients really do only need a check--if we can pay the light bill the month they have to buy new brakes for their car, that's great. But some need more, and some we might be able to help become self-sufficient. Some, we might be able to give hope. That, believe me, would be worth the shoes.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Getting Smacked Upside the Head by the Book of Job

Today at Faith in Action is a tough day. It’s got some of us in tears, and others invoking comparisons to the Book of Job. Me? I’m looking up obscure diseases on the internet and trying to figure out what sort of help I’d most need if I were about to leave my children orphans.

 Now I’ll say that we’ve had a couple of deadbeats come through today. A couple of liars. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Our mental health counselor got stood up and we’ve had some no-shows for appointments, and all of that is marginally interesting but also par for the course. Welcome to the world of social justice.

 And then there are the others. The elderly client living on social security, in a wheelchair, on home oxygen, and caring for a grandchild. Total monthly income $1200; rent is $350, which is dirt cheap even for here but too much for that income. The oxygen generator uses vast amounts of electricity. Last month’s bill: $400. Too much. Can’t be helped.

 Another client dying of a rare genetic disease, with a spouse with end-stage cancer. They have young children.

 Two women from the abuse shelter.

 Someone working 3 jobs, and serving in the National Guard.

 We are the safety net. We just wish we knew how to be a better one.  If y'all have any ideas, for pity's sakes, share them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

How To Get Away With It

This weekend, while I was away playing with my horse, my husband did the following:

1) Made 5 separate trips into the office to see patients.  (Thus the life of a physician on call.)
2) Cleaned out the horrible "lazy-Susan" cabinet in the corner of our kitchen, which contained 300 types of napkins, plus a wide variety of other stuff as evidenced by the number of trash bags filled.
3) Cleaned out the cabinet next to that, which was mostly full of old phone books.  (He threw them all away on the context that, "No one needs phone books anymore.")
4) Attended Sunday Mass.
5) Went to the hospital to consult on an inpatient.
6) Went to Sam's Club and loaded up on toilet paper, paper towels, kleenex, and canned cat food.
7) Cleaned out the horrible "linen closet" upstairs, which was mostly full of old wrapping paper and gift bags.  He promises we never need to buy another gift bag, ever, and "if I catch you chucking another of those paper wine bags from Inari in there I will kick you in the shins."
8) Bought a 60" TV.

Please note, dear friends of mine who happen to be men. Numbers one through seven, particularly 2, 3, and 7, allow you to get away with 8.  The laughter you hear comes from my son up at Notre Dame; sound carries a long way in this cold.

Friday, January 17, 2014

But Wait--There's More!

I want to talk about one of the biggest moral issues facing America today. This is serious, folks; this is indeed a sure sign that Satan is at work among us, that decay has entered the very heart of our society, and that God's justice will rain down on us with fire and with blood.

Some "Christians" claim the Eucharist is symbolic.

We read in Matthew 26:26, "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Please note:  this IS my body.  Not this REPRESENTS my body. Not this SYMBOLIZES my body.  This IS my body. The only possible interpretation is that the Eucharist is actually Christ's body, reincarnate. There's no room for error on this one, is there? Anything else would absolutely be wrong. To worship as if you don't believe in transubstantiation would be sinful. It would be misreading the Bible.

I mean, if we're going to take the Bible at its word, there's no room for other beliefs. Everyone who thinks otherwise is just plain wrong, and, also, should be called out for their sinfulness and exhorted to change the error of their ways.

[I'm Catholic, and we do believe in transubstantiation. But yes, this is tongue in cheek.]

Other People's Words--and Quite a Few of Mine

Yesterday, still fighting a virus (the worst is over, but I can't seem to shake the tail end) and feeling grumpy about the weather (I needed to body-clip my mare.  At 7am it was 25 F.  At 10am it had warmed up to 22.) I couldn't think of a thing to blog about. It's truly rare that I don't have something to say, but there you were. When my husband came home, he said, "Well, that thing you shared on Facebook. Write about that." Then he thought for a moment and said, "On the other hand, I'm not sure you could improve on it."

I knew what he meant. It's a terrific piece about science and religion and how they co-exist peacefully in many people's minds. He's right, I can't say it better.  So here.

I have never understood Young Earth Creationists or anyone who feels they have to disbelieve science and logic in order to be faithful to God. I feel like God gave us brains for a reason. Also, frankly, the whole of science is so absolutely mind-blowingly beautiful and amazing that the temporal aspects of it seem wholly irrelevant to me. Once, we were driving on an obscure island in Ireland when I saw a handpainted wooden sign with an arrow that read "Tetrapod tracks." I told my husband to follow it. He asked what a tetrapod was. "No idea," I said. "Let's find out." It turned out the Tetrapod tracks were miles away, miles of slow driving through farmland abandoned during the Famine, miles of following little handpainted signs. Then we came to a cliff with a scientific, explanatory sign. Leaning over the cliff, we could see rocks marked by fossilized, wavy, scuffling footprints.

From tetrapods, the first fishlike creatures that developed limbs and crawled from the sea. Four million years ago.

If that's not cooler than playing mind games in a effort to prove the earth is only 6000 years old, I don't know what is. Creation is stunning on its own time.

But, I digress. 

Clearly, no shortage of words this morning. I must be feeling better.

Meanwhile, yesterday, I also read this terrific post by Rachel Held Evans, a straight, mostly-former-evangelical Christian writer and speaker, about her experience at the Gay Christian Network's annual conference.

I don't get a lot of comments on this blog (please! feel free to leave one!) but when I do it's usually someone wanting to tell me that it's not that they hate homosexuals, they just feel they must speak out about what they perceive as sin. I tell you, I don't really get this. I understand they interpret certain bible verses to read that homosexuality is a sin. I interpret those verses differently. It's not that I'm unaware of the verses. It's not that I'm ignoring them. I've read them and examined them and prayed over them, and I interpret them differently. And please, if you disagree with me, don't start in on how you don't "interpret," you just read. Unless you're reading them in the language in which they were first written, you're interpreting somehow. That there are different "versions" of the Bible in English makes this clear enough.

Here's the thing: the Bible is also adamant that we should not eat shrimp.  Leviticus 11:12:  Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.  Please note use of the word "abomination." And yet, we all ignore this. Why? The Bible is really, really clear.

Also? Who made it clear to you that you must speak out about this particular sin? Do you speak out against every sin you ever see people commit? Do you shun the divorced members of your family? Do you point out the dangers of gossip to friends who phone you with juicy news? Do you castigate your family members for the sins they commit? It seems to me people attack this one because they think it's safe. I read a letter to the editor in today's newspaper that opined that the legislature can't decide moral issues. First of all: abortion. Second of all: murder, theft, etc. Third of all: there is a difference between civil marriage and religious marriage. Legalizing gay marriage won't make it sacramental.

Ok, rant over. 

I read one other post of unsurpassed excellency yesterday. No surprise, it comes from Glennon Doyle at Momastery. I think I love everything this woman writes. I especially love this post, on the importance of asking the right questions.

That's all I've got today. I'm off to clean my horse's disgusting winter tail, in preparation for a weekend spent riding with Angelica. I'm out of shape and coughing up phlegm, but I'll take every chance to ride with this woman I can get.

P.S. Why do I still take riding lessons? Because what I'm doing is wicked hard. Nobody asks ballet dancers why they still take lessons. Sheesh.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sick Days

So, I've been sick.  I woke up Monday morning feeling unreasonably crabby and also completely disgusted with myself, like, who am I to be so unreasonably crabby?  Yes, my darling boy was leaving--going back to the wonderful university where he is thriving, poor me--it was cloudy, bad weather, my house was a mess, my Christmas decorations annoying--I had this running loop of discontent in my head. I was not much fun to be around.

I schlumped downstairs, muttering, and was starting to make breakfast when my husband came downstairs and said, "I feel awful. I'm sick."

"OH!" I said.  "I'M sick!" It was a revelation.

I went back to bed and slept until 2 pm. Tuesday, ditto.

Today I'm halfway well.  I'm getting my act back together.  Meanwhile, my beloved editor Lauri Hornik called me, just to tell me how much she loves my new novel THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE.  Lauri was one of my very first editors, back when I was ghostwriting novels, and she edited Ruthie's Gift, my first "real" novel.  She's brilliant but also funny and kind, and she always made me feel like my books had something to say. Now she's the President of Dial, so she doesn't work individually with authors anymore. It was smashing to hear from her. It also meant a ton that she liked my book so much. I'm so close to this one that I've no idea, really, whether or not it's any good, but if Lauri loves it, I'm thrilled.

And now I have a tentative release date: March 2015. I'd been hoping for fall 2014, but I knew we were too late for that.  Ah well. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

To Do Or Not To Do

This morning, after my husband left for work and my daughter left for school, I laid down on the couch to think.

No, really.  I didn't fall asleep, and I wasn't meditating or praying--things which would have, given the comfiness of the couch, certainly led to sleep.  I lay and thought, and was at peace with my conclusions, and it was a really lovely start to the day.

Then I got up to discover that one of the dogs had eaten my daughter's new leather riding gloves, and the other had eaten the crotch out of a pair of her underwear.

The dogs are getting more expensive all the time.

Do you have a to-do list?  I do.  Mine seems to be getting increasingly extensive.  I wrote myself a list on a post-it yesterday afternoon, then instead of actually doing anything on the list I played triple-solitaire with my children for a few hours.  I lost, which was annoying.  Then, when it got late, I laid down on the couch with the annotated shooting scripts of Season Two of Downton Abbey, instead of, say, one of the three novels I'm supposed to be reviewing by Sunday.

You'd think, well, that's not so bad, at least I've got all day Saturday to finish the books.  Wrong.  My parents arrive for the weekend tonight.  And the Colts are in the playoffs, and it'll be the last few days with my son.

Which isn't to say that I won't get the reviews done, well and on time.  I meet deadlines.  But I'll procrastinate for as long as possible first.

Also half the Christmas decorations are still decorating.  They don't seem willing to come down on their own. Part of me thinks this is shameful--but not a very big part.  Should I be more concerned?  One big symptom of depression is a loss of interest in things that used to concern you, but I have to be honest, this doesn't feel like depression.  This feels like happiness.  This feels like I've got my priorities in order, despite what it says on my post-it notes.

Does it feel like that to do?  Or is self-delusion the first step toward chaos?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Power of Four: Huey's Version

Yesterday was my eldest nephew Huey's fourth birthday.  My brother posted a photo of him, resplendent in his pirate Halloween costume, complete with hook and big floppy hat, and of course wearing the giant sunglasses that make him look like Jackie Onassis.  He loves his sunglasses.

Thinking of him made me remember one of the first posts I ever read by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka the Yarn Harlot.  (; she's Canadian).  Steph made the New York Times Bestseller List with one of her books of knitting humor, which perhaps seems improbable but is nonetheless true.  Anyway, when Steph's nephew Hank turned four, Steph wrote a blog post called, "The Power of Four."  It became a very popular and celebrated post.

I say all that because Hank is fourteen now, and Steph's other nephew, Lou, who was born yesterday, is nearly two (he and his new Christmas sweater were the topic of Steph's blog yesterday.)  And that's astonishing, but not nearly as astonishing as Huey turning four.

He was born a few weeks ago, or so it seems.  I was actually in Florida at the time, during the coldest weather Ocala has ever had, and the little heater in my hotel room wasn't really up to the challenge.  Early in the evening my brother texted me that his wife was in labor, so I stayed up reading, huddled with a sweater on in bed, waiting for news.  Eventually I fell asleep.  When my phone chirped in the middle of the night I woke just long enough to read that Huey had been born, and all was well.

I got a new title that morning:  Aunt Kim.  I love being Aunt Kim.  I have three baby nephews now.  Louie isn't old enough to talk about how old he is.  Dewey insists that he is little, not big.   But Huey lives large, with his quicksilver brain and even quicker tongue.  He's got the red hair I hoped my children would inherit, and luminous brown eyes behind those omnipresent sunglasses.  He's empathetic and funny and he can wear just about anyone out.

Yesterday my Mom texted me.  She couldn't call, she said, because Huey and Dewey's preschool was closed for snow and so she had them for the day, the second day in a row, with weather too bad to let them play outside, and so she was, perhaps, a bit distracted..  It was 9 am and they had blown through 3 activities and were now, Mom said, watching Semen Street.  I suggested that might be a little risque for them. She shot back, irritably, "SESAME Street.  Autocorrect."

Four is a wonderful year.  Full tilt, Huey.  Go get 'em.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Shopping for Groceries at a Wal-Mart in Mexico

So, we went to Mexico for a few days, to Los Cabos, which is a conglomeration of small towns at the very southern tip of the Baja Peninsula.  We chose Cabo for two reasons: Warmth. Golf. (The golf was for my husband.)

 The whole place was a bit odd. Back a decade ago, itt was riding a huge surge of resort development, but that crashed along with the economy.  So as you drive the 30 miles or so of beachfront between San Jose Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, you encounter first some really high-end luxury resorts, then some open desert, then a half-built, abandoned structure, then an Applebee’s, then another gorgeous resort, then a Holiday Inn, then three vacant lots and a Subway.  It goes like that.  My husband compared downtown Cabo San Lucas, a happenin’ place if you happen to like tequila, to Gatlinburg, but “with more bars and strip clubs.”

 We didn’t spend a whole lot of time there.

 We rented a condominium, which meant we could cook for ourselves, which meant, of course, that we had to buy groceries. Now, I love going to supermarkets in foreign countries. I will absolutely go in just to browse. (I love open-air markets, too.)  When we arrived in Cabo, slightly jet-lagged and very hungry, we were told that the best place for groceries was the local Wal-Mart.

Indeed.  Now, picture a bright sunny tropical day, and a Wal-Mart that resembles a cave, because only half the lights are working. Picture a bunch of Mexican people going about their routine shopping, but enough Americans that the store actually hires a couple of bilingual people to roam the food aisles and aid the confused.  A very nice woman asked me to let her know if I couldn’t find anything.  Her male counterpart shouted to my husband, “Hey, man, you lookin’ for the tequila?”

 No.  We were not. But we did buy some Mexican wine that went down nicely. Who knew?

 I loved the produce section, with 3 kinds of limes (we bought 2, standard limes, and teeny tiny limes) and papayas swaddled in brown paper and vegetables I’d never seen. I loved the bakery, with weird baked goods I bought and ate and still didn’t understand, and the cheese section--I always love the cheese. I was disappointed in the fish. Despite the nearby ocean, Wal-Mart’s fish looked old and suffering. The meat section was a bit dicey, too--green chorizo?-and I bought what I thought were skinless boneless chicken breasts only to find they’d been deceptively packaged with skin and bone still attached. 

 They sold tequila right next to the checkout counters, I supposed to tempt Americans. We still didn’t buy any.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Pope's Resolutions Are Better Than Mine

It's a little annoying.  I mean, I know he's Pope and all, which presumably puts him on a higher plane, but I thought my resolutions were pretty good until I read this.  Then I was kinda bummed.

You know, when Benedict was reigning Pope, I never once thought of what he'd do.  I never looked at lists of Stuff Benedict Said.  Which is maybe why I like Francis so much.

Still.  Gossip?  Number one is "avoid gossip"?  What happened to abortion?  I'm 46 and have been happily married for nearly 25 years.  The chances of me being tempted to get at abortion is pretty much zero.  The chances of me being tempted to gossip, on the other hand--is this a day that ends in Y?

Drive a humble car, that I can do.  (Ride a humble horse, that's more challenging.)  those of you who know me well know that it doesn't bother me one iota to be driving a 2004 minivan.  Which is of course why I'm still driving it.  I don't, however, live in a humble lifestyle otherwise.  Sure, I mostly wear jeans, but I also bought a pair of purple knee-high boots this fall simply because they were fabulous.  And the doggone Pope won't wear his red shoes.

One item on his list where I think I've made progress is in engaging with both the poor and those who believe differently than me.  My life can, if I let his, proceed primarily in a world of my own making, cocooned with family, friends, and the imaginary characters of my novels.  I am not forced to stretch myself.  I used to listen to my husband speak, anonymously and tenderly, of some of his patients.  The senile woman who peed in his examining chair.  The elderly man come for cataract surgery whose face was black with grime.  My husband washed him.

My work at Faith in Action has made me a better person.  I can't lump people together anymore, "those people on food stamps who won't get a job," "those Baptists who believe everyone's going to he'll.". Not when I see Jackie, a staunch, life-long Baptist, embrace a child's child, her face suffused with joy because she loves children, s much, and she never had any.  Not when a client swings by on a Wednesday just to check in with one of our other volunteers, because he cares about her and she has very few supportive people in her life, and that volunteer invites her to his home for Christmas.  Not when a woman threw her arms around me and wept on my shoulder because I was paying the $40 bill that would get her water turned back on.  (She smelled horrible.  Of course she did.  She'd lived 6 weeks in a house with no water.)

I've got a long way to go, but at least I can see a small change.  Next year maybe I'll even make progress on this gossip thing.  (I'm afraid the purple boots will be last to go.)

What do you think about the Pope?  And what are your resolutions? Really, I'd like to know.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


I rarely go in for New Year's resolutions, they seem so cliched.  "I'd like to lose weight, eat healthier, and reduce the stress in my life."  Well, duh.  This is America, after all.

Then I saw Maggie Stievater's blog post reviewing her resolutions for 2013, and saw that her resolutions were reasonable and primarily work-based, and I thought, I can do that.  And maybe I should.

So here are my resolutions for 2014:

1. Write the sequel to The War That Saved My Life.  (TWTSML is the newly official title of what I had been calling my English book.)

2. Rewrite my Obelisk book according to plan.

3.  Write adrift of the King Tut book.  Yes, really.

4.  Successfully, safely, and happily, move my horse Sarah to Training level in eventing.

5.  Log 500 miles on the new treadmill.

Honestly, that's quite a lot to be going on with.  What are your resolutions?  Do you even bother?