Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rainbows Over Dublin

I'm a little worn out over the whole Duggar thing. The Family Research Council, the "Christian public policy ministry in Washington D.C. defending religious liberty, the unborn & families" for which Josh Duggar worked until last week, when he resigned, is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. You know, right next to all those factions of the Klu Klux Klan. I read a statement on the Family Research Council's website which said that one-third of all child molesters are gay, so I investigated further--and no, it isn't true. The statistics get sort of complicated, as statistics usually do, but basically being a child molester, or a pedophile (which is actually a subset of child molesters) is not connected with being gay or straight, any more than having blue eyes is connected with either being a child molester or being gay or straight.

It is sort of ironic that Michelle Duggar made political phone calls recently claiming that transgender people were just child molesters in drag--that the only reason they dress funny is so they can sneak into public restrooms and abuse your child--and that JimBob Duggar is on record as saying, during a failed Senatorial campaign, that he thinks people who commit incest ought to be executed. And Josh himself, while working for the Family Research Councils, spent a whole lot of time claiming that gay people molest children. Logically speaking, this would lead you to believe that 1) Josh is gay; 2) his dad thinks he deserves to die.

I'm sure that's not true. But maybe we all need to tone the hyperbole down a bit. 

I bring you instead, the people of Ireland, who not only voted 62% in favor of gay marriage in the first national referendum on that subject, but did so with joy and compassion. Ireland is the 20th traditionally Catholic country (a list including France, Spain, Argentina, and Brazil) to legalize gay marriage, and they did so not because they reject Catholicism--they don't, over 83% still consider themselves Catholic in a country badly damaged by abusive priests--but because they believe the teachings of Christ require them to love their neighbor as themselves, and because they believe that God created all humans in God's image. And maybe because the Irish understand love. I've been to Ireland four times; along with South Africa, it's a foreign place where I feel entirely at home. My son said, "Of course the Irish voted yes. As long as nobody's bothering their families, their sports, or their chance to drink a beer, they don't care what anyone else does." 

But see, it was bothering their families. Lots of Irish families, like families everywhere, contain gay people, who wanted to marry like everyone else. So the Irish fixed it.

The posts I saw were crazy lovely. First a bunch tagged #HomeToVote, which showed trains, ferries, airplanes and airports full of Irish citizens returning from Great Britain and Europe because it was important to them to vote. Then the riotous celebrations when the votes were counted. Finally, oddly enough, rainbows that evening all over the Dublin sky--a sure sign, the Irish said, that Jesus was voting yes.

According to another post I read, of the main religious denominations, Catholics are most likely to be in favor of gay rights. Now, understand, there are two definitions of the Catholic Church. There's the hierarchy, the Pope and all that, and while I love the Pope the official line from the hierarchy is still anti-gay. But then there's the rest of us, the body of the Church, and apparently a whole lot of us stand with Ireland. And Luxembourg. Belgium. Portugal. Non-Catholic countries like Canada, Great Britain, South Africa. Still, it makes me proud to be Catholic, so it does. Let's hope for some rainbows over Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Day After I Wrote To the Duggar Girls

Dear Friends,

Thank you for yesterday. An amazing number of you read my blog. I really appreciate it. I would love to see sexual abuse become rare, swiftly punished, and abhorred, and I think that for that to happen we have got to stop being quiet about it. Abusers rely on silence and shame.

I read a couple of other things yesterday that pertain to the Duggars, though indirectly. First, one website, which I can't find right at this moment, pointed out that there is no such thing as "consensual sex." There is "sex," which is by definition consensual, and then there is "rape" which is not consensual. There is no middle ground.

Then I read this very well-written post which says that for women members of the sort of fundamentalist patriarchal cult to which the Duggars belong, there is no such thing as consent. All sexual activity, even holding hands, is forbidden before marriage; after marriage, the wife is not allowed to say no when her husband wants sex.

This is so inexorably sad.

Also, apparently thinking about sex before marriage is just as sinful as having sex before marriage. Yikes. I tried to follow that to its logical conclusion--envy is the same as theft--but then realized that there was no logic involved.

I read another screwball post--you could probably find it on Facebook--where some fundamentalist preacher was all in support of Josh Duggar--I'm not sure how the logic devolved here--oh wait, no logic--then said that if evolution was true it didn't matter whether he really assaulted his sisters, because then it was just two bags of molecules rubbing up against each other at random.

I had to sit and think about that for awhile. Then I remembered that for some people, belief in God rests upon belief in Creationism. That is to say, if evolution is true, then there is no God. So, wanting there to be a God, they cling to Creationism in defiance of all evidence to the contrary.

I've never understood this. I know an awful lot of people who believe in evolution and God. (I also know some people who believe in evolution but not God. I don't, admittedly, know anyone who believes in Creationism but not God. Though speak up if that's you, I'm intrigued.) I don't think the earth has to exist solely on a human timescale to be miraculous--the more you look into science, the more you truly understand the discoveries we have made, the more crazy amazing it gets. The universe exploding from one source? The actual way our bodies work, that I'm sitting here thinking words and my fingers are automatically tapping the correct keys of my keyboard? Think of all that involves--a concept of language, spelling, then all the cells involved with the actual actions of my fingers--muscles moving, nerves firing, chemical reactions all up and down my arms and in the mitochondria of each cell--it's nuts. It's extraordinary. And then think of how crazy our brains can be. I mean, I love my horse and all, and I think for a horse she's quite good at communication, but I don't expect her to create poetry. Whereas every once in a while, we humans get Shakespeare.

My daughter is very good friends with a girl from a staunch conservative Baptist family--but one, unlike the Duggars, that is part of the real world. So the two of them have agreed to just not discuss the evolution/Creationism thing, but meanwhile my daughter occasionally goes to her friend's youth group and plays Bible trivia and explains that Catholics don't worship Mary, and her friend comes with us to Mass sometimes and wonders how we know when to sit and stand and kneel. I know that different beliefs can coexist peacefully; like my daughter, I don't require my friends to think the same way I do.

I wish someone could explain all this to the Duggar girls. After yesterday I feel sort of personally involved with them, and the more I read about their situation, the more concerned I am.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ten Things I want to Say to the Duggar Girls

Dear Girls in the Duggar Family,

I don't know you. I don't even know the fictional versions of you, as I've never watched the television show about your family, "19 Kids and Counting." You don't know me, how could you? But we have some things in common: we've both survived sexual abuse. We've both had to sit at the same dinner table as our abuser. I'm a Christian, too, though I understand your family may not consider me one (I wear blue jeans, went to college, and don't hate people for being born gay.) I've been thinking about you a lot this week, as the word of your brother Josh's molestation of at least four of you has spread across the internet. I thought of you when Josh said he changed his ways because he knew that if he didn't, his life would be ruined. No mention of you, of your lives. I thought of you because over and over, in the things that I read, you, the victims, were left out. So here's what I want you to know:

1. What happened to you was not your fault. Not. Your. Fault. Not ever your fault. Not because of the way you dressed, not because of the way you acted, not because of anything about who you were or what you did or didn't do. It was NOT your fault. I know from experience how easy it is for assaulted children to believe they caused the assault; I've also seen crazy things such as this from the same man who promotes the homeschool curriculum your family has always used. I wish I could say this to you in person: no part of the evil that happened to you was your fault.

2. Normal men do not lose sexual self-control. It's not the job of women and girls to keep men from molesting or raping people. It is the job of the men themselves. Normal men are capable of seeing women in blue jeans, with short hair, in shorts, or even in bathing suits on public beaches without being consumed by lust, still less raping them. I'm not sure why the people surrounding your family seem different. The man who wrote and promoted the above blame-the victim tutorial, Bill Gothard, recently lost his job because he's been accused of molesting 34 women. Normal men don't molest women. Not at all, not ever, no matter what.

3. What happened to you was criminal. It was not normal. It was entirely wrong. A fourteen-year-old who sexually assaults his four-year old sister commits a crime. Sexual assaulting you in your sleep was a crime. There are no excuses.

4.. Asking for forgiveness for criminal actions is not enough. God can and does forgive all our sins. However, we also live in society, and must be accountable to society's laws as well as to God. If Josh had taken a gun, randomly shot someone, and killed them, he could certainly repent and be forgiven by God, but he would also have to answer to murder charges and spend time in prison. In the same way, when he assaulted you, the juvenile justice system should have been called immediately. In fact, both the elders of your church and the state trooper who gave him a "stern talking to" were legally mandated reporters: they broke the law by not reporting Josh to the state. I hope they are charged with that. (The state trooper has already been imprisoned for 56 years for child pornography.)

5. You should have gotten counseling. From the police report it seems that Josh was "counseled" by the church elders who didn't file their mandatory report, and the state trooper now in jail for porn. His "treatment" was to go work in construction away from the family for a few months. This was unfair to him and to you. He needed professional treatment in a facility for juvenile sex offenders, where trained counselors could help him and could also assess how likely he was to assault children again. You all needed counseling even more than he did. Sexual assault can cause post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression; its effects persist for decades. It's a Big Deal. Treating it like it wasn't a big deal threatened your long-term physical and mental health. A good therapist would have helped you, and still will if you ever get a chance to see one.

6. I'm sorry this has been splashed all over the internet. At the same time, I'm g
rateful this has been splashed all over the internet. People who molest children rely for concealment on silence and shame. The only way to get rid of this evil, in the world and in your lives, is to expose it to the light. I know these last few weeks have been very hard for you. I also know that they've been easier than being sexually assaulted in the first place. You've got a chance for healing now; I hope you snatch it with both hands.

7. You need to keep small children away from your brother Josh. Most people who are capable of molesting children can never be trusted around children again. I'm guessing you already know to keep your younger sisters away from him, but you need to watch out for his daughter, too. Do whatever you can to keep your family safe. If Josh doesn't like it, ask him why not.

8.. God created you as an individual. When I read the police report written several years after Josh first assaulted you, I was struck by how similar all your answers were. All of you who were interviewed stated that your favorite activity was Broom ball or kickball. (One of you said you were attempting to get your GED.) I hope some day you will find the strength to explore whatever it is that you, personally, enjoy most--painting or gardening or photography or travel or fan fiction or whatever--whatever makes your soul light up. You were created as a unique and treasured person. Be one.

9. You were brave before. Be brave again. Whichever of you originally told your parents of the assaults--whichever of you told them again after the assaults continued for another year--you were astonishingly brave. You weren't even a teenager at the time. Whoever wrote the letter stuffed into a book that allowed the truth to break three years later--I don't know that it was one of you, but it could have been--that was brave too. It is very hard to say a difficult truth, especially in an atmosphere that expects your silent compliance. Keep telling the truth. Tell it every chance you have, as loudly and clearly as you can. The truth is the only way out.

10. It was not your fault. Do you hear me? It was not your fault, not your fault, not ever, not once and not in any way, your fault. It should not have happened, and it did, and it was not your fault.

I wish I had some way of getting this to you. I don't know you, but believe me, I wish you all the best.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Sparkles on My Shadbelly

Yesterday I wrote about Lauren Kieffer, and how her elevation to Team USA gives her the right to wear a red coat for the rest of her life. It does. But red coats are for showjumping, phase three of our sport, eventing, which is basically a riding triathlon. For phase one, dressage, Lauren gets a little USA patch to sew onto her shadbelly. (For phase two, she gets a team crash vest. Not kidding.) Shadbellies are formal coats with long tails that extend past the saddle. They're only worn in international-level competitions--they used to be worn with top hats until people got smart and started wearing their crash helmets in all three phases--and they're gorgeous. Away with the naysayers that say we should dress as though we're athletes, not ballroom dancers. I say ballroom dancing can be athletic, too, and I covet a shadbelly with all my heart.

I was reminded of the Team USA shadbelly patch today because I read an article over at The Chronicle of the Horse, written by someone who'd had a very uneven weekend competing--as in, the footing at the water jump was uneven, and she fell into it. The main point to the article is that eventing is a community; when the author realized in panic that she'd left her shadbelly at home, another rider immediately loaned her hers. That rider was Jan Byyny, a team rider, so carried the Team USA patch. The non-team rider wore it anyhow. I would have too.

(Eventers will loan other competitors, even complete strangers, absolutely anything. I've loaned my hammer, studs, medical armband, pitchfork--I've borrowed crops, hole punches, a show coat, pitchforks...)

There are six recognized levels of eventing in the US, Beginner Novice through Advanced (overseas the names are different), and four international levels, one-star through four-star. The fourth US level, deceptively named preliminary, pretty much correlates to the one-star level, although a one-star event will always be difficult--a prelim on steriods, if you will. I would love to go prelim, but really doubt I will ever go higher. So a one-star is my only shot at wearing a shadbelly. Mmmm.

I went shadbelly window-shopping at Rolex. Time was, you could only get your shadbelly in black, and the little points that stuck down over your waistband, to give the impression you were wearing a vest underneath, only came in traditional hunting canary. No more. Shadbellies have exploded into a plethora of patterns, colors--okay, mostly variations on black or navy--even crystals. Some shadbellies sparkle. My magpie self swooned.

Ellie MacPhail, who I consider a friend even though she's young, lithe, gorgeous, and talented, rode her first Rolex in a dove-grey shadbelly whose soft blue collar was outlined in crystals. Her horse was a grey, so the whole picture was unbelievably lovely.

My trainer, Cathy, is a staunch traditionalist whose shadbelly you had better damn well believe is straight black. She was doing commentary for showjumping at Rolex; on a break, my daughter and I ran into her. "I want crystals on my shadbelly," I said.

Cathy said, "No."

Mmmm. I figured I had a few years to soften her up. But then I was at a riding clinic a few weeks ago and again expressed my desire for a bedazzled shadbelly. One of the instructors shook her head. "You've got to be damn good to get away with crystals on your shadbelly," she said.

That's true. One of the unspoken rules of eventing is that you can only get away with sartorial extremes if the community feels that you've earned them. I once saw a woman ride her dressage test in a daffodil-yellow shirt and identically-colored breeches (coats had been waived). She was a former Olympian, which made it okay. Ditto the woman in a pink helmet, or anyone with the guts to wear white gloves in dressage. Me, well--black hides a multitude of sins.

Still, I have two options. One is that it will take me so long to earn my shadbelly that crystals will have become passe, even de rigueur. The other is to "forget" my shadbelly, and borrow Kieff's. The one with the patch that reads Team USA.

Edited to add: just received word from a secret but wholly reliable source that Lauren Kieffer's shadbelly, the one onto which she is even now sewing her new Team USA patch, has a secret interior glittery ribbon. Now all I have to do is lose 40 pounds--and qualify for a one-star--so I can fit into it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lauren Kieffer Sees Red; Sarah Comes to Jesus

Yesterday was a great day, horse wise. It was a pretty good day in all other respects, but a great day on the equine front. The United States Eventing Association named their team for the Pan Am games, which take place in July in Canada, and Lauren Kieffer's on it with a young mare named Meadowbrook's Scarlett.

The Pan Am Games are not the highest level of eventing competition in terms of difficulty--we're trying to encourage the spread of our sport, and so we really want up-and-coming eventing nations like Mexico and Argentina (both of which have long storied horsemanship, but not much eventing) to be fully participant. But the Pan Ams are like the Olympic and World teams in that they are a national team; you ride for your country, not yourself. Along with that comes the right to wear the red coat of Team USA, forever. You don't wear it while running your baby horse at Beginner Novice at Podunk Horse Trials, of course, but you wear it at Rolex and any big-deal event for the rest of your life. Getting named to the Pan Ams gives Lauren Kieffer her red coat, and I'm really pleased about that for her. I think she's going to look fine.

(Incidentally, I've seen one of those red coats up close in person--it was hanging on a bridle hook outside a rider's stall at a horse trials, and being innately curious I took it down and examined it. Whoa. Olympic rings engraved on the brass buttons (I assume Kieff's won't have that--yet), rider's name embroidered on the inside. It was super, super cool.) (Kieff, next winter I'm going to want a close look at yours.)

Then my mare Sarah had a supreme Come To Jesus moment. She had it coming. Sarah's a young (nearly 8), large, opinionated mare. I am her Person and she loves me above all other humans and pretty much every other animal as well. If I hadn't known that before last winter's trip to Florida, I would have known it then, because in the nearly two weeks Sarah was there without me, she apparently spooked at every. Single. Thing. nearly unseating two international-level eventers and one tough-as-leather groom. When I arrived, all three women were shaking their heads and saying, "You hunt this twitchy thing? Are you outta your mind?" and I said,"What are you talking about? She never spooks," and, as soon as I got there, she didn't. She wandered around so calmly that my trainer Cathy said in disgust, "She looks like a dog." Yep. A happy dog.

On the other hand, a manipulative one. This winter/spring I've been more fully aware that Sarah is, as they say, bullshitting me. It started with dressage in Florida, where she turned out to be completely capable of beautiful movement as long as Cathy was riding her. Cathy got off, I got on, and Sarah poked her nose in the sky and wailed, "I can't do this...I can't..." for the next forty-five minutes. A lot of what I've been doing this spring is waiting her out--asking her to move correctly, despite her protests, over and over for forty-five minutes, until she did.

It takes a lot of physical strength to do this, which is probably how I ended up with crap from Sarah in the first place. Only since January have I been working hard on my strength and fitness and been able to truly wait her out.

That was one part of the pile. The other part concerned Liverpools, and anything new that showed up in Sarah's world.

Liverpools are square shallow wading pools. They're a way to put water under fences in a jumping ring, and some horses really dislike them. Sarah seemed to be one. She snorked at the liverpool in Florida and it took such a fight to get her over it that I bought one for home use. All spring I would win the fight and get her over the liverpool. Then I would move the liverpool two feet to the left, and it would become a whole new war. Over and over. She also got hysterical over the new jump poles that showed up in her field. Poles and standards and liverpools, oh my! I was working hard to address this, but I didn't understand how much it was all an act on Sarah's part--I'm still not sure whether she was shirking or if it was all her idea of a joke--until Rolex, when I happened to run into a woman who'd done a lot of Sarah's very early training, before I bought her.

"She's faking," Lucy said. "We have a liverpool at Elysian (the farm where Sarah was bred) and we work the babies back and forth over it until it's no problem at all."

"Ha," I said.

"Sounds like her," Lucy added.

"You're going to have to put a stop to that," my daughter said.

In anticipation of the pony clubbers coming to camp on my farm, I just had a little bitty ditch jump put in. This is a cross-country jump, and it's exactly what it sounds like--a ditch dug in the ground, usually framed by timber so it doesn't deteriorate. I happen to have a really big, fearsome ditch already, but it isn't a ditch you could start beginners over. Both Sarah and Mickey, my daughter's horse, are adept at ditches in competition, but Sarah, needless to say, was "afraid" of our home one.

Yesterday Sarah jumped the baby ditch, new to her field, on the very first try. She threw some b.s. at me first, of course, but now I was not only prepared, I was over it. When she dodged left she met my left spur, hard onto her flank, and when she started to slow down my crop urged her not to.

Suddenly the stuff didn't hit the fan. Sarah sighed and jumped the ditch, back and forth, over and over. Then we went down to the Big Fearsome Ditch, and lo, we jumped it without incident. Back and forth. Then done. I patted Sarah, she licked her lips, and we walked back to the barn, to text Kieff our congratulations and call it a night.

Victories rock.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Good Morning

After yesterday's blog post several concerned friends contacted me, offering air mattresses so I could sleep downstairs in my home or guest beds so I could sleep in air conditioning in theirs. They all said the same thing, "Why didn't you tell me you needed help?"

Dunno. It's better now--the repairman got one of two upstairs units functioning yesterday, which was enough to make sleeping a happy experience.

I'm not always good at asking for help when I need it. It doesn't occur to me. I'm not sure why.

Lately I've been working on my novel revision. I love revision. I have a deadline, and it's pretty tight given what else I have planned for the next few months, so I'm in full compromise mode now, which means I just walked away from a mess in my kitchen and a whacking great pile of unfolded laundry to sit here at my computer. (I'll move quickly from this post to the revision.)

When I talk to other writers I notice a big difference between fathers who write at home and mothers who write at home. I'm not sure why this is, but mostly the dads seem to have some sort of regular hours, as in, paid babysitting much of the day, and the moms seem to stuff writing around all the other things they do. I prefer my way, honestly--I love the freedom to arrange my schedule to suit me, and I've loved being able to be the primary caretaker to my children. What writing really takes is the commitment to write, and that can happen a lot of different ways. When my husband was a medical resident and our son an infant, my husband and I both woke at 5 am every morning. My husband went to work, and I made myself a pot of coffee,  and went to work, too. When my son woke, around 7:30, he and I had breakfast together. I got a lot done in those early mornings. Gotta run now--I'm set on getting a lot done this morning, too.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Things They Do For Love

My family has been suffering on my behalf.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we are experiencing technical difficulties here at the Bradley homestead. I do now have my dryer vents cleaned, and the dryer is working, much to my joy. We had a small incident Sunday where I plugged in a lamp and flames shot out of the electrical socket and set the family room rug on fire, but I'm working on that. The biggest problem right now is our air conditioning, or rather, lack thereof.

Supposedly both upstairs heat pumps are broken. (I say "supposedly" because I'm losing faith in the repairman. We'll see.) For sure neither one is working at this time. The main floor is a reasonable temperature, and the basement cold enough to preserve meat even though we've turned that heat pump off. (No one knows why this is true.) The upstairs, however, is suffocatingly hot. Unbearable hot. Lay-on-top-of-the-sheets-and-feel-your-ears-fill-with-sweat hot.

Night before last, I gave up after several hours, took my pillow, and went down to the couch, only to find that my daughter had beat me to it. My son was sleeping on the couch in the basement. I tried sleeping on the loveseat, but it turned out that flat and hot was more restful that cool and twisted, so I went back to bed. Last night my husband called dibs on the couch. He's too tall to be comfortable on our couch so it wasn't all he hoped for, in terms of sleep. Pretty soon we'll all be too exhausted to care.

Here's the thing: the nights right now are lovely and cool. It's getting up to the 80s during the day, but down in the low 60s at night, with a gentle late-spring breeze. Opening the windows would solve all of our heat-related issues, and yet we're keeping them shut.

I'm allergic to everything, especially the yellow-green pollen that's filling the air just now. My family has been sleeping on couches in order to keep the house as allergen-free as possible. Just for me.

I'm really grateful to them. But another night or two of this and I might start flinging the windows open myself. 

Monday, May 18, 2015


This morning I set out with my pickup truck and returned with 12 old tires and 4 rusty, empty barrels. A friend bought an old building, once a service station, to convert to a print shop, and when she saw the tires and barrels thought of me with real pleasure, knowing that I could use them to build cross country jumps. When I told my daughter I was going to pick up a load of used tires, she said, "Gotta love the small town perks."

I like to visit cities, but I don't want to live in one. When I return to Indianapolis, my home for 8 years 2 decades ago, I'm appalled at how long it takes to get anywhere. The traffic! Did I really once put up with it? I know I did. I agree that the shopping is better in cities, but the internet's mostly got that covered, now, and besides, I can always shop when I'm travelling.

In my small town, I can get to my airport 45 minutes before the flight takes off and be fine. A long security line lasts 10 minutes.

In my small town, I once forgot to fill a rental car up with gas before I returned it. The guy at the counter gave me the keys back and told me to go do it, or he'd have to charge me way too much for the gas.

In my small town, the librarians set aside new books for me if they're on a topic I'm currently researching.

The checkout guy at Food City asks probing questions about my latest novel. He also wants to be sure I've seen the new whole-grain tortillas, since I buy tortillas often.

Once in the winter I was swimming laps at the Y. The lifeguard leaned over and yelled, "Are you Kim Bradley? Someone just called to say your horses got loose!"

When my horses get loose, complete strangers pound on the door to tell me, and then stay to help catch them.

When my sheepdog ran off while I was on vacation, friends searched until they find her.

Everyone knows that on Wednesdays you can find me at Faith in Action. Friends stop by, sometimes just to say hi.

If my kids screw up, I hear about it before they reach home. If they do something good I hear about that, too.

I don't have a Whole Foods, but the farmers' markets are to die for. I buy pasture-raised meat direct from my yoga instructor's farmer husband, eggs from my next-door neighbor, and fresh goat cheese from a friend.

The guy at the feed store knows me, knows the man who cuts my grass, and knows the people who care for the farm when I'm out of town. He'll sell anything to my help or my children and bill my account without issue.

The man who cuts my grass can pretty much go anywhere in town, pick up any sort of farm equipment or supply, and walk out with it, and the store will bill me. If an employee insists on calling me for verification, the man who cuts my grass gets indignant on my behalf.

I'm not queen of Bristol. This is what it's like here, for everyone. What are the perks of life in your town?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Come to the Knoxville Children's Festival of Reading!

All the cool kids are going to be there! The author/illustrator of the newest Caldecott winner, Beekle (that's the book's title, not the author's name). The author/illustrator of the very cool picture book Green. The authors and illustrators of A Sick Day for Amos McGee. The author of Clementine.

And also, me.

I sometimes get frustrated with people who believe that, because Bristol is a small town in the Appalachian mountains, no actual intelligent, creative, or interesting people live here. I mean, I must be a self-published author writing about her cats, in rhyme--why would a "real" author live in the upper east nowhere? I tell them that Barbara Kingsolver lives down the street, and they don't believe me. (She does--admittedly it's a rather long street.) Anyway I was perhaps just a touch guilty of that attitude myself recently, because while I'd heard very good things about the Knoxville Children's Festival of Reading, I didn't understand was a big thing it was until I saw the lineup of my fellow participants. I mean, I'm cool and all, but not nearly as cool as Laura Vaccaro Seeger. I can already tell I'll be coming home with some autographed books for myself, and, if they're lucky, for my nephews.

Meanwhile, if you're near Knoxville, come! It looks amazing. There's a main stage, an author/illustrator stage, a musical stage, cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts, all sorts of fabulous stuff--and it's all free! At the World's Fair Park, 10 to 3, rain or shine.

If you can't come, drop me a note, and I'll say hi to the Beekle guy for you.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Gay People Having Children: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

I've been thinking about whether to write about this. I'm trying to stick to my "no snark" principle, even if I do slip from time to time. And then I'm trying to decide if I want to get involved. But I guess I do.

A few days ago my son and I were discussing life, sociology, (I love sociology!) and other peoples' moral and political opinions. He said that one college friend of his, not someone I know at all, is against gay marriage because that person thinks it will have a negative impact on society--in particular, that the children raised by married gay parents will suffer. This is not my son's point of view, but we discussed it for a few minutes. I told my son I didn't know any statistics. Then, because my family loves information (and was never happier than when we learned we could access Google through our cell phones) I looked a few things up.

I learned the truth of Mark Twain's famous saying: "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."

The topic is all over the news right now because of a study published three years ago by a University of Texas sociologist named Mark Regnerus, and recently derided by another study in the same publication, which shows, or purports to show, that children raised by gay parents do worse on several life outcomes, including being married, contemplating suicide, and receiving public assistance, than children raised by straight parents.

It's worth being said at this point that all previous studies have shown that children raised by gay parents do the same or better on life outcomes than children raised by straight parents. It's also worth saying that nearly all of those studies have serious flaws. The truth is that there is only now a reasonable sample size, nationwide, of children being raised by married gay parents, and those children are mostly too young to have any "life outcomes" at all. Previous studies mostly followed small samples of upper-class white lesbian couples, which skews the statistics in the same way that comparing white, upper-class straight couples to black, lower-class straight couples might. So, there was no real definitive data before the Regnerus study.

Now, it turns out there are a ton of problems with the Regnerus study, too. In the first place, it was sponsored--to the tune of over $700,000--by the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative organization opposed to gay marriage. This is sort of like Monsanto funding a study that proved that GMO-foods are just fine: the results might be true, but you'd have reason to be skeptical.

The Regnerus study surveyed 3,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 39. It started by asking them whether they'd been raised in intact biological families (birth mom and birth dad, married the entire time) or not. If not, it asked a series of questions which included whether or not either parent had had, at any time, a physical relationship with a member of the same sex. It went on to ask various life-outcome questions, as noted above. Some 1.7 % of the surveyed population reported having a parent who had a relationship with someone of the same gender. Regnerus referred to these parents as "lesbian mothers" and "gay fathers" regardless of the duration of that relationship, and regardless of whether the same-sex partner ever lived in the same home with the original parent and child.

But--this is the salient point--his study compared children whose parents stayed married to each other with children whose parents divorced and then had a same-sex relationship of some duration. This is, in the example given by one critic, like comparing lung cancer rates between men who never smoked and women who smoked two packs a day, and concluding that being a woman made you likely to get lung cancer.

There are other problems with the Regnerus study. According to the rebuttal paper (I could cite all this stuff, but that's tedious--it's all very easy to find via Google.) one-third of the respondents classified as having a gay parent actually never lived with that parent at all--for example, they were raised by a single mother and never lived with their father, who had a gay relationship. Other surveys were included in the statistics when they were clearly not completed honestly--one person reported that he'd been arrested at the age of one, and another that his father was 7'8" tall and weighed 78 pounds.

I used to think of myself as conservative, but it's getting harder for me to stay one. Whole websites right now are waving this study around as proof we should not legalize gay marriage. "Consider the children!" All the Regnerus study really shows is something sociologists have already shown, in study after study: that children do best when they are raised by two happily married parents.

Which, when you think about it, is an argument for gay marriage, not against it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Technical Difficulties

Yesterday my son asked me why I didn't blog about him more often. I told him that I'd considered blogging about him that very day. Then I told him the story I considered telling.

He said, "My gosh, Mom! Why would you tell people that? Why would you even think about writing about that?"

1) That's why I didn't blog about it; and 2) that's why I don't blog very often about my son.

I try hard to separate the stories that are completely mine to tell and the stories that belong, in whole or part, to someone else. You'll also notice that in this blog I don't call my children by name. I assume that my half-dozen regular dedicated readers actually know my children's names; what I don't want is for this blog to show up when someday a potential employer or significant other or nosy-Parker googles my children's names. This is my blog. It doesn't need to be part of their history.

In a similar fashion, my nephews are not actually named Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Fred; the gay married couple I sometimes write about are not actually named Bert and Ernie; and even darling Maddie of last week's fan questions is not actually named Maddie, though she is in fact in fourth grade in Indiana.

Yesterday was a highly frustrating day in the technology department here. First there was a new chapter in the dryer saga. Awhile ago, my upstairs dryer quit working. Now, I have two washer/dryer sets, one downstairs, which I mostly use for horse laundry, saddle pads, etc., and one upstairs, which I mostly use for people laundry. So the upstairs dryer made horrible noises and produced a horrible smell and didn't dry. I called a repairman, and got a--what's the word I want, it's not snarky--maybe condescending, only that's not quite right either--anyway, a man who clearly thought I was an idiot. He told me the whole problem was that the dryer had lint in it, and I needed to go on Amazon and buy a lint-removal-thingie. Then he left.

Supercilious. That's the word.

Chagrined, I went on Amazon and bought a lint-removal-thingie, and I removed a truly impressive amount of lint from the dryer. After that, it still didn't work.

Then I was gone for over half of the next several weeks so I just did the people laundry downstairs despite, you know, horse hair and hay and stuff. Yesterday I had the dryer guy back. Different guy, much less annoying. He immediately found a great big functional problem with the dryer (HA!). He put in a new part, started it all up-

--and told me I had too much lint. Apparently the dryer vent is just chock full o'lint, and apparently this is VERY BAD. I'm not allowed to use the dryer until I've gotten someone in to clean the dryer vents.

I never knew you could clean dryer vents. I'm guessing this is something like when I took my truck in to the tire place to say that one tire seemed to be very slowly losing air, and the guy looked at some code on the tire and informed me, horror-struck, that my tires were ten years old. I said sure, so was the truck. (In my defense it had very few miles on it for its age.) The man said, eyes wide as saucers, "Ma'am--you can't do that," so I let him sell me four six (it's a dually) new tires.

I found a dryer vent cleaner and he's coming Friday, being booked solid cleaning other peoples' dryer vents until then.

At the same time all this was happening, I had an air conditioning problem. It's been unseasonably hot here--how I've loved it--and we noticed that one of the upstairs heat pumps was not functioning, because if we closed the door to the master bedroom that room very quickly grew very hot.

For you northerners (Hi, Mom!), heat pumps are a Southern type of air conditioner/furnace. They're quite energy efficient, and very good at cooling, but can only heat well down to about twenty degrees Fahrenheit, so nobody uses them where winters are cold. (We have a backup gas furnace for very cold days.) Each heat pump can only handle a certain square footage, so our house has four of them.This is not unusual.

Anyway, the guy came, and I showed him the two upstairs units and explained how our bedroom got hot. He told me it would be a Freon problem, but then it apparently wasn't, and eventually he came down and said that one of the units needed a new such-and-such valve, which he would have to order, and that he'd turned that unit off so the compressor wouldn't go out. I said okay. An hour later I went upstairs and the whole place was hot and neither unit was working. My husband came home and got frustrated; I, having just got off the phone with the dryer vent cleaner guy, got frustrated back and suggested he call the repairman and discuss it himself.

He did. Apparently the problem with the valve is in the OTHER upstairs heat pump, the one we thought was working well. My husband asked what was wrong with the one we knew was broken, and the guy said, Oh. He didn't check that one at all. So he's coming back, but, you know, probably not today, because he's very busy and all.

In the midst of all this, I was, very grumpily, working on the revision to my novel. I've decided we need a whole new beginning, and it's tricky, but overall, given the plethora of supercilious men in the house, it went well.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day and Some Stuff I Found

I love my mother, and I love being a mother, with all my heart, but I'm ambivalent about Mother's Day. It's very nice to be queen for the day--but very hard for people who aren't as fortunate as me, and who are mourning their mothers, or mourning the relationship they have with their mothers, or grieving over the fact that they aren't mothers. Making a great big fuss over an act of biology beyond anyone's control seems wrong to me. I've said it before, and I said it again yesterday: I HATE standing up in church for the special "mothers" blessing. I've told our priest he should knock it off, and he completely refused to understand, which is as good an argument as any for female and married priests.

So. I'm not going to blog about Mother's Day, except to say that this year I had an unusually specific list of gift suggestions: three tomato plants planted in the garden, a new pitchfork (to replace the one with the wonky handle, and also because I hate the ergonomic one my boarder generously bought), and a new barn broom (to replace the one my son wrecked playing Quidditch). My son came out and fixed the broom, soaking the bristles and shaping them back into place. Then my family bought and planted five tomato plants and gave me two pitchforks, one for the barn and one to replace the one in the trailer, which has missing tines. And we got to go to breakfast at Cracker Barrel. So you can see I'm wildly blessed. But not everybody is, and if you can't imagine why some of your friends are estranged from their mothers, just believe that they might have very good reasons. Believe that it causes them sorrow, but that they might be making the best possible choice from a list of choices that all pretty much suck. Be grateful you don't understand.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, my lovely daughter and I cleaned out the barn tack room, not cursorily, but by taking every last item out of it, every single one, assessing, tossing, sorting, cleaning. We have not done this before, not since the barn was built 13 years ago, and it was a colossal job way overdue.

Among the things we found:
--all the hoofpicks. All the hoofpicks from everywhere.
--a gallon bottle of sheep dewormer that expired in 2003
--the rust-colored yarn I used to braid to mane of my chestnut mare, who I sold in 1995.
--a lovely engraved Jefferson cup, in a box, that was supposed to be given to a pony club member who left before my time. I have no idea, none, how this ended up in my tack room.
--a dozen broken grazing muzzles
--a pink flowered helmet cover, pink pony-sized saddle pads, and purple leg wraps, from my daughter's pink-and-purple small pony days
--miscellaneous pieces of tack that once fit horses who are now retired or dead. "Here's Pal's martingale," my daughter said. "This breastplate was Gully's. Was this Trapper's?" Probably.
--our old sheep guard dog. Her ashes, anyhow. "Ohh," I said, picking up the box. "It's Xena!"

"Do not put her back on a shelf," my daughter said sternly. "You need to bury that dog."

"I will," I said, putting the box on a shelf. "Eventually."

What can I say? That dog always loved the tack room.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Charlotte Elizabeth Diana and Me

Once upon a time, I loved Princess Diana. I loved her before she was a princess, when she was about to marry Prince Charles. I was already a budding angliophile, and I thought it was unfortunate that Prince Edward would never be able to marry me since I was Catholic. I would not renounce my faith, not even for him, which I thought was pretty heroic and might earn me a heavenly crown.

Needless to say, I was thirteen years old at the time.

I actually celebrated my fourteen birthday in England. Dear friends of mine--I used to babysit their children, but that doesn't begin to explain my love for them--had moved there, and I spent three weeks visiting them just when the country was getting all spiffed up for the Royal Wedding. All of my birthday presents that year were Royal Wedding souvenirs--Royal Wedding shortcake tin, Royal Wedding soaps, a limited-edition (because quickly recalled by the manufacturer) Royal Wedding horse brass in which Diana's nose was accidentally as long as Pinocchio's.

Back home on the actual morning of the wedding, I spent the night at my friend Julie's house, and, along with her, her sisters, and her mother, got up at 4 am to watch the actual wedding live. I loved Diana's dress (it's only as I type this that I realize how much my own wedding dress, 8 years later, resembled a simplified version of hers) and I loved the little pages and flower girls, and I thought the whole thing was actually the fairy tale it purported to be.

Sixteen years later, the mother of one tiny child and pregnant with another, I woke early to watch Diana's funeral live. My husband thought I was crazy. I told him that I saw the beginning and wanted to see the end. He still didn't understand. I tried to explain how I'd bought into the fairy tale, at age fourteen, and now, at thirty, was bidding it goodbye. Diana was a complicated person. I doubt I would have liked her, If I spent much time with her. Glamour doesn't sway me; I prefer my heroes real.

Which is why I've become a fan of Elizabeth. I never really disliked her, but she used to seem austere and cold compared to her effusive daughers-in-law. Yet Elizabeth has endured, and I give her points for staying power. I give her points for her daughter and her granddaughter, both Olympians in eventing, my tiny beloved sport. (For-real Olympians, also--Britain is an international powerhouse in the sport, which is hugely popular there, and the absolute consensus is that Anne and Zara both straight-up earned their places on the Team.) I give her points for being eighty-nine years old and still riding horses several times a week. I give her points for being nice to her mother and married to her husband (I give him points, too--read a bio of his life and you'll see why.).

Most of all, I love her for the side of her we saw at the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics. Playing herself parachuting into the Games with the latest James Bond--classic. I watched the Opening Ceremonies live in a hotel bar in Greenwich, along with the U.S. Eventing team--it was epic--and the roar that went up when we actually realized it was Her Majesty, dressed in an evening gown and tiara, climbing into a helicopter with her Corgis--

I like that the new princess is named after Elizabeth and Diana. I'm glad Elizabeth's name comes first.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Playing in the Bouncy House of my Mind (It's Revision Time!)

My sister just sent me a photo of my darling nephew Louie on the slide of his very own outdoor bouncy house. Now, as a child, nobody loved bouncy houses more than my sis, but I was still surprised--I didn't know personal bouncy houses were a thing. I went online to amazon, and lo, there are more personal bouncy houses for sale than books, more or less, from the indoor versions, priced at $139.99, up to the Pirate Bay Inflatable Combo Water Park and Bounce House, for $549.99. The Pirate Bay is a lot of jing, but less than the expensive swing set my kids once had, and I bet they would have played with it more often, too.

I'm at the Bouncy House stage of my new novel. The strenuous work of the rough draft--in which you know it's crap, know it's not right, but you absolutely, positively, have to get it all onto paper anyway, so that you reach a point where you're army crawling through the muck of your own words, head down, blisters on your elbows--is over, and the third draft, in which the sucker has to start to make sense, is still ahead. The second draft is party time. It's time to play. You've got a basic framework to start with, and okay, the beginning sucks (it was bound to), and the ending, while poignant, isn't really going to work now that you see it's based on a faulty premise, and a lot of the middle is dreck, but some of the bits are really quite nice, and those you're going to juggle and slot together and really have fun with.

Six months ago I loved the beginning of my new book. I loved the narrative device I used for telling the backstory. I was thrilled with my own cleverness.

Now I think, wow, this is about 30 pages too boring. Also, not such a great opening line. But that's okay, because possible opening lines are hurling around my head right now. I especially like, "The horse had two of its legs blown off," but I don't know, that might become the first line of the new second chapter.

It's partytime, folks. Bring on the bouncy balls.

P.S. It's a toy horse. Sheesh.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Thank you, Maddie!

I have very little energy today.

Monday was the Epic Tennis Day of all time. My daughter has not given me permission to blog about it, which is too bad, because honestly it was a day full of stories. Which is probably why I don't have her permission.

Yesterday the farrier came to trim the horses' hooves and reset their shoes. When he's here I usually hang out in the barn, so that I can call the ambulance if one of the horses kicks him (not that they should--but still) and yesterday I used the time to start a very long-delayed spring cleaning. I cleaned the feed room and the area in front of three stalls (blanket bars, halter hooks, and little shelves that have a bad habit of collecting randoms items). I found all the hoof picks that have gone missing over the last decade.

Anyway, as you can tell, this doesn't make for a scintillating blog post. And today's schedule is yoga, working at Faith in Action, and watching Still More Tennis, so that's not thrilling either. (Okay, the tennis may be--but you'll never know, because my daughter will not let me blog about it.)

Fortunately, Maddie has come to your aid. Maddie's in fourth grade in Indiana, the state in which I grew up. She's doing a school report and sent me a list of very good questions:

1. What is your favorite book that you have written? Mine is Ruthie's gift. I've read it two times 

It used to be Ruthie's Gift, too, but now it's The War That Saved My Life. Ruthie's Gift was about my grandmother and the family stories she used to tell me, so it will always be special to me. But The War That Saved My Life is a better achievement--a better book, and I'm really proud of it.

2. What was your favorite book in fourth grade? .
Misty of Chincoteague. My fourth-grade teacher had a whole set of Marguerite Henry books, and I read them over and over

3. What was your favorite thing to do when you were in fourth grade? 
I'll be honest: fourth grade was a terrible time in my life. I don't remember much about it as enjoyable. But I read books to escape, so probably reading.

4. What are your accomplishments that you are most proud of in your life?
The home my husband and I made with our two children. They've grown up into really lovely curious young adults, and while I can't say I accomplished that, I think I helped create an environment where they could thrive.

5. What are your accomplishments that you are most proud of in your work?
Learning to slow down and find new depths in my writing. I used to write books more quickly, but they weren't as good. Jefferson's Sons was so hard to get right that it took me a long time, and that turned out to be useful. I wrote and rewrote The War That Saved My Life.

6. I know that you love horses (I love unicorns but for real I love penguins) but is that your most favorite hobby? It seems like it is but I want to make sure. Also a website says knitting.
Which website says knitting? I'm curious because while I do like to knit, I don't think I ever called it my favorite thing. I also love unicorns, but for real I love otters. But horses and riding them are my favorite hobby. I learned to ride in college, bought a very cheap horse right after I graduated, and have had horses ever since. My mare Sarah and I compete in eventing, a sort of horse triathlon, which is absolutely gobs of fun.

7. What is your favorite food or dessert? 
I bet this would change depending on the day you asked me, but right now, really dark chocolate mousse with whipped cream. Yum.

8. If you and your family could take a year off and do anything you want for a whole year what would it be? 
Wow--great question. I think we'd travel all around the world, living for a month or so in a lot of different places. I've traveled a lot but I've never been to India or China or Russia or whole big sections of the globe. I'd like to see a LOT more of Africa. I'd like to go to New Zealand, Peru, Prague...that would be fantastic.

9. What were some things that you liked about living in Fort Wayne? 
I liked living where lots of my family lived, and where it was easy to see them all the time. I miss that.

10. Where were some places that you went for fun when you lived here? 
When I was your age, Maddie, the Old Fort was a real working historical reenactment place, and I loved visiting it. I love that kind of history. I also loved the Johnny Appleseed Festival, for the same reason; my mom's women's group used to work the straw maze there, and sometimes I did, too. I loved going to the zoo--riding the train and the zoo ponies, trying to get the macaws to talk to me. In the winter my family would go ice skating at Franke Park or Lakeside Rose Garden. I loved the Three Rivers Festival--the old raft race, the parades.

11. What is your favorite quote? 
It's supposed to be by Mark Twain (though there's some doubt): "Ninety percent of writing is the application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair."

12. What do you want people to remember you for?
Being a person who would listen to their stories. That, and winning the Newbery award. :)

Ok, Maddie--and readers--here's my questions for you: What is your favorite dessert? What is your favorite pizza? What would you do if you and your family could take a year off for anything you wanted? What do you want people to remember you for?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Someday, a Sequel!

Friday afternoon, just before I left to take my daughter and her friend and their two horses to an all-weekend pony club clinic four-and-a-half hours (one-way) away, my editor finally, finally, oh-thank-you-heavenly-powers finally, got back to me with her comments on the rough draft of the sequel to The War That Saved My Life.

I printed off my editor's email (four pages, single-spaced), grabbed the manuscript, and read them both closely while I was supposed to be doing other things. (Me: "Sorry I'm reading this at breakfast, I don't mean to be rude, it's just important to me." Other Mother: "What is it?" Me: "My novel manuscript." Other Mother: (thinking) pretentious git.) Sorry about that. But I waited a long time, not very patiently, to hear my editor's reaction, and also all of April was full of All The Things, and I couldn't wait until Monday, I really couldn't.

Also, having all the my new book thoughts swirling violently in my head is what kept me awake during the drive home, while both girls snored.

I likely won't start the revision today, not the least because it's high school districts for tennis.Lately I'm spending all my days at my daughter's stuff and I'm soaking it up; she's looking at colleges now. Last weekend another mother asked, "What will you do when she goes away?" and I said, "Howl. Curl up and cry, then go to bed for two weeks. Then ride my horse and go to a show and drink box wine with my women friends," and the other mother nodded in wholehearted agreement. 

(Box wine is an eventing thing. Nobody wants glass bottles around horses; it's such a pain when you break one, and that happens more often than you'd think. Seriously. In Florida last year, a two-time Canadian Olympian was bringing a very nice bottle of wine into the barn for my friend, as a thank you, and he (the Olympian) accidentally cracked it on the wheel-well of his rig and sliced his thumb open, deep. He bled all over; we had to hose down the concrete. I advised the ER, but the C.O. said he didn't have time for that, he had six horses to ride, so my friend's groom rummaged through a tack trunk and found some superglue, and glued the gash shut. It worked. We all decried the loss of wine.)

Also? My son comes home on Friday, and then it will be Summer. I have plans for being with him, too. The book will come. I'll work on it in odd moments, specially timed to tick people off.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Stuff That's So Hard for White People to Understand

"...I wish I had an idea but I don't. I don't understand the fear, or the anger that might consume you to the point that you would destroy your own things in a rage..."

A friend of mine sent me a private message yesterday, asking me to help her understand the riots, the mess in Baltimore, what black people are upset about and whether she herself, who did not come from an affluent background and who tries hard to be fair to everyone, could possibly be considered someone with "white privilege."

It's touching to me that she thinks I could explain. I do think I understand a few things, so I'm going to try.

First, does she take part in "white privilege"? Yes. Because she's white.

I've said before that white privilege isn't something we white people are asking for. It's something we simply have, by virtue of being the dominant race in our society. White privilege means if we want to buy our daughter a doll, we can go into any store that sells dolls and find one in our skin color. It means that most of the books we read feature white people--we writers are working to change this--and that the faces on our currency are white. We don't get pulled over for Driving While Black--we're white.

Here's a bit more from this article: "• My skin color does not work against me in terms of how people perceive my financial responsibility, style of dress, public speaking skills, or job performance.
• People do not assume that I got where I am professionally because of my race (or because of affirmative action programs). "

I'm not usually asked how "white people" feel about a certain issue. I'm not considered a representative of my race. I'm the default value. I didn't ask for this, but it's still true.

Meanwhile, how does anyone understand the riots? They're worse than senseless, to be sure--they're harming an already damaged and impoverished community, and drawing attention away from the real issues at hand. But I do get it, just a little. Several years ago I had what would once have been called a nervous breakdown. I refer to it as the time I fell to pieces. It had nothing to do with today's topic, except that I won't forget what it felt like to be completely unable to cope with the memories and emotions coursing through my mind. I lashed out. I didn't set a CVS on fire--but I get how it happens, how sometimes people just break. 

Eventually my breakdown softened me in ways I didn't know I needed to be softened. We don't know where other people are on their journeys. We don't know how much they've already had to bear, how close they are to being unable to handle one little thing more.

The injustice of our society bothers me. Yesterday I came across a set of statistics from the United States Department of Education. It said, among other things, that black students were suspended at roughly three times the rate of white students, starting in preschool.  That black students were more than three times as likely as white students to attend schools where the teachers did not meet certification requirements (Latino students were twice as likely.). That of the high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students, one-fourth did not offer Algebra II and one-third did not offer chemistry.

(By comparison, the public high school my children attended, in a small town in Appalachia, offers 3 years of math beyond Algebra II, and two years of chemistry.)

This is not a just world. It's not a just country, either, which is harder to accept. We want America to be a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps kind of place. We want to think our success was predicated only by our hard work. But it starts with an accident of birth--how would I have done, born in a neighborhood with no grocery stores, no transportation, only minimum-wage jobs, bad schools and no hope of ever leaving? Not well, I suspect.

I'm not trying to preach. I still don't know how we fix this. Ideas?