Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nostalgia

In Richmond this weekend-- I always sleep so well here.  I think it's a combination of being with BikerDude (it's hard to sleep alone when you're used to having someone else share the bed), a comfortable mattress, being away from the usual home stresses and the quiet house.  There's something familiar about this house, even though it's clearly new, and I think it has to do with the fact that it was built in the same era as my Grandmother's house.

That said,  I had the most vivid dream last night.  I was back in Grandma's house, showing it to a young couple who were considering purchasing it, so I was walking them through.  As is true in most dreams, not everything we walked through was actually part of Grandma's house, but so many significant details were.

I was first struck by the smell.  Grandma's house had lovely, old heart of pine floors throughout, so there was always a faint, pleasant aroma of pine mixed with whatever furniture polish/cleaner she was using at the time-- slightly soapy, clean and... warm.   Grandma's house was usually warm.  No air conditioning, but a furnace that fueled two ENORMOUS steam radiators-- one in the living room, right inside the front door and one in the kitchen.  Grandma loved color, so they were painted to match the decor:  Avocado green in the living room and bright orange (yes, orange!) in the kitchen.  The house was small-- only four rooms plus the bathroom-- so those two ginormous radiators were plenty to keep things warm! 

The front door included a very old-fashioned heavy, louvered glass storm/screen door.  You twisted a winged knob to open the glass louvers-- all in all a safety nightmare in a number of ways (pointed corners to hit your head on, heavy non-tempered glass either sticking out horizontally presenting a solid, very breakable surface to stick your arm through...).  It was heavy, but very effective!

The closets smelled faintly of cedar and mothballs.  They were deep and dark and had high shelves holding many mysterious boxes.  The back porch was high off the ground as the lot sloped down from the front yard to the back.  One of the posts of the covered porch held a pulley which operated the clothes line.  Waayy out across the back yard, on the edge of the lot between Grandma and her next door neighbors to the right stood a telephone pole-- I recall that somehow the neighbor had finagled having it installed-- and there were accompanying pulleys for both Grandma's and the neighbor's clothes lines attached, so that the laundry hung 20-30' in the air, waving high above the backyards, in the sun and out of the way of Grandma's pride and joy:  Her garden.

Grandma had, over the years, terraced her back yard into a multi-level ornamental garden with raised beds and careful pathways.  She could grow anything and was always fascinated and delighted to try new plants or share her successes with fellow gardeners.  Needless to say, her basement was, essentially, an enormous potting shed with a washer (and, eventually, dryer) stuck in one corner amidst the shelves of pots, vases, gardening implements and whichever rusty lawnmower she was nursing at the moment.  Spending time at Grandma's house usually meant spending some time helping her pull weeds, edge the lawn or sort out and store various bulbs, seedlings or corms.

So the other smell I associate is dirt.  No, not just dirt-- soil.  Grandma knew how to cultivate.  The smell of the cool dirt of the basement (with just a hint of heating oil for the boiler), warm sun on grass and the sweet smell of the butterfly bushes and abelia mixing with the almost petroleum-like smell of the redwood shingles that sided the house-- throw in the smell of rain from the cover of large covered front porch and you have a summer afternoon at Grandma's.

It's amazing how much scent triggers memory-- and how many memories one dream can trigger.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Faith

Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn't believing. It's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more.  --Terry Pratchett, Pyramids 

I've once again found myself in a place where I am confronted by atheists, some of whom I admire, who intelligently defend their belief.  Gene Weingarten, in particular, is most eloquent and even respectful towards people of faith, and his logic is difficult to assail.  The foundation of his belief is that history has inexorably moved towards science and away from magic-- that there has never been an instance of something that science once believed that was later proved to have a mystical cause.

This is true.

However, I think he is mistaken on the purpose of faith, of the draw of religion.  He states that faith is a way for people to cope with the terror of existence; that by inventing an afterlife, they can construct a scaffolding of denial about the ultimate futility of our existence.

I am no philosopher and even less of a theologian.  I have never been a proselytizer because I don't have a dramatic, Road to Damascus story to share.  All I have is my own experience, limited though it may be.

First let me say that I don't think life can be planned.  You can certainly make plans, but by the time you've reached, say, 30, you should be acquainted with the fact that life is what happens to you while you're making other plans.  By the time you're 46, you should have started to make peace with that fact.

Second, a word to the ardent atheists out there:  Take your cue from Gene and maintain some respect for people who do not share your beliefs.  Stating that people of faith value magic over science and referring to us as worshiping sky fairies demeans you far more than it does us.  Setting up straw men and knocking them down is a cheap rhetorical device-- it doesn't sting us because, as Gene has pointed out many times, it's hard to take offense at something that is simply not true.  It just makes you look petulant and adolescent.

Science and faith are not incompatible.  I understand science and am fascinated by it.  I revel in the newest discoveries in physics, medicine, astronomy, biochemistry... you name it.  I have a degree in anthropology and if forensic science had been a career option when I was in college, I likely would have pursued that as a career.

But of course I understand that science has limits.  Science will always have limits.  Any good scientist will tell you that.  There are things in this world that science can't explain, try though it might.  I'm not talking about the mechanism of creation or the evolutionary process-- science has actually done a pretty good job with those, and will continue to reveal more information I'm sure.  But what about art?  Music?  Human interaction?  Why are Van Gogh's paintings so captivating?  Why is Mozart's music so beautiful?  Why do some people prefer Lady Gaga?  Why do I love BikerDude and not any of the other many, wonderful, eligible men that I've met in my life?  

There aren't scientific answers for these questions.

Atheists might think that these observations are irrelevant, but they aren't.  What makes a painting beautiful is just as valid a question as how did the universe begin.  Once you define the important questions as the ones that your belief system can answer, you are no better than the most faith-drenched, devout priest you can imagine and despise.  Framing the question is so important to winning the debate.

I don't have answers.  I can't prove that God exists.  I can say that I have experienced him and his presence-- or her and her presence (gender isn't really an issue with God).  Just because some people use religion to abuse others, justify evil deeds and ostracize those who don't believe as they do does not disprove religion or faith.  Science has also been abused the same ways over the years-- do I really need to remind anyone of phrenology, eugenics and the Tuskegee experiments?  Bad people do bad things with the tools they have-- it doesn't mean that there is anything essentially wrong with the tools.

Atheists ask why hasn't God ever revealed himself in a way that eliminates all doubt?  I don't know, but I suspect it has something to do with faith.  I refer you to the quote at the beginning of this post-- once something has been proven definitively there is no need for faith.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sir Terry

I just read an interview with Terry Pratchett by Neil Gaiman.  This is like Nerdvanna for me-- two of my favorite writers, having a meaningful conversation!

I tried reading Mr. Pratchett's first book, The Color of Magic, and had a hard time getting into it, so I put it aside.  Then I took Small Gods on a camping trip with me, and it was a revelation!  It was a savvy, thoughtful critique of organized religion, religious fanatics and the power behind the structure of the church, along with a celebration of true faith, wrapped up in some of the cleverest wordplay and most hilarious scenes I have ever read, anywhere!  After that I couldn't get enough!  I went back and read all of the Discworld novels and have never been disappointed.

If you haven't had the pleasure of experiencing any of Sir Terry's oeuvre, I can't recommend them enough.  He manages to tackle some of the most serious and thoughtful issues, providing stinging critiques of modern foibles and fallacies all while making you laugh out loud, groan at puns and delight in the sheer joy of words!  A brief sampling:

Stupid men are often capable of things the clever would not dare to contemplate...
(Feet of Clay) 

A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.
(Guards! Guards!)
 
An education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.
(Hogfather)
 
Of course, it is very important to be sober when you take an exam. Many worthwhile careers in the street- cleansing, fruit-picking and subway-guitar-playing industries have been founded on a lack of understanding of this simple fact.
(Moving Pictures)
Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn't believing. It's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more.
(Pyramids)
 
It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.
(Jingo)
 
A few years ago, Sir Terry announced that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer's. Those of us who have long been fans of his writing were devastated by this news, not only, selfishly, because we understood that this might be the end of his wonderful words, but also because after 20+ years of reading his words and wisdom, it was a little like hearing this about your favorite uncle. Fortunately for all of us, he has not slowed down! He had just released his latest book Snuff, which is a rollicking send up of the English Cozy Murder Mystery genre, but also a commentary on slavery and the Holocaust. The fact that he can successfully mix those things is a testament to his ability.

I find the fact that anyone can write like him both inspiring and paralyzingly intimidating.

Here's hoping he will continue for years to come.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I'm getting old

Steve Jobs passed away today.  What a shame.  Pancreatic cancer is unforgiving.

I've never drunk the Apple Kool-Aid, but it's hard to overestimate the impact that he had on our lives.  I'm old enough to remember BC-- Before Computers.  When I was in high school, there was a Computer Science Club where kids could learn to write programs in Basic on primitive boxes.  I remember how impressed everyone was when one kid built a computer for his science fair project!  Of course, he built it from a kit and it could play Tic Tac Toe, if I remember correctly, but everyone oohed and aahed, and he won the fair, of course.

By the time I got to college, some departments were beginning to put in computer labs, where you could go to use "desktops" that took up way more space than most desks.  The lab in the basement of my dorm was considered cutting edge because it had monitors with amber screens instead of green ones! 

My first foray into word processing ended in the metaphorical, and almost literal, flaming wreckage of my honor's thesis (a project that was otherwise doomed, but that's a story for another time.  Suffice it to say that it was on Quadaffi's Libya and that about a month after I started working on my thesis, Ronald Reagan bombed him.  I should have taken that as a sign...).  This is to say that I was a computer skeptic.  However, a girl down the hall got a Mac when they first came out, and I remember the first time I saw it, with its WYSIWYG screen (google it, kids), icons and "mouse."  Totally radical, dude.  I knew it was a game-changer.

I was in law school during the ensuing PC/Apple wars, and ended up in the PC camp by default, not choice.  My law school and subsequent employers used PCs and Apples weren't compatible with them, so PC user I became.  Still, Apple's influence reached me.  Icons, computer mice, those WYSIWYG screens-- all of these ended up in the PC world, too.  More recently, iPods have changed how we buy, store and listen to music, iPads have revolutionized tablet computers and iPhones have ushered in the era of smart phones. 

And finally:  Pixar.  All of our lives are richer from Mr. Jobs' contribution.

Very few individuals can truly be said to have changed the world; even fewer of them can be said to have changed it for the better.  Steve Jobs qualifies.  What a legacy.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Drifting

I created this blog three years ago to try to make myself write. We can see how well that has worked out... no posts in almost 2 years!

Things are so different now with Brian working and going to school in Richmond and me being here. The hardest part is at night-- sleeping alone is difficult when you're used to having someone next to you in bed. The only nights I really sleep well are the nights when Brian is home or I'm in Richmond. Makes for some interesting weeks.

I had knee surgery in March after injuring myself in December. Recovery is slow. After almost 3 months of physical therapy, I morphed into a gym membership at ACAC. One of the benefits of working at a large, soulless corporation is the excellent benefits, including a reduced price on the gym membership! I'm getting my money's worth, at least-- I work out with weights/cardio MWF and with pool aqua therapy TTh. I'm also loosely doing Weight Watchers again, although only the online. I don't want or need a support group-- there's nothing wrong with them, but it's not my style. So far no weight loss, which is kind of discouraging, but I think part of it is because I'm building muscle. I notice a (slight) difference in the way my clothes fit, and I'm getting some of my stamina back. Sigh. It's just a slow process.

Still watching current events/history unfolding with interest. We are here in the middle of the Second Great Depression (despite the desperate attempts of those in charge to not call it that), and the politics are getting ugly. President Obama has finally decided to quit trying to reason with the unreasonable and has come out swinging. Good job! At least if he goes down he'll go down swinging, which is way more honorable than refusing to take a stand for fear of alienating different people! The best news for the President is that he has to run against a Republican, and that party is publicly unraveling. Governor Christie from NJ has just held his umpteenth press conference to announce that "For the love of God, I am NOT running for President in 2012, so PLEASE STOP ASKING!!" When someone uses the phrase, "Short of suicide, I don't know how to convince you," I don't think it's a news story when he confirms... again... that he's still not running. That leaves Mitt Romney, Rick "Governor Goodhair" Perry and a whole clown car of assorted wackos.

Meanwhile, a small part of the general public has awakened and has taken to protesting daily on Wall Street. This could get interesting, given the current income disparity. Could put the "war" in class warfare...

I'm tired. Off to bed. The Redskins are winning, Dallas is collapsing, Pittsburgh with their resident rapist Ben Roethissburger is looking weak, so football is off to a great start, so I'll curl up with the kitties here and call it an early night.

Peace.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Off to the doctor

Sunday night BikerDude noticed that Tweak, the psychopath, was acting stranger than usual. She was grooming herself excessively, particularly her behind, and the fur around her butt was matted and stinky. We tried to clean her up with a warm, damp cloth, but that just got us a string of cat profanity, so first thing Monday morning I called the vet and took her in for an appointment.

I actually succeeded in bribing her into the carrier by tossing a few treats in, but something tells me that that's a trick that won't work again!

Dr. Bohne and I discussed her weight (16 lbs! I actually thought it might be more) and her general health and she agreed that we were looking at a UTI, complicated by both fleas and worms. She wanted a urine sample, so I left her there for the day to give them a chance to collect it.

When I went to pick her up, they told me that they hadn't been able to get a sample. They gave her fluids all day, but she refused to pee. I can just picture her there with her little kitty legs crossed, refusing to cooperate. They tried to draw some urine directly from her bladder, but that didn't work, either. The procedure involved flipping her over onto her back, holding her there by her scruff and using an ultrasound wand to locate the bladder and attempt a needle extraction. The mind reels with the image-- I can JUST IMAGINE how cooperative she was! When the vet tech explained the procedure to me, she saw the look on my face (which I'm sure clearly said, "Better you than me!") and said, "She was kind of... feisty." Hah! I bet! I'm going to guess she was a complete and total little sh*t!

Anyway, between her attitude and struggles and the many layers of fat, they weren't able to extract anything, but the vet decided to treat her with a course of antibiotics, anyway-- she was pretty confident of the diagnosis.

So, of course, as I was paying the bill, she peed in the carrier. A LOT! Like she'd been holding it all day...

Shortly after we got home, I got Brian to help hold her and I used the pill popper to give her her first antibiotic pill. I did give her several treats afterwards, but I figured that she would be trying to kill me in my sleep after all of that.

Surprise! Perhaps she a secret masochist, or perhaps she sees me as the Savior who rescued her from That Horrible Place where they did rude things to her all day, but she actually cuddled up to me! In fact, Tuesday night she slept on my feet for the first time EVER (if she gets on the bed at all, which is rare, she ALWAYS sleeps on BikerDude's feet. After all, he is God and I am simply staff).

Yesterday she followed both of us around and would drop periodically, roll over on her back to display her shaved and now clean and healthy butt to us, and generally look for attention. Last night, she slept on my feet again.

I guess I know how to win her over from now on: Take her to the vet and bring her home! I am the Rescuer!

Weird little cat.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Health care for everyone

I'm going to go out on a limb right now and predict something: There will be a health care bill passed before the end of the year and it will include a public option.

President Obama is a savvy politician-- probably the best that Washington has seen in two generations. He's also really, really smart and really, really patient when he has to be.

Everyone is crying right now because the White House hasn't presented a bill and the President has not spoken out to draw a line in the sand, letting legislators know what he will and won't sign off on. This is deliberate. The minute he puts a nail down, he provides the opposition with something to hang their hat on. He's not going to give them any help.

Also, by letting things play out, he's letting public opinion (a) form and (b) get back to the individual legislators, each of whom is primarily concerned with getting re-elected.

I agree that to some degree he has pulled a "take-away" on the public option, a car sales technique where the salesman tells the customer, who is drooling over the high-option vehicle but whining about the price, "Well, it's a shame you can't afford this beautiful Cadillac with the sun roof, leather seats, GPS and satellite radio. Let's go look at something in your price range-- I've got a some economy cars with cloth seats and crank windows."

Congress is now the husband who has to go back and tell the wife (the public) why he is jeopardizing the purchase of the Cadillac that SHE has fallen in love with. She's reminding him that they just bought a new, tricked-out truck for him and a bass boat last year, and he wants her to settle for a Chevy Cavalier? And what about that fishing trip you paid for last year and took three of your friends on?

No husband ever wants to have that conversation, and every husband knows how it will end: She'll get her Cadillac. She may have to compromise and get the 22" rims instead of the 24s and she may let the GPS go but keep the satellite radio, but she will have her Caddy.

I just wish the Dems were smarter about controlling terminology. Stop calling it a "public option" and call it a "nonprofit option."