Monday, October 31, 2005

all hallow's eve

My early years were primarily spent in a Methodist parsonage. My mom, brother and I lived with my grandparents for most of the time until I was about 10 years old. It was like I had three parents in a number of ways. Mom was definitely the mom, but Papa and Granny would care for us when Mom was at work, and would even punish us if the need arose (or at least Papa would!). Some of my earliest memories of Granny are eating frozen peaches with sugar sprinkled on top and watching soap operas (one must remember that soaps in the early '70s were not quite what they are now). During time when Mom was at work and I was not in school, I spent most of my time with Papa. He was a Methodist minister, and I would go off and do "minister stuff" with him. This was usually visiting one of the many church members who needed or wanted to see their preacher. I remember hanging out at old country gas stations, watching Papa play checkers, and eating lots of candy with Sammy Davis, Jr's The Candy Man playing on the radio. I remember visiting old farmhouses way back in the mountains, and using the outhouse when "I had to go!". I remember one older lady that Papa and I would routinely find her glasses for her (I was pretty good at getting down on the floor and looking under chairs).

Papa and I also had a lot of fun together. We would go out and eat Butter Pecan ice cream. We would play checkers for hours on end (I will never forget the one and only time I beat him). He would also drive me around downtown Asheville, encouraging my dreams of one day being mayor - then governor of NC - and then the first female president of the USA. Papa found the current mayor one day and ensured that he and I had a good long talk.

Papa died from leukemia on Halloween, 1977. I was devastated. I will always miss him. Yet, the faith tradition he and Granny passed on to the family has given me a wonderful way always to remember him. Tomorrow is All Saints' Day. In the Christian tradition, each year on Nov 1 we remember the saints who have gone before us, particularly the ones who died in the past year.

I always remember Papa, and give great thanks for him.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

a history of violence

During my teen years, I read John Steinbeck's East of Eden. Steinbeck used themes from the book of Genesis in the Bible to flesh out this uniquely American story. It tells the story of a young woman, Cathy, who was a "monster." She killed and harmed with no compunction. Her twin sons, Aaron and Caleb (nicknamed Cal) dealt with the legacy of such a mother. Cal could feel the violence, the monstrosity, inside him and had to choose which way he would live his life. This choice is understood as Timshel - the Jewish word for you may choose or you may choose not.

The new movie, A History of Violence, starring Viggo Mortenson, deals with this same theme. Are there truly monsters in our world? The movie does not deal with how one becomes a "monster," but deals with Timshel - the choice. The main character is Tom Stall, a small-town family man whose family is almost too perfect, too loving. The family's small, cozy home is a haven which is their foundation in navigating the world around them. It's hard to imagine the parents ever raising their voice. I found myself wishing I could be as calm a presence as the mother (or look that good in a cheerleading outfit, for that matter!).

The idyllic family's life is shattered when two monsters step into Tom's diner. Tom becomes a hero by revealing a violent side that no one can quite believe. This attention brings Philadelphia mobsters to small town Indiana, by the belief that Tom is a former killer named Johnny.

The story unravels as we discover more of who Tom truly is, and how this coming to terms with oneself impacts the family around him. As Tom accepts more of the violence inside him, his family is disrupted. His family life mirrors the violence within each person.

The movie is very simply done. It is also quite violent and graphic - more than I would normally want to see. Yet, it deals with such important topics for us today. Are there truly monsters in our world, ones incapable of reform? Can one truly choose life over death, peace over violence? Does the end mean of violence justify it (as in committing a violent act to save an innocent)? Can any act be forgiven? How do we live as a people of forgiveness, forgiving others and ourselves?

The end of the movie reminds me of the conclusion of Places in the Heart. It ends with a eucharistic table - there is always room at the table. No matter who we are, what choices we have made, the table is set for us. We have a place. There is redemption.

The movie does not provide all the answers. I don't think it is meant to do so - yet, it gives us a good place for asking those important questions and struggling with the answers and meaning in our violent society today.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Zorro by Isabel Allende

I must say I am glad to have a place I can share my thoughts and impressions on whatever book I have recently read. I have been rereading much of the Owen Archer series by Candace Robb (well worth the read), but in the midst of my rereads - I finally found Zorro at the library. It is a fairly new book written by the Isabel Allende, a woman who was born in Chile and now lives in California. I believe I will be looking for her other books in the near future.

Zorro is the story of the famed righter of injustice, from the days of his birth until he lived into the beginning of his legend in California. I have always been fascinated by swashbucklers and those who fight injustice. I was hoping this book would not disappoint, and it did not. Allende writes very simply. I am so glad to read someone who does not try to impress me with all their metaphors, similes, and detailed descriptions. She writes simply, yet she evokes rich imagery and full characters. It is a wonderful balance. The book is a good size, but does not need to be edited down (see The Historian).

I enjoyed the story. It had action, adventure, true love, loyalty, intrigue, and full characters (yes, Diego de la Vega himself is not perfect - I wanted to smack him a few times for his unending infatuation over a silly and insipid girl). All the classical elements of the Zorro story are to be found, but Allende adds enough invention that the story does not feel worn out. She has breathed fresh life into it. I also appreciate her interpretation of the historical elements of Diego's life. He lived in a time of great upheaval - how could he not be a product of it?

Overall, this was a very enjoyable read. It certainly does contain serious elements - some of the story can be quite heartbreaking. Yet, it's a story that moves and is alive, and is also fun in a number of ways. A-

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

women in the workplace

With our big move this summer, things have changed a lot in my household. For the first time since the birth of my older child, I have been working full-time outside the home. I like to say I'm getting paid full-time now, instead of just working full-time. After Sonny Boy was born, I spent a year at home with him (boy, was that hard - glad I could do it, but I spent way too much time wondering how moms actually got cleaned up and out of the house before 11am). I then spent the next 9 and 1/2 years employed half-time. I occasionally picked up some other part-time work, and then in ministry - there were definitely times I was working more than half-time (even though I was still primarily responsible for the kids and the house).

So - we moved. My husband has been taking care of the kids and the home since then, and doing some occasional substitute teaching. As thankless a job as that sounds for a woman so often, I know it's even more so for a man - everyone assumes he will go back to work "full-time" very soon. That's what men do, isn't it?

Hubby and I have definitely completely reversed jobs - and that is really fine (if I can just let go of the fact that my house will not be as clean as I would like - the man really does do his best). Since graduate school, I have maintained that women should have the choice to follow where they should go - into the workforce, staying at home, or any combo of those things. I know that during my years of working "part-time" I was not always taken as seriously or my work as valued as my full-time colleagues. It always felt disrespectful to me. I didn't value my work any less because I was not paid full-time or worked 40-50 hours a week (most weeks).

And so the NY Times entered the discussion of women in the workplace recently. They used anecdotal evidence (not hard, serious research) to state that overachieving moms (would I include myself - having a master's degree?) are choosing homemaking more than ever and are rejecting the workplace. In fact, actual research does not reveal this. I think about my friends (all of whom I would call over-achieving), and we are all living our lives in many different forms (and some of our husbands are as well). But my personal info is only anecdotal.

If you look at this week's Newsweek (which I did while waiting for my hairstylist this morning), the mag picked up on the NY Times article as a given fact.

Well, for all you over-acheivers out there - if you really want some hard facts, check out this rebuttal from the National Council for Research on Women. Women are making a variety of choices, and most of us from financial or family structure reasons - not because we can choose to follow wherever our heart desires. That's part of the American myth - that we can follow any dream - the circumstances of our lives more often than not dictate how we can pursue those dreams. (and I always hope we can follow our dreams - but the fact is that most women just simply cannot afford that or don't have the support network to do so)

I am heartened that women continue to break new ground. It does please me not to be in such an extreme minority as a woman in ministry as I was 15 years ago. But I think our real strides need to come in different areas. We need to work on issues concerning women and children in poverty. We need to make the workplace more flexible and supportive of a healthy lifestyle (Europeans have it - "full-time" people work on average 30 hours a week, as opposed to 40-50 here.) Finally, we need to provide more support for men and boys who choose not to follow the traditional male model. I feel blessed to have all the options I have had in various forms of work -but I know society does not support that for my husband and for many husbands. I have met a number of husbands staying at home either full or part time and doing it well - but we need to affirm that choice in every way possible. It may mean that I desecrate every church sign that reads "Mothers' Morning Out!" (okay, maybe I can just make a polite suggestion to be more inclusive).

Anyone out there dealing with some of these same issues?

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Like most 11 year old boys, Sonny Boy has a fascination with vulgarity. After much deliberation in recent weeks, I broke over and bought him American Idiot by Green Day. I had listened to most the songs on the CD, and really liked them. They are very talented, and it's so refreshing to hear a successful CD that's not about some guy trying to have sex with as many women as possible. The F bomb is only used a handful of times, and I felt I could talk to Sonny Boy about it and also let him know I'd better not hear it out of his mouth. It's so hard trying to make decisions when they reach the "tween years." I'm not going to abdicate all responsibilities, but we are definitely past my trying to shelter him.

We've been past sheltering actually. I can think back over the last several years and the ongoing fascination with "cuss words." He came home in 2nd grade one day and told me about a playground conversation. Apparently, all the boys (instead of running and playing) were standing around trying to figure out the cuss words. One little boy said he knew what the worst of all cuss words was. I asked Sonny Boy to tell me ( I've always told him that if he didn't understand a word or phrase to ask me or his daddy). Sonny Boy leaned over and said, "It's mother father." I was so proud of myself for not laughing hysterically as I explained that wasn't quite right.

Then there was the time last year when I took him to see Van Helsing. I debated with the PG-13 rating, but I figured it was monster violence - so we went. I overheard his conversation with my mom after the movie. "It was a pretty good movie...No, they didn't really say any bad words. Just the H word a couple times and then the D word a couple times. You know, the d-i-c-k word, not the other D word." Until that time, I'd had no idea there were 2 different D words.

And then back to yesterday, with the conversation around Green Day. He thought they didn't really know how to cuss right. I kept letting him talk as I would walk around the house, hoping to get away from him and that ridiculous topic of discussion. And he kept following me and continuing his diatribe on how one should cuss.

I thought back to a conversation just last week with some of my friends. Some of my friends admitted to dropping the F bomb on occasion because their husbands didn't like it. As I was walking in and out of the house, with Sonny Boy following - waxing eloquent on vulgarity, I wondered if I tried my friends' trick if that would get rid of Sonny Boy. Better not, I thought - he'd probably just call my mom and boy, would I be in trouble then!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

my left foot

For the past few years, I have had some real fun with my left foot. I believe it all began 5 years ago, when I was up in the wee hours getting ready to head to the airport for a trip to Vancouver. It was a warm July night, about 4:30am. I had gone to bed early the night before, and the last thing I said to my husband was - "Please make sure to turn the window fan off in Caleb's room - it will have cooled down in there and we don't need to use that electricity all night." I then packed my suitcase, except for the items I would need the next morning. We had a rather large hallway - with the main bathroom, and both the kids' rooms off this large square hallway (our bedroom was in the finished attic). I left the suitcase to the side of the large hallway, knowing that I would walk straight to the bathroom in the morning and avoid the suitcase.

So, I walk down the stairs so early in the morning - not turning on any lights so that the kids will still keep sleeping. I immediately notice that Caleb's window fan is still going. What? That fan has been going all night? How much electricity is that going to use? So before heading to the bathroom, I walk straight to Caleb's room to turn off the fan - and promptly trip over the suitcase (which I never would have done if the fan had been off - I would have headed straight to the bathroom). My first thought then was, I've broken my leg!! But then I scrambled to the bathroom, checked out the quickly swelling lump and cut on my left leg, got an ice pack and thought, There is no way in Hades I am missing this trip to Vancouver! It must just be a really bad bruise.

I got ready for the day, made it to the airport and promptly limped my entire trip. After 5 wonderful days, I headed back home, limped a couple more days and then finally saw a doctor. The xray showed a clean break in the middle of the bone on my lower left leg. He told me it was already healing and a cast probably would not help. He did warn me about walking on uneven ground - a jar could get the bones out of alignment. I had flashbacks of all the walking on rocky paths I had done in Vancouver - including a long, bumpy path down to the nude beach I followed on several occasions (I kept my clothes on by the way, but I could tell stories...)

Due to the break, I started to use my foot differently and plantar fasciatis ensued. It would come and go - always the worst in the summer (when I was playing tennis and walking on pavement the most). It basically meant that the bottom of my left foot was in a LOT of pain. About a year and a half ago, my primary doctor told me to do the stretches and ice my foot after using it for tennis and the like. It didn't help. The ultimate cortisone shots and shoe inserts from the podiatrist last fall and winter didn't help more than a little while either. This summer was the worst - with the move and everything going on, I was in constant and awful pain; shooting pains up my left leg, almost unable to walk in the mornings. I quickly found a new podiatrist in Gboro. Since the end of July, I have been wearing a "boot." So much fun! I knew in recent weeks that it wasn't working - the pain was returning. I have been a complete slug with this boot - can't really walk much or exercise except for the exercise bike.

So when I saw the podiatrist last Friday, I knew we would be scheduling surgery. It will be in early November - sure hope this takes care of the problem. Meanwhile, I'll have the boot till near Christmas. Everyone sure has a comment about the boot - "Hate to see what the other guy looks like!" is the most common. Getting rather tiresome. It's like I'm pregnant again, and everyone has advice for me or some story to share.

At the grocery store today, and a couple were giving each other a hard time (just joking and having fun). She noticed my boot and said, "You're the third person I've seen with one of those today!" She asked what was wrong. I told her. She asked if I had to wear it all the time, or if it came off. I explained that it was kinda like an aircast and I took it off at night. She said it would be hard to sleep with that, and I responded that my husband probably couldn't sleep well with it either. She laughed and said, "But you sure could get him back if you wanted to!" I had a flashback to the window fan left on and the ensuing years of pain :) I laughed and her male partner said, "Women sure are evil!" She laughed and said, "It's because men make us that way!" So true...