Monday, December 03, 2007

Vonnegut, Styron, or Mailer

You may have seen an AP story on Sunday about the year's literary losses---Kurt Vonnegut, William Styron (who actually died in late '06), and Norman Mailer. I have a personal favorite among the three. But what about you? Which of those authors, if any, had an impact on you? What was the nature of that impact? Let me know, and then I'll let you know my choice.

Friday, November 30, 2007

"The Dream of Publishing Success"?

Once again I came across that phrase in a brief item about an authors' symposium featuring four women who had realized just that---the dream of publishing success. Which got me to wondering: what would I do if I was ever invited to speak at such a symposium? Well, I'd accept the opportunity, of course. But I'm afraid my talk would have to start out something like this:
I must confess that I am here under false pretenses. That's not because I haven't had publishing success; I have. It's just that writing and seeing my work published was never a dream for me. Writing is what I do; a writer is what I am. There was never a dream attached to this path I've taken. I wanted to be an English professor; I became a writer---a journalist---to earn money for grad school. But then I realized I was a writer. And that was that.

Perhaps this podium should be reserved for writers who pursued a dream and found success. I don't know. But I think there should be a podium somewhere for those of us who simply discovered we were writers. We had little choice. We knew we would make lousy professors or restaurant servers or pretty much anything else. We could write. That was it.

Maybe I'd sit down at that point and turn the microphone over to someone who had dreamed all her life about becoming a writer and was still unpublished. I'm sure I could learn a lot about hope from such a person. I hate to think what would have become of me if I hadn't realized early on that I probably couldn't make a living at anything but writing, so limited were my other skills and talents. I guess that's why it was never a dream. It was just my reality.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

All I Want for Christmas...


...is an iBlackBerryPhone. I mean world peace. And an iBlackBerryPhone.

Until somebody morphs the two, I can't decide which phone to get. Of course, I don't have to decide, because 1) nobody's getting me either one for Christmas, and 2) I don't need either one, at least not in the strictest meaning of the word "need." I mean, come on, I need food and water and clothing and shelter and central heating and plumbing. But I sure would like a combination BlackBerry/iPhone. At a BlackBerry price, that is.

So...somebody tell me which one I should ask Santa for, Santa being the only being likely to bring me one. Before you even ask, and I know you will, yes, I've done tons of research. I must have visited 20 iPhone vs. BlackBerry sites, and yes, I know what I want the device to do. I want it to do it all. I want it to be this industrial-strength, hard-working business accessory, but I want to have lots of fun with it as well. So in addition to everything I mentioned earlier, what I really need is help.

Help! Anyone? Should I just settle for world peace?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

You Know You're in Colorado...


...when you wake up in a postcard and can't get out.



The bottom photo shows what the back of our house looked like earlier today. You've got to love a place where the high is 65 one day and 25 the next, with who knows how much snow having fallen during the night in between. (Our very cool wireless weather station measures 10 weather elements, but snowfall isn't one of them; we do know the wind chill was around 5 degrees at times throughout the day.) For a couple of Florida transplants, one of whom has not seen snow in more than a decade, this was a wonderful day indeed.

Oh, and that car you see near the back door? It's now stuck on our steep, red granite driveway. We can't go out until the snow starts to melt, and we couldn't be happier. There's something so comforting about knowing you're semi-stranded (we could walk, if we really had to go somewhere; "town" is only three blocks away). I'm able to kick back, knit a pair of warm woollen socks, watch the Red Sox wallop the Indians, sip a cup of hot chocolate by the fireplace, and never feel like I should be doing something more productive. This is productive. It's producing peace.

And to think it's only October.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Knit 'n Kneel

That's what I'm calling my knitting weekend at the abbey. 'Twas wondrous in every way---16 very cool, very real women; one very cool, very real instructor; Lord knows how many very cool, very real nuns; and great accommodations, meals, weather, and northern Colorado scenery. Oh, and church.

Mary Gildersleeve, knitting teacher extraordinaire, gets high praise for putting together a series of workshop sessions that were just right---not too much, not too little, with just the right amount of time for one-on-one help. Mary is so generous with her time that I'm surprised she got any sleep at all. Maybe she didn't, but it didn't show. She somehow managed to coordinate the workshop schedule with the many daily services at the chapel. The weekend never felt tiring, overwhelming, or rushed.

And the nuns---what a delightful group! One nun was a former knitter who gave a great presentation on creativity and the value of just sitting and knitting; another wore a perpetually amused expression that let you know that she knew something you didn't know, and she was not about to share; and a third seemed to think we were entertaining in a puzzling sort of way.

My favorite image from the weekend, though, had nothing to do with knitting or kneeling: a nun speeding down a dirt road on an ATV, her habit and veil flapping in the considerable wind, doing her best to steer with one hand and with the other hold down the straw hat that threatened to fly off to Wyoming. It was priceless.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Off to the Abbey


I'll be living my bliss this weekend, attending a knitting retreat at an abbey in northern Colorado. How cool is that, I ask you? One Mary Gildersleeve, a certified hand-knitting expert and knitwear designer, will be leading the retreat and causing the rest of us to do penance for being so envious of her skills and creativity. Keeping us in line* will be Sister Hildegard, guest house director of the Abbey of St. Walburga** in Virginia Dale, Colorado.

The last time I experienced anything that sounded this medieval, I was in a real live medieval castle in England. Really now---Gildersleeve! Hildegard! Walburga! How can you not have great expectations for a weekend filled with such a wondrous array of appellations?

Alas and alack, there will be no cell service, no Internet connection, no technology more advanced than electricity, so there will be no real-time blogging from the big event. Rest assured, my lads and lassies, I shall report on this extraordinary journey back in time when I return to the 21st century. If I return.

* Not really.

** St. Walburga lived in 8th-century England, and to this day her bones produce a healing "oil" throughout the winter.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Colorado Rockies Rule!

Whoo-hoo! They did it! They pulled off a miracle in the last few weeks of the regular season! Heck, they pulled off a miracle in the last few hours of the regular season!

Okay, let's back up the cheering truck a minute. The last time I actually rooted for a baseball team was circa 1989, and my team was the Yankees. Oh, I continued to follow them after we left the New York metro area that year, but since we only had 2.5 television stations in rural Delaware, it was mighty difficult to maintain any enthusiasm for the team for the next five years. Then we moved to Florida in 1994, and it was pretty much over.

Until late August of this year, anyway. That's when my husband and I moved to Colorado and resumed our love of minor league baseball at a game between the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and some other team whose name I intentionally ignored by the sixth inning or so, because by the fifth I had become a rabid Sky Sox fan. I do love minor league games.

Fast forward to Monday night's deciding game between the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres. Suddenly, I had become a fan not only of a major league team not called the Yankees but also of a National League team. I haven't been a fan of a National League team since I lost interest in the Phillies in 1967 or so.

This only goes to prove just how impressionable I am. At some point during the 12th inning of Monday night's 13-inning game, I realized how little it had taken to convert me to major league baseball's dark side, the National League. Yes, I am ashamed of my behavior, my betrayal, my base duplicity.

I'm sure I'll continue to root for the Rockies this week. If the Yankees win the AL pennant and the Rockies win the NL, though, I'm going to be in deep you-know-what. What to do?

I wish all life's dilemmas were this difficult.

Friday, September 28, 2007

My New Baby

That's it over there on the left, the cover of my next book. It releases in March, and it's my response to the rabid partisanship in Washington and the church that several years ago left me without a political party and without a church. But my response is no diatribe; not only would I never sink to that level, I also would never take my own opinions so seriously that I'd write a book without a healthy dose of subtle but sanity-preserving humor.

I mean, really, if we can't find humor in politics, we're all going to lose our minds as well as any hope of transforming the system. There's a reason why so many of us are addicted to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report; we know that the best humor reflects our everyday reality.

We the Purple reflects the everyday reality of both independent voters and independent candidates. The results of my research, my interviews with voters and candidates, and my interaction with other independents proved to be a real eye-opener. With the media calling 2008 the year of the independent voter, I'm grateful I had the opportunity to write this book, and I'm grateful to Tyndale House for publishing it. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Un-Freakin'-Believable


Atop the 14,000-plus-foot summit of Pikes Peak stands the appropriately named Summit House, part gift shop, part snack bar, part warmup area for tourists who have ventured to its heady, oxygen-derived, and often, very, very cold environs. It's a friendly little place and, one would think, a place safe from big-city crime.

Not so, it seems. Sometime during the night on Saturday, burglars broke into the Summit House and made off with a safe.

Here's the thing: the only way to get to the summit is via a cog railway or a toll road. The burglars not only traveled that treacherous toll road after dark, they did so in a stolen pickup belonging to the Pikes Peak Highway toll road agency, according to a story in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Hey, I'm not one to admire criminals, but you've got to give these guys credit. They managed to pull off a heist that promised an incredibly difficult getaway. I mean, really, you can't exactly speed off down the mountain on a road whose hairpin turns have claimed numerous victims over the years. Maybe they were able to clock their getaway at 30 miles per hour---maybe. In a stolen truck, no less. On a toll road that showed no telltale signs of foul play---no broken toll gates, nothing.

As admirable as all that is, I hope they get the buggers, and soon. The Summit House holds so many fond memories for so many people, and its employees ought to feel that they're still working in one of the safest places on earth. Well, safe from criminals, anyway.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Plea to Sweet Tomatoes

I lost my status as a Sweet Tomatoes virgin this week. Lest you think that's something racy, let me assure you it isn't. Sweet Tomatoes is a chain restaurant, and I ate there for the first time on the way back from Denver to the Colorado Springs area on Friday.

My friend Alice had intended to treat me to the joys of Sweet Tomatoes numerous times over the past two years. We'd go to Denver frequently for her cancer treatments and pass several Sweet Tomatoes restaurants on the way, and she would vow to take me there for lunch following her appointment. But every single time, something would go wrong, and her one-hour appointment would be extended to three or four or five hours. (It once was extended to five days; hers is a complicated situation, obviously.)

On Friday, God graced Alice with an uncomplicated appointment, the first ever, I think, and the final in a long and arduous series. We celebrated by stopping at Sweet Tomatoes. Now I'm generally pretty satisfied with wherever I eat; unless the place is filthy or the age of food is questionable, food is just food to me. I don't eat out often, and it's just not worth it to critique a meal at a place I may never visit again. I just get my nourishment and move on. Plus, I don't expect a whole lot from a chain restaurant.

But holy Sweet Tomatoes! Please, please, you-who-rule-the-Sweet-Tomatoes-universe, please, please, bring a restaurant or two to El Paso County. Oh my. One can hardly begin to describe the exquisite pleasure of finding actual fresh food within sniffing distance of an interstate. It was pure joy, I tell you, pure joy.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

OTN

Knitters know this abbreviation well; it stands for On The Needles and represents the project(s) the knitter currently has going. Well, in my knitting/reading life, it also stands for On The Nightstand, which in a perfect world would apply to the books I'm reading. In reality, there's no room on the nightstand for books; they're scattered all over the floor. But that's an OTF story and better left for another time.

So what would be OTN if my world was perfect and there was room on the nightstand? Lots of books to review, plus these two gems:

  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A memoir of life in a Muslim culture that practiced female circumcision (a.k.a. genital mutilation), a growing discontent with male domination and other cultural and Islamic concepts, gaining asylum and political influence in Holland, and working for a think tank in Washington. Riveting and eye-opening, even for those who have a decent working knowledge of Islam and its treatment of women.

  • Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot's Guide to the Land of Knitting. It's so nice to have a book like this to follow Infidel. I needed something light, and this filled the bill. If you're an OCK---an Obsessive Compulsive Knitter---or know one, this is a great primer for understanding the disorder. Which, of course, is no disorder at all. We OCKs know without question that knitting is what keeps us sane even if it makes us crazy at times. This book provides all the validation we need.


So that's what's OTN in my reading life. What's OTN in my knitting life includes a scrollbar scarf I started for my daughter in '06, I think (it's way cool, with a movable slider and all; the link shows the designer's crocheted version); a pair of socks for myself that I started on a drive from Florida to Colorado in April; a Fun Fur patchwork throw that I'm determined to finish before the snow flies; and at least a half-dozen other projects buried in the mound of yarn, supplies, books, and other knitting paraphernalia I've yet to sort out from the move.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Scorin' Some Sofrito

Living in a small mountain town has its challenges, especially when you need a specialty product. I never considered sofrito to be a "specialty" product before; living in Florida, I could put my hands on a jar or frozen tub of sofrito, a Latino sauce, at any number of stores within a five-mile radius of my home. I could even make my own, because all the fresh ingredients I needed were also available at said stores.

Little did I realize how hard it would be to find sofrito in the town where I'm now living. Not only that, I had a devil of a time finding it in neighboring Colorado Springs (population: a lot, including a fair percentage of Latinos). The first Latino market I visited in the Springs had closed a week earlier for nonpayment of rent; another highly touted mega-carniceria hadn't even opened for business yet. I was about to start making the rounds of the Mexican restaurants in our town--there are a half-dozen in our town of 7,000 people--sidle up to the cooks, and whisper oh so softly, Psst! Know where I can score some sofrito? I'm telling you, I felt as if I was trying to buy a controlled illegal substance.

I finally found some at a Latino market called Leonela's in Colorado Springs. I mention the name of the store for one reason: utter gratitude. I bought four jars, plus four more of recaito, a sauce I use less often but one that is even harder to find. Oh, and a box of cilantro cubes and a package of powdered achiote, two products I didn't know existed in those forms and which I may never need, but what the heck. There they were, and there I was, and I wasn't about to leave the store without them. The store isn't exactly around the corner, more like 30 miles away.

My fortunes are about to change, however, but don't tell anyone how pleased I am about this. Wal-Mart is opening a supercenter two miles from my house at 7:30 tomorrow morning. Of course, I hate Wal-Mart, just as everyone else does. But I also shop there, just as most everyone else does. If I have any hope of scoring some sofrito at 8,500 feet, it will be at the dreaded, evil, dastardly, always well-stocked Wal-Mart Supercenter. Yep, I'll feel dirty and slimy and traitorous and all that, but I'll have my sofrito.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Life I've Always Wanted

Last month my husband and I moved from Florida to Colorado.

Just eleven words, but those eleven words represent a thirty-five year journey that took me from New Jersey to Delaware to Florida and finally to Colorado. Back in New Jersey in 1972, a couple I knew from college decided they'd had it with the East Coast; they were heading for Colorado, and in true hippie fashion, they were selling all their earthly goods, which amounted to one stereo, to fund the trip. I was the buyer. I'd never owned a stereo, and I was happy to help them out. But more than anything, I wanted to go with them. I promised myself I'd follow up on that and connect with them as soon as...well, I don't know what I was thinking. As soon as I graduated? As soon as I graduated and got a car that might make it that far? As soon as I graduated and got a car that might make it that far and Jupiter aligned with Mars and peace would rule the planet and all that? It was the Age of Aquarius, after all, and maybe there was something to all that cosmic stuff.

Well, whatever the forces were that converged to make this happen (before you get all upset, yes, of course, I know it was God, all right?), I am grateful beyond measure. Here I am, finally living in the Rockies, on an amazingly private piece of property at the top of a rise three blocks from the center of a wonderful small town, surrounded on three sides by evergreens with an awesome view of Pikes Peak on the fourth side, working from home, and loving every single thing about my new life.

The "getting here" wasn't much fun, though. As my regular readers know, I haven't blogged in a while. At first, that was due to a very tight book deadline involving dozens of interviews and tons of research, a temporary living situation with spotty Internet service, and time-consuming real estate problems in both Florida and Colorado. I figured everything would settle down once we closed and I turned the book in to the publisher---did I mention that the closing date and the book deadline fell on the exact same day?---but that was not to be.

First, the buyer's mortgage company went bankrupt the day before the closing on our house in Florida. I can't begin to describe what that nightmare was like. The guy performed nothing less than a miracle in acquiring a new mortgage in record time, but the stress was unbelievable. I had already moved to Colorado, my husband had quit his job, and the movers were scheduled to start loading up.

So we closed, but we had no place to live in Colorado. We planned to rent for the first year, and one rental after another didn't pan out. So even as our stuff was barreling down I-70 in Kansas, we didn't know where to tell the driver to deliver it. We ended up putting everything in storage and paying for a second move from the storage unit to the house we rented.

And then my friend Margaret Rex passed away. Margaret, who was in her 70s, had the spunk and energy of a woman half her age until the cancer that had been in remission for years reared its ugly head again. She was a lifechanger, and I told her as much the last time I saw her. You could not know this woman and not be touched by her in a deep and profound way; she was one of those people who brought joy and laughter and meaning to life in every situation and in every encounter you had with her.

Margaret patiently taught me to knit socks.

Margaret lived in Colorado Springs, where I had spent much of the last few years, and I was looking forward to spending time with her when I moved to Colorado permanently. We hadn't even unpacked when we got the call that she was failing; four days later, she was gone. I miss her, and yet I am comforted knowing that her struggle is finally over.

So it's been an eventful summer. There's lots more, of course: a close relative ended up in a mental health facility, called me as much as five times a day after his discharge, and is now living in a homeless shelter; I spent most of three weeks in bed with a phantom illness; at times, chaos seemed to be the new norm for our lives. But here I am today---and I can't say this often enough---living the life I've always wanted.

How many people can say that? Can you? In 1972, I didn't expect to live past my 20s. I lived recklessly, and I knew it. Something was bound to get me sooner rather than later. But here I am, 35 years later, living a reality that was just a dream back than. I am blessed. Truly, unbelievably blessed---blessed beyond measure.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Okay, Okay

Yes, I've been away for a while, and yes, I promised to keep this blog relatively free of political content. But as I wrote on my other blog, I'm desperately seeking younger independent voters to interview for my next book, We the Purple: Faith, Politics, and the Independent Voter. Contact me if you're interested.

"Relatively free of political content," by the way, means I get to ask this one question, prompted by last week's televised faith forum hosted by Jim Wallis: If I ever become so demented that I vote for a candidate based on his or her views on evolution, would someone out there please put me out of my misery?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech

As I wrote on my other blog, it's been hard for me to write about anything over the past two days other than the Blacksburg massacre. And I have nothing, really, to say—no new insights, no great wisdom, no fresh perspective. Just a reminder to continue to keep everyone affected by this tragedy in your prayers; the reality is probably just now beginning to set in. It's incredibly sad.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How to Make a Veggie Burger

Okay, so I added the Video Bar feature over there on the left. I'm assured that you just have to hover over an image to see what the video is about, click on it, and it will begin playing at the top of the post column. Just click on "I'm done watching this" to end the video.

Because I am committed to imparting huge wads of useless information to all and sundry, I chose the Do-It-Yourself category. I believe everyone has the right to learn how to perform arthroscopic surgery, how to use a t-shirt folding machine, and how to conduct a do-it-yourself impeachment.

And hey, I'm not responsible for the content. Ever. Okay?

Monday, April 09, 2007

The End of TV

For me, anyway. Someday soon. Because I cannot abide the promotional stuff that clutters the screen during shows, not just during commercial breaks. You know what I mean? You're watching something like, oh, I don't know, a can't-miss rerun of Law and Order when all of a sudden there's little ol' Brenda Leigh Johnson just a-sneakin' under that-there police tape like a felon slinkin' away from a parole officer. Now I agree, there really ain't no sunshine when she's gone, and she really is always gone too long, but please. I don't want to see a promo for The Closer during another show. I've been renting TV seasons from the library for some time now, and I'm thinking that's the only way to go from now on.

Am I the only one? Is anyone else sick of these promos that nearly every station is running during shows?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Got Books?

Need more? Here are a couple of suggestions:
  • Praying at Burger King by Richard Mouw
  • The Culturally-Savvy Christian by Dick Staub
I can vouch for Richard Mouw's book because my very own endorsement appears on the back cover of the book. (Yes! I really did read it!) And I can vouch for Staub's book because 1) Dick Staub knows his stuff; 2) bookseller Byron Borger recommends the book, and since he has written favorably about my writing, well, I have to trust his opinion. Borger's March 28 post on his blog, which is a great site for book lovers, mentions both books. It's worth reading.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Whew!

Okay, that was one long break. Next time I'm sick for two weeks, I'm going to blog my little brains out anyway just to keep up the habit.

Moving is taking up major portions of real estate in that little brain these days, with my move to Colorado Springs a mere two weeks away. So if life was perfect, and I could live anywhere I wanted to, here's where I'd live:

  • Colorado Springs (Hey, I'm not about to jinx the move by placing this one lower on the list)

  • Montreal

  • A remote cabin in Yellowstone (remember, we're talking "perfect world" here)

  • Santa Fe

  • Asheville

  • Alaska, even if just for a year or so

  • Way up in the Colorado mountains

  • Somewhere along the coast of Maine

  • Newfoundland, just to experience it

  • Any village in the French countryside

What's your top 10? And what keeps you from living where you really want to live?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Power of Seven

I posted most of this on my We the Purple blog, but I deleted the political stuff and added some new information below. Honest.

Anyway, just seven letters—that's all it took for the office of one member of Congress to sit up and pay attention to an issue of concern among constituents. Seven people took the time to write a letter—not an email—and an aide to the Congressman remembered them.

That's truly amazing. Annie Gill-Bloyer, who is the faith outreach organizer for the ONE Campaign, met with the aide to discuss the goals of ONE and the non-profit she works for, Bread for the World. The aide recalled having received a "number" of letters about the ONE effort ("the campaign to make poverty history"). When Annie asked how many exactly, the aide replied, "Oh...seven," in a manner that suggested this was a significant amount. Annie was stunned; that's all it took to get noticed? Seven letters?

Annie's experience reflects the ever-shifting realities of our 21st century existence. I'll bet good money that one handwritten letter is remembered long after those useless Internet petitions have evaporated into cyberspace. (Is there anyone left who actually believes that an Internet petition does any good—or is even opened? They're not worth, um, the paper they're printed on.) Letters—especially those that are handwritten and not printed out or photocopied—have got to be such a rarity these days that it makes sense that they'd get noticed.

In her presentations, Annie shows a video about an anti-poverty program that I hadn't heard of before. WORTH is designed to empower poor women in developing nations to work their way out of poverty through "literacy training, group savings, micro-enterprise development, and entrepreneurship." The effort has proven to be remarkably successful in the parts of Asia and Africa where it's been introduced.

I love to hear about programs that genuinely change lives. Part of the program's genius, in my opinion, lies in the group effort; assemble a team of highly motivated women, and they'll be in it for the long haul.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Jesus Campiness

When Jesus Camp released to theaters, I happened to be in Colorado Springs, of all places—the evangelical mecca. The scuttlebutt among the non-evangelicals I was hanging out with at the time was their surprise that it was actually being shown in the Springs, which was then home to Ted Haggard*, and their horror at how the kids in the movie were being indoctrinated in the faith. I pretty much shrugged it off at the time; I hadn't seen the movie, but I figured it was just so much charismatic campiness, and anyone who wasn't evangelical, charismatic, or Pentecostal wouldn't get it anyway.

But then I saw it. An hour ago. On my very own television. And it both sickened and disturbed me no end.

First, a disclaimer. (Why do I so often have to start with these bloody disclaimers? Why is it that people love to tear apart whatever you write?) I believe with everything in me that children of any age can be deeply touched by God. I believe they can have a faith experience that would put many adults to shame. And I believe that many parents and youth leaders truly believe they are doing what God wants them to do with regard to teaching and training children in the faith.

But I was sickened by the way the children in the movie talked—they sounded as if they were simply repeating, in much-too-adult terms, what their parents and pastors said. Their vocabulary and speech patterns didn't sound authentic, even for precocious home-schooled kids (I know how adult they can sound; I had two of my own). The emotional and patriotic manipulation turned my stomach.

I was disturbed, though, for an even more unsettling reason: I used to be one of those parents and youth leaders. Okay, so maybe I wasn't quite that bad, but I came awfully close. The parents in the movie talk about how their kids are different; their kids are sold out to Jesus; they would grow up to be world changers, a generation that will change the world for Jesus. Well, we said the same thing about the kids in our churches 10, 15, 20 years ago. They were on fire for God—and today, their photos are plastered all over MySpace, showing them in various stages of undress accompanied by bitter blog posts about the nightmare their childhood was.

As I watched Jesus Camp, I thought of the many young adults I know who were once destined for greatness, who showed promise for future ministry, who were prophesied over and "sealed" for a mighty work for God. And I can't help but think that if we had talked less and lived more authentically, those kids wouldn't feel so betrayed.

To parents and youth pastors of Jesus Campers: "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." Which, by the way, St. Francis never said. And to which I would add, be sure you know what the gospel is—and what it isn't—and be sure the words you do use are really necessary.

* The Jesus Camp website features this response to Haggard's criticism of the documentary. It makes no mention of his subsequent fall from grace. Kudos to the producers for taking the high road when the low road must have looked so tempting.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Didn't See This One Coming

Nobody likes to be frisked and searched by airport security. And nobody likes to stand in long lines waiting for that frisking and searching. But of all the new security measures that have been implemented, one I really hate is the curbside "no standing" rule outside baggage claim. You do your level best to arrive at just the right moment—when the person you're picking up is all ready to go, when the two of you have coordinated everything by cellphone down to the very nanosecond, when Jupiter is perfectly aligned with Mars, when the forces of good have finally vanquished the forces of evil—and something goes wrong. You miss each other by that same nanosecond because nature has called at the worst possible moment or some long lost friend had the nerve to bump into your passenger just as she hung up the phone with you.

Imagine my shock when I arrived at Orlando International Airport to pick up my daughter and discovered signage directing drivers to a "cell waiting lot." Whoa! What's this? A free parking area where we can wait until that magical moment arrives? Instead of circling the airport multiple times until said moment? What's up with that? This is an incredibly helpful idea! How on earth did they come up with it?

I've come to expect so little when it comes to travel, especially airline travel, that it's downright startling when a positive change is made. Did I mention that the cell lot is also a wi-fi hot spot?

And then—and then—get this: when the perfect moment came to pick up my daughter, there was a security officer directing traffic. Not just yelling at drivers, but actually directing traffic. I positively swooned at the sight, which made for some tricky maneuvering.

If you need a ride from the airport, give me a call. I'm so giddy over these new services that I'm happy to oblige.

Monday, March 12, 2007

I Heart the Internet (Way Too Much)

I spend a lot of time on the Internet, ostensibly doing extensive and unfettered journalistic research. In reality, I occasionally stumble upon major distractions, the latest of which being StumbleUpon.com. The site takes you to random websites based on your interests, and its list of possible interests made me realize I had a whole lot more interests than I would have thought of on my own.

I even broke one of my own Internet rules: never, ever download a dedicated toolbar. But StumbleUpon swears on all that is holy (to them) that this one is safe. And because I became a convert so quickly, I of course believed them. We'll see.

Right away, I hit the mother lode in the humor category at LucidCafe.com:

Fourteen Things That It Took Me Over 50 Years To Learn—by Dave Barry
1. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

2. If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be "meetings."

3. There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness."

4. People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.

5. You should not confuse your career with your life.

6. Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

7. Never lick a steak knife.

8. The most destructive force in the universe is gossip.

9. You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight savings time.

10. You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she's pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.

11. There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age eleven.

12. The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above-average drivers.

13. A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person. (This is very important. Pay attention. It never fails.)

14. Your friends love you anyway.

Thought for the day: Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.

What have you stumbled upon lately?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fair Trade?

Ten Thousand Villages. A Greater Gift. Global Exchange. These and dozens of other companies are committed to supporting farmers and artisans in developing nations by paying them a fair wage for their products. I'm not much of a consumer these days, but I have bought from fair trade retailers, most of whom have online stores.

But a new "fair trade" enterprise is giving me pause. The venture is called Fair Indigo. I haven't ordered from them, but an online friend exchanged emails with a company representative regarding the source of their products. Other fair trade companies post detailed information about the communities and even individuals that produce the items they sell; Fair Indigo, however, provides only general information about where their products come from.

The email exchange is too long to post here, but the gist of the company's response was this: "Finding fair trade factories was and continues to be challenging in today’s low-cost climate...We may publish this information in the future, but at this time will protect it as proprietary."

What disturbs me first of all is that the company considers the information to be proprietary. I've always respected fair trade companies for their refusal to adopt a "business as usual" attitude, and one way they display this is by being open and forthcoming when a potential customer has a legitimate question. Consumers who buy from fair trade companies as a matter of conscience need to know the source of the merchandise—that is, whether it's a truly needy individual or a sweatshop.

I'm also disturbed by the fact that I didn't give this much thought before now. Granted, I've bought from only a few fair trade companies, and I knew them to be legitimate. Still, I wonder if I would have even questioned the validity of a particular "fair trade" retailer.

For now, I'm going to assume that as a new company, Fair Indigo is still figuring out how all this works. As I understand it, the owners came from Lands End, so they may be trying to apply that company's strategy to Fair Indigo. But fair trade companies play by different rules—thank God for that!—and that's the reason so many of us are willing to pay their often-higher prices. I wish Fair Indigo all the best as they presumably attempt to help people who are living in unimaginable poverty—and as they recognize the need to be more open about the source of their merchandise.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I Don't Think So


In a couple of weeks, you will be able to stroll high above the Grand Canyon on a glass-floored, horseshoe-shaped skywalk that offers an unprecedented view of the canyon floor some 4,000 feet below.

The operative word there is you. I will not be able to make that stroll, and not because I live in Florida. I will not be able to make that stroll because my legs will not function normally under those circumstances.

But back to the skywalk, which is a pretty cool concept and just as cool reality, I suppose. The $30 million tourist attraction, which is expected to generate much-needed income for its owner, the Hualapai Indian Reservation, extends 70 feet out from the canyon wall and can "comfortably" accommodate 120 people at a time, each of whom will have shelled out $25 for that dubious exercise in comfort.

The odd thing about my lack-of-comfort problem is this: I'm not acrophobic in the classic sense. I can stay in a high-rise hotel and travel in a high-flying plane without any problem. And I have no fear of death, a fear that has actually been tested and found wanting. But put me on a fire escape or a balcony a mere three stories up, and the bones and muscles in my legs disappear. A glass-bottomed skywalk? I don't think so.


I understand that our Hualapai friends will provide cloth slippers (or technically, non-slippers) that visitors will be required to wear. Okay, I'll make them an offer: maybe I'll venture out onto the skywalk if they provide cloth kneepads for me, because I most certainly will be crawling for the first yard or two before I turn around and head back. Throw in $30 million, and we've got a solid deal.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The AmeriCone Dream

In case you missed it, on last night's Colbert Report Ben & Jerry (yes, that Ben & Jerry) introduced their newest ice cream flavor, Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream—"a decadent melting pot of vanilla ice cream with fudge-covered waffle cone pieces and a caramel swirl. It’s the sweet taste of liberty in your mouth." Monsieur Colbert was quick to emphasize that this is the only time he has ever waffled:



Colbert promises to save the world by donating his share of the proceeds to various charities. And remember—even though it appears he has sold out to a blatantly liberal enterprise, nobody loves Jesus more than Stephen Colbert does.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Economics 101

Confused about economic theory? Here's a hilarious video of Yoram Bauman, the world's only standup economist, explaining someone else's list of "The 10 Principles of Economics."



Bauman really does have a Ph.D. in economics, and he really is a standup comedian, mainly at Seattle's Comedy Underground. He also produces a political comedy show called Non-Profit Comedy.

Thanks to The Evangelical Outpost for posting this!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Another Insanity Defense?

By now you've no doubt seen or heard of the video of a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old smoking marijuana. I won't dignify the story by posting the video itself. The gist of the story is this: while investigating a string of burglaries in the Fort Worth, Texas, area, police confiscated a number of videos including one that showed the two children smoking grass with the full knowledge and encouragement of adults who were present.

That would include, of course, the amateur videographer, who will be among those charged once his or her identity is established.

I'm guessing that all those adults have to do is plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Because clearly, anyone who allows kids to smoke pot is insane. The videographer stands the best chance of winning, though. I ask you: who in their right mind would film such a thing?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Sometimes, It's Just Too Embarrassing...

Honestly, I don't know how much longer I can continue to use the "e" word. You know the one. Evangelical.

In recent years I've used it less and less to define my particular expression of faith, even though in good conscience I could sign any evangelical statement of faith—and have. But my expression of faith is larger than a statement of faith, and these days, that expression extends beyond the e-world.

Right now my disenchantment with some evangelicals—and a small minority at that—is the amazing and continuing controversy over the issue of global warming. My dismay had already been heating up, so to speak, but still, I kept finding it hard to believe that otherwise intelligent Christians (no, that is not an oxymoron) were adamantly refuting the evidence presented by so many experts. And then, I read this excellent entry on Jim Wallis's God's Politics blog. James Dobson, whom I credit with helping to save my sanity as a young mother all those years ago, and a few other evangelical leaders not only dispute the reality of global warming but also are calling for the resignation of NAE executive Richard Cizik, who has called much-needed attention to the issue. You really have to read Wallis's post to get the skinny on their efforts, which most assuredly do not reflect the thinking of the evangelicals I know.

Here's the thing. Like the vast majority of people in the world, I have to rely on the findings of the scientific community on issues like this, which, by the way, I consider to be moral and not political, regardless of how politicized this particular issue has become. And I have to ask two basic questions, the answers to which lead to a third:
  • If Al Gore and company are wrong, what's the worst that could happen?

  • If Al Gore and company are right, what's the worst that could happen?

  • What on earth are Dobson and company thinking?

Wouldn't it be great if global warming really was a myth? But on the off chance that it isn't—just in case the thousand or so undisputed studies confirming the existence of the global warming phenomenon are valid and legitimate and correct—wouldn't it, um, be to our advantage to conserve energy as individuals and as a nation? I don't know. It sure seems like a no-brainer to me.

In the meantime, as Dobson et al continue to besmirch the "e" word, can we please come up with a substitute descriptor? Maybe something like "Product of Intelligent Design—Honest."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hold It: The Not-So-Empty Tomb

So Titanic director James Cameron and documentary director Simcha Jacobovici claim they've found the tomb housing the remains of Jesus, Mary, and their son, Judah. You can read or hear about this pretty much anywhere. Scientists, archaeologists, theologians, historians, and ordinary bloggers like me are all weighing in on the controversy that this "discovery" was certain to provoke. You think gay marriage is a hot-button issue? Just try tampering with the resurrection, which is what Cameron et al are doing. If the bones they found belong to Jesus, then he was not resurrected in bodily form, as Christians believe.

This is what I call a "Hold It" story. Which is to say this: even when you consider all the evidence, all the arguments, all the opinions, both pro and con, a far more fundamental element arises. That is the "Hold It" element: Hold it! You mean to say that after two thousand years of archaeological studies and excavations, it took Hollywood to unearth one of the most significant relics in all of history? You mean to tell me Roman authorities managed to overlook the contents of this tomb even as they were persecuting Christians and attempting to discredit Christianity? Wow! How cool is it that our very own James Cameron could accomplish what no one else in history—not the politically motivated, not the religiously motivated, not the academically motivated—was able to achieve?

Otherwise intelligent people are embracing this story as if it was the gospel truth. The only thing I can figure is that their understandable skepticism of findings by supposed experts has left them vulnerable to believing theories that defy logic and common sense. (Yes, there are many other reasons people want to believe this story. I'm talking here about intelligent people who historically would have dismissed this discovery as the wishful thinking of someone with questionable expertise and transparent motivation.)

My inexpert guess is that we'll never know who this Jesus, Mary, and Judah were. Whoever they were, may they rest in peace.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Kind of Numb Right Now

Yesterday an author friend, Cecil Murphey, lost his home, and far worse, his son-in-law, to a house fire. Cecil, his wife, Shirley, and their daughter, whose name I don't know, were able to get out safely, but his son-in-law was apparently trapped in the basement by the flames as he tried to keep the fire from spreading. Those of you who live in the Atlanta area likely saw footage of the aftermath on last night's news.

Cec is affectionately known as a curmudgeonly saint among many of us in the Christian publishing industry; I don't know of anyone who doesn't love him to pieces. He has given tirelessly of his time and talents to innumerable writers—both in the U.S. and internationally—through his teaching, mentoring, and encouragement. You may know him as the co-author of several New York Times bestsellers, including his most recent, 90 Minutes in Heaven with Don Piper.

Please pray for Cec and his family. If you'd like to help out in a tangible way, please email me or leave a comment to that effect, and I'll let you know what you can do. As far as I know, they lost everything, including their cars.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Love It...

Trust me, this is not your usual cute-church-sign-thingy, the kind of stuff people forward to your email account even though you've told everyone who has an ear that you don't want any junk mail regardless of how cute those people think those forwards are.

But I digress.


No, this is the beginning of one of several ecumenical conversations posted by the always enlightening Red State Mystic. If I'm not mistaken, he has three such conversations posted on his blog. Enjoy.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Want to Feel a "Warm Glow"?

That's what researchers at the National Institutes of Health say is likely to happen when you give to charity. No kidding. They go even further, suggesting that giving to charity results in the kind of buzz you may get from food, sex, or drugs.

The researchers gave volunteers a small amount of money along with the choice between giving all or some of it to charity or keeping some back for themselves. They determined that giving really did make the volunteers feel good. What's more, the NIH has the images to prove it:

NIH researchers used MRI scanners to observe patterns in brain activity in the participants as they made their decisions. When choosing to give charitably, the imaging study "strongly supports the existence of a 'warm glow' at a biological level," observed Dr. [Jorge] Moll, the lead researcher.

I love stuff like this, especially when it supports what I already believe. See, people who are cynical of charitable givers claim that donors give not to make a difference in the world but just so they can feel good. Now there are lots of reasons why people give to charity, some sacrificial, some self-serving. But according to the NIH study, the feel-good element isn't necessarily the motivation; it's simply a result of giving.

The most giving people I know have a peace in their lives that is enviable. They have very little to give in a material sense, but they donate their time and their talents and their wisdom to various charities.

And their "warm glow" is contagious—whether or not a scientific study can confirm that.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fed Up with Partisan Politics?

Then join me at my new politics-only blog at We, the Purple. I'll still keep posting regularly on this blog, because I need a place to deposit all this random stuff that clutters my head. But I'm becoming something of a fanatic as an independent voter, and if I don't watch out, that fanaticism will end up taking over this space. Hence, the new blog.

But before I pull the plug on all things political here, here's a one-minute video that explains what independent voters are all about—and unless you're an independent yourself, that may not be what you think:



The video is a trailer for a longer documentary that clarifies lots of misconceptions about independents—that we're undecided, for instance, or that we're swing voters. Things like that would raise my hackles if I had any hackles left, which I seriously doubt. I just don't have it in me to get all hot and bothered over what amounts to a misunderstanding.

I do aim to correct all those misperceptions. But not here. Only on that other blog.

See you there.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Well, Can You?


Blog4Brains
asked this question yesterday: Can You Hear Your Eyeballs Move? The post refers to the story of a man who suffers from "an odd syndrome caused by serotonin and a little part of your brain called the nucleus accumbens…a horrid grating noise coming from his eyeballs." He continues with this reflection:
After I originally read this story, I couldn’t stop thinking about how this proves that our reality is nothing but electrical inputs, and how we trust our brains to interpret them correctly. It is our brain that will decide what is essential and what is not. But what if our brain does not interpret them in the way that represents what is really “out there”? What does that do to our sense of “reality”? So, is the world around you really like what you think it is, or is your brain wrong? I guess we will never know. But what can be learned from [this man's] incredible story, is what you think you perceive may not be “really” reality."

Oh yes. I do get this. Because I suffer from the same "odd syndrome." I too hear my eyeballs move in my head. No neurologist has been able to determine why I suddenly developed this disorder 10 years ago. One doctor had the good sense to put me on an anti-depressant (which regulates serotonin levels), and that did the trick. If I miss a dose, the sound returns within hours.

The really fun part for me is that the sound operates in tandem with nystagmus, a neurological disorder that causes the eyeballs to jerk involuntarily from side to side, which means the sound is relentless because my eyeballs are in constant motion whenever the medication wears off.



I've done a whole lot of research on this, and the easiest-to-understand article about it can be found here. The article says acquired nystagmus, the kind I have, is generally temporary; the ER doctor who diagnosed mine said it usually corrects itself after an hour or so—this, after I'd been in the ER for six hours. In my case, the disorder is chronic and will keep me on medication for the rest of my life, barring the discovery of some other treatment. As I commented in response to the Blog4Brains post, it’s maddening. But there are so many other challenges to my perception of reality that I do try to ignore this one.

So, can you? Can you hear your eyeballs move? If so, maybe we could start an online support group. Or not.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Chillout Music, For Sure


Last winter, while everyone else I knew and didn't know was dreaming of vacationing somewhere in the Caribbean, I was making plans of my own for a springtime holiday across the pond. Not in London or Paris, Rome or Madrid. No, my intended destination was far more exotic: Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.

I knew a fair amount about Iceland, enough to know I wanted to go there. A house fire disrupted my plans, which were actually never much more than wishful thinking, but I haven't given up hope of vacationing there someday. But now, there's an even greater lure calling me to Iceland, stronger than the glaciers that cover so much of the country.

That lure is the music.

And I don't just mean Björk, although—thanks to my daughter and www.last.fm—I've discovered a lot of her music that I'd never heard before, and I do like it. But my love of Icelandic music lies mainly with the incredible, spiritual sound of a group called Sigur Rós—"victory rose" in Icelandic. That sound is hard to define, so I'll take the easy way out and list some of the tags on last.fm that describe the music: ambient, post-rock, soundscape, electronic—even terms like heavenly, peaceful, dreamy, and the ever-popular and in this case, ironic, "chillout." You can download 11 songs, more than an hour of their distinctive sound, for free on the media page of their website.

Next week, the group is appearing in concert in Miami, a mere four-hour drive from my house, and at a fund-raiser in New York, a mere three-hour flight away. Forget it. I'll hold out and see them in concert in their homeland. Iceland in December? No problem. This could be the year of my dream vacation—on an island just shy of the Arctic Circle.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Feeding My Inner Nerd

As if I don't get enough emails, I willingly receive Michael Quinion's always amusing and entertaining weekly newsletter, "World Wide Words." Every Saturday he regales me (okay, not just me—45,000 other subscribers as well) with fascinating tidbits about the words we use. Want to know what on earth the phrase "with bated breath" actually means? Quinion's your man.

Today's edition referenced the word, um, "referenciness." For reasons that should be obvious to any member of the Colbert Nation, when I saw that I had to keep reading. Turns out that Quinion and others spotted the word last week in a story in The Guardian questioning the credentials of a British TV personality who purports to be a nutritional authority. In the article Dr. Ben Oldacre wrote:
The scholarliness of her work is a thing to behold: she produces lengthy documents that have an air of "referenciness" ... but when you follow the numbers, and check the references, it's shocking how often they aren't what she claimed them to be.
Goldacre acknowledged that Stephen Colbert's signature word—truthiness—was indeed his inspiration in coining the word "referenciness."

I want to coin a word. I want to create a word so clever, so witty, and so useful that it will make it into our everyday lexicon. I want to be cited in the Oxford English Dictionary as the first person to ever use this unknown word I have yet to coin. And I promise, when I do coin this word, you will be the first to know.

This is how I feed my inner nerd, ingesting random facts about words. (Oh, and watching The Weather Channel. Can't forget that.) Anyway, if you've come up with a great word but don't want to admit you're a word nerd, will you let me have it? I will forever express my gratitudiness.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Maytag and Medicare

If you're not immersed in health problems right now, one day you will be. I say that with complete confidence. Because even if you are in perfect health, have the best insurance on the planet, and have a roster of caring, compassionate doctors at your disposal for your wellness visits, someday someone close to you will face serious health challenges. And no matter what your circumstance, you will pay for our failing healthcare system, one way or another.

Our family has decent healthcare coverage. Not great, but it will do. And it beats not having any at all. But like the U.S. political system, the U.S. healthcare system is broken. It needs fixing, and fast. Normally, the last place I'd look to these days for a fix of any kind is Washington. But we're in a crisis. Neither the medical community nor the insurance companies are going to get us out of it. God help us; our only hope may be in D.C.

The other day, a glimmer of hope did begin to flicker, ever so faintly. Ten U.S. senators, evenly split between the two major parties, sent a proposal to President Bush that calls on Congress and the administration to immediately begin to work together to provide, among other things:

  • affordable health coverage (either private or governmental) for everyone

  • modernized tax rules for health coverage that will no longer favor the wealthy

  • coverage with an emphasis on wellness and prevention, specifically with regard to ridiculously inconsistent (my wording) Medicare provisions

  • improved access to information on the price and quality of health services. (The senators rightly point out that consumers can find out more about washing machines than about health services, and far more quickly.)

As a hospice volunteer, I took issue with one other provision, that more end-of-life options be made available so patients won't be "forced into hospice care." Oh my. We should all be so fortunate as to have access to hospice care at the end of our lives. Many of the families I deal with wish they had known about or taken advantage of hospice care earlier on.

Anyway, before the senators sent the proposal on Tuesday, Michael Barone wrote this column in U.S. News & World Report, expressing understandable surprise at Bush's State of the Union healthcare proposal. I suspect most people who are concerned about healthcare legislation are like me; we didn't expect anything to be done on the issue until after the 2008 election. But I agree with Barone and the senators: we can't wait that long. We need to start working now with what we have.

All well and good, but—let's all take a deep breath—I'll say it again: God help us.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What Keeps Me Standing

One of the things I love most about being a writer is that it gives me carte blanche to research any subject to death. In researching my latest book, Finding Hope: Cultivating God's Gift of a Hopeful Spirit, I amassed a great deal of information and quotations on the topic of hope, much more than I could use. I found the following quote in What Keeps Me Standing: Letters from Black Grandmothers on Peace, Hope and Inspiration by Dennis Kimbro. I wasn't able to use it in the book, but it's worth reflecting on:
Hope. It is a marvelous emotion that bolsters the soul. Suddenly your load is lifted, your spirit is refreshed, and your eyes regain their sparkle. Something has changed. Winds shift, tides turn, and barriers are withdrawn. Hope tones up the body and invites you to press on. Hope is the secret weapon of the soul that allows us to persevere even when the facts seem damning and the truth unbearable. Hope can turn back the hands of time, renew the spirit of youth, and make dreams come true...Hope tramples over prejudice, spurns indifference, and overwhelms all obstacles. The optimistic will embrace it and the vain will overlook it. Without hope in the future, there's no joy in the present. Hope is the quality that breeds faith, self-control, strength of will, cheerfulness, and a handful of other life-changing virtues which the hopeless will never know.

Hope keeps us standing, keeps us going, keeps us from packing it in when life gets so rough that our faith has even started to fail. Kimro calls it "the secret weapon of the soul." Amen!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Taking Out the Technotrash


Am I the only one who truly detests jewel CD cases? I spent a good deal of the past few days freeing my CDs from that awful packaging. This has been bugging me for a while, and our upcoming move finally provided the excuse I needed to find a better way to store all those music and software disks. But as always happens, I created a secondary problem: a mountain of empty plastic cases that would end up in a landfill somewhere if I didn't find an alternative means of trashing them.

Enter Google, my default bailout service. I glanced at a few sites that suggested recycling jewel cases by doing all sorts of disturbing decor-related things with them. I persisted. Surely there's a better use for a jewel case than as a tacky means of displaying one or two collectible coins worth, oh, let's say hundreds of dollars.

Then I found it: GreenDisk.com, a Washington-state company that provides packaging and pickup of all manner of recyclable "technotrash"--computers, printers, CDs, hard drives, zip disks, floppy disks, cell phones, rechargeable batteries, empty printer cartridges, cables, cords, chips, boards--you name it. Yes, you have to pay for the service, but from what I can gather (I was too busy sorting CDs to read all the details), through an arrangement with the postal service, the shipping charges are minimal. You have the confidence of knowing that the hardware will be disposed of responsibly and that any sensitive information contained on data storage media like hard drives will be protected and disposed of securely.

I'll let you know how my GreenDisk experience turns out. Seems impressive, though. Even though there are other companies that provide some technology recycling services, I've yet to find one this comprehensive.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Maybe I'm Not a Misfit After All


So there's this group that threatens to strip me of my misfit identity. Sheesh! I've spent a lifetime feeling like a misfit, and I even came out of the closet with my 2003 book, Memoir of a Misfit. Two weeks ago, though, I attended a national conference for independent voters. And I experienced something I've seldom felt before: the sense that I actually belonged. Me! The perennial misfit! Among 500 political activists! I'm still reeling from this heady happening.


You have to love a conference that opens with an improv performance at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in midtown Manhattan. Is that a hoot or what? At that point, though, the conference hadn't officially started, so we all just went to the theater on our own. I didn't know a soul there, but that was okay. The performance was great. However, I wasn't at all enthusiastic about what was to come: a reception back at the hotel.

The word "reception"--along with words like "cocktail party"--sends shivers down my spine and back up again. I envision dozens of people mingling and talking and laughing, and me wandering aimlessly, searching in vain to find a clutch of people who will take pity on me and let me stand amid them under the tacit condition that I will not say one word.

Against my better judgment, I went to the reception--where people actually talked to me, listened to me, sought me out, introduced me to other people, never looked over my head trying to find someone more important to talk to (ever been to a church fellowship?), and in general, welcomed me with metaphorical open arms. They did the same to everyone. If you felt unwelcome in this group, I'm afraid there's no hope for you. They would have extended hospitality to the likes of elephants and donkeys, I'm sure.

The conference was organized--and impressively so--by a group called CUIP, the Committee for a Unified Independent Party. It's important to know that they kept the name even though they long ago gave up the notion of ever organizing a unified independent part. (They pronounce CUIP as "quip," which is certainly descriptive; they're witty and self-deprecating even as they go about the serious work of trying to fix a broken political system.) I was truly surprised at the turnout--500 leaders from 31 or 32 states, depending on who's counting. Remember, these are independent voters and therefore independent thinkers. The conference has been held every other year for 32 years, so I guess they’ve figured out by now how to get independents like me to stop being so doggoned independent long enough to get together once in a while.

The improv and reception were on Saturday, the conference on Sunday (more on the conference itself in the coming days). On Monday morning, when some participants had to go back to work, CUIP held a special session for those who could stay. What a treat! Actors from the improv troupe helped us hone our ability to think on our feet. How cool is that? They had the good sense to have us improvise skits based on a particular scenario (meeting with a member of Congress, in this case) rather than telling us we were going to role-play. Essentially the same thing, but a whole lot more fun with improv coaching.

I have this feeling CUIP is going to finally get the recognition it deserves during this next election cycle. But even if they don't, I've found one place on earth where I belong. Either that means that independent voters are misfits or that I'm no longer a total misfit. Either way, I'm happy. And totally psyched for what's up ahead politically. Bring it on!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My Friends in Bombay


I made another new friend in Bombay today--Gary. Gary and I had a fascinating conversation that left me utterly speechless. I was so linguistically paralyzed that I forgot to ask him the most pressing question of all: did he by any chance know Bob from Bombay? I spoke to Bob a few weeks ago, and frankly, after two hours on the phone with him I had lost interest in what had been an important question up to that point: was it possible that he knew Jason in Bombay?

I know Bombay is a big city and all, but these men work in the same industry and have American names. I think that's weird in a primarily Hindu country, don't you? I mean, they just have to know each other, right? I'd like to assemble all my Bombay friends in one place--including John, with whom I had a three-hour conversation one night that probably could have been condensed to one hour if only I hadn't kept asking, "I'm sorry, what did you just say?" over and over again--and provide them with job training in another field, one that does not involve a direct phone line to annoying U.S. consumers who can't seem to hear very well. So all of you who have fielded my techical and customer service questions--and that includes you, Steve, Carl, and Frank--meet me online, and I'll help you find gainful and more suitable employment. You really shouldn't have to put up with us. Deal?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

If This Guy Is Unreasonable...



As I type, Ralph Nader is making an appearance on The Daily Show. I like this guy so much that I clearly must be insane. The thing is, I wasn't always in his corner. I thought he was a terrific consumer advocate, but when he started getting all political, I backed off.

Now I'm a fan, I think because I'm so bloody independent and so is he. I know lots of people blame him for Bush's win in 2000, but please. He hammered away at issues that the major parties were only giving lip service to, things that affect people in their everyday lives like a living wage, universal healthcare, free college education, and affordable housing. If the major parties had done that, and had followed through on their rhetoric, Nader's candidacy would have been unnecessary. Nader knows that, and so do independent voters.

Stewart ended the interview by saying that even though Nader has taken a lot of heat over the years, "Nobody has ever said that Ralph Nader wasn't right." I don't know if that's true, and I'm sure I wouldn't agree with everything Nader supports. I've never yet agreed completely with any candidate. But it sure looks to me like he's been right an awful lot.

I love that the documentary about him is titled An Unreasonable Man. If he's unreasonable, then we need more unreason.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"And I Walked Uphill Both Ways"


Yesterday the Weather Channel aired a report about school being cancelled because it was so cold that the buses wouldn't start. My husband, who swears he was kidding, made some smart remark about how he had to walk two and a half miles to school each day and why couldn't the kids in Minnesota do the same. Normally I don't even hear him when he says stuff like that, but this time I called him on it. Knowing where he used to live and where he went to high school, I told him I figured it was more like a mile. "Nah," he said. "No way."

He apparently didn't notice the laptop on my very lap, or that I was accessing MapQuest as he spoke. He continued. "No, it was a mile to the elementary school. It couldn't be just a mile to the high school." I told him it was probably only a half-mile to the elementary school, maybe even less than a mile to the high school. He balked. I entered the addresses in MapQuest.

Bingo. His house to the elementary school: .6 miles the way a car drives, a half-mile the way the crow flies, which is the route he would have walked considering he cut through the woods and all. His house to the high school: .9 miles, or as I said, just under a mile.

Remember this, because you will want to make use of this little tip at some point. MapQuest isn't perfect, but sometimes it sure comes in handy.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Worth a Read


I read a lot of books and review a percentage of them.
Because I'm a reviewer, I receive far more books than I could ever review. Occasionally, a book comes my way that I want to review but can't, for whatever reason (it's self-published, my clients aren't interested in the topic, every client's slate is already full, and so forth). One such book is Wendy Duncan's I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult, a fascinating look at Ole Anthony's Trinity Foundation, a Dallas-based organization that does a lot of good and publishes the incredibly funny but often malicious The Wittenburg Door, "The World's Pretty Much Only Religious Satire Magazine."

But Duncan, and others who have a history with the foundation, maintain that Trinity is a bona fide cult, and in her book she describes her and her husband's experience during the time they were involved with the group. She also describes what happened to other people they knew at Trinity. Her book, which released last year, is finally getting the attention it deserves; I just found out that Wendy and her husband will be involved in two significant upcoming conferences on cults, one in Birmingham, Alabama, and the other in Brussels, Belgium. There's an article about Wendy and the two conferences here. It's worth a read.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

MySpacing Out

So I admit I was late getting into the whole MySpace thing, having signed up just a week or two ago. I can be snooty about trends at first, only to face a steep learning curve years later when I finally give up the snoot and concede to the value of the trend. (One exception is church; I haven't decided if I'm 50 years ahead of the trend or 1,800 years behind.)

Anyway, I am now officially addicted to MySpace. Most of this week was a loss because of some phantom illness that sidelined me. I couldn't focus enough to work, so MySpace filled in the gap with all kinds of mindless distractions. Sheesh! Who knew? I mean, I know I'm prone to addiction and all, but I never saw this one coming. The aftermath of this latest vice is at MySpace.com/wethepurple. Be my friend?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Googie's, McSorley's, and Minetta Tavern


Okay, I know there are lots of you out there who have memories of these three Greenwich Village hangouts. Let's swap stories. I'll start:
  • Googie's: My all-time favorite NYC bar. I stumbled on this place by accident in the late '60s, not knowing it was already a classic. Friendliest place ever then, and apparently still so. On Sullivan Street.


  • Minetta Tavern: Another place I found by accident. I ate there every time I went to the Village, which was way too often back in the '60s and '70s. I only recently found out that Reader's Digest started in its basement in 1922, and it later became a haven for poets and writers. Must have been all those literary vibes that drew me in. At Minetta and MacDougal.


  • McSorley's: I'm guessing somebody told me about this place back in the day. It was known for having cheap drinks then, but I understand it's been yuppified, and drinks are now priced out of reason. On East 7th near Bowery.

It's been decades since I've darkened the doors of any of these places, but even though I can't/don't drink anymore, I'd go back in a heartbeat. (Well, maybe not to McSorley's, since apparently more than just the prices have changed.) My daughter is in NYC right now, and she is not to leave the city until she hits Googie's and the Minetta Tavern and calls me from both places. I love holding a written will over the heads of my offspring.

Yeah, there are lots of other places I could mention, especially on Bleecker. But these three places hold a special place in my heart. Great memories, all around. Share yours!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Prayer for Overcoming Indifference


I watch the news, God. I observe it from a comfortable distance. I see people suffering, and I don't lift a finger to help them. I condemn injustice but I do nothing to fight against it. I am pained by the faces of starving children, but I am not moved enough to try to save them. I step over homeless people in the street, I walk past outstretched hands, I avert my eyes, I close my heart.

Forgive me, God, for remaining aloof while others are in need of my assistance.

Wake me up, God; ignite my passion, fill me with outrage. Remind me that I am responsible for Your world. Don't allow me to stand idly by. Inspire me to act. Teach me to believe that I can repair some corner of this world.

When I despair, fill me with hope. When I doubt my strength, fill me with faith. When I am weary, renew my spirit. When I lose direction, show me the way back to meaning, back to compassion, back to You. Amen.

—Rabbi Naomi Levy

Pasted from: http://socialaction.com/education_resources/quotables.shtml

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I Heart New York


What I like about you:

Your people. How can you not love New Yorkers?
Your transit system. It's so easy to get around the city.
Your not-New-Jersey-ness. Sheesh, I had forgotten what a cesspool the Meadowlands area is. I lived in the state for 39 years. I have the right to say this.
Your food. Still savoring the memory.
Your skyline. Saw it this weekend for the first time since 9/11, and the absence of two tall buildings made my heart skip a beat or two. But still. I love your skyline.
Your energy. I didn't need a nap the whole time I was there!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Declensions**, Anyone?

I took a quick trip to NYC over the weekend, and it proved to be uneventful travelwise—until the flight home. After our Continental pilot wished us a good morning at 2:45 p.m., he asked the first-class passengers not to conjugate* around the first-class galley.

Yes, I laughed out loud.

Things settled down for the rest of the flight, but then again my headphones drowned out anything else he might have said—until we began our ever-popular initial descent. That's when he thanked us for choosing Continental and wished us an enjoyable stay in Orlando, or "wherever your final destinations take you."

I hope my final destinations take me someplace enjoyable, that's for sure. May yours do the same.


* In case you need a refresher, this is something—not at all unpleasant, I might add—that you do to verbs. Okay, it also means "to couple." If first class was coupling around the galley, that may explain the pilot's brain lapses.

** This has to do with inflections of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives and can indeed be unpleasant.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Am I the Only One? Today's Top 9

Am I the only one who:

  • is so spoiled that even DSL seems slow?
  • wonders when the stock-tip spam will run its course?
  • thinks prime-time game shows are, I don't know—slimy?
  • is going to miss NPR's "Mozart Cafe" now that the year-long celebration has come to an end?
  • has stopped laughing—for just a minute or two—at all those wacky conspiracy theories?
  • considers competitive reality shows to be, I don't know—slimy?
  • doesn't cover food in the microwave even though I know it will splatter?
  • wouldn't miss the Academy Awards if the show was permanently canceled, except for the fact that Jon Stewart hosted last year and Ellen DeGeneres is hosting this year, making it worth watching only if you cut out everything else?
  • can't get Blogger to "remember me" at login?

    Why an unnumbered Top 9? I like bullets, 10 is too predictable, 11 too many, 9 just an odd number.
  • Thursday, January 25, 2007

    What's Not to Love?

    About The Weather Channel, that is. I listed it as a TV favorite on MySpace, and you'd think I had listed Gilmore Girls for all the flak I've gotten. Ah, my poor unenlightened critics, trudging through their dreary lives, mistakenly believing TWC is only about forecasting, rolling their eyes at me, saying, "Geez, just look out the window!"

    Well, I do that too, because weather is real and endlessly fascinating. But even if TWC didn't examine its fascinating aspects and provide a meteorological education at the same time, I'd still watch it. There's nothing like being in a hotel room in an unfamiliar city and tuning to TWC after an exhausting day at a trade show. It's like an old friend, comforting and familiar and reassuring: "Hey, look, there's Mike Seidel! You go, Mike! Don't let those Category 4 winds beat you down!" That's me, talking to myself, wishing the best for Mike, whose career I've followed since his heady days as chief meteorologist at a local station in Salisbury, MD.

    Go ahead. Roll your eyes. Call me crazy. My fellow weather nerds get it. Reality shows come and go, but TWC will always be there for us.

    Must go. I need to add Gilmore Girls to my list.

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    My Divorced Daughter, Adam

    The other day I received a comment to one of my Blogger posts from "Adam." But the comment began, "Way to go, Mom..." Now I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I don't have a son named Adam. In fact, I'm pretty sure I don't have a son at all.

    I do have a daughter who dates a guy named Adam. Turns out she posted the comment from Adam's computer and didn't bother signing in under her name. Okay, I get that, though it did give me pause for a few seconds.

    Next stop: MySpace. I go to add my daughter, Elizabeth (a.k.a. Adam), to my "friends," only to discover that she's now divorced. I realize parents are always the last to know, but you'd think she would have at least invited us to the wedding. Except that there was no wedding. Elizabeth has never been married. I just asked her to make sure. She said that selecting "divorced" as her marital status was an inside joke.

    Talk about creating your own reality! Somebody out there is sure messin' with mine.

    Sunday, January 21, 2007

    Bloggin' Insanity

    Now that I've caught the blogging bug, I'm smitten. Problem is, I'm now blogging here, on Amazon's AuthorConnect, and on MySpace—or at least I will be; I got distracted listing my favorite movies and all that on MySpace and haven'tgotten around to the blog yet. But the question is this: how on earth do y'all manage it? I know some of you do Blogger and MySpace and Facebook and your personal website and Amazon and who knows what else. I'm serious—how do you do it? All suggestions greatly appreciated!

    Saturday, January 20, 2007

    I Need a Makeover!

    That's my website doing all that yelling, not me. Every time I stop by to visit my cyberbaby, marciaford.com, it shouts at me and heckles me and hurls all manner of rude language at me: "I'm sick of the way I look! I need a redesign—fresh paint, new wallpaper, different artwork! Do something!" (Rude language omitted out of respect for your tender ears.) Even when I leave, it continues to pester me.

    Would someone please help me out? I need to silence the site's complaints and get on with my life. My site doesn't understand that I'm no designer; sure, I can go in and do some cleaning and tidying with FrontPage, but that just means I'm a housekeeper, not an interior decorator.

    So here's the deal: you redesign my website—nothing fancy, no bells, no whistles, no animation—and I'll edit or provide original content for your site. Any takers?

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    Jossin' The Office

    Just found out from Robin Parrish's Infuze mag that Joss Whedon will direct a future episode of The Office. If you aren't familiar with Whedon, he's the creator of three late, great shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and the short-lived, vastly underrated Firefly, which segued into the equally underrated Serenity film. No matter; committed Whedonites recognize his genius, even if the masses don't.

    I used to be among those masses, figuring Buffy was just another lame, teeny-bopper show until one night years ago when my daughters were watching it and I stopped to look at the TV long enough to witness one of the funniest, best-written scenes ever. (Joss fans, you know the one—when Spike can't do his vampire thing to Willow.) That did it—I watched every episode after that and got caught up by watching videos of all the previous episodes. Sarah's such a huge fan that she even helped a bit with the research for Jana Riess's fabulous book, What Would Buffy Do? ("Oh, you need to know where that quote came from? It was episode 6, season 3, at about the 18-minute mark." She could do that off the top of her head, that daughter of mine.)

    So I'll be checking The Office schedule for Joss's name. Wouldn't miss it for anything. The man is brilliant.

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    An Inconvenient Label

    By all accounts, Al Gore's film on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, is one of those rarities, a must-see documentary. After deciding that I must see it but must not buy it, I placed it on hold at the library. Our library system owns 22 copies, but it still took more than a month for my hold to reach the top of the waiting list. Buoyed by my position at #1 on any list, I went to pick up the long-awaited DVD as soon as I got the call.

    "This is due in two days," the librarian said as she handed it to me.

    Huh? Documentaries are three-week loans, one week if they're new releases.

    She saw the look on my face, and since all the librarians know by now how to interpret my dumbfounded expressions, she explained, "It's a two-day loan because it's labeled fiction."

    So An Inconvenient Truth is considered fiction.

    Poor Al. Poor, poor Al. The guy can't win for losing.

    Monday, January 15, 2007

    On Guilt, Failure, and Widescreen TVs

    Any chance you know someone who has walked away from God because of a sexual failing or two...or hundreds? My guess is you know lots of someones like that, even if they've never openly said why they took that long walk away from faith. The truth is, they feel as if they have failed God, and what's more, the church condemns them for that failure. Well! Along comes John Piper with his take on a couple of awesome verses from Micah to put everyone in their place—their rightful place before God. Regardless of the nature of your own guilt or failure or whatever, his talk at the Passion '07 conference for college students is one of those rare sermons worth reading in its entirety. I'll leave you to do that right now. It's that good.

    Sunday, January 14, 2007

    This Is Great Stuff

    Anyone know where I can find an online style guide that covers southern dialect? I've spent way too much time searching for one. Ah, but I've uncovered so many riches irrelevant to that particular quest! Who cares if the dialect in the novel I'm editing isn't just exactly so? I'm having a great time bookmarking all these cool language sites I've found! I know, I know—"cool" isn't the first word most people think of when it comes to language. But get this:
    In its 17th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted “plutoed” as the word of the year, in a run-off against "climate canary." To pluto is to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto when...[it] no longer met [the] definition of a planet.
    Now, I knew about Pluto being demoted and all, but how I missed the verb "to pluto" is beyond me. I love it. Yes! It deserved the award. Here are some other contenders for word of the year:

    * murse: man’s purse (yuck)
    * climate canary: "an organism or species whose poor health or declining numbers hint at a larger environmental catastrophe on the horizon"
    * flog: a blog that flacks product (thumbs up on this one, down on the flog itself)
    * YouTube: as a verb, to use the YouTube web site or to have a video of one’s self be posted on the site (eh; seems hard to use)
    * macaca/macaca moment: an ethnic or racial gaffe caught on video (oh, yeah-I do like this one)
    * boomeritis: afflictions or injuries of Baby Boomers, caused by their age (I can relate)

    Oh, and in case you're wondering just who this "American Dialect Society" is, it's the august association that chose "truthiness" as the 2005 word of the year. Can't get much smarter than that.