Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Getting to the "who cares" stage of parenting

J-son took me aside a few days ago.  With my husband overseas for a month or so, J-son is starting to feel more and more responsible for others in the house.  In his big-brotherly -- or possibly faux-fatherly -- way, he told me he was worried about N-son -- the way N-son eats so much junk food, the way he continues to have odor problems.  What's going to happen to him after high school? I said I was worried, too, and I described the various steps I've tried to take to help N-son help himself. And then I said, "but one thing I've learned is, you can't care more about a person's problems than he cares himself.  At some point, he's going to have to deal with this or live with this, and it's his choice."

In other words, at some point, both J-son and I have to back off, and let N-son eat and groom (or not) the way he chooses.  A hard lesson for us.  

It was only two days later that J-son lapsed again into difficulties of his own.  He's still spending all the money he comes into contact with, and occasionally starting to lift other people's money again.  Starting in October, his Social Security money runs out, which means that with no job he'll have no income and no money saved, not to mention expensive habits that he'll want to keep funding.  Speaking of those habits, he's been using the money to fund Extremely Unhealthy Purchases, which he lies to me about.  He says he wants to be a boxer, but then he doesn't actually go box, in spite of both his coach and me encouraging him to spend his days in the gym. 

This kid.  I reminded J-son about the conversation in which he told me he's worried about N-son, and I said that in a similar way I'm worried about him.  I said, I'm trying to help you, but I know that at some point I can't care more about this than you do.  You might end up living at our local rescue mission a year from now when you graduate high school and have to move out of the house, but that's going to be on you, because I'm trying to do what I can right now, but I can't do your half.  

This is a new tough stage of parenting.  There's part of me that's like the horse that smells the barn doors:  next year is their last year of high school and then I get to start the transition to having the kids all move out!  And I am almost counting down the days.  Is that awful?  I've been a parent for more than half my life now; I may or may not be ready to retire from my professional job, but I'm feeling darned antsy to retire from the primary parenting role.  I am Jonesing for those future days when the kids all come back once a week for dinner, and I dispense and advice and food and love . . . and then shoo them out the door back to their own homes again.  

At the same time, I want to make this last stretch as strong and successful as I can make it.  I feel like I keep walking the balance beam between steering these kids in the right direction and giving them enough rudder to steer themselves.  When do I take over and rescue them from their errors?  How much do I hover?  

And, of course, this question:  how do I care enough about the shape of their future lives without depriving them of the chance to care about it more than I do?

Monday, June 26, 2017

A frugalist's social media site

This little blog post is a loving tribute to a social media site,  I stumbled upon this site a little more than a year ago, and I've been grooving to it ever since.

For one thing, this site provides me with yet another source of re-homed items, a way to find people who want to use things that would otherwise be tossed. I picked up a vacuum cleaner that almost works  (more on the almost-vacuum-cleaner in some future post, probably); just this past weekend I got some native plants (shasta daisies and lemon thyme) through my NextDoor connections.  Some people offer stuff for sale, but I haven't had the urge to buy anything yet.  (No surprise there, I guess).

Shasta Daisies, about to move into my front yard.

But NextDoor has done more than get me a couple of freebies or help me offload my own unwanted stuff.  It's really helping me to connect to my neighborhood and my neighbors in ways that build that strong social capital that I believe is so important, and that I felt I was missing for many years.

For one thing, I get to see the kinds of things my neighbors care about. There's a surprising (to me) number of my neighbors who are very nervous about crime, and "suspicious person sightings" come up fairly regularly.  There was the great outdoor cat debate, with many people eventually being won over to the side of the woman who really, really wanted other people to keep their cats out of her yard (and who'd kicked off the debate by announcing she'd remove them to the Humane League herself, if the cats entered).  I'm really appreciating getting to know the neighborhood in a way that I couldn't otherwise have gotten to do, and to see sides of social issues that affect my neighbors that I couldn't have seen just by jogging past their homes in the early morning.

We also get updates about local happenings that wouldn't make the paper -- nearby gas leaks, traffic patterns changing over the weekend because of a school graduation, water line issues.

Fourth-of-July Ramble through the neighborhood
But I get to meet with people face-to-face because of the website, too, and that's what makes me love NextDoor the most.  I learn about gatherings in the area, like the bicycle-pedestrian Fourth-of-July parade through a couple of blocks of shady streets, ending up at a giant ice cream party.  That family-friendly ramble was just a hoot and a half.

And I've even gotten the chance to join a pair of social/educational groups.  Last fall, one woman in our neighborhood started a group she calls "LOUD"; that stands for "Locally Organized, United in Diversity".  It's not actually a loud group at all; it's a bunch of fairly sweet people who get together once a month and have speakers come in to educate us about local diversity issues: the ways our local school district supports its refugee/immigrant children and families, for example.  The other group I've joined happily is a native plant gardening group, which likewise gets together once a month.  (That's how I got those shasta daisies, by the way).

I'm not a FaceBook person at all, and I've heard that there are local neighborhood groups on that platform, too.  But from what I've gathered from my neighbors, this particular group is more focussed and usable for communications between neighbors.  It's almost, but not quite, the modern version of a front porch or a town square.

And that's why I'm now on social media.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Miser Family update, scattered version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household.  

The week kicked off with the news that J-son won his fight last Saturday.  Whoop!  He spent much of the rest of the week relaxing as only a teenager can relax, until Friday when he helped set up the rings at another boxing event.  Early today, he left to spend a week with his former foster mom.  

N-son kicked off the week by entering, and working super hard in, a set of Father's Day bike races.  Later in the week, he and I volunteered with our church group at GAiN, which sends clothing, food, and more to refugees and disaster victims around the world. 

And speaking of around the world, my husband is still riding his bike --- plus many different kinds of trains --- across eastern Europe.  He's been through Prague, Warsaw, Auschwitz, Krakow, Ukraine (where he got dinner in a mason jar), and East Berlin; he's headed now for a meet-up with his former-army-buddy-turned-monk, Brother Cliff.

There's not much together-ish stuff we're doing as a family right now (what with my husband on the other side of the planet, and so on), but a medium-sized subset of us (N-son, K-daughter, and I) got to go together with some friends to our local theater's excellent production of "Newsies".  That was awesome.  

As a way of spending time together this weekend, Baby-A "helped" me plant corn.  I don't think it's likely to grow this late in the season, but it has a better chance if it's in the ground than if it's in an envelope in my closet.  So why not put stuff in dirt, and see if something green grows?

As for me, I'm bouncing between gardening (harvesting the kale I planted in spring), helping with GAiN, and having lots of fun with my math research.  My summer student has made some good progress, and we might actually have something publishable to write up before the project is over.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Miser Family Update, summer edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household.

My husband writes that "I will be in Prague tonight. Today's ride added hills to the headwinds. Slowest ride ever. I will be in Poland on Father's Day."  He's visited Belgrade, Budapest, Macedonia (?? I think ??), and probably a few other countries I didn't get to hear about. In spite of his being a half a world away, much of our married life is completely as usual, with him on a bike and with me fussing about finances.  So that's good.

For my sons, the big news is that school let out this week.  Summer begins.

I've mentioned in the past that J-son has spent a lot of time with friends of his.  I tend to think of this as "teenage boys hanging, doing who-knows-what".  But this past week, partly because of graduation parties, I've gotten to chat with the parents of J-son's friends.  They say things like, "J-son is such a good kid; we're so glad he's friends with our son.  He's become like family around here."  I look at these parents after they say these things, waiting for the sarcasm tag, or the "wink-wink", but it never comes.  They're truly earnest.  It's heart warming, if a little surprising.  J-son is at a boxing match today; I don't know how he's doing yet.

Once school let out, N-son reconnected with some of his favorite chefs at our local soup kitchen late this week.  He and I-daughter also dazzled audiences of shoppers (and music lovers) at our nearby Kitchen Kettle Village in the lovely little town of Intercourse, PA, with a choral performance.  In the photo below, I-daughter is in a black t-shirt in the front row on the left, and N-son in an orange shirt in a back row, just a bit right of the middle.

K-daughter, with the help of I-daughter, has gotten even better at doing the butterfly.  In fact, I-daughter tells me K-daughter did two lengths of the pool.  Woo!  Meanwhile, K-daughter's daughter continues to bond with our new dog Prewash.  They battle over their same toys.  They cuddle and giggle together.  (Maybe Baby-A wants to become a puppy.)   But Baby-A can't go up the wooden stairs through the dog door into the dog yard, and now Prewash can. (Success!)

Me, I'm still doing math and committee work and ancestor stuff.  Speaking of ancestor stuff, here's part of a letter from my grandfather to a friend, that I don't want to save in its entirety, but this little snippet is so much fun (for me) that I'm going to share it with you.  It's from November 1966, when I was eight months old:

On [this date in March], Billie [my grandma] and I gave birth to [Miser Mom].  This is a pretty good stunt, because it happened in Palo Alto while we were still in Oxford.  She is, as you can imagine, having a had a number of similar experiences, the most beautiful creature ever to grace the face of this globe.  Actually, she looks exactly like our own children when they were babies.  We can verify this by running our old movies.  There are scenes in them which in appearance behavior and expressions, could be inserted into the current record we are making of [Miser Mom], and it would appear to be all the same child.  

It's so encouraging to read my grandpa's letters, and to see these threads travel through the generations.  My grandpa became a lifetime member of the NAACP several years before I was born.  I think he would have been very happy about his great-grandsons, even though they don't look exactly like the other children and grandchildren as babies.  But the love and pride, that's a great tradition to be part of, and I'm enjoying my children and grandchildren this summer, as I'm sure he enjoyed his.

Friday, June 16, 2017

How my hands dry

Penn asked a question about how I avoid paper towels in public places:
What do you do in public bathrooms? I think that would warrant a post. I know some people carry little cloths for wiping up. My favorite ted talk is actually about public restroom paper towels. It's by Joe Smith and called "how to use a paper towel." I recommend it! 

This little 4-to-5-minute video is indeed quirky and fun, if you're into this kind of thing (which apparently Penn and I are!)  Mr. Smith claims that Americans use 13 billion pounds of paper towels every year. By reducing this amount, we could "save" (which really means "no longer waste") 571,230,000 pounds. He says people tend to take 3 towels in a public bathroom; he shows how to do the drying job with just one towel via this little routine: Shake hands 12 times, fold the one towel, and dry. He's a cheerful connoisseur of public paper towels, and demonstrates his routine with no fewer than 5 different kinds of public-bathroom paper towels.

Me, I'm not about to make a you tube video telling people to avoid paper towels entirely (although I do avoid them myself, and I do think that Mr. Smith is kind of nerdy adorable).  So don't think of what I'm about to say as proscriptive; it's really a glimpse at what I do.

When I'm traveling, I usually have a travel scarf with me.  It was initially designed as beach wrap (it's about 3 feet by 6 feet, but scrunches up nice and small, too).   I use it while I'm on the road as a blanket, scarf, shawl, you-have-it.  Douglas Adams, who advised intergalactic hitchhikers to always carry a towel, would probably approve.  So in airport and hotel restrooms, I tend to dry my hands on this scarf, which itself dries very quickly.

Okay, I know this gets a little odder, here.  During the summer, when I'm in my office and using the restrooms there, I like to wipe my hands on my legs and arms.  I don't rub hard or anything; I just swipe once -- but our skin has a lot of surface area, so it's quick and effective.  This not only gets my hands dry, but it also adds moisture (and a bit of cooling) to my arms and legs.  

In the winter, when my skin is more covered up, I'll still use what skin I have (face and neck), and then I admit I either walk around with wet hands for the next minute while they air dry, or I'll wipe my hands on my clothes.  This, I know, is not an option for other people.  

By the way, my office restrooms don't have paper towels as an option; they have those high-efficiency air blowers.  I hate the noise of those things, and I only use them extremely infrequently (like, if I'm carrying paper handouts that would be rumpled by my wet hands).  

And . . . that's how my hands dry when I'm away from home. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

New dog gushes

Here is an update on how our new dog is doing.  I admit I'm not a huge fan of "oh, see how cute my pet is!" kind of stories, so I'm going to try to corral these all into one post.  But I will have this one post, because our pet is so darned cute!

We got our dog from the local SPCA; she came to this shelter from the southern and eminently spell-able state of Mississippi.

Prewash has been with us for two weeks now.  She trends toward being extremely mellow; the photo at the right might give you a sense of that.  Her first night, after we'd been in bed a half hour, my husband asked me if I'd put the dog in her crate and I said, "No; she's been lying on the floor next to me this whole time!"  She's definitely a much calmer dog than our last attempt, and even calmer than our earlier beloved Miser Dog (whom she looks a lot alike!).

At the same time, she gets along fairly well with other dogs (unlike all other dogs that I've own, which have been selfish and nasty little brutes around other four-legged creatures).  It's a lot of fun to take her to the dog park and let her run wild, because she can tear back and forth with the best of them.  And when we get back home, she goes from 60 to 0 in about ten seconds, curling up quietly again.  Magic.

She already follows me around everywhere. So that's good.  And she's super gentle with the kids and with my granddaughter, even when Baby-A gets in her face and "tickles" her or takes her toys.  

The cliff of death.
Ain't gonna venture over the edge.

She's also supremely trainable, from what I can see. The day we brought her home, she had apparently never heard of this strange custom called "sit" and thought it was some kind of torture/intimidation. On a walk the first night, she was essentially a paddle ball bouncing back and forth between me and the end of the leash, in every direction she could manage.  Woo!  That was a whole body workout!  But now, just two weeks later, she's pretty much got "sit" and "heel", and we're starting to work on "stay".

Perhaps more story-worthy:  we discovered the night we brought her home that she was terrified of stairs.   If she was downstairs and I went upstairs, she might as well have been watching me ascending like Jesus to heaven on a cloud, as far as she could dare follow me.  If  I carried her up to my sewing room, and then went down a two-step set of stairs to J-son's room, she looked at the two stairs down to the landing like it was a cliff at the edge of a bottomless pit.

Nope, better to hunker down here
than to risk catastrophe.

So we have done a bunch of leash work, walking her around a park near my college, up and down progressively more stairs (the four stairs at the playground, the six stairs in front of an office building, etc), and now she barrels up and down the stairs in the house like a pro.  We've even managed work our way up to the gold standard: navigating her way in and out of her dog run.  To do this, she has to go 
  • down the basement stairs,
  • into the utility room,
  • up a set of wooden stairs I built 8 years ago,
  • through a dog door built into a boarded-over window of a window well,
  • and up out of the window well to the ground of her dog run.  
Of course, to come back into the house she needs to do all of that in reverse.  And now she can.  She hasn't yet decided on her own initiative to make the trek to the dog run (we've had about three accidents in the house so far), but I'm optimistic for the future. 

She doesn't bark at strangers, which is both a blessing and a disadvantage.  It'd be nice to have a burglar alarm.

Did I mention she follows me around?  She really likes to be with me, which means when I'm home I know exactly where she is, which is great.  She doesn't much like to be alone, but she seems to take to the crate reasonably well when I have to leave the house.  

As for living up to her name, she is awesome at Prewashing the dishes.  She's ecumenical in her tastes, and she licks all the dishes clean, and then double clean just to be sure.   (After which, we put them in the dishwasher -- not back in the cupboards.   I promise!)

And, perhaps most importantly, here in the Miser Mom household, she's universally adored.  It's not just me doting on her: the kids want to be around her.  They love snuggling up to her, taking her for walks, giving and getting a bit of physical affection.   She's good with the family, and she's good for the family.

And that's the end of my "isn't she adorable?" post.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Paris (Dis) Agreement

Just a short little addendum to my earlier musings about the Paris agreement -- or in this, case, the Paris DisAgreement.  Sigh.  Last week, I urged my governor to join other state leaders in the bipartisan United States Climate Alliance, a group of governors who
"are committed to achieving the U.S. goal of reducing emissions 26–28 percent from 2005 levels and meeting or exceeding the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan."
As of Saturday, my governor had "pledged support".  (That's all me, right?)   Governors don't have to be Democrats to join (fewer than 60% of the states that have joined or pledged support are states with Dems as governors).

Meanwhile, the local paper announced that our city's mayor has joined the "Climate Mayors", a group that, according to our newspaper, represents  more than 200 U.S. cities and more than 50 million people.  (Their website listed 274 mayors, when I checked on Thursday).  From their website

As 274 US Mayors representing 58 million Americans, we will adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement. We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy.

In spite of the DisAgreement at the Federal level, I'm glad to see cities and states stepping in.   In fact, that "274" is now up to "292".   And in other encouraging news, in the one short week since the DisAgreement, almost half of the governors of states have joined the Alliance or pledged support.  Sometimes I feel like such an eco-nut, but I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not alone.  Indeed, as the Alliance site notes,
Nearly 70 percent of Americans, including a majority of people in all 50 states, support the Paris Agreement on climate change.
So, the roots of the grass (that is, the grass-roots movement) and the many branches of government are organically growing.  As they should.  

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Miser Family update, high speed version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household.
N-son with Baby-A, at his ROTC ceremony.

My husband is in Serbia as I write this (at least, I think he's still there).  He left our city on Wednesday.  He's had missed flights and missing bike parts, but he managed to get replacements for both.  So he is having exciting transportation adventures in a place with high-speed trains and without high-speed internet. I wrote to him that all I can see of his adventures is the short little emails he sends, plus whatever Mint tells me about his various credit card purchases.  It's a funny pair of peeks into his life!

N-son and others drilling for our amusement.

As for me, in addition to working on my book (I'm working on the index now, -- which feels so close to the end, even though I know there's much more to do!), I also called my state governor and urged him to join the United States Climate Alliance.  I'm trying not to be sad about the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Sigh.  I mean, I'm definitely sad about that, but I'm trying not to let the sadness take over other parts of my life.  

N-son gets his certificate.
K-daughter continues to learn the butterfly; she's swimming with I-daughter (huzzah for sisters swimming together, just like my sisters and I did when we were still at home!).  I-daughter hit a high C in "Seasons of Love" at the concert she and N-son sang at tonight.  J-son has been enjoying hanging out with friends -- surprisingly, he appears to prefer their company to that of his mom.  (But. . . but . . . I have new tofu recipes to try out!  . . . Nope, friends still win out.)  N-son had his end-of-year ROTC ceremony, full of speeches, certificates (he got one "in recognition of Attendance, Good Conduct, and Longevity"), and marching drills.  He also gave a speech of his own at a Squash event, honoring the seniors who are graduating from his team.  

Prewash continues to be an awesome dog.  She has figured out how to go up and down stairs:  she used to cringe at the top of a flight of stairs like it was a cliff at the edge of the bottomless Pit of Doom, and looked at me when I went upstairs like I was Jesus or Elijah ascending into the clouds.  But now she barrels up and down stairs with all the other saints and devils who know the trick of ascending and descending.  I have high-speed internet and a high-speed dog.  Lucky me!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Making a dog collar

This little post is really an homage to my sewing machine.  Well, to my sewing machine and also to my stash of saved zippers and straps, rescued from the plethora of giveaway-bags that my husband picks up at conferences.  Those conference bags are usually made of a nasty material, in completely the wrong shape for hauling groceries or other substantial items, but the zippers (if there are any) and the nylon straps are usually pretty durable.  Better yet, because the construction on those bags is so flimsy, it's usually a matter of one or two minutes to remove the zippers with a seam ripper.

Somehow, in the most recent months we seem to have lost our dog collars. So when we went to get our new dog, Prewash (who is really an amazingly wonderful dog, by the way), I knew I'd need to get a new collar.  And me, thinking about buying a dog collar at an actual store, it's a bit like a stereotypical dad balking at the price of his daughter's bikini:  So much money for so little fabric! I mean, since I already refuse to pay more than $1 for a pair of jeans, then why should I buy a little strap for my dog that costs an order of magnitude more?  That'd be just nutso.

Prewash showing off her bikini collar.  
For less time than it would take to drive to a store, I could pull out my collection of nylon straps and clasps, pick out one about the right size, and trim and stitch it.  You can't see it in these pictures, but I stitched one extra small loop in the collar, and used a key ring through that loop to attach her dog tags.

Looking closer at the collar . . . 

Being not overly fashion conscious, especially when it comes to my dog, I didn't even bother to switch the thread on the machine to black, so the collar has a little splash of color.
. . . and closer yet.  You can see my orange/red stitching.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, making my own dog collars isn't a grand money saver.  But the sewing machine is --- even more, the habit of thinking about sewing is.  I've repaired all sorts of clothes, backpacks, bags, towels over the years, freeing us from having to spend money to replace those things (and putting the broken/busted things back into general use instead of sending them to the landfill).  I've made my own purse/bags, tool holders, mesh produce bags, and (very occasionally) clothes.  The habit of thinking "can I whip this up myself?" is a great one to have, especially when the answer turns out to be "yes".

As it was in this case.  Huzzah for a quick collar, and also for a wonderful dog to wear it!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

And so the summer begins . . .

My guy with his two bags.
The dog is photo bombing him.
This morning, my husband set off for his trip to Russia.  He had a giant box with his bike (disassembled); he also had two other small bags.  It's so, so odd to see him pack so light; he usually has so much stuff he looks like he'd fall over carrying it.  But since he's got to pedal all his belongings from the port of Odessa up to the bridge in Finland, he's packing minimalist. (Or, as N-son remarked:  "he's packing like Mom!").

I'm super happy that he gets to have this trip, which has been a lifelong dream of his.  It's been fun watching him plan for it.  My friends ask me, "aren't you worried about his safety?".  It's hard to know how to answer the question, because my guy is an ADHD adrenalin junky who values courage over safety.  I mean, he *might* wreck or get mugged or something . . . but he'd prefer trying this adventure and having spectacular disasters to not trying at all, so "safety" isn't the thing that either of us are particularly obsessed about.

To people who know me well enough (meaning, who know me at all), when they ask "aren't you worried about his safety?", I answer "No, I worry that he'll spend too much money!".    But even that isn't true; I just say it to make people laugh.  I figure he *will* spend way more money than I would have, and even way more money than he planned to.  But he does that even when he's not riding across far-flung continents with unfamiliar alphabets, so I'm pretty much inured to that.

It's hard to take a good photo with a baby, a dog,
and three other people.
Mostly, I'm just missing him already, and girding myself for a summer of solo parenting.  This solo parenting, I've done before as well.  With our sons, I know the manifold challenges that go with extra time and fewer chaperones.  Boredom leads to trouble -- sometimes very serious trouble -- with these kids, so we began our time together this evening with a calendar meeting, carefully filling up our time for the next few weeks with worthwhile distractions.

Before our meeting, I whipped up a healthy dinner of Asian tofu salad.  We've been eating a lot of meat lately, but only because my kids really like eating meat.  Well, because of that and because my husband has been doing the cooking.  But my husband is now hundreds of miles from the stove and getting further away by the minute, and I believe in my heart of hearts that children ought to eat what's good for them instead of what they like.

Nope, still didn't capture the crowd.

Plus, I don't want to do all of the cooking.  So as they made faces over the tofu salad, I promised my children more of the same unless others were willing to take over the cooking.  As a result, we've agreed that Thursday K-daughter will make a pasta-sausage salad, Friday N-son will serve up hamburgers and potatoes, and Saturday J-son's omelettes will feed the family.

In 2009, when my husband spent the year in Iraq, I learned to appreciate the value of having a "sabbatical" from my marriage.  I had a dozen months of valuable Alone Time.  I could go kick-butt frugal, unplugging the dryer and cable and eating only Miser-Mom approved foods, ditching all disposable paper products, heading to bed early each winter's night under loads of blankets in a cool dark house.  (Back in 2009, I only had one son, and he was much younger, so I had even more power over the household than than I will these next few weeks). But even while I got to appreciate living a truly Me kind of life, I discovered that I really did miss having my husband around.  This was a good discovery, and remembering how much I missed him made even the years after, when he was back, all that much sweeter.

For now, I just miss my guy.  And I've got an eye on my kids.  And I'm looking for a few more good tofu recipes.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Snark vs spirit

About three or four years ago, I decided to do a year-long study of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.  There are three things to say about this project: first of all, I was doing it because I really never got the whole "Holy Spirit" part of the Trinity.  It seemed to me that people in church talk about the Holy Spirt in the same way as your brother-in-law talks about some person named "Sam", like you're supposed to know who "Sam" is, and you're not sure whether "Sam" is your brother-in-law's parent (father? mother?), or ex-spouse, or childhood friend, or what---but your brother-in-law keeps talking about this Sam and you're just too embarrassed to ask, "er . . . remind me who Sam is, again?" and you keep pretending that you know and hoping somehow you'll figure it out from context.  Well, context about the Holy Spirit kept being confusing.  So I decided I'd skim through the New Testament and just stop and pause whenever the Holy Spirit walks into the scene, and pay attention to those parts.

The second thing to say is that my year-long study ended up taking me a bunch of years -- not because I'm super deep or particularly thorough, but just because I wasn't all that consistent about doing my reading on a regular basis.  But at least I did all my reading eventually, and I did take lots of "notes to self" as I did so.

And the third thing to say is that this study has made me really, really think about my life and about my relationship with other people in a different way.  I'm still reeling a bit from it all, trying to incorporate what I learned from this project.

Here are the four things that I learned that surprised me (the last three are the things that most affect me, but the first one is sort of interesting, too).

1.  We keep talking about Jesus being the son of God, but that's not how the birth is described:  he was "conceived by the Holy Spirit".  There was basically this leap-frog thing happening, where the Holy Spirit brought Jesus down to Earth, and then the old H.S. followed him and alit on his shoulders like a dove.  God the Father (as a Father figure) happens later in the story.  Not sure what to make of that, but it was a curious look at theology -- or maybe theo-biology -- for me.

2.  More immediate to the way I live my own life, the appearance of the Holy Spirit is almost always marked by praise.  The "speaking" theme is a big deal here.  When visited by, or full of, the Spirit, people like Simeon the priest, Mary the virgin, and even God Himself just burst into laudatory homage.  This makes me want to talk about my friends differently.  Seriously.  I've started trying to introduce people I know and love to each other using a variation on these words:
This is my beloved son, in whom I take great delight.
This is my dear friend, who I love hanging out with.  This is my brilliant colleague, who I always turn to for advice.  This is my amazing dentist, who I trust with my very mouth.  Just trying to speak about people around me through this template (This  person has a valued relationship to me, and makes me happy in thus-and-such-a-way) has changed my life and my relationships for the better.

3.  In contrast to this, snarky comments seem to be more dangerous and virulent than I had consciously thought about before.  For example, there's this spot in Mark 3 where Jesus heals some dude on the sabbath, and the Pharisees go all troll on him, muttering that his healings and miracles must be the work of Satan.  Jesus responds in this odd way:  "Truly I tell you: every sin and slander can be forgiven, but he who slanders the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."  Now, it's not like I'm a theological expert, but this passage really made me think hard about my own tendency to snark on others, especially on other people I don't know very well personally. Confronting other people, yes. Calling out injustice, yes.  But I've tried really hard since then not slide down the slippery slope to mockery.

Not snarking is hard.  Really hard.  I fail pretty miserably at the absence of snark, several times a day.  But I feel worse about the snark when I do it, so maybe I do it less than I used to?  Erm?

4.  Finally, the verse that seems to keep rattling around in my head and has started taking over parts of my life is this, toward the end of the fourth book (John 20:22-23).
22 And with that he [Jesus] breathed on them [his disciples] and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
There's more to this passage. But it's significant partly because these are close to being the last words Jesus says before he heads away to join his Dad, and also because of the odd puzzle it presents. If we think of this as advice to all of his followers (and not just to his A-team of disciples), it's just bizarre to think that the Bible is trying to say that God has handed the keys, title, and registration of the Forgiveness Ferrari to his teenager children drivers, who haven't really even gotten their learner's permit yet, much less auto insurance or gas money. And yet the words persist: If you forgive anyone's sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

All I can make of the verse is this. We're commanded to feed the hungry, but we do so with food that God provides. We're commanded to give drink to the thirsty, and we do so with water that God provides. And so maybe somehow we are also the instruments that provide forgiveness to the ones who need it most, but we do so with the mercy God has given us for this purpose. This, this is an awesome responsibility.

I can't think about my interactions with people in the same way anymore. I even look at the Lord's prayer differently now. There's this part of the prayer that says, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." What bigger temptation is there, than to avoid forgiving others? All of a sudden, having those two sentences in that order takes on new meaning for me.

So, now that I've done this study and tried to use it to think about my own actions, I've become perfect. (There goes the snark again, see? But at least here I'm mocking myself, and I figure that's acceptable). I guess all I can really say is the third point I described above about this project. And that is, that this study has made me really, really think about my life and about my relationship with other people in a different way. I'm still reeling a bit from it all.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Miser Family update, Dog Days version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household.

We had a wonderful evening gathering at the pool, where I got to teach K-daughter the butterfly stroke for her new job at the Y.  Below, Baby-A models the latest in swimwear.  We're all gaga for goggles!

When you're this small, the goggles
work equally well
right-side-up as up-side-down.

N-son and J-son are both looking forward to the end of school (which won't be until June 14).  They're also still looking for permanent summer employment, although N-son has managed to snag some intermediate work in the neighborhood doing yard work. Weeding and mulching -- here in our rain-rich environment, one of the biggest jobs in growing plants is to kill the ones you don't want!

My husband went to a "die-in" over health care at Tuesdays with Toomey, and also to a March for Truth in Philly.  In between those two events, he got his Russian visa.  He's leaving the U.S. on Wednesday.  The boys are very sad to see him go, because that means they're stranded for a month-or-two with their vegetarian-wannabe-mom.  My husband has stocked the freezer with meat to take the edge off their loneliness.

This week, probably I get to have the family award for most news.  Here's a series of snapshots of my week:
  • I went to the wedding of one of my former students, and
  • I did 51 knee push-ups.  (Not full push-ups, but I am getting my strength back), and
  • I printed out a draft of the book I've been working on---360 pages---and have edited the entire instructors' manual, and . . .  
  • . . . we got a dog.
That last bullet point is actually the big new of the week.  Thursday, we brought home an adorable 1-year-old retriever, who has inherited the name "Prewash".  She's already lived up to her name, doing an admirable job of keeping food scraps from clogging up our dishwasher.  Unlike her predecessor, she's incredibly mellow and seems to be highly trainable.  (As an added bonus, her coloring matches my clothes, so her dog hair doesn't show on my pants!  Score!)  Here's a picture of her relaxing in the living room, with N-son and Baby-A observing, and K-daughter giving her some love.  

Indeed, we're all in love with Prewash.