The Best Worst Valentine’s Day

When Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day coincide, the wife of a church nerd knows exactly how to celebrate it. I was all set to have a hot meal waiting for DJ when he got home, so he could eat before going to the Imposition of Ashes service that evening.

Except that both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall in February, when I’m at my lowest emotionally and mentally. I started supper too late. When Darren came home for that short little window of time before church, the soup was ever simmering, never softening. It wasn’t ham and barley soup. It was ham and barely soup.

He said it was okay; at least I had the rolls done. He read the paper and ate a roll, while I stood over my pot of soup like a wicked witch, stirring and swearing at it. He put on his coat and kissed me, said it was okay, and would see me after church.

But it wasn’t okay. This was my way of sending him off to church with love and blessing. Because see, we have a history when it comes to DJ’s involvement in church. At one time, church felt like his wife and I was the mistress; church always got priority, and I quietly accommodated it. We’ve come a long way since then. I wanted to show him that I was glad to see him make room for this service that meant a lot to him.

Instead, I melted down in frustration and anger. Stupid soup, stupid me, stupid midwinter days of tired, gray light.

It took me about ten minutes to see through the cloud of vexation and realize that DJ hadn’t left for church. Instead, he’d taken off his coat and changed into a t-shirt, and was busy getting supper for the kids.

“Why haven’t you left?” I asked.

“Because,” he replied, “I learned a long time ago that when you’re having a hard day, it’s not good for our relationship for me to abandon you for church.”

Cue the violins, roses, tears… no wait. Just tears. I was mad at him now. I fled to the bedroom to marinate in the bitterness of the worst Valentine’s Day ever. (Note: the midwinter blues definitely flavored the sauce.) I told him why I was upset, and that he should go. Why did he have to take my frustration personally and deny himself something that he really enjoyed? It felt like further punishment.

Then I thought… why don’t I take his words at face value? He said he stayed home because it was the better thing to do. Not because I made him do it. Also, he didn’t mind the late supper. Also… well, he walked into the bedroom with a little bowl of soup and a buttered roll for me.

Later that evening, we snuggled while watching the Olympics, and I gave him the little box of expensive chocolate I’d gotten him that afternoon. It turns out that being the absolute top priority to the best man in the world is exactly what a woman needs on a gray February day.

It was the best Valentine’s Day ever.

And the soup was good, too.


Dirk Pitt’s Budget

Dirk was watching me work on the household budget recently. He found the entire process puzzling. Why was I being so careful about amounts like $24.57 or $132.76? Do people even count expenses under $200? I got fed up with his griping and asked to see his budget.

Oh, well, I guess now I understand his confusion.


Note: All numbers are approximate and possibly not added up correctly. I was more interested in effect than accuracy. Kind of like Clive Cussler.

Book: The World Isn’t Getting Worse

Everybody knows that the world just keeps getting worse and worse.

Or not?

A couple of months ago, Autodidact and I were discussing the discouraging mixture of politics and religion in the American evangelical church, and I was once again trying to make sense of how otherwise good people could have engaged in and defended slavery. Since I grew up in Mississippi, I have always wondered if I would have supported the system if it hadn’t been dismantled by the time I came along.

He said that I needed to read The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker.

I don’t generally take book recommendations. But fine, I looked it up. It’s a massive book. It’s full of graphs and statistics. And I was advised not to read the section about torture while eating. So I dipped cautiously into it. I was soon immersed.

Pinker’s basic premise is that the world is not getting worse, as we popularly believe. If we live in a society where we can trust the State to avenge our wrongs, then we’re not as likely to seek personal vengeance. If we live in a world that prospers by trade instead of land-grabbing, countries are less likely to incite wars. If the prevailing mindset is one of humanitarianism, to which the thought of torture is repugnant and even mistreatment of animals is unacceptable, then we’re less likely to endorse slavery, torture, and genocide.

Obviously we don’t live in a utopia, and obviously this “long peace” we’ve enjoyed can be shattered at any time. That wasn’t his point. His point was that the world has indeed gotten less violent, and there are compelling explanations for why.

He talked about the higher violence among poor neighborhoods — predominately black — and why, in the U. S., the South in particular is more violent. He suggested that in these societies, there’s much less trust that the State will act on their behalf. The black community has been very vocal recently about how, in their experience, the law enforcement and justice system acts against them; they’ve formed their own system of “justice.” As for the South in general, it was and is characterized by a society of “honor,” as in — if someone insults your personal honor or the honor of your family, you are bound to avenge it. Oh, I thought. That fits.

Pinker is a very engaging writer; not only was I interested in his premise, but I enjoyed his style. The book illuminated a lot for me, answering some questions I’ve had for a while. It also helped me understand previous generations better (Pinker is a Boomer). They seemed to think that the world had gone completely bad and listened to people who could promise that their children would be “safe,” if only they followed certain rules. The fact is, statistically speaking, the world did go crazy from the 60s to the 80s. Crime spiked, people’s trust in government effectiveness plummeted, and the world was a scary place. But starting in the 90s, violence dropped again, until today it’s at an all-time low. But parents in 1983 didn’t know that was going to happen. I, too, would draw my children close and look for someone who could promise me safety.

Pinker’s discussion both confirmed ideas I’d already had, and challenged ideals that I hold to be true. His perspective on religion is very different from mine. He dismisses the Bible as “blood-soaked fiction.” I didn’t find this opinion particularly harmful. If my faith can withstand the narcissism of Bill Gothard and the enthusiastic evangelical support of Donald Trump, then what’s the opinion of an atheist Jew to me? He gave me a lot to think about.

It took me two weeks to get through the book, and even then I didn’t read the last 200 pages about the structure of the brain and how it’s wired for both violence and peacemaking. I don’t have to be convinced that we are a mixture of good and evil.

This book did kind of answer my question about good “Christian” slaveholders. After all, if I had lived two hundred years ago, when animal cruelty was dismissed or considered good fun; if I had lost multiple children before they were ten, to the point that I tried not to get attached to a new baby before I knew if it would survive; if I knew that I was only one besmirched honor away from losing my husband to a duel; if I hoped he didn’t hit me but having no recourse if he did… If that was the world I lived in, then maybe slavery wouldn’t have seemed so horrific. Maybe it would fit right in with the way I thought things had to be.

This book reminded me over and over that, for all of the dangers and evil in this world today, I’m glad it’s the world I live in.

Ranger’s Busy Day

Ranger was a busy 8-year-old yesterday. Here are two of his self-directed activities:

1.  From-scratch, rolled-out tortillas.

PIp's Tortillas.jpg


2. Boxes massacred by a broken chair leg.


“Let kids explore their world!” people say. I notice none of them ever adds, “We’ll be on hand to help clean up!”


*A note about the tortillas. Completely independently (I was going over literature with another kid), Ranger followed a scaled-down recipe I’d written out for Sparkler. Only he figured that if one-fourth of the recipe was good, then doing the whole darn thing is better, right?

I was proud of him for his math skills — he knew to do four times of each ingredient — but wanted to thump him for starting such an involved project just before I had to get into the kitchen to cook. Half an hour into rolling out and cooking the tortillas, Ranger understood why I’d fourthed the recipe.

But he finished them all himself — mixing, rolling, and cooking — with only a little help. His sisters were gratifyingly enthusiastic about the tortillas at supper. Nobody even minded that Ranger had used self-rising flour instead of all-purpose; they just called them “puff-tillas.”

Ranger even agreed that he should help clean up. Regarding all of the flour on the kitchen counter, he had a great solution: lay down a bunch of towels on the floor, and then dump water over the counter to wash the flour off.

I sent him to go watch YouTube videos while I cleaned up the flour.

Forget Dating; Dirk Pitt Moves In

I think I’ve mentioned before my opinion of Clive Cussler’s books, and his rugged, sexy, green-eyed hero Dirk Pitt in particular?

In case you missed my opinion that a Cussler book is an utter and complete insult to the very art form of novel-writing… in case you never picked up on the fact that I can’t pick up a Dirk Pitt novel without metaphorically tearing it in to itsy-bitsy pieces…  Well.  Suffice it to say that I’m not really a fan.

However, I have accepted the tragic fact that many people are fans of Cussler and his fantasy-alter-ego Dirk Pitt, he of the opaline green eyes and veritable volcano of charisma. The books continue to sell. They even made a movie once, did you know that? Sahara, starring Matthew McConaughey. I saw the trailer for it, and it actually looked pretty entertaining because it knew the story was unbelievable and the character completely impossible to portray in a serious way. I’ve heard that Cussler actually hated the movie. Figures.

Speaking of figures, well, that’s why I’m bringing up such a painful subject at all. I recently became aware of three rather disturbing facts relating to Dirk Pitt:

  1. They made action figured based on the movie. Yes, an action figure of Dirk Pitt.
  2. I have friends who are the type to discover this kind of thing. These are friends who, in addition, know my address.*
  3. I now own an action figure of Dirk Pitt.


As any reader of Clive Cussler knows — where Dirk is, adventure happens! But as far as I know, Dirk has never actually lived anywhere where he had to observe actual household life in action. Even though he ended up with two kids, his lover considerately kept that knowledge hidden from him until they were of age and all he had to do was get them a job.

So between you and me, I’m pretty sure that Dirk’s going to find life in the Jones House a minefield of bewilderment. And don’t you worry — I’ll be on hand to document his adventures.

More to come.

*Why yes, It would be Swanson the Second who is responsible for this travesty. You don’t get a prize for guessing the obvious, sorry.

Indie Christmas Shopping List

Who doesn’t love it when the holidays rush in with the merry scramble to shop and wrap gifts?

*Raises hand and waves it frantically* Me. I don’t love it.

I’m not a confident gift-giver and I don’t enjoy shopping. So the lead-up to Christmas isn’t exactly my cup of hot cocoa. However, in recent years I have enjoyed seeing what local businesses and artisans offer for a smaller-scale, more personal Christmas.

The following is a short list of independently-sold items that would make really great gifts. As a bonus, I personally know everyone on this list. (You’ll notice that most of the “list” consists of me linking to Red Pen Travelers’ post; I don’t know all those people, but they come highly recommended.) These are a few ideas beyond the standard mass-produced, extremely forgettable items. Go for unforgettable — go indie!

Red Pen Travelers’ Shopping Guide Over a dozen links to small businesses, handmade art, and unique gifts. But what’s best about this list is that it takes you to Red Pen Travelers Notebooks — real leather, customized, personalized, and small enough to tuck into your purse.

Raven’s Landing Art  I love Abigail Cossette’s art, and not just because I’ve sat at coffee-shop tables and watched her work on a lot of these pictures over the past five years. Like her long-running web serial, her art encapsulates the daydreams of every girl who wanted to grow up and be a hero — but also still wear really beautiful clothes and stuff.

Anchor Belle Jewelry  My niece’s whimsical and imaginative pieces created from sea glass collected from Cuban shores. Go to any party in the confidence that nobody else will have accessories that match yours.

Shea’d Tree Soaps I bought a bar of Shelley’s soap several months ago, just to try it out. I loved it and used it until it finally, sadly, shrank into a fragile little circle and washed down the drain. I will be getting more. The soap lathers nicely, smells good, and lasts a long time.

Big Creek Woodworking I didn’t know my brother-in-law had a magical touch with a wood lathe until this summer. Maybe he didn’t know, either. But now he has a small Etsy shop selling his turned-wood bowls. They’re beautifully done, and a wooden bowl always makes a good gift. Always.

My books, of course. My short stories, Go Right, will be available in print by Christmas — you can go ahead and order now! They’re light, funny, and feel-good, perfect for holiday reading. The Fellowship remains a more serious but entertaining read. Click through to my author blog to buy them.

Gamerboy is 15!

Sometimes he’s a spiky apple, sometimes he’s a cuddly Golden Retriever. Sometimes he reveals deep opinions about life and our purpose here, and other times he answers every question with “Oink.”

He’s just about impossible to live with when he’s tired or irritable, and people around him persist in making really annoying noises! or bouncing their foot like that! But he brings the sunshine with him when he’s in a good mood, offering smothering hugs and tossing off quips that make me laugh out loud.

He’s the biggest person in the house, officially passing up DJ this year. He’s not built for sports, though; his agility is mental. Ever since he was a child, he’s shown an innate grasp of how almost any game works — and also how to win it. His favorite topic in the entire galaxy is Dungeons & Dragons. There’s a reason his blogname is Gamerboy.

He has a strong sense of honesty, to the point that tact is a basically foreign language. If he thinks somebody’s joke wasn’t funny, he’s not going to laugh. If he doesn’t think something is right, he’s not going to pretend it’s okay. We’re working on the virtue of omitting opinions if they’re not strictly necessary.

He’s still very much a boy in many ways, but we’ve seen true maturity shine through during the past year. I think one of the best pictures of this big young man of ours is how he, the biggest creature in the house, is gentle and circumspect around Cosmic, the smallest creature in the house… while still having a little fun at the rabbit’s expense, like laying a line of lettuce down Cosmic’s back and proclaiming, “A stegobunnysaurus!”

Happy 15th birthday to our very own Gamerboy! Or as he himself might say, “It is the birthday. Age intensifies. Oink!”

The serious expression is only because he’s trying to take a good picture.

The Incident of the Bagels on Our Last Field Trip

Pictures of actual stray cats taken by Ranger. Dialogue approximated by me.



Cat 1 to Cat 2 and 3. Are you in your positions?



Cat 2 here. Confirm. Under the bush. As usual.



I walk like a shadow, I eat like a tiger, I’m Catastrophe Jones, I’m always ready.



What in the heck was that, Cat 3?



That’s my new catchphrase. I’m still working on it.



Just confirm position, Cat 3.



Position confirmed. I am starving. Any food?



Several lunchboxes, but unknown if any are accessible. Cat 2, have the moms cleared out of the area? Cat 2?



I’m trying to see! I can’t see around this stupid bush. Okay, looks like they’re clearing out.



I walk like a shadow, eat like a lion, I’m Catastrophe Jones and I’m flyin’… high… Darn.



Agent! Focus! I think I smell bread. I’m going in.



Why does she always get to go in? I’m always stuck under this dumb bush.



Cat 1 to Cat 2 and 3, we have confirmed food. We have confirmed access. Some unsuspecting mother packed all her stuff in an open bag. Felines, we have bagels. Let’s move!



Woo-hoo! *gag cough* I swallowed a flower.





Heh heh heh



Catastrophe Jones, swift like the wind, silent like the shadow, where he goes, nobody… does know. Does that work? Kind of?



Yeah, it’s great. Don’t talk with your mouth full.

A Few Thoughts on Reaching Our Seventeenth Anniversary Today

DJ and I are celebrating our anniversary today.

Getting married was his idea first, but I came around soon enough.

You know how you think you know what you’re doing when you decide to marry?

And then you have life and kids and never seem to outgrow some conflicts?

But you also find out that you can both let each other change over time.

And the good in each other goes much deeper than you realized at first.

And sex reaches amazing levels unknown in your earlier years.

And you never get tired of being in the same room with each other.

You think, “We didn’t know what we were doing, but I’m glad we did it.”

Happy seventeenth anniversary today to my love and me!

(Ahem. Did you notice? Every sentence has seventeen syllables.)

(Including that line. Including this line. And including the title too.)