Thursday, November 29, 2007

Snapshots of Retirement Living: Old People Are Funny

“What are we doing here with all these old people?” my mom said to my dad at dinner today. And yesterday. And the day before.

The “old people” start lining up at 4:30 for dinner at 5:00. It’s the social outing of the day, and everyone seems to know each other. Many are quick to welcome my parents and introduce themselves. The men are named Harry, Ray, and Bill; and the women have resurrected names like Grace, Anna and Eleanor.

Some of the men have a competitive thing going on. Harry from down the hall introduces himself, and immediately starts telling us about his recent hospitalization. “I just got out of the hospital,” he announced proudly. “ I had quadruple bypass surgery!” He looks at my dad. “I’m 86,” he adds, “How old are you, Al?”

(I turned to my mom at this point and asked, “Are you allowed to ask that question in here?” Harry still has sharp hearing. “Sure!” he said. “We’re all old here. We’re proud of it!”)

My dad, who’s two weeks away from 87, doesn’t pull his age card, but instead opens a new category: “I’m 86,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of stents in here myself,” he added, tapping himself on the chest.

Not to be outdone, Harry the Topper (props to Scott Adams) brags, “Yeah, I’ve got three of those, too,” and then he almost added, “Plus a piece of shrapnel wedged up against my spine from the War.” Later at dinner, we overheard him wowing the ladies with his tales of surgical survival.

After dinner a couple of nights, I sat down to play the old piano in the common sitting room. I love to play, but I have very little natural talent. I have a repertoire of about five pieces memorized, including the perennial favorite “The Entertainer” and Beethoven’s ubiquitous “Minuet in G.”

So I’m playing for my mom and dad, and the old people stop by to listen. “I’ve been here two years and I’ve never heard anyone play that piano!” another Harry says happily. “It’s great to hear it! Blessings on you. Blessings, blessings,” he repeats to no one in particular as he walks away.

I play the intro to “How Great Thou Art,” and it’s a big hit here at the Lutheran Community. Soon I have a silver-headed quartet of ladies singing along with me while I play. It’s hilarious and a tiny bit beautiful at the same time.

I like it here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Snapshots of Retirement Living: Bringing Order to Chaos

On the first official day of mom and dad’s move to Telford, we faced 61 boxes and disorder in every corner of every room. We emptied about 10 that day, but the rest of the job seemed daunting.

Dad had hired two people from The Perfect Plan, a relocation company, to help unpack boxes the next day. Before they came, we speculated that it would not be terribly helpful to have two extra people getting in the way while we unpacked. They wouldn’t know where to put things, mom figured; we’d have to oversee every move they made; it might just be easier to do it ourselves.

Well. The next day Lynn and Trish walked into chaos, and by the time they left seven hours later, they had transformed it into order and even beauty. Little did we know before we met them that these women are not just relocation specialists, they are relocation magicians.

Every box was emptied, many items were “downsized” or “repurposed,” closets were organized, beds were made, shelves were filled with books, photos, and knickknacks. They set up the computer, found the linens, made the bed. They brought an intuitive and convenient organization to the kitchen, totally rearranging my structure from the previous day in a way that clearly and painlessly illustrated that this is not where my gifts lie.

Mom and I made a trip to the store to pick up some clutter containers and other supplies. While we were gone, the wizards of where-does-it-go fixed up the spare room as a special service to me. When we left, the room was packed so full of furniture and boxes that there was no room to open up the cot that I’d be sleeping on that night. When we returned, the room had been transformed into a legitimate guest bedroom. The boxes were gone, the TV was set up and operational, the computer sat blinking on the dresser, and most astonishing of all, the cot was dressed up to look like an actual bed, with clean sheets, a comforter and two matching pillows. The only thing missing was a mint.

These guys are good, people. I could not recommend them more highly. They made our lives and my parents’ unpacking process so much easier and so much less painful than it could have been.

If you need a relocation specialist, someone to help you unpack and get organized, email Lynn at Or go to their website.

(And no, Mr. and Ms. Cynical, they did not pay me to write this, nor am I related to them.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Snapshots of Retirement Living: Downsizing and Repurposing

I flew to PA yesterday to help my parents move into their new retirement apartment in a scenic corner of historic Bucks County. They had experimented with living in Virginia with my brother and his wife, but that situation was not a good fit for anyone. After a little more than a month they called it quits and decided to move back to PA, near where they had lived for the past 20 years and most of their lives.

So here we are at The Lutheran Community at Telford, trying to fit 61 boxes of planet earth souvenirs into a smallish two-bedroom apartment. I find myself winnowing through my parents’ earthly goods and treasures and ruthlessly eliminating duplication and extraneity (is that a word?) while helping to put everything else in its place.

Some of this sifting happened under duress when mom and dad packed up their belongings for the first move to Virginia. But the first move happened kind of quickly, and a lot of stuff was dumped into boxes and shipped south. Many of these boxes did not see the light of day in Jefferson’s fair state, and now we’re opening them to find these kinds of treasures:

  • Hotel stationery from hotel chains that no longer exist, and from trips taken decades ago.
  • Neighborhood telephone directories from the mid-1980s.
  • Three identical sets of 175 Bible memory cards in small red boxes, probably 40 years old, and untouched for the past 20.
  • Three containers each of dried basil flakes, dried parsley flakes, and rubbed sage, plus duplicates of several other herbs and spices.
  • Dad’s work ID from 1938.
  • Dad’s business cards from the 1970s.
  • Two boxes labeled “playing cards,” neither of which contained playing cards. Instead, they held marketing freebies like keychains, fingernail clippers, paper weights, tiny tool sets, and lots of pens.

One entire box was filled with records. Not written records, not medical records. Record records. LPs, 45s, and albums of 45s. I thought I had entered a time warp. I read through the titles:

  • Paul Mickelson Plays for Youth (at the giant Robert-Morton pipe organ), including “In My Heart There Rings a Melody” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” Several albums featured the name and/or location of the pipe organ prominently on the cover.
  • The Chesterfield Broadcasts Glenn Miller and His Orchestra: “Authentic broadcasts of the legendary radio program by the original orchestra—all on record for the first time!”
  • A Treasury of Immortal Performances: “Dance Band Hits” including Tommy Dorsey playing “Boogie Woogie,” Glenn Miller playing “Song of the Volga Boatment,” and Duke Ellington with “Mood Indigo.”
  • I loved this one: Ronnie Avalone sings “The Holy City,” plus “duets with Mrs. Avalone.”
  • A four-album set of audio Bible studies in Galatians by the legendary (if you run in those circles) Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, Th.D. This gem is a podcast of 1960!

Among the 45s I found the ultimate political classic, “Excerpts from Richard M. Nixon’s Nomination Acceptance Speech, August 8, 1968.” Are you old enough to remember one of his most unforgivable lines: “America is in trouble today, not because her people have failed, but because her leaders have failed”? (I’m not, of course, but I do remember voting for him in our mock presidential election in second grade.)

There was more: souvenirs from Honduras, Peru, Spain, Holland, and Germany; imitation cut glass peanut butter jars from the 1950s; no fewer than six dictionaries; and hand towels that carbon date back to the Triassic Period.

Tune in tomorrow for more Snapshots of Retirement Living.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Gas Man Cometh

A fresh-faced young woman who looked like she could be a Noxema spokesmodel knocked on my door today. She wore an official ID and a U.S. Energy Savings Corp. cap and uniform; and she asked to see our most recent gas bill to “see if we qualified” for a five percent discount on future gas price increases.

She pitched a five-year fixed-price natural gas contract to further protect us from future price increases. The advantages of her company compared to other suppliers, said Noxema Girl, was that they offered these benefits for no fee, and our gas price would be guaranteed for five years.

It all sounds great, right? But door-to-door salespeople trigger an instinctive defensive reflex in my brain. I’ve watched enough Judge Alex to know that you don’t sign a contract without reading the fine print—especially when it walks up to your door and looks all innocent, and offers you a too-good-to-be-true deal. I mean, who wouldn’t sign on the dotted line for a no-cost five-percent gas bill reduction, and an insurance hedge against rising natural gas prices?

Before I signed, I looked at the small print, which advised me that the contract “appoints U.S. Energy Savings Corp.” as my exclusive provider of natural gas; and that “Customer agrees to purchase natural gas commodity supply at a fixed price of $1.09 per therm.” Hair follicles on my scapulas started to tingle, and cold tentacles of suspicion seeped slowly into my brain.

Meanwhile, Mr. Peevie had slipped into the office and googled “U.S. Energy Savings Corp + scam” and found this
. He returned, assumed a slightly aggressive stance and said firmly, “We won’t be signing any contracts today. Thanks for stopping by.”

After Noxema left, I looked up my Peoples Gas bill online. U.S. Energy had offered to lock in my natural gas price at $1.09 per therm—but my price in the last 11 months ranged from a low of $.6811 per therm to a high of $.9303 per therm. Over that period the average per-therm cost was $.81056—more than 25 percent less than the price set by the contract.

Now, it’s true that the price of gas fluctuates, and in January 2006 we paid $1.13 per therm. It’s also possible that we will see a consistent rise in prices. However, this article
from the federal Energy Information Administration projects that natural gas prices will actually decline until 2013.

So, gentle readers, heed me now and listen to me later: read the small print when the gas man knocks on your door. It could save you some money, some hassle, and a visit to Judge Alex’s courtroom.

UPDATE: I've posted two updates to this piece. This one discusses the Illinois' attorney general's lawsuit against U.S. Energy Savings Corp. and this one reviews my actual gas costs and provides additional info about the company.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Grateful Heart

Yesterday M. Peevie and I walked out the front door to head over to gymnastics. It was a cold, rainy, miserable day.

"Mom, isn't it a beautiful day?" M. Peevie said to me as we held our coats over our heads and ran for the car.

"I guess so," I said dubiously. "What makes you say that, honey?"

"Well, everybody always says 'Isn't it a beautiful day' when the sun is shining and it's warm outside, but God made all the days, and we should be thankful for them," M. Peevie innocently preached; and I smiled in my heart.

It's Thanksgiving Day, and here's a tiny sampling of what I'm grateful for:
  • M. Peevie and her optimistic, cheerful, friendly personality.
  • A. Peevie and his originality and cuddliness.
  • C. Peevie and his tender heart and great sense of humor.
  • Mr. Peevie and what a great dad and husband he is.
  • Forgiveness.
  • Friendship.
  • A warm home.
  • A whole year with nobody in the hospital.
  • The Sermon on the Mount.
  • Books like The Glass Castle and The Kite Runner and Bridge to Terabithia.
  • My church.

There's so much more, but I must baste my turkey now. Peace, gentle readers; God's blessings on both of you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Book Review: Living SMART

Through LibraryThing I have received an Early Reviewer copy of Living SMART: Five Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever. As an early reviewer, I get a free advance copy of a soon-to-be-published book, and if I write a review of it, I have a better chance of getting ER books in the future. So here's my review:

Week One: I read the preface and the introduction, and form my first impression of the book: bleah. The writing and the concepts are like Gerber Rice Cereal for babies: pre-chewed, broken down to the tiniest bits so the lowest common denominator reader doesn’t choke on it. I don’t see anything truly new or creative about the approach. The five eponymous SMART skills are not so much skills as they are obvious tasks that I don’t really need two PhDs and some lame clip-art to help me figure out.

Week Two: I lose motivation and don’t even pick up the book.

Week Three: I feel obligated to read and review the book for LibraryThing, especially since I do want to be considered for future early review titles. So I pick up the book and try to have a good attitude.

Chapter 1--
Let's Get Started. My bad attitude returns wearing leather and chains when I read that the three principles and steps to change involve the What, the Want, and the How. So far this book reminds me of a not-very-interesting article in a women’s magazine, one that might be titled, “Five Simple Steps to a New, Slimmer You!”

But even though I feel patronized, I plug on and read Chapter 2—The What: Know Exactly What Needs to Change. This chapter is even more obvious than the last. It lists places where you can get information about the behavior you need to change—as though you’ve been living in the jungles of Bolivia for the last 40 years and you’ve never seen another person, or a newspaper, or one of those new-fangled computer-thingies.

As a special bonus, the chapter ends with an action tip: If you want to get skinny, don’t buy cookies. That strikes me as just plain mean. The authors probably have hyper-thyroid disease and never have to watch what they eat in order to keep their girlish figures.

Week Four: I grit my teeth and promise myself I will get through two more nauseating chapters this week. I suggest to myself that, in the interest of fairness, perhaps I should try to have an open mind since I’ve only read slightly more than 1/10 of the book. Myself agrees, ditches the attitude, and plunges into chapter 3—The Want: Decide Whether You Want to Change.

Ah, feel the irony. I learn that motivation is the great stumbling block to change. (I’m still thinking about those cookies, and—call me Blobbo—I’m not really motivated to buy non-fat rice cakes instead.)

I do actually read an idea in this chapter that I have never considered before: that optimism is a behavior that can be learned. I do some research and find that these authors are not alone in this theory; and I make a note to blog about it in the future.

Chapter Four—The How promises me that if I know what needs to change, and I’m motivated, then the SMART skill set will ensure my success. The SMART skill set consists of Setting a goal, Monitoring your progress, Arrange your world for success, Recruit a support team, and Treat yourself.

The authors illustrate the concept of Arranging Your World for Success with a story about a dinner party at which one guest said she wanted to cut down on her salt intake. The good doctors moved the salt shaker out of her reach to the other end of the table, and “proclaimed with great satisfaction that this gesture had significantly reduced her chance of using excess salt during the meal.”

I know. I want to smack them, too.

Later in the same chapter, the Captains Obvious advise us to “maximize the positive influence of others by setting up a team of supporters.” They recommend that we recruit these team members from among friends and family, as well as from internet chat rooms, magazine pen pal clubs, and prisons.

Oh, they do not—but if they had included those last three, it would have made the chapter more interesting.

Week Five—I read chapters 5-13, having completely given up on even the semblance of neutrality and optimism about this waste of perfectly good paper and ink. I just shake my head when I read chapter six, in which the authors provide a detailed monitoring chart that they have cleverly dubbed “The Chart.”

One Action Tip recommends rewarding yourself often with small, frequent treats such as “a brief chat with a friend on the phone or taking the time to watch a sunset.” Really? Do these people really only allow themselves to chat on the phone or watch a sunset as a reward for behavior change? That’s just sad.

Part II: Your Game Plan applies the SMART skills to four specific issues: diet, exercise, getting better sleep, and remembering to take medication. There’s plenty of stuff to be bored and annoyed about in these chapters, too, like the recommendations to put gold stars on your monitoring chart to reward yourself and the one "for mothers only" to ask your spouse to watch the kids while you exercise.

This book reminds me of a class I took in graduate school. The professor, a tenured PhD, had authored our textbook on multi-cultural counseling. It was my first exposure to the notion that having letters after your name does not directly correlate with intellectual brilliance. To this day, 25 years later, I remember that textbook and that class—not because of what I learned, but because of what I didn’t. The book was padded with patently obvious and too-general-to-be-useful observations along the lines of “The counselor must be sensitive to the cultural background of the client.” The class was one "duh" after another.

That’s what’s going on with Living SMART. The authors have padded a magazine article based on a marginally clever acronym into 184 pages of obvious and redundant pop psychology. Save your $15. Put it in the bank, and in five years you’ll have around $18. That’s better than the return you’ll get from investing in this book.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sermon on the Mount: Don't Be Fooled

From The Enemy Within, by Kris Lundgaard:

When prime minister Neville Chamberlain returned to Britain from his meeting with Hitler in Munich, he waved before the crowd the agreement he had made with the Nazi leader and announced, “I believe it is peace for our time.” Hitler had to roll over Czechoslovakia before Chamberlain gave up his wishful thinking. How much death and destruction might have been avoided if the prime minister had been more discerning about his enemy?

Chamberlain’s declaration became an obscene irony when England went to war less than a year later. But as tragic as it was, men and women outdo his folly day after day, to the danger of their own souls. When their consciences are pricked by their own sin, they too quickly declare their own inner peace before God has done his work in them.

Lundgaard uses the example of Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement to illustrate the concept of “false peace,” a dangerous self-deception in which Christians, or those who call themselves Christian, reassure themselves that they are spiritually OK, that they are right with God.

Toward the end of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his followers against this dangerous folly: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

This person who will not enter the kingdom of heaven claims to be a follower of Jesus. He (or she) calls himself a Christian, and he even has orthodox doctrine about Jesus and about God. But in the end, Jesus will say to him, “I never knew you.”

Sometimes we deceive ourselves with a quick and easy doctrine of assurance. “Once saved, always saved,” we glibly assume. Or we look toward our baptism in the Church, our Christian parents, our church-going, our orthodoxy, or the fact that we are generally pretty good people.

These are false evidences of salvation, and if it’s what you are relying on when you say, “Lord, Lord,” you are in for an eternally rude surprise.

So how do you know if you are someone who will say ‘Lord, Lord’—but will not enter the Kingdom? What is the test? The test is not whether you know the Lord, but whether the Lord knows you. Jesus says to the self-deceived, “I never knew you.”

And how do you know if he knows you? Who will enter the kingdom of heaven? “He who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

The British preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “No man is ever too severe with himself. We hold the scales of justice with a very unsteady hand when our character is in the balance.” Later in the same sermon he added, “Let me tell you that if you have a peace today that allows you to be at peace with your sins as well as with God, that peace is a false peace.”

The way we know that we are NOT clinging to a false peace about our relationship with God is this: That we return to the Cross of Christ again and again and again, every time we are aware that we have failed to do the right thing. We cling not to our confession, or our good deeds, or to anything else; but we cling only to Jesus.

Prime Minister Chamberlain allowed himself to be deceived by Hitler; he allowed himself to believe that Nazis weren’t that bad. Do we, in the same way, allow ourselves to be deceived by sin? Do we, in the same way, rely on a false declaration of peace for our hope of salvation?

Don’t be fooled: cling only to the Cross.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Elusive Definition of Intelligence

My kids are all brilliant, of course.

C. Peevie and M. Peevie have the kind of intelligence associated with traditional academic success—early verbal development, top percentile reading scores, quick grasp of math concepts and easy mastery of the basic facts.

A. Peevie, on the other hand, seems to my subjective eye to be brilliant in a completely different and often unappreciated kind of way. He struggles to master elementary math facts—but he worked his way through 15 pages of basic geometry lessons when he learned that one of his heroes, Albert Einstein, loved geometry. I blogged about it here:

Besides the intelligence that directly relates to math and reading skills, there seems to me to be a different kind of intelligence that fuels Middle Peevie’s learning. It has a creativity component that enables him to think differently about things than most people think. For example, one Halloween, he was contemplating his costume choices, looking over the traditional super-hero options. He picked up a box, cut some narrow slits in it to see through, and put it over his head. Then he searched the basement for accessories, and he settled on being Box-Head with Knife.

What is intelligence? You might be surprised to learn, as I was, that there are as many definitions of intelligence as there are "experts" who study it. Usually the word refers to general mental capacity to reason, solve problems, learn, and think abstractly--but the problem with this definition is that it's circular. If you look up "reason" in the dictionary, you will get "intelligence" as one of the definitions; and if you look up "think", you'll get "reason" as a definition.

So where does that leave us? According to the online encyclopedia Encarta, "no universally accepted definition of intelligence exists." (Here's the link to the Encarta article.)

One dude, Harvard University professor Howard Gardner, came up with a model of intelligence that includes nine abilities that work individually or together to produce "intelligence:" naturalist, musical, logical-mathematical, existential, interpersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, intra-personal, and spatial.

Some of those abilities seem more like interests or skills than intelligence to me--but the list is helpful to frame the discussion about intelligence in a broader way than we typically understand it.

Cognitive psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed a triarchic theory of intelligence:
  • Analytic Intelligence--the type generally assessed by intelligence tests; measures the ability to break down problems into component parts.
  • Creative Intelligence--the ability to cope with new situations and solve problems in new and unusual ways. Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, but imagination circles the world."
  • Practical Intelligence--Common sense. Using and implementing ideas.

Sternberg said you can grow your creative intelligence by questioning assumptions, taking sensible risks, and allowing yourself to make mistakes.

I like what Albert Einstein had to say about intelligence: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it is stupid."

This kind of thinking, I suspect, is what is behind Gardner's model of multiple intelligences; and it's what makes me see A. Peevie as a brilliant, out-of-the-box thinker. While C. Peevie and M. Peevie are climbing redwoods, A. P. is down below doing smart fish-things, like figuring out a way to swim upstream to lay eggs.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

In which I Claim Victory over the Fruit Flies, and invent a Device of Great Usefulness In Combating Flying Insects

So I think the Age of the Fruit Fly is finally coming to an end in the Peevie domicile.

I googled how to get rid of fruit flies, and tried a couple of tricks I learned from the Internet, like stretching plastic wrap over a bowl of cider vinegar and poking little holes in it, which would theoretically trap the unsuspecting flies once they crawled under the wrap for a dip and a nosh. That method was not particularly successful, as I noted in my earlier fruit fly post.

I picked up fly paper at the hardware store, and hung the strips in the fly-populated corners of my kitchen. For some reason they seemed to prefer the dark and narrow space behind the kitchen door, even though there is no food or dirty dishes there. But every time someone opened or closed the door, a cloud of flies would dust up, and I’d grab one of the fly paper strips and start waving it madly through the air, catching two flies for every forty that simply relocated.

Mr. Peevie did his own research, and purchased a couple of fruit fly traps over the Internet. They are little screw-cap bottles with bait and fly-paper inside. They’ve been OK at catching flies, but more often than not, I see the flies congregating on the outside of the bottle instead of sliding down the chute of death.

As I was fecklessly chasing teensy-weensy airborne acrobats with ribbons of sticky death one day, I thought to myself, “This sure would be a lot easier and more effective if I had something wider than a ribbon to catch the flies with. Something like a sticky fly-swatter.”

And the rest is history. I bought a new fly-swatter, wrapped fly-paper around it, and went on a drosophila rampage this afternoon. I am not even kidding you, this is the best invention for the insect-bedeviled since the fly swatter itself.

As I sit here writing this post, the occasional fruit fly wanders by my face nonchalantly, little suspecting that its tiny life is about to come to a sticky end. I calmly pick up my homemade fruit fly capturing contraption, serenely give a wave, and voila! The fruit fly is history.

Now if I can get a patent for this deal, my future is secure. And, I'm hoping, fruit-fly-free.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Golden Compass: Conspiracy Theory Du Jour

I was expecting to receive email alerts about the anti-Christian message of the new movie The Golden Compass, and sure enough, one landed in my in-box today.

I’m not going to reprint the entire email here, but the short version is this: The movie is based on a book by atheist Philip Pullman, and many people of faith are disturbed that the movie and books seem to be targeted to children and intended to turn them away from God.

The email alarmed, “The movie is a watered down version of the first book and is designed to be very attractive in the hope unsuspecting parents will take their children to see the movie and that the children will want the books for Christmas.”

There are so many problems with this statement that it makes me want to drink gin from a soup tureen. First of all, this: “The movie is a watered-down version of the first book.” With few exceptions, every movie I’ve ever seen that was based on a book has diluted the message and story-lines of the source material. By definition, movies and books tell stories in different ways—so the movie will always be different than the book.

Then there’s this: the movie “is designed to be very attractive.” Unlike those other inoffensive movies that are just blips of celluloid with ugly actors and childish production values.

“In the hope (that)…” In whose hope? What nefarious pagan multinational conspiracy is plotting, hoping, to trick me? Who’s behind it all? Could it be… SATAN?

“Unsuspecting parents will take their children to see the movie.” What, exactly, are they supposed to suspect? That there is a conspiracy afloat to convert their Sunday School charges to ACLU card-holders? That the author of the book is—gasp!—an atheist? That it is his mission to “kill God”?

And the best part of all is this: “the children will want the books for Christmas.” I…I…I got nothing. Children. Wanting books. For Christmas. Oh, for crying in a bucket. If you’re going to be an alarmist, then don’t phone in your Big Finish. Make it a little juicier than children wanting books for Christmas.

Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, categorically enjoined parents to boycott the movie: “No parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books.”

I haven’t read the books myself, so I’m just as ignorant as most of the rest of you. (My husband and my 12-year-old son have, though.) But I do plan to read them, in spite of the dire warnings, and I do not expect to be sending in my membership dues to American Atheists anytime soon. I wonder if Bill Donohue and the email alarmists have read the books. Hmmmm.

I am also wondering

Why do they think that The Golden Compass is more dangerous or evil than other books and movies written by atheists, agnostics, or others who have an other-than-Christian worldview?

Why do they believe that this story/book/movie has that much power over our minds, and over the minds of our children?

What do we think is going to happen if our kids read these stories or watch the movie? That we might—ACK!—have to talk to our kids about it? That it might raise some questions in their minds?

Should we not read books and listen to music and watch movies made by people with a different world view than our own? And to a certain extent, shouldn’t we also teach our children how to do so? Isn’t it a great opportunity to talk and think and learn?

Maybe if more Christians watched and read them, we could have more dialogue with people like Pullman and those who agree with his views. Maybe we could engage our friends and neighbors in discussions about what parts of the book we liked, and why, and what parts we didn’t like, and why.

For a Christian, any encounter in this world needs to be viewed through the lens of faith and sifted through the colander of Scripture—even sermons that we hear at church or on the radio. Nothing is exempt from this scrutiny, except the Bible—and even that often requires that we seek help to interpret and apply it.

I think the message this blog wants to put out there is: think for yourself. Before you warn other people about it, read the book(s) and/or see the movie. Then decide if it’s bad for your kids or not. And let other people decide if it’s bad for their kids.

Or, if you prefer, wait until I read the book and post my review and tell you what to think.

On Being Seven

Hi. I’m M. Peevie. I’m seven. What is it like to be seven? Well, when you’re seven, you get a purple I-Pod for your birthday that your dad has loaded with some of your favorite music, like the Beatles, Sheryl Crow, High School Musical, and Hannah Montana. This makes you very happy, and you listen to it the whole time during dinner at the restaurant, and it makes your parents happy, too, because you’re not talking constantly and provoking your brothers.

When you’re seven, you do provoke your brothers a lot, but not because you necessarily want to provoke them, but because they’re so sensitive about having you in their room touching their stuff, and also apparently it embarrasses them when you hug and kiss their friends. But they’re nice friends, and that’s what you do when you’re seven and people are nice to you: you hug and kiss them.

I pretty much hug and kiss everyone I meet. I love my school principal, and my teacher, and my friends, and their moms, and my neighbors, and my mom’s friends. I smile at them, a lot, and I have a dimple, and I think that makes them smile back at me, and when they do, I can’t help myself. I squeeze them so hard that when I let go, they are a little bit concave. That’s a big word, isn’t it? I like big words.

Speaking of big words, I pretty much have never met a word I didn’t like. I like words, and I like to talk. There’s so much to talk about; how can I not talk? At dinner time, we talk about how our day was, and what the highlight of our day was, and I always have a story to tell about my best friend Josie or my best friend Kayla. Sometimes my story ends with me telling my mom and dad that my teacher had to move my seat in first grade again because I was talking too much.

Except for getting my seat moved for talking too much, I really love school. Actually, I don’t even mind getting my seat moved, ‘cause then I get to talk to somebody new. I like school because it’s fun and easy. My mom says my teacher needs to challenge me more, but I told her I like it when it’s easy, because then I can get my work done quick and have more time to play. She says I am a girl after her own heart.

I have a lot of best friends. Best friends are great. Some best friends live in your neighborhood, and sometimes you fight with them about who gets to play with the straight hair Barbie and who gets to play with the curly hair Barbie—but it doesn’t mean you’re not best friends anymore.

One thing that’s not great about being seven is that you get your feelings hurt sometimes. My mom says my feelings get hurt if someone looks at me wrong, but that doesn’t happen a lot. Usually my feelings get hurt because someone looked at me wrong with a mean face or made a mean sound at the same time. And sometimes my feelings get hurt when my brother calls me a nickname that I do not like, which is called Foghorn Voicebox. When he says that my mom says, "Pot? Kettle. Kettle? Pot."

I gave my daddy a nickname which is called Soft Head Warm Head because his head is soft and warm. My daddy likes his nickname, I think. He smiles a warm smile and tilts his head next to mine when I call him that, and we have a huggy moment.

My mom says she can’t believe I’m seven already, which is silly because seven comes after six. Even preschoolers know that. Sometimes she’s sad that I’m getting big so fast, and she says, “Stop growing up so fast!” But I can’t stop growing up so fast, because that’s how God made the world we live in, and it goes around on its axis and floats in space with the other planets, which we learned last year when I was only in kindergarten.

The end.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fruit Flies: God's Judgment On A Bad Housekeeper?

An infestation of fruit flies has disrupted my normally serene and pristine home environment. At least it’s only fruit flies, I told myself at first. They almost sound good for you. It’s practically a compliment to have fruit flies. Not cringe-worthy cockroaches. Not ant colonies, marching in formation, hoisting crumbs onto their tiny backs and marching back to their tripartite queen. Fruit flies. How bad could they be?

Well. Let me tell you how bad it can be. It's approaching Egyptian plague levels in the Peevie homestead. If I were Pharaoh, I would totally give up and Let His People Go.

It all started with those dang tomatoes. We had so many that I couldn’t make salsa fast enough; so some of them started to over-ripen. We started noticing two or three tiny fruit flies about three weeks ago. We threw away the just-barely-starting-to-rot tomatoes, but kept the others on the counter, plus the usual bowl of fruit and our usual level of kitchen messitude. That was our first mistake.

What we didn’t realize was that fruit flies are teensy-weensy nymphomaniacs. Eight or nine days after a female lays an egg, there’s a mature fruit fly waiting to copulate and lay more eggs. And here’s the really bad news: according to Wikipedia, females can lay more than 800 eggs in a single day.

So now I find myself waving ribbons of sticky fly-paper through the air, trying to speed up the process of annihilation. We have strips of glutinous, honey-colored fly-death hanging in the kitchen doorway in a “Home Alone Kid Meets Greg Brady’s Beaded Curtains” kind of way.

But it’s not just the kitchen. The nasty little buggers have invaded the bathrooms, the bedrooms, the office. They’re annexing the entire house as a sort of Del Webb lifestyle community for fruit flies. We have bowls of cider vinegar sitting around to attract and trap them--but apparently they think it's an upgrade to lakefront property. They don't fall in and die. They just sit around the edge, playing frisbee and watching hot fruit fly chicks stroll by.

Oh, and thanks a lot to those researchers in Connecticut who mutated a fruit fly gene and nearly doubled their life spans. That’s just what I need. Nine generations of tiny insects enjoying the fruits of my labor.

Did you know that fruit flies are the most studied organism in biological research? Apparently they are genetically very similar to humans. Weird. Maybe I’ll pick up an autoclave and a microscope from Ebay, borrow some of A. Peevie’s test tubes—and voila, I’ve got my own genome research lab.

Last week the local ABC affiliate in Los Angeles reported that officials sprinkled a huge batch of sterile male flies over the area in order to protect the crops from infestation. I wonder if it's too much to ask if they could make a sweep over NW Chicago. I’m getting desperate here.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ho-hos and Broken Crayons

Halloween, like all holidays, is just one more excuse for the universe to point at me and laugh about my inadequacies. This is what I’m up against:

Moms who hand-craft adorable, personalized gift bags of home-made treats and Halloween-themed pencils and toys for each member of the class. I sent M. Peevie to school with a box of Ho-Hos.

Moms who throw turtle-themed birthday parties, complete with home-made turtle invitations, pin-the-tail-on-the-turtle games, turtle-shaped pizza, turtle prizes, turtle goodie bags, and home-made turtle thank-you notes with clever turtle rhymes. I typed a save-the-date notice for M. Peevie’s as-yet-un-themed party, and used a broken crayon to color a balloon on each one.

Moms who get birthday thank-you notes written, addressed, stamped and in the mail the day after the party. We fizzle out after about two thank-you notes, which never make it into an envelope and don’t get mailed.

Moms whose children don’t show up in chapel shirts that were pulled, unwashed, from the dirty laundry an hour ago. Not that I know anyone like that.

Moms who put together care packages for their children to take to school for the class contribution to the homeless shelter. (I bought the washcloths and hand towels. They’re still sitting on my dresser.)

Moms who don’t forget to attend their children’s parent-teacher appointments. Like I just did today.