Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A 100% Legal Home Insurance Boondoggle

About one year ago, our regional electric utility Kentucky Power (a subsidiary of American Electric Power) sent out mailer reminding everyone that home owners are financially responsible for any repairs necessary to outside electrical lines from the point where utility maintained lines attach to the home and to weather heads, risers, meter base and the service entrance conductor that attaches to your fuse/breaker box. This was something of which we were already aware, since we had to pay for the installation of all those things when we bought our new house just eight years ago.

What was new, was that Kentucky Power was offering all customers an "inexpensive"  insurance provided by another independent corporation HomeServe to cover the cost of repairs to those outside electrical elements between the lines that were the utilities responsibility and the interior electrical system of the home.  HomeServe would provide the services, but for convenience the cost of the insurance could be paid monthly with a couple of dollars added as part of your utility bill.  Our recent experience with setting up a new home, made us aware of how expensive those repairs might be, so it seemed like a good deal.

Unfortunately, I like many other people did not read all the fine print and details as carefully as I should have. When I was thinking about the possible need for repairs I was thinking about damage that might occur during a storm, due to wind, hail, ice, falling trees etc. I was thinking about accidents that might cause a failure of the components, such as when there was a lightening strike, or even a power overload or transformer going out.  Well it turns out that NONE of those things are covered, as I learned yesterday.

Yesterday, we received a mailer from HomeServe thanking us for being customers and informing us of a rate raise in the next year: a 100% rate raise, from $2.49 to $4.99.   Which immediately caught my attention, part of the appeal of the service was that it was so cheap. Suddenly it was not going to be as cheap.

There was also included in the mailer information on what is covered and not covered by the policy. I'm usually pretty good about thoroughly reading information about coverage on insurance, so I'm not sure how it was that I missed this. It turned out that this policy explicitly excludes damage from nature (storms, ice, wind, snow, falling trees, etc.), or accidents including power surges, power outages, and damaged transformers.  The ONLY thing covered by the insurance is "normal wear and tear."

Normal wear and tear? We previously had a 30 year old home that never had any "normal wear and tear" on its electrical components. I am almost certain that they have prescribed time periods for each, so that any damage or failure short of those time periods would almost certainly NOT be covered. After doing a little research, it would not be at all surprising if HomeServe were to determine that a metal riser and weather head should have a life of 40 years or more, meaning that any problem with it, prior to that time could not be considered "normal" wear and tear, and therefore not covered.

So today I cancelled the insurance.  I suppose if a person had an old house, with electrical equipment that was already more than 30 or 40 years old, they might consider such insurance, but for most of us, we would pay in for years and years and never be covered for anything that happened to our external electric supply components.  I strongly suggest that anyone that has agreed to such insurance, rethink the likelihood that it would ever pay off.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Peaceful People

"There is only as much peace as there are peaceful people." 

         I first encountered these words by by A. J. Muste (Abraham Johannes Muste) in the spring of 1972 in long poem "Staying Alive" by Denise Levertov a British born American poet. It was only decades later with the advent of the internet and Google that I finally learned about A. J. Muste a Dutch born American clergyman and activist.  
[Both Levertov and Muste were immigrants who contributed much to the development of this country - it should never be forgotten that so much of what we are as a country comes from immigrants and their descendants.]
         Muste began his work for peace and justice as a young clergyman in protests against U.S. involvement in World War I  in 1916 and 1917.  Two years later in 1919, Muste with two other clergyman helped the mostly immigrant textile workers many of whom spoke no English in Lawrence, Massachusetts organize a strike for better wages and better working conditions. For the rest of his life until he died in 1967 Muste was engaged in social justice and anti-war/peace causes. It was A. J. Muste who introduced a young college student and seminarian named Martin Luther King, Jr. to the notion of nonviolent activism.

         Recently I came across another quote from Muste that reflects my own evolving sense of what it means to be an activist for peace:
"In a world built on violence, one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist."
         Muste did not mean "revolutionary" in the sense of engaging in violence against violence, but rather one must focus on ending social injustices first.  In the same essay as the above quote, Muste went on to say:
“There is a certain indolence in us, a wish not to be disturbed, which tempts us to think that when things are quiet, all is well. Subconsciously, we tend to give the preference to ‘social peace,’ though it be only apparent, because our lives and possessions seem then secure. Actually, human beings acquiesce too easily in evil conditions; they rebel far too little and too seldom. There is nothing noble about acquiescence in a cramped life or mere submission to superior force.” 
        This hits home strongly to me. I think of all the people I know who don't want to talk about or think about "politics."  Because it is contentious and disturbing and hardly "peaceful." Moreover thinking and talking about politics includes risks of disagreement with people we care about, family members and friends. Many people want to vote in elections and then turn their minds off and let someone else (elected officials, etc.) take care of everything.  There are times when I find this appealing, to just turn off to politics and power. But that is not the way to peace, because genuine peace is not "social peace" as Muste said. 

According to Muste, the foremost task of pacifists:

 “is to denounce the violence on which the present system is based, and all the evil — material and spiritual — this entails for the masses of men throughout the world…. So long as we are not dealing honestly and adequately with this ninety percent of our problem, there is something ludicrous, and perhaps hypocritical, about our concern over the ten percent of violence employed by the rebels against oppression.” 
Muste concludes with:
"Those who can bring themselves to renounce wealth, position and power accruing from a social system based on violence and putting a premium on acquisitiveness, and to identify themselves in some real fashion with the struggle of the masses toward the light, may help in a measure — more, doubtless, by life than by words — to devise a more excellent way, a technique of social progress less crude, brutal, costly and slow than mankind has yet evolved."

        When I read this I think of Colin Kaepernick, who did not know when he first took a knee that he would end up with a Nike contract, he took a risk to identify with victims of police violence, to condemn a system that does violence to minorities. 

          Working for peace requires risks. May we all be willing to take some risks in the year to come in the cause of peace. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Beautiful, Useful Things

            My father made beautiful, useful things with his hands and his tools. As far back as I can remember he had a well-equipped workshop in the garage which included a 1949 Shopsmith, an amazing multiple purpose woodworking tool that could saw, drill, sand, and best of all be a lathe on which he turned many intricate smooth objects like the posts and spindles on my brothers’ bunk beds, table legs, chair legs, candlesticks, and other decorative but useful items for our home.  I liked spending time with him while he worked, especially when he turned some blocky 4 x 4 post into a smoothly rounded, fluted, curving piece of beauty. I loved the smell of sawdust mingled with oil and the faint burning smell as his chisel cut into the swiftly turning block of wood.  I enjoyed the task of using fine sandpaper to further smooth the objects he turned on his lathe, luxuriating in the feel of the wood.

            After thirty years of knowing my father, I should have realized when I asked him drill 9 holes in a block of wood as a makeshift Chanukkiah* for my first Chanukah that he would not pay attention to my instructions, but instead create something incredibly beautiful that violated all traditional Jewish rules for a Chanukkiah.  A Baptist turned Methodist by marriage, my father knew nothing about my adopted religion. I think he wanted me to know that he supported me as I made this major change in my life, unlike my mother who took my conversion as a rejection of her and my childhood.

            I sent my dad (in California) a sketch of a plain, flat, block of wood with nine holes in a row. A few weeks later, I received (in Kentucky) a large box in return. Carefully wrapped in layers of tissue paper and newspaper was a work of art.

My first discovery was that he had chosen to use some of his precious chestnut wood instead of a scrap as I had suggested. The wood had been scavenged in the late 1970’s from his childhood home in Virginia. In the late 19th century before the blight destroyed most of the American chestnut trees, my grandfather had built the family home with chestnut paneling, stairs, railings, doors, molding, and other adornments.

Within the box was a block of wood, but unlike my sketch it had been carefully laminated in half inch layers of decreasing size, creating a double staircase effect with four steps on each side and a ninth platform at the top.  There were nine holes drilled, one in each step.  However, those holes were not for candles, for in the box, individually wrapped were nine perfect wooden cups, each with a stem to sit in the stair-stepped holes. Each cup had been turned separately on the lathe to perfect smoothness. They were all the same size, same diameter, same depth. The bottom of each cup had been curved like fat brandy snifters.  Each of those little wooden cups had to be turned on the lathe separately; checked and rechecked to make sure they were the same diameter, the same height, the same, length stem, so that when set in the stair-step block they would form a perfectly graduated holder for candles rising on both sides to a point in the middle.  I lifted each cup, turned them in my hands feeling the smoothness of the fine wood grain and placed them in the block one by one.

My father had carefully cut green felt and glued it to the bottom of the main block of wood, so that the bottom of it would not scratch or scar any surface it was place on. Then in the center of the bottom, he had left an opening in the felt, and in it he had burnt the words:  To SUE/from DAD/DEC 1981.
Thirty-seven Chanukahs have come and gone. Sometimes I consider getting a “proper” Chanukkiah. Jewish law and tradition say that all the candles in a Menorah or a Chanukkiah should be at the same height, because no day, and no person is more important than another. Also, Jewish law and tradition call for a new candles every night or a total of 44 candles, so most Chanukkiah are designed for small candles less than ¼ inch in diameter and only about 4 inches high. My father designed his candle holder for regular sized candle tapers - 2/3 of an inch in diameter and eight to ten inches in height. The cost of 44 regular sized candles is getting to be a little prohibitive these days even at Walmart.
But in the end, every year I use this cherished gift from my father. It may not meet the standards of Jewish law, but it is still beautiful and a product of love.
*Most people refer to these as Menorahs. However, a Menorah is a seven branched candle stick used in synagogues and homes on the Sabbath. A Chanukkiah is a nine branched or holed candle holders used only for the eight days of Chanukah.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Bureaucracy and Crying

I was having difficulty sleeping last night, something that seems to occur fairly often to me, and started thinking about something that happened a little over eight years ago.  Here's the story:

            We were getting a new house. I was 60 years old and buying my first new house, taking on my first conventional mortgage. The whole situation was fraught with anxiety from the start. My husband was terrified of taking on a mortgage, but our current house – a thirty-year-old, improperly installed double wide - which we owned outright through a completed land contract, was falling apart. There were gaping holes in the floor covered with a patchwork of boards and other places where the particle board sub-floor was so damp that it sagged in great wallows. The roof leaked in six different places. The stove top and oven had all died, and the dishwasher had never worked. Only one of the two toilets functioned. Renovations were out of the question. So we bought another, new, shiny, double wide manufactured home, to locate on another part of our property from the original falling down double wide trailer. This is important to the story: we were moving into a new house, but it was only 10 feet away from the original at the same 911 street address.

            The new house was delivered two days before Thanksgiving 2010. It took three weeks more weeks before it was properly installed, tied down, underpinned, skirted, with steps and stoops front and back. The next week the plumbing was begun and the electric utility arrived, on exactly the date and time scheduled. The electric utility was a marvel. Our utility company had a centralized office which coordinated all the activity on the job and we had one contact with a single person who managed all aspects of the job – and it was a big job. They had to run a new line from a completely different direction, get right-of-way permissions from other homeowners, have trees cut down, and install a new pole and transformer. Everything worked like clockwork. The electricity was turned on. The house warmed up, the heat pump company came and installed the heat pump. Then with heat in the house the plumbers came back and connected the water line and finished the septic connection. The old house was disconnected and the new house had functioning water and sewage in less than 6 hours. We only had to use the porta-potties twice. It was breathtaking how smoothly everything went, until we got to the telephone service.

            We had a land line from AT&T. Because we live in the mountains with some pretty harsh weather both winter and summer, electrical outages are fairly common. We averaged five to ten power outages a year (varying from an hour to ten days) and not even one land line outage. Phone lines can come down without shorting out, unlike power lines.  I didn’t want to trust our lives to an internet connection for phone. Those mountains also made (and still make) our property a dead-zone for cell phone service.

            I contacted AT&T several weeks in advance of our move. The problem began with that first conversation. I told the person in customer service that we were “moving” from one building to a new building on the same property at the same address. The service rep typed “moving” into the computer and started taking information. That’s when the trouble began. He needed two addresses one for service to be terminated and a second address for new service to be started. No matter how many times I explained it, he couldn’t understand why I didn’t have a different address for the new service. I couldn’t just ask for a stop/restart, because work crews were going to have to come out and string entirely new line in a different direction for the new house. The service rep’s bright idea was to use our current address 136 and then change it by 1 number making it 135. The computer would accept that when it wouldn’t accept the same number. Then it turned out that the earliest that we could get this service change would be January 21, almost a month after we moved into the new house.

            On our own we came up with a brilliant solution for that month. The houses were so close together that we bought new wireless phones, plugged the based phone into the still working old house phone lines, and set up the wireless extensions inside the new house. It worked like a charm, until January 21st when AT&T cut off the old service, but no one showed up to hook up the new service. They’d told us the guy would be there in a window between 8 AM and 5 PM (you know how that goes). I took off work, on a bitter cold day with snow and ice on the ground to wait for the truck to show up. It didn’t. The next day, during customer service hours, I drove two miles from my home where I have no cell service and sat in the car to call AT&T. They could not explain why we had not received a service visit, but rescheduled one for the next week. The next scheduled visit came and went without anyone showing up. The next day, I needed to call customer service but it was 10 degrees above zero Fahrenheit and with two feet of snow on the ground. I wasn’t going anywhere in my car. I walked around outside and finally found a spot where I could get 2 bars on my cell phone it was in the middle of snow covered road where I, bundled up three or four layers with hats and gloves and scarves, dialed customer service. 

            If you’re not an AT&T customer or have never called their customer service, you probably don’t know that AT&T has dozens of customer call centers in widely separated geographic locations. Every time you place a call you end up with another call center and another customer service agent. It is never possible to call back to someone you’ve talked to before. Each time you call you have to explain the entire story from the beginning all over again. On that day, I talked to six different customer service agents in at least five different call centers. I would explain my story and get put on hold and then after holding for 10 to 20 null the phone would go dead. They kept asking me for a number for a call back later that day or the next day. And I would explain once again, that I had no phone at which they could call me back, because I had no phone service in my home, and my cell phone only worked in the middle of the road, and I was not going to sit outside in 10 degree weather on the off chance that someone might call me back in a few hours or “sometime tomorrow.”

On the fifth call I was in the middle of a call out there in the road in 10 null weather, with someone who actually seemed to be sympathetic and helpful, and I slipped on the ice, fell in a snow bank, losing hold of the cell phone in a snow bank. By the time I recovered it the connection was gone. With my hands increasingly numb I dialed the service number again. Of course, I got yet another call center and another service rep, and had to begin my explanation all over again.  She too wanted to know if she could “check into it and call you back later today.”  At that point, 3 PM with the sun and the temperature dropping, having been without phone service for 10 days, I began weeping hysterically. I sobbed uncontrollably. Suddenly, the service rep entire manner changed, and she immediately transferred me to some supervisory person, who stayed on the phone and talked me down from my hysteria until I was able to able to choke out my story one more time with some degree of coherence. 

        This supervisor, without putting me on hold, contacted to work crews in my area.  She was able to ascertain that 99% of the problem was that the address of 135 (that the initial pencil pusher put in the system) was “not a legitimate 911 address”. The supervisor then directly linked me to the field workers so that I could give them directions to my home, and guaranteed that they would be there within the hour (they were there in 50 minutes) and that I would have telephone service before the day was over. Over a period of 10 days, I had talked reasonably, clearly, and respectfully to at least 8 different customer service agents. None of whom had been able to tell me why we weren’t getting the scheduled service visits, none of whom was able to solve my problem. But with one totally unplanned, spontaneous, break down into hysteria and tears got me hooked up with someone who had all my telephone problems solved within 8 hours.

            The workmen who showed up at 4:00 PM as twilight was falling, who had to climb poles and crawl under my house in temperatures hovering just above zero degrees Fahrenheit, were not at all happy about the situation.  They grumbled a lot, but they got the job done. 

            There was one really odd note in the evening. Not long after it got dark, one of the workmen came to the door to ask me if I knew whether my neighbor’s “German shepherd dog” was friendly or not. He said the dog was sitting up on the hillside and staring at them, and it made them nervous. I told him that he must be mistaken. No one in our neighborhood had a German shepherd. One neighbor had an old coon hound that spent a lot of time in the hills above our house, and another had a black lab, but there were no German shepherds. I told him all the neighborhood dogs were friendly. He did not seem to be fully reassured but went back to work, and nothing more was said about the dog. They finished the work and left about 11 PM that night. It was two or three days later that I realized that the unfriendly “dog” they had seen on the hill was probably a coyote because quite a number of coyotes live on the old strip jobs in the hills above us. They come down into the neighborhoods looking for stray cats and other small animals to kill for food. I was really glad that they had not realized they were being scrutinized by a coyote! 

I am still astounded by how quickly I got service and assistance after my breakdown into tears and hysteria. Why couldn't I have gotten that kind of service long before things things reached such a state?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The turning of the leaves: Ohio buckeyes

The changing climate affects our forests in many ways. One particular effect that I've been following now for about 25 years, is the seasonal color change that affects most of the deciduous trees in our central Appalachian forest.  In particular I've been interested in the Ohio Buckeye, a tree that turns a brilliant pumpkin orange in fall - or at least it used to be autumn.

July 5, 2013
When I first moved to central Appalachia (living in Wise, VA), the Ohio Buckeye changed color at the beginning of the normal autumn season in late September or early October. Between 1989 and 2005 I observed the Ohio Buckeye beginning to show it's brilliant color earlier and earlier. The first time I wrote about this in a different blog in September of 2005, the first signs of color appeared in early August. I wrote about it again in 2013 noting that the Ohio Buckeye color change had shifted even earlier to the first week in July and included a photograph showing the beginnings of color change. 

June 14, 2018
This year first signs of color in the Ohio Buckeye appeared in mid-June, which I noted while attending a week-long watercolor class at Cowan Community Center.  

I have been unable to find anyone who knows why the Ohio Buckeye would be shifting to increasingly earlier displays of seasonal color. It is particularly puzzling since most of the other trees in the region are developing and holding color later in the autumn due to warmer temperatures. Last autumn (2017) we saw one of the latest peak-color dates ever recorded in the region, with the most brilliant color occurring here in late October into early November.

July 23, 2018
This week I caught a picture of at least one Ohio buckeye (at the left of the picture) in our neighborhood that was nearly in full color even though July is not yet over.  You can see two other Buckeye trees that have substantial color, but that none of the other trees in the forest are showing any sign of color - as one would expect in July. 

One day I really hope that I encounter a botanist or naturalist who can explain to me what is happening to the Ohio buckeye. 
Ohio Buckeye July 15, 2017, Whitesburg

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

mind of the universe

It came to me in the early morning hours as I lie there trying to decide whether to go back to sleep or to get up, that it was an enormous human conceit not to believe in god* or at least not to believe in the existence of a mind/an intelligence greater than our own encompassing the universe. Moreover, that it is a western human conceit to believe that foraging humans like the Mbuti (pygmies) are wrong when they believe in the Forest as a living entity with mind/consciousness to whom they give thanks and offer prayer. 

We rational, scientific, folks of industrial societies don’t actually know why we ourselves have a mind (as opposed to just a brain), so how can we discount the idea that other organized systems (bees, dolphins, forests, planets, universes) composed of organic and inorganic materials just as we are, could not also produce minds and thought. 

Since we aren’t particularly good at understanding other human beings, why should we expect to understand the working of the mind of the universe/god? 

*this is not to imply that any particular human conception of god is necessarily correct.
Color view of M31 (The Andromeda Galaxy), with M32 (a satellite galaxy) shown to the lower left. Credit and copyright: Terry Hancock.

Saturday, June 9, 2018


Retirement is not going the way I intended. I feel lost, often sad, and fighting through a fog much of the time.

I am not writing novels or poetry, not doing new research, not getting articles published, not blogging regularly,  not painting dozens of paintings, nor drawing every day (not even every month). I'm not even cleaning my house every week, not planting a big garden, not walking every day, not doing yoga regularly, and instead of losing weight I have gained 20 pounds. I'm not volunteering at a dozen worthy causes - or even one. I'm not even sitting and reading all the serious non-fiction books that I bought over the last 20 years with the idea that someday I'd find the time to get to them. But I've played lots of Candy Crush Jelly, spent lots of hours on Facebook, and watched a lot of hours of Netflix and Hulu. Sure I like doing those things, but they're not productive, not what I promised myself to do with retirement.

Every time I start to write about this I end up stopping before I get very far. It feels like whining, and I hate whining. And again, I almost stopped and tossed this post out too. I have so much to be grateful for, so many things that many of the people living here in my community, my county do not have, and I am indeed grateful for them. I practice gratitude every day for all my many blessings. But I still feel lost, and often very alone.

I do not regret retiring - the last several years of my job were so stressful and I was anxious all the time. The stress and the anxiety are gone, but they've left this huge open space in my life that I that struggle with daily. There are many days, maybe even most days when I don't want to get out of bed at all. I feel tired in the morning - even after being on nighttime oxygen for two months. I do get up every morning for one simple reason, no one else will remember to feed my outdoor kitty, Jake. John's good about feeding the dogs and the indoor cats, but he doesn't remember about Jake, and I know Jake depends on me. Some days other things help motivate me, but I feel sad that some days the only thing getting me out of bed is this one little orange and white cat that would go hungry without me.

I haven't spoken or written about this to anyone. As I write this, I have to keep stopping and browsing elsewhere on the internet because it is so difficult to think about, much less write about. Yet the fact that I am writing, despite having to walk away and do other things to deal with the intensity, says to me that I'm a little better at this moment than I was during the past winter.

Sometimes the obstacles to the life I think I should be living in retirement seem insurmountable. The days when I feel like I've done the most worthwhile things - when I've been physically active, taken care of my house and garden, done things out in the world where I'm with people, or am artistically creative, are also the days that I find myself in the most pain at the end of the day. This past ten days I did a number of things (either with my husband or alone) that make my heart sing - attending outdoor music events, going to the farmers market, being with and talking to people, planting a rose bush, caring for my tomato plants. But by the end of each of those active days, I could bearly walk, just picking up my feet for one more step, much less getting up and down the steps to my home was overwhelming. I fell into bed in exhaustion not even feeling up to my usual evening reading before sleep. It's like the words of Shannon McNally's song Banshee Moan: "well you're damned if you do/damned if you don't/trouble if you will/double if you won't/so you watch you say/watch what you do/" (we heard Shannon McNally on Thursday night in Whitesburg at the Levitt AMP concert). Now that really feels like whining. I know so many people who have so much more pain than I do, people who've actually had to have surgery on their backs, hips, and/or knees.

Then there's the problem of friends, or rather the lack of them. My yoga teacher suggested to me a month or so ago that I should get together a group of friends for a morning yoga class. Only I don't have any friends to ask to do a weekday morning yoga class with me.  I do have two best friends that I talk to often and can tell just about anything (except this, I haven't talked about all this with anyone) but one is in Nevada and the other is in Oregon.  I love them and they love me, but they aren't here, I can't ask them to join me in a yoga class as much as they might like to do so. We can't just go to a movie together or out for coffee - and with the time difference and their busy lives I can't even just pick up a phone and know they'll be there.  My husband is wonderful, there are lots of things we like to do together, and we talk all the time. But one person can't be your whole world - it's too hard on them - and my husband is sad and lonely too. There are many people here locally that I like and admire, most of whom I think like me too. But there's no one that I feel like I can call to do things with or just sit around and hang out.

When I was teaching I felt so busy all the time between work and home life that I didn't make any real effort to "make friends" the way I did when I was single. Almost everyone I know is so connected to this region, they all have families, their children and grandchildren, parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, and this fills up their lives as it should. There was a colleague who retired when I did that I think of as a friend, and we said we'd have lunch often and stay in touch.  I've tried three or four times in the first six months of retirement to get together for lunch, and every time she had things she had to do with her family, so I gave up.

Boy, this really feels like whining. I'm not saying "poor me, nobody likes me."  I'm saying that I didn't make much of an effort for the first 20 years I lived here to be an active friend to the people around me, and now that I have the time most of the people that I know have their own lives and families, and I'm clueless as to how to become more connected to others.  This is why I spend so much time on Facebook - at least that way I feel a little bit connected to other people and a little less isolated. But it's a catch 22 because time spent at the computer is not spent trying to be out in the world where people are.

So I go on struggling, feeling lost and sad. It feels a little like the identity crisis of my early twenties. I got started on this today because of reading something that someone I know shared on Facebook:
"Living in this skin is hard and painful, most of the time, because I never volunteered to take this on. The daily sacrifice of heart over mind, the forever ongoing task of explaining this and that, and why I don’t want to look like this and be like that but still here I am and if this is the body I’ve been given, I’m sure as hell gonna make it work."  ~Charlotte Eriksson
I'd never heard of Charlotte Eriksson before this morning, so of course, I googled her (disclaimer I didn't actually use "Google" but rather a search engine called Ecosia that plants trees for so many searches). I read some bits and pieces of Eriksson's work and thought - yes! But I also thought this is how young people feel who are just starting out, trying to find themselves. How can I be feeling all this at sixty-seven, I'm not supposed to be having an identity crisis at my age, yet here I am.

This is what linguist Deborah Tannen called "troubles talk" that thing that women (and many men too) do when they just want to let something out. I'm not looking for someone to give me solutions, I'm just finally getting it out there, talking about it for the first time, putting some light on the darker thoughts that have been going around my brain for the past year. Maybe to feel a little more connected.

I have ideas, know the things I should be doing. So I will go on trying to find a way.

Monday, May 21, 2018

My Past Year's Reading

Someone recently asked me about what I was reading now that I had more time as a retired person, and I could only think of the one book that I read in paper format during the daytime – Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But I read every night for anywhere from an hour to four hours from my Kindle, because I can’t hold a paper book for long without my hands going completely numb and becoming too painful to bear.  So I was curious and looked at my Amazon Kindle content list to see what I really had read in the last 12 months. I may have missed one or two. In addition to reading new books, I also have reread books for several reasons – such as wanting to reread a book read years ago before seeing a movie or TV version, or seeing an article about a previously read book that reminds me of something I liked about it, or just wanting to savor really good writing (like that of Patrick Rothfuss and Laurie King) again. The list has lots of mysteries and science fiction and some fantasy. At this particular moment in time I am rereading Greg Bear’s Moving Mars a science fiction book that has a lot to do with cutting-edge theoretical physics.

New reads (not in order of reading)

The Road, Cormac McCarthy
Traitor Born (Secondborn Series Book 2) Amy A. Bartol
Secondborn (Secondborn Series Book 1) Amy A. Bartol
Extinct (Extracted Trilogy Book 3) RR Haywood
Executed (Extracted Trilogy Book 2)  RR Haywood
Look for Me (D. D. Warren) Lisa Gardner
Take Out, Margaret Maron
Fugitive Colors (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 8) Margaret Maron
Past Imperfect (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 7) Margaret Maron
Corpus Christmas (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 6) Margaret Maron
Baby Doll Games (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 5) Margaret Maron
The Right Jack (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 4) Margaret Maron
Roar of the Storm (The Fracture Worlds Book 2) Adam Burch
Song of Edmon (The Fracture Worlds Book 1) Adam Burch
Only the Rain, Randall Silvis
The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories, Ursula Le Guin
Before We Were Yours: A Novel, Lisa Wingate
Duel to the Death (Ali Reynolds Book 13) J.A. Jance
Still Dead: A J.P. Beaumont Novella, J. A. Jance
Proof of Life: A J. P. Beaumont Novel (J. P. Beaumont Mysteries) J. A. Jance
Man Overboard: An Ali Reynolds Novel (Ali Reynolds Series Book 12) J.A. Jance
Glass Houses: A Novel (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel) Louise Penny
Y is for Yesterday (A Kinsey Millhone Novel) Sue Grafton
Excise (Dr. Schwartzman Series Book 2) Danielle Girard
Fast Falls the Night: A Bell Elkins Novel (Bell Elkins Novels) Julia Keller
Sh*t My President Says: The Illustrated Tweets of Donald J. Trump Shannon Wheeler
The Color of Fear (A Sharon McCone Mystery) Marcia Muller
All the Little Children, Jo Furniss
Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed: Appalachian Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice, Shannon Elizabeth Bell
Death in Blue Folders (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 3)  Margaret Maron
Death of a Butterfly (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 2)  Margaret Maron
One Coffee With (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 1) Margaret Maron          
The Sparrow: A Novel (The Sparrow series) Mary Doria Russell
The Star (The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke Book 3)  Arthur C. Clarke
The Perfect Girl: A Novel  Gilly Macmillan
Lockdown: A Novel of Suspense  Laurie R. King
What She Knew: A Novel  Gilly Macmillan
The Wiregrass: A Novel,  Pam Webber
Lost in Arcadia: A Novel,  Sean Gandert
The Fall: A Dark Victorian Crime Novel (Anna Kronberg Mysteries) Annelie Wendeberg
The Lion's Courtship: A Dark Victorian Crime Novel (Anna Kronberg Mysteries Book 1) Annelie Wendeberg
Silent Witnesses: A Dark Victorian Crime Novel (Anna Kronberg Mysteries) Annelie Wendeberg
The Devil's Grin: A Dark Victorian Crime Novel (Anna Kronberg Mysteries) Annelie Wendeberg
Into the Forest Jean Hegland
The Good Samaritan John Marrs
Collapse Annelie Wendeberg
Ice (The 1/2986 Series Book 3) Annelie Wendeberg
Fog (1/2986) Annelie Wendeberg
Cut (1/2986)  Annelie Wendeberg
Terminal Event, Robert Vaughan
A Tangled Mercy: A Novel Joy Jordan-Lake
Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky Book 3)  Veronica Rossi
Through the Ever Night (Under the Never Sky Book 2) Veronica Rossi
Cold Days (The Dresden Files, Book 14)  Jim Butcher
Ghost Story (The Dresden Files, Book 13) Jim Butcher
All the Lies We Tell (Quarry Book 1)  Megan Hart
The Last Chance Olive Ranch (China Bayles Mystery)  Susan Wittig Albert
The Last Chance Matinee: A Book Club Recommendation! (The Hudson Sisters Series 1) Mariah Stewart
The Mutual Admiration Society: A Novel, Lesley Kagen
Ocean of Storms, Christopher Mari

The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss
The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss
Three-Day Town (A Deborah Knott Mystery Book 17) Margaret Maron
A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet Book 1) Madeleine L'Engle
B is for Burglar: A Kinsey Millhone Mystery Sue Grafton
A is for Alibi: A Kinsey Millhone Mystery Sue Grafton (after Grafton died it seemed necessary to go through the series again)
Glory Season, David Brin
Keeping Watch, Laurie R. King
Moving Mars, Greg Bear
Lord Peter Views the Body: A Collection of Mysteries (The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries Book 4) Dorothy L. Sayers
Folly, Laurie R. King
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
The Sound of Broken Absolutes (Heaven's Vault Book 2), Peter Orullian
Trial of Intentions (Vault of Heaven Book 2), Peter Orullian
The Unremembered (Vault of Heaven Book 1) Peter Orullian

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Secret Language of Families

I was in college when Patty Hearst was kidnapped - she and I were about the same age. I vividly remember an opinion piece in a newspaper commenting on the fact that when she had a chance to communicate with her family Hearst had no secret family phrases to use to indicate she was okay or not okay. The writer seemed to think that this indicated an impoverished family life among the Hearsts. At the time I thought that the writer was being absurd - my family didn't have any private language, any unique and secret phrases with which to communicate to each other, and my family life was just fine.  

I realized many years later that I was wrong. My assessment that my family was "just fine" may have glossed over many issues, and my family did have its own secret language. First, my mother taught us to use many expressions and phrases from her rural Virginia childhood that were not known to the families around us. If we asked a question about something that she thought was none of our business, she told us it was a "larose". We would respond "What's a larose?" and my mother would reply "Laroses catch meddlers make fiddlers bite."   Also my brothers and I created extensive store of idiosyncratic phrases and terms we used among ourselves. 

One of the first things that I noticed about both of my husbands' families was the language quirks and unique phrases that they used. Often trivial things like everyone in Russell's family referring to the local grocery chain as the "Giant Beagle" rather than "Giant Eagle" that helped build a secret family language code that bolstered family cohesion, or John's family using phrases like "round by Rheinhart's" (Rheinhart's was a store in a remote area of Greene County, TN where John grew up) to indicate going out of one's way.  

In the nearly 25 years that John and I have been together as a couple, we have developed our own family language. Each of us has brought things from our own childhood - John understands the "larose" call and response pattern, and when I have to take a round about route I call it going "round by Rheinhart's".  We've also built a huge store of unique words and phrases out of our own experience as a couple. 

Some of these come from absurd things said or done by our students. John had student many years ago who persistently misspelled abdominal crunches as "churches", so we both now refer to that exercise activity as doing churches. My first year at Southeast, I had a student from Seco - a very small town I drove past every day on the way to work - who turned a class essay into a misogynist rant against the young ladies of his town who wore dresses that were so scanty as "might as well have not bothered to wear".  From that day forward, John and I refer to any dress that leaves a lot of bare skin as a "Seco dress". 

Early in our relationship John and I were talking about accents, and how neither of us grew up speaking a "standard" English dialect.  We were joked about whether anyone in real life grew up speaking like network newscasters speak, and I said: "yeah, some guys I know who grew up in Columbus, Ohio talk like that!"  From that moment on we started calling that bland newscaster accent "Columbian" in contrast to "English" which John swears is only spoken by folks in northeast Tennessee (where he's from) or neighboring southwest Virginia (where my dad is from). 

I don't know if this habit of coining unique words and phrases used only within the family is universal, but it is certainly quite common. 

June 19, 2018

I'm so excited.  I finally found several references to my mother's favorite phrase to deflect our inquiries as children: "larovers to catch medlers" and "layovers for meddlers"  are varients of what my mother would say.
 I'd never found anything before because I always included her full phrase which included "make fiddlers bite." But for once I thought, let's just look for the initial phrase and viola - many articles appeared! 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How my life has been enriched by "mansplaining"

These days one frequently finds complaints by women about "mansplaining" - especially those truly annoying experiences where a man with little knowledge explains (often inaccurately) something to a woman who is a verified, recognized authority and expert in that very subject.  This is especially likely to happen to women who are authorities and experts in fields viewed by the backward among us as "masculine" like technology, science, medicine, engineering, politics, and many others. Women are also understandably and reasonably annoyed when men start to lecture them about the nature of women, women's biology, psychology or life experiences, especially when the man's ideas are contradicted by women's lived experiences. So just to be clear, I'm not denying the reality of the problem of "mansplaining" as experienced by all too many women today.

However, an enormous amount of the knowledge and skill I have today comes from being a willing listener to many men, who over the years liked telling women about some interest or passion they had. Sometimes the things men told me were things I already knew, but if I hadn't sat through that part of the explanation I never would have gained the additional knowledge or skill that they had to impart that I did not already know.

It started with my father. Sometimes I would take one of my math homework problems to him, even though I already knew how to work the problem because after he had explained my assignment to me, he would go on and show me something from his college homework. As a result, I learned about powers, roots, and logs at an age when my peers had just learned long division. If I went to him with a question about geography he might start telling me things about air travel and aircraft and the airline industry.

In school, I quickly figured out that boys and later men liked to show off to girls, to explain things to them, and that this became even more important in college with men explaining things to women. I only took one science in college - general biology - but I learned a lot about chemistry and physics from getting young men to explain and show things to me. I also learned about wine, gourmet food, about classical music, folk music, foreign films, motorcycles, race car driving, ten-speed bicycles, sports cars, fencing, the printing industry, modern art, audio equipment, electronics, broadcasting, existential philosophy, psychology, British culture, and a hell of a lot of other things. Many of the things that I learned from all these men eager to explain things to women helped me get and advance in jobs after college.

I became a safer, more skilled, driver because one of my boyfriends in college had been a race car driver, and I was a willing listener and student. I can get into and out of tight parking spots that flummox other drivers. I still, to this day, can out drive most people on windy mountain roads because of those lessons.

I'm not saying that everything a man every explained to me held information of value. Nor am I saying that I did not also learn much from women. What I am saying is that my life and my career as a sociologist and college professor, has been richer and held greater depth, because of many things I learned from men - boyfriends, friends, friends fathers, acquaintances, strangers at parties and many other places - who wanted to explain something to me.