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What I Did on My Summer Vacation or Don’t Sit on the Sting Ray September 12, 2011

Posted by Dindy in Animals, humor, Personal.
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A former boss once introduced me at a staff meeting saying, “Dindy has a love/hate relationship with animals. She LOVES them, and they HATE her.” I can see why he might think that as within the previous six months I had been bitten by a brown recluse spider and had also missed several days of work after my cat gave me a severe concussion by dropping a book on my head. I also have a scar on my stomach from when a different cat tried to eviscerate me when I tried to give him a flea bath. In addition, my current dog has on various occasions broken my glasses, given me a black eye, busted my lip, broken my toe (more than once actually) and broken my collar bone. And after tripping over a previous dog, said dog then proceeded to joyously ride my body down a tall, steep hill as though it were a sled, resulting in several cracked ribs on my part  as well as my losing copious amounts of skin on my knees, hands, face and other exposed portions of my anatomy.

So I can see where some people might get the idea that animals don’t exactly consider me to be their best friend. I maintain, however, that despite my various mishaps at the paws or mouths of various animals, their actions against me are not personal. Take, for instance, my experience with a sting ray in Jamaica. Yes, my husband and I finally celebrated our 25th anniversary with a week’s vacation in Costa Rica– almost. We were only six years late and 734 miles off, somehow managing to end up in Montego Bay, Jamaica instead. However, they say good things are worth waiting for, and this trip certainly was as it will probably be  25 years before we get another one.

From the moment we deplaned in Montego Bay, we were impressed by the beauty of Jamaica. Well, actually, we weren’t really impressed until we got out of the airport because it wasn’t particularly pretty inside the terminal. In fact, it was rather hot, muggy and uncomfortable. However, once we got onto the shuttle to our hotel, we realized we were in paradise. We realized it because our driver told us so. “Jamaica is a paradise,” he said. “Our beaches are better than those in the US because we don’t have anything here that can hurt you. No sharks, no jellyfish, no sting rays.”

During the course of our week, he was not the only one who would tell us that. Several tour guides said the same thing– “No sharks, no jellyfish, no sting rays.”

And they were right about Jamaica being paradise. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen: a lush, tropical garden of fruit trees, ferns and palms, set in the midst of a sapphire sea. Our hotel was on the beach, and on our first day I waded out for a quick swim. The still water felt nice, peaceful and quiet. In fact, it was rather boring because there was no surf. I realized that this was due to a coral island about 40 yards from the beach that served as a barrier to the ocean waves. We could hear the surf but not experience it.

Well, that was okay. There were plenty of other things to do. We went tubing down one of the rivers and took a jeep safari and walked up to a nearby shopping center to stimulate the Jamaica economy. We swam in the pool, splashed in a mountain spring and sat under a waterfall. At night we sat out on the beach and looked at the night sky and listened to the distant surf while we chatted idly about nothing in particular. We noticed that there were Jamaicans on the little coral island, fishing in the surf, and as the days passed, I decided that I really wanted to go out to this little island.

Before I booked our hotel rooms, I read an online review from some travelers who said they had swam out to the little island one day. If they could do it, I decided, we could too, so on our last day my husband and I pulled on our swimsuits and water shoes, pointed ourselves at the island and took the plunge. It was a lovely day for a swim; the water was nice and warm and the pelicans circled idly over our heads and occasionally plunged into the water nearby to grab a snack. Bill and I alternated between the side stroke and a modified breast stroke, not in any real hurry, but just enjoying the water and the experience.

Then we felt something at our feet. It wasn’t fish, we realized quickly, but kelp. The water grew decidedly more and more shallow until we were no longer able to swim but were forced to wade through the kelp. Ewwwwwww! It felt pretty gross, actually, but we figured it was only about 20 more yards to the island so we squunched forward.

Then we hit something worse than kelp– silt. The last 10-15 yards to the island consisted of a thick layer of silt. Deep, oozy, sucky, squunchy, slimy, quicksand-y silt.We’d take a step and our foot would go down, down, down into the mud, mud, mud until we were sunk almost to our knees. We’d pull our foot out- pop! — and then have to bend down and find our water shoe, pull it out of the silt and put it back on our foot. Behind us were 5, 10, 15 yards of silt and then kelp. In front of us was more silt and then island. We discussed turning back but bravely decided we had come so far, we might as well go all the way, so on we went. Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Put shoe on foot. Over and over and over again.

“This is great!” we said to each other repeatedly.

“An adventure!”

“And we’re really getting our aerobic exercise too!”

Finally we made it to the island. I admit, by that time I wanted nothing more than to fling myself down on the beach and sleep for about ten years, exhausted by my trudge through the silt. However, the surface of the island was not conducive to such activities as it consisted of rocks- large rocks. We couldn’t even sit on the rocks as they all had sharp, spiky, pointed surfaces that promised severe pain to anyone who attempted to perch on one of them. So instead we explored the island. We took 5 steps and were on the other side. There right in front of us, the waves crashed into the rocks, rolling in from the ocean deep. I watched happily for several minutes. Ahhh! This is what I had come to Jamaica for! Now my vacation was complete– crashing waves, the mist from the ocean spattering against my face, the fresh smell of the ocean breeze.

Finally Bill convinced me that it was time to go back. We stepped back to the other side and looked out at the deceptively tranquil surface that lay between the island and the shore. We were about to take the plunge again– 20 yards of hard slogging before we could get out of the silt and kelp and swim unimpeded to the hotel beach.

Bill set out first– seeing as how he is almost a foot taller than me, he didn’t sink quite as deep as I did. While the silt pulled him in up to his ankles, it would grab me and suck me in up to my knees. Consequently he was able to keep his shoes on most of the time and was able to move faster than me. We were both focused only on one thing- getting out of the silt and kelp, so he moved rapidly ahead. He claims that he was unaware of how far behind I was, but it really wouldn’t have made any difference if he had. There was no way he could have prevented what happened.

So there we were again. Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Pull shoe out of mud. Put shoe on foot. Except it was becoming more and more difficult for me to put my shoe back on because I had to lift one leg out of the water while the other leg was busily sinking into the silt, and because I was tired, I was having a harder time keeping my balance. So I added a new element to the routine. I started falling on my butt.

So the new gait went like this: Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Pull shoe out of mud. Fall on butt. Put shoe on foot. Slow? Yes. Cumbersome? Yes. Effective? Actually, yes. Until the sting ray took offense.

I swear, I didn’t know it was there. How could I when all the guides had assured me that Jamaica was a paradise with no dangerous animals? No sharks. No jellyfish. No sting rays. And technically speaking, I guess the sting ray was not actually on Jamaica, it was in the silt surrounding an island off the shore of Jamaica. But whatever,  technically or non-technically, there it was, buried in the silt. The same silt through which I was slowly and tediously slogging with my version of the Jamaican two step. And since I didn’t know it was there, I wasn’t able to avoid it, and consequently I added a new step to my little routine.

Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Pull shoe out of mud. Fall on butt. Sit on sting ray. Feel excruciating, taser-like pain shoot through my entire leg.

Mercifully, my entire leg and the right side of my butt quickly went numb, so I was unable to feel the venom surging through my veins. I decided that wearing my swim shoes for the protection of my feet was kind of a moot point by then so I took them off, and carried them as I rather more quickly slogged out beyond the kelp and silt to where I could swim to shore– albeit rather awkwardly since my right leg was completely useless. I kept telling Bill that I needed him to look at my butt because something had stung me, and while Bill is normally more than happy to look at my butt, for some reason he was reluctant to do so this time. I’m sure that this had nothing to do with the fact that we were about 20 yards off shore in water that was over both of our heads.

Once in our room, a hotel manager came up to render first aid, but when he realized where on my body I had been stung, he refused to look at my sting and started directing all his questions about the injury to Bill instead of to me. He called a taxi to take us to a local urgent care clinic where we received a fascinating tour of the Jamaican medical system. I’ll spare you the gory details of the ammonium bath to which I was subjected, as well as the absolutely delightful experience of getting on an airplane the next day and spending 8 hours trying to avoid sitting on the right side of my butt during the long flight home.

And yes, I am well aware that Steve Irwin died from  being stung by a sting ray. If I hadn’t known before, I certainly would now because every single person who has heard about what happened to me has mentioned it. I’ve also heard every variation of, “It will turn out right in the end,” that you can think of.

But back to the point of my story– the sting ray didn’t sting me because it hated me. It didn’t even know me. It stung me because there it was, minding its own business, taking a snooze in the ooze when I came along and sat on it. And I’m sure if I look back at all my previous mishaps with animals, the animals will all have perfectly reasonable explanations for why they have tried to kill me in various ways.

All except the concussion. That cat was just plain mean, and he hated everybody. Including me.

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The Ramblings of a Grumpy Grandpa September 1, 2011

Posted by Bill in Family Values, humor, Parenting, Personal, Uncategorized.
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This country is in serious trouble because there is a problem that, as far as I can tell, is NOT being addressed.   Of course, given our current situation in Washington D. C.  (the septic tank overfloweth) it’s a problem that is going to have to be solved by you and me – the people both common (you) and uncommon (me). 

And the problem is:

Mail Carriers.

Fed Ex, UPS, and USPS – all of them.  Each and every one. 

 Today I was babysitting my grandson while my daughter went to work.  Brent  (my grandson, although I do occasionally allow my wife to claim partial ownership) woke up too early and as a result was in a very grouchy, fussy, unhappy mood.  And he likes to share. 

Finally though I had him down for his first nap (he is 9 months old in case you’re wondering).  Just 5 minutes after getting him down my daughter comes home from her work.  Fortunately he slept through her coming home. 

My daughter had a client to see in three hours and since she was tired from a lack of sleep (she’s a partying type of gal and although she claims it’s the result of developing lesson planes and Brent’s midnight feedings and such she don’t fool me none).

Well since Brent was asleep in his crib in his room and my daughter was asleep in her bed in her bedroom and since I was also a bit tuckered out from the constant studying needed to maintain my A average in college I decided to lay down on the couch and get a bit of a nap myself. 

For 23 minutes that plan worked like a charm.  And then the doorbell rang.

Actually, it didn’t just ring.  It gonged.  My daughter and her husband have  the loudest doorbell I have ever been woke up by.  I will say though that it did get results.

I jumped off the couch before my eyes were even open.  My daughter comes charging out of the bedroom.  And their dog, Amelia, started barking up a storm, even louder than their doorbell and a whole lot more insistent. 

All three of us rush the door to keep whoever had rung the doorbell from ringing the dag-nabbed thing again.  And despite being atheists we were all praying that the noise had not woken Brent up.  Well, two of us were.  I think Amelia didn’t care – she was just having a good old doggy time having an excuse to bark. 

Anyway, my daughter reached the door second (Amelia was first).  She pushes Amelia aside and flings open the door to accost, browbeat, kick, hit, spit on, slap, yell at and in general make whoever was on the other side of the door miserable and forever regretful for daring to ring  her doorbell.  Opening the door she (and myself) discovered that the craven coward had fled and that no one was there. 

However there was a package.

Now, it don’t really matter which carrier delivered it cause they all do the same thing.  Put it on the porch, ring the doorbell, and then high tail it out of there. 

Let me just ask this one itty bitty question – WHY????!!!!!

I mean, if you’re not going to wait for the person to get to the door and hand it off to them then WHY ring the bell?  Do you ring the bell when you put mail in our mailbox?   Heck No!

Just leave the blasted package on the porch.  We’ll see it at some point when going in and out and without all the grief and suffering caused by ringing the doorbell and running.  I can’t begin to count the times when I have run out the bathroom pulling up my pants and trying to get the belt buckled and zipper done before I reach the door(that’s hard to do without falling down).   Only to find a package instead of a person.   Then I have to go back to the bathroom and start up where I left off.  At my age that can be kinda hard to do sometimes. 

I swear that the head of each of these three outfits must have been one of those annoying kids who think it funny to go up to a house, ring the doorbell, and then run away.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that they have all gotten together and set a date when every house in the United States of America – or heck, the world for all I know – receive a package on the same day so that all of their mail carriers can drop it off on the porches of hundreds of millions of homes, ring the doorbell, and run away.  They must be rolling around laughing inside their penthouse office suites, thinking about this doggummed, obnoxious, juvenile prank being done on a world wide scale – their fantasies writ large. 

Anyway, my daughter brought the package in.  As she did there came from the back of the house the sound we both dreaded most – Brent’s wailing.  Actually I dreaded it more than my daughter cause since I was the babysitter I was the one who got to stay up with him while she went to finish off her nap. 

Crabby and grouchy Brent from the morning was gone now.  Now I was dealing with the Very Grouchy, Upset, I Don’t Like Anything Not Even Grandpa Brent. 

Not fun.

So – since our politicians for sure aren’t going to deal with this issue I’m taking matters into my own hands.  I’m creating a sign to put over the doorbell which reads:

DO NOT RING THIS

DOORBELL

Quietly put the package on the porch, back up softly and quietly and then just plain go AWAY!

Just in case that don’t work I’m learning how to shoot a gun.  Once I get that down I’ll get me one.  And a silencer.

Dagburned mail carriers.

Postscript – Just now noticed that although I named my grandson and the dog I didn’t name my daughter.  Well, actually I did name my daughter and now that I think about it my daughter and her husband named Brent and Amelia.  What I meant though is that in this blog I provided the names of the dog and grandson but not my daughter.  But that’s OK, cause as long as you get the big stuff right the little, unimportant details can slide right on by.   Right Fritha?

Why I Don’t Say the Pledge July 3, 2011

Posted by frrobins in activism, atheism, Christianity, Church and State, critical thinking, Current Events, Memories, Personal, Pledge, Politics, Religion.
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I don’t say The Pledge of Allegiance. I haven’t since I was in junior high school. One day I’m hoping I will get the guts to not stand during it. Why? Because I find saying the Pledge rather anti-patriotic. I feel that to be an active participant in a democracy you have to think critically and keep yourself informed on issues. Patriotism is not a passive process for me but an active one. Saying someone someone else wrote does not employ critical thinking nor does it illuminate one on important issues facing our country. In fact, I think it discourages critical thinking by inducing everyone to say the same words without thinking about what they are saying.

And since most of us started saying the Pledge in elementary school, this just reinforces the idea to me that it is a rote habit rather than something we are thinking about.

I was probably five or six when my parents explained to me that while they would say the Pledge, they would be silent during the “under God” part. We are atheists and don’t believe in God, and feel that saying “under God” violates our conscience. So for awhile I would say the Pledge and stay quiet during “under God.” Until the third grade when other kids found out I was an atheist and teased me for it. Until then it never occurred to me that I would be teased for not believing in one less god than everyone else, and it never occurred to me that my religious convictions were something to be hidden. Yet when I started a new school having people find out I was an atheist was something that terrified me.

So then I was caught in a trap. I know a lot of people would say that I should have just said “under God” and shut up about it. Yet I have always been driven by the need to live my life truthfully. Even as people around me rejected me, I could never stop being who I was without causing myself extreme mental anguish. So on the one hand I was terrified that if I didn’t say “under God” people at my new school would notice and ask why, yet if I said it I felt that I was being dishonest. It was a horrendous dilemma for an elementary school student to find herself in.

Sometimes I’d say “under God” other times I wouldn’t. One time I even noticed another kid nervously refrain from saying “under God”. I remember wanting to ask him so badly if he believed the same way I did but was too scared to.

Then one day, I’m not sure when, I just stopped saying it. Some days I would, others I wouldn’t. I would always stand so as not to draw too much attention to myself, yet I was quiet the whole time. By the time I finished junior high it was a habit. By the time I was in high school, I’d even stopped putting my hand over my heart.

I’ll make no bones that it started out as a way out of my dilemma and that it is now, as an adult, that I rationally justify my actions. And the reason is that no one should be compelled to say something they don’t believe in. This is America, after all, where we have the freedom to worship one God, or one Goddess, or many Gods and Goddesses, or none at all. This is America where we have freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to not be compelled to spout views you don’t agree with. Yet every morning we compel children to recite words as if they are automatons.

And it’s not just atheists who have moral dilemmas concerning the Pledge. Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christian groups experience a conflict because their beliefs prevent them from pledging allegiance to anyone other than God.

My questions to people who support forcing others to say the Pledge is, how is democracy served by forcing people to say a pre-written pledge? What do schoolchildren learn about being active participants in a democracy by saying the Pledge? How are we teaching kids to think critically when we are forcing them to spout words unthinkingly from their mouths? How does saying the Pledge foster patriotism? What is gained by forcing people to say things they don’t agree with? Seems to me like it’s just a good way to incite them to rebel.

And to those who say you can just say quiet while everyone else says it, I will point to my above experiences. Staying quiet while everyone else says the Pledge is a good way to paint a target on yourself in school. Kids should not be put in the position between following their conscience and fear of being bullied for being different. Period.

If you want to say the Pledge every morning, go ahead. I won’t stop you. If you want your kids to say it, then say it with them in the morning before they leave for school. Yet everyone else should not be forced to say the Pledge if they are not amenable, and I for one am not.

The Times Have Changed – A Belated Thanks May 30, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Family Values, Personal, Uncategorized.
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I am rather behind the times in writing this.  But then that is hardly surprising.  Normal day to day living can put a person behind on so many things – from the mundane such as yard work and learning Spanish to the more important such as telling loved ones that they are loved. 

This falling behind the times is even more pronounced when the times themselves are changing drastically.  Even if those changes are good and wonderful as well as scary and concerning. 

This is my attempt to catch up on one of the more important items that I am behind on – about six months behind in fact. 

I was updating my profile today to reflect some changes that occurred over seven months ago.  A mundane update.  However in starting this I realized that I really needed to do something more.   This change demanded something be done more important than just updating my profile.   

This is the something more.

In my blog profile I mentioned working as Operations Manager at a production facility.  I also made it clear that while it brought in some good money it was not one of my passions.   It was, however, OK and I didn’t hate it.  I did well, receiving good evaluations, promotions, nice raises, and had the respect of my people and peers. 

Things changed though a few years ago when our then Plant Manager left to take a new position with another company.  I was made interim Plant Manager and asked if I wanted to be among those considered for the position.  Given my lack of passion for it, the fact that I already was working more hours than I really cared for, and the fact that I did not wish to travel as much as the position would require – I declined and thanked them for seriously considering me.

After about four months of being interim Plant Manager they hired someone to take the position permanently.  Two months later I was beginning to regret my decision not to go for it.  As were many at the plant. 

I will not go into the details here other than to say that the man had good and innovative ideas, was very knowledgeable about the budgetary details and processes so important for Plant Managers, had extensive experience in setting up data bases that were useful in tracking the Plant’s process.  However his people skills and management style were abysmal.  He made the workplace very difficult to work for and, for me, turned what was a tolerable situation into one that was a nightmare.

He tended to accuse first and if you successfully defended yourself there was no apology.  He came across as abrasive, so much so that I had two or my people within the space of a month burst into tears under his questioning – and he wasn’t even in full chew out mode.  He either did not know or did not care to compliment people on what was done right, only chew on them.   He also was a poor communicator on his expectations and although he made the right noises about being willing to help if asked, his help was not really helpful.   

However, despite these flaws, he did make sure that the Plant was profitable and turned out a quality product.  As long as he did that no one at our corporate office was going to do anything about the manner in which he accomplished this. 

Given our financial situation at the time I did not feel that I could just quit without having another job with comparable pay in the hand.  And it needed to be in the area since Dindy had a nice job making the same amount of money I was.   I was looking but not having much luck in finding anything. 

So often the word “change” is a scary word.  Something to be avoided if at all possible.  Many, if not most, people usually use the word change in reference to bad things happening – such as my new Plant Manager.  However something happened then that proved that change can also be a good thing.

My wife changed jobs. 

Dindy had been looking for a few years for a different position in her chosen career.  Given what we were both making she could afford to be patient and she did like both her work and her employer.  Her patient looking paid off.  She found her dream job. 

It was in her career field, it was a promotion, the work atmosphere was great, the job more challenging and responsible – in short it was the best job she could imagine.  And what was even better, in terms of my situation, she was going to get a substantial raise.  One that would allow us to again start taking vacations to spots further away than the Texas coast or the Oklahoma parks.  One that would allow us to make some needed repairs on the house and even to improve it.  One that would allow us to build up our very low savings account.  One that would allow us to make investments and really start saving and preparing for a possible early retirement. 

Substantial enough where I no longer had to worry about getting a position that matched my current salary.   That was wonderful enough for me in and of itself. 

However the changes were not finished yet. 

In the middle of October 2010 I had taken two days off for a four day weekend.  I did so because I was about to lose a key person for maternity leave and I would have to help fill in and do a substantial amount of her work since we had no substitute who could do all of her functions.  Given that I wanted a few days off before starting on 70 hour weeks. 

I received a call from my work on my first day off, Thursday.  They told me that I needed to come in Friday because my worker was going to be starting maternity leave then instead of the scheduled Monday.  I knew that this might happen, so while disappointed was not surprised.  What did surprise me was the fact that my Plant Manager told me this came about because of my bad management decisions and then also questioned my ethics, implying that I had been hiding some information.   I was not given specifics on the phone.

After hanging up I spent a few moments ranting and raving to myself.   And cussing my Plant Manager.  After calming down a bit I decided that I needed to go talk to him and find out what management “mistakes” I had made and what information had I hidden.  First though I talked to Dindy.  Well, actually I ranted for a bit more.

I had made mistakes before – who hasn’t.  Although in this particular case I could not see that I did make any mistakes.  But I had never – never – never – had my integrity questioned by any Plant Manager (and I had been under three others before the current one) nor at any of my other jobs.  

After I had started to calm down enough where I felt I could go talk calmly with my Plant Manager Dindy then surprised me.  She told me to quit. 

She told me to quit even though I had no job lined up or even one on the horizon.

She told me to quit even though we had not had a good vacation in years.

She told me to quit even though we had not built up our savings or even started on our investments for retirement.

She told me to quit even though we had not done any of the repairs or improvements on the house. 

I was dumbfounded.  Delighted.  And scared.  We talked for quite a while about this.  She told me that she wanted me to enjoy myself again.   She told me that I had been difficult to live with – moody, short tempered, and not laughing as much as I used to – ever since this new Plant Manager had come on board.  She told me she was greatly concerned about my health and happiness.  She told me that my happiness and our happiness together mattered more than the money. 

She told me that she wanted me to look and pick a new career that I would enjoy and not worry about the money. 

After a great deal of assurances from her that she meant this I hung up and went to talk with my Plant Manager.  I did not go intending to quit.  I did go though to find out what he thought I had done wrong and why he was questioning my integrity.  And if I did not agree with the answers, then I would quit.  If we could work it out, then I would stay.

Needless to say I did not agree with his answers.  And so, when he told me I had to make a decision in regards to continuing to carry on the conversation we were having and making things more difficult for me or to just shut up and just deal with it I made a decision that he did not expect.  I quit my job of 15 years on the spot. 

Now I have decided, for various reasons, to take up a new career in medical technology – specifically radiology.  Although it will pay about half of what I used to earn once I attain my degree (in a couple of years) it will be enough.  And it will provide me much more satisfying career than the one I had.    

I have completed my first semester at TCC (all A’s – hoozah!) and as I write this am getting ready to start my first summer semester. 

Dindy’s salary is large enough to keep us going, along with whatever I bring in from a part time job.  Our house still needs repair.  I have a car with about 120,000 miles on it.  We will not be taking any long, exotic vacations.  We will not be retiring early (although we will not have to work beyond attaining our social security either). 

I am though much more relaxed and happier now.  Dindy and my daughters find me to be more fun to be with than I was before.  My life is not centered around my work and how to deal with the problems therein – problems made worse by having the most difficult boss I have ever had in 40 years of working. 

Both Dindy and I account this trade off a total win for ourselves. 

It is interesting that we are told that we live in a materialistic society.  To a great extent that is true.  Further, one of the charges that is often leveled against atheists by believers is that we are materialists and value only the material things of the world. 

This is further evidence, if more is needed, that many theists really do not understand atheism at all.  Humans are humans whether atheist, theist, or pantheist.  We share the same needs and desires, many of the most important of which – personal connections and satisfaction – go far beyond just the material.

Dindy’s support for me is just one example of this truth.  And one that I am and will be forever grateful for.

Thank you Beautiful. 

 

The Choices We Make: Mother’s Day and College May 6, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Memories, Parenting, Personal.
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Today someone on Facebook posted about how she was ticked off about Mother’s Day and wanted childless college grads to get a day. The conversation on her comment progressed and several people criticized mothers for not being responsible and getting college degrees and merely popping out kids.

Ummmm…I’m a mother AND I have a Masters degree. I got my college education out of the way before I became a mother. For the record, the person complaining has a bachelors.

I was bothered by this for several reasons. For one it seems like some stupid extension of the working mom vs stay-at-home mom debate. This time it’s women who have kids vs women who don’t. Really folks? Really?

I have always been very outspoken in my belief that a woman can have a very fulfilling life without having a husband and without having children. I know plenty of women who have chosen this path and who are very satisfied with their lives. I would never criticize them for not having children.

So why should I get criticized for having one?

The other side of this is that it pits people with college degrees against those who don’t have them. When I was a recent college grad and was just starting out in the career world, I was very proud of my degree and disillusioned by how little it meant in the real world when you didn’t have the work experience to go with it. In my first interview out of college I was asked if I ever had to meet a deadline at work. Considering my past work had been retail experience and I didn’t have actual work experience with deadlines, I found as close of a situation to it as I could. I said that when I was in college I often had project deadlines and that if I didn’t meet them I wouldn’t pass. One of the women interviewing me was very satisfied with my response. The other snarkily said, “But no REAL work experience.”

I was a bit taken aback by the tone of her voice. And so was the other woman interviewing me. It was my first experience with the college degree vs non degree divide. Frankly, a lot of people without college degrees are very defense about it. And after working with some people who do have degrees and who lord it over those who don’t, I can see why.

The thing is, it isn’t helpful.

I worked hard in college. It was not easy. I have a learning disability and had to work hard for every grade I made. Getting a degree is an accomplishment of mine that should be recognized and lauded.

Just as the person who has worked hard at a job should be lauded. Just because s/he wasn’t working hard getting a degree doesn’t mean s/he wasn’t working hard doing something else.

I chose to wait to have children until I had all of the education I felt I needed under my belt. Other women would rather have children younger and get their education later. And others find themselves with an unexpected pregnancy and make the choice to keep the baby.

I’m not going to criticize any woman over the timing she chooses to have kids, not even the ones with unexpected pregnancies. I was fortunate enough to have the knowledge and resources to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. I also went through my twenties during the backlash against the idea that parenting would be the most fulfilling and wonderful experience in a persons’ life, so I went into motherhood knowing it would be hard, back breaking work. I have adjusted to life as a mother rather smoothly and I thank my lucky stars that I could do it when I was ready.

I cannot imagine being thrown into this unprepared. And a lot of women are.

I see so many people criticize them for getting pregnant when they’re not ready. Yet I don’t see people recognizing them for doing their best to take care of their children. Nope, they’re not perfect. But then I’m not the perfect parent either. Like most people, these women are doing the best with the choices they made.

Some people choose to go to college. Others don’t. Some people choose to have kids. Others don’t. Most people work hard and try to do the right thing. With the exception of able bodied people who never move out of their parents’ house and get a job and those who abuse their kids, most people do the best they have with their lot in life.

I know a lot of people would criticize me for saying we should recognize and appreciate people for doing the right thing. We have this belief in our society that we should just do the right thing because it is right and therefore no accolades should be given. As a behavioral counselor, let me say something is very wrong with this view. People do need support and praise for doing the right thing, because doing it is so hard. And people like to feel appreciated. That’s nothing to be criticized for. It’s a basic human need.

I worked my butt off as a college student. And I got a day to celebrate my achievement. It was called Graduation Day. The thing about college is that once it is over, it’s over. I don’t see the need every year to have a day to celebrate the fact that I got a degree.

I’m working my butt off raising my son. I’m not going to say that it is harder than being a student, nor that it is easier. They simply don’t compare. Needless to say, I’m not just sitting on my ass everyday while young women everywhere else study hard to earn their degrees. I have pretty much broken my back raising this kid (well, almost. I pulled a muscle in my shoulder and strained my lower back by carrying him and rocking him so much). I was a college student once, and now I’m not. I’m a mother now and I will never stop being his mother.

My college graduation day was a fairly big affair with a ceremony and a party. A once in a lifetime celebration that marked the closing of a chapter in my life. Mother’s Day will be much more simple. Some gestures of appreciation for something that will be ongoing in my life. I don’t see the harm in having it every year.

And to those who would criticize my choices, may be you should get comfortable with the ones you made in life and not focus so much on mine.

Smarter Activism March 18, 2011

Posted by frrobins in activism, communication, critical thinking, Current Events, iraq, Memories, Personal, Politics, Schools.
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It might seem ironic that I went through a crisis of faith as a college student. That’s the best way my husband and I could describe it. I went through this even though I was and am an atheist. Born and raised. Yet while some atheists run away in fear from the word ‘faith’ there are things I did and still do have faith in. For me this came from my Humanistic philosophy. I believe that people are mostly good and will do the right thing. And this was where the crisis in faith came in.

The invasion of Iraq and subsequent re-election of Bush were what caused it. I knew that we had no valid reason for invading Iraq. I felt it was morally wrong. And I could not believe so many people supported it. I protested, wrote letters, pestered my acquaintances with anti-war rhetoric. I did the stuff that reformers before me did that lead to progress. No one ever told me that those reformers experienced more failures than successes in their life. While Susan B. Anthony secured some property rights for women, she fell way short of her big goal of earning the right to vote. And the setback were numerous.

It was bad enough that Iraq was invaded. It was worst that Bush was actually re-elected. I wore my CD player out with Green Day’s American Idiot and went through a period of several years where I gave up on activism all together. People were idiots and it was useless trying to reason with them. It was a small comfort that shortly after his re-election people woke up to their mistake, and that long term Iraq has been considered a fiasco. It doesn’t change the fact that many have died unnecessarily and that things are worse now.

Eventually I got back into activism, though not the way I did before. I hope I’m doing it smarter. How? Well, trying to figure out how to repackage my message.

This is hard. Studies have shown that when people are entrenched in a position, reading evidence against their position only strengthens their previously held beliefs. Then there is the confirmation bias, where people seek out information that confirms their beliefs. Making it unlikely they’d even read what I have to say anyway.

So, how to reach across the aisle and convince people of the validity of my viewpoint? This isn’t an “I’m smart and right, you’re an idiot and wrong’ thing. For instance, I really don’t care about your religious beliefs, so long as you don’t try to impose those beliefs on me. What I’m talking about is stuff that does affect me. Such as global warming. The evidence supports that it is occurring and we need to do something about it. This affects me. How do I make people see the reality of the threat here and, more importantly, get them to see the importance of eco-friendly planning? Fear mongering works. People are irrational creatures. Rather than think rationally we think with our emotions. Even the most logical person will think irrationally in the throes of fear and anger. Hence, how we found ourselves in Iraq.

I don’t like fear mongering. I respect its power and I don’t like it. I don’t want to scare people into making decisions…it tends to lead them into making the wrong ones. I want people to look at the evidence rationally and make informed decisions.

So people don’t make decisions about important things rationally. I’m against using irrational means to spread information even if it benefits my cause. How do I get around this? I know! Teach kids critical thinking skills while they’re young!

Consider that a lot of people don’t know how to make informed decisions because they were never taught how. I’m going to use Shirley Sherrod as an example. An edited video came out showing that Sherrod, a black woman, discriminated against a white farmer. Or did it? When the full video was seen, it was obvious that Sherrod had done no such thing. By that time it was too late. Her reputation was damaged and she had lost her job.

What if, rather than judging Sherrod by a few video clips, people had watched the full tape from the beginning? It is ridiculously easy to manipulate sound bites or take written words out of context. What if people looked up the original source of a quote/video/sound bites, etc?

All of this can be taught. It’s not difficult to learn. Kids can learn it in history class. What if, instead of memorizing dates of events they will forget during summer break, we teach kids skills that historians use to determine what happened in the past? What if we explain the difference between a primary and secondary source and have kids find examples of each. What if we show how information can be corrupted, either intentionally or unintentionally?

Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.” In Antonia Frasier’s biography of this infamous queen, she details how this quote had been attributed to many an unpopular queen through history, and how with Marie Antoinette it stuck. This misinformation pervades our past, present, and will be out there in our future. How do we inoculate our kids against it?

What if we showed how words and information can be manipulated by governments and other groups of people and taught children how to check their facts, think critically, and question what they see and read?

Of course, this would require a major overhaul of how we see education in America. It would require letting go of our standardized testing fetish and introducing a more difficult curriculum into the classroom. It would mean teaching kids that may be our government wasn’t always all good. And I live in a state that wants to use history class as a propaganda machine for saying that the reason the south succeeded was a state’s rights issue that had nothing to do with slavery *sighs*.

So how to reform the schools to teach critical thinking? How to convince people that this is needed? Especially when giving out harmful standardized tests is a big money maker for some people and the current broken system benefits some politicians? I can already hear cries of liberals wanting to brain wash children into godlessness, when in reality I could care less about their religious beliefs and just want people to think critically about issues that affect us all (we’re not on this rock alone). Heck, critical thinking is the opposite of brainwashing. I use it even with sources I trust or things I want to believe.

For instance, Jon Stewart once made the comment that Sarah Palin made rape victims pay for their rape kits. Alarmed, I went the check and found that while her chief of police did this, whether or not Palin supported it is undetermined. Now, I dislike Palin. I think she is harmful to the women’s movement and like to collect ammunition against her. But if I start passing around misinformation, then I look like a fool.

So, to get people to think critically about issues we need to teach these skills in school, which means reforming an educational system that favors rote teaching and blind acceptance, which means convincing people that changing it to teach critical thinking is a worthy goal without using fear mongering. Whew! So ladies and gents, how do I pull that off? Well, if you have any ideas I’d love to hear them. Because I haven’t figured it out yet.

Birthday Bash! February 22, 2011

Posted by frrobins in birthday parties, Memories, Parenting, Personal.
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I’m wondering when I’ll get to the point that I wish my son were younger rather than older. Right now I can’t wait till we get to the birthday parties. Above all I am planning for a fun time. There’s a park by my house that you can host a party at for free. There are four playgrounds, one of which is a water one and a covered pavilion for picnics. Though his birthday is in November and it will be too cold for the waterpark, November in Texas means it will probably still be warm enough for the slides and swings and picnic. I’d make a cake! Or may be my mom will make it because I’m not that great of a cook. For his first birthday, it would be family mostly. May be a few friends.

I guess I don’t dream big enough. I just learned that parents are spending thousands, like $50,000, for their precious darling’s first birthday! Or $30,000 for their little princess’ 6th one! Man, am I a cheapskate!

The thing I have to wonder when I see an article like this is how many people out there are actually holding extravagant birthday parties for their kids? Are there any solid numbers? Surely in a recession plenty of parents are scaling back. How many are holding extravagant parties vs how many are holding simple ones? What’s the average amount of money spent on a child’s birthday, and then what’s the mode (refresher in statistics, extreme numbers on either side of the scale can distort the average. That’s why it’s good to ask for the mode, which is the number that appears the most often, which in some cases gives you a better picture of what is really happening)?

I’m sure that throughout time there have always been parents who have thrown extravagant and expensive birthday parties. Is the number truly increasing? It’s hard to say. But it sure makes the news!

I’m not exactly the most social person around, so may be it’s not surprise that I’ve not been to an over-the-top party. And I’m glad, even if those parties did look like fun.

Because, amazingly, the birthday parties I had growing up were fun. And most of them involved swimming in our backyard pool with friends and eating a cake my mom baked or bought from Kroger, depending on how much time she had. Sans presents, the cost of the party probably didn’t go over $50, though I never bothered to ask. I certainly never felt neglected.

And I never felt like I had something to prove. My birthday parties were similar to those of my friends. We’d hang out and eat cake and the birthday girl would open presents. There was no pressure to outperform each other, no need to make sure that the party next year was even grandeur. While I can’t speak for my friends, I could look forward each year to having fun on my special day, and my biggest worry (and this one only when I became a teenager) was that I would look fat in my bathing suit.

I keep thinking back to my wedding. I did not have an extravagant wedding and did not want one. It did not top $10,000. Yet it was the most elaborate thing I had ever thrown. And it was stressful as hell! Seriously, I recommend eloping. While some people probably thrive off the planning, stress, and small talk with people that you barely know, I don’t. And I have to wonder how many kids thrive off it as well.

At any rate, I told my son that he better not expect anything more elaborate than a birthday party at Chucky Cheese when he gets older…and we’re not even going to rent it out for our own private use. Somehow, I think he’ll be just fine.

Oh Those Teachers! February 16, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Books, Memories, Personal, Schools.
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I’ve been reading the infamous Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. For those not familiar with the book, Chua caused quite a stir when an excerpt from her book was published maintaining that Chinese parenting methods are superior. To many readers, Chua’s methods didn’t seem superior, they seemed authoritarian and abusive. Later another article was published saying that Chua’s words were taken out of context to be far worse than it actually was. So I decided to read it for myself and see. I’m almost done and will have more thoughts on that later. One thing that really jumped at me in her book, though, is her criticism of “Western” parents for siding with their children rather than teachers.

According to her, if a Western child gets poor grades, parents blame the teacher. If a “Chinese” child does, then the parents work that much harder with the child. You never criticize the teacher. Ever.

I do know of parents who seemed unable to believe that their child was anything less than perfect and did, as Chua maintained, unfairly blame the teacher. Yet they were in the minority. If anything my experience has been that sometimes parents aren’t complaining enough.

There are a lot of good teachers out there. And there are some teachers that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a classroom. When I was in junior high, there were several teachers who fit the bill. Perhaps the worst was the one I was fortunate only to hear about as I was not in his class. Though I knew to stay far away from his classroom. You were liable to be hit by a flying book traveling out of the classroom through the door and into the hall. I wish I were joking.

Yes, he threw books. He threw pens, pencils, chalk, erasers, papers, anything on his desk, anything he could find. He was known for manhandling students in a fit of anger. Anger management was apparently something he was quite unfamiliar with. What’s amazing is that for two of the three years I was at that school, he was there. During my last year in junior high, either the school wised up to the fact that he was a law suit waiting to happen or a parent did finally complain, because he was gone and good riddance. Last I checked, students don’t learn well in an environment where the teacher could physically harm them at any minute.

Another teacher, Coach H., was one I was not so lucky to miss out on. Supposedly, the class I was taking from him was Texas history. I say supposedly because I learned very little about Texas history in his class. On the first day of class he talked about actors, actresses and athletes who were from Texas (half of whom he just happened to know and be friends with, of course). And we had to memorize trivia about these famous people because there would be a quiz on them. Yup, Texas history of the modern rich and famous.

Then there were the movies. He showed us The Birds. No, this was not a nature documentary about the native birds of Texas, but the Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s a good movie. I have no idea what it has to do with Texas history. May be one of the actors was from Texas. Another movie we watched was The Bad Seed. Once again, no idea about how this movie relates to Texas history.

He showed us Dallas Cowboy football games. While I see the connection, I somehow doubt that the school board this in mind when drafting the curriculum.

When he wasn’t showing us movies and sports games, he was using the classroom as a pulpit to expose his views on just about everything. He talked about how school prayer should be allowed and how the horrible liberals would take the pledge away. He maintained that a woman could be as ugly as hell, but if she was a good cook she would be able to bag herself a man. After flaunting that bit of sexism, he then asked “How many of you GIRLS can cook?” and went around the classroom interrogating each girl on what she could cook and giving disapproving looks to the ones who couldn’t cook much. He then asked the ones who could cook to demonstrate their knowledge by taking everyone step by step on how to make spaghetti with homemade sauce. If someone can see the connection to Texas history, please let me know because I can’t.

Now while I think it’s important for children to be exposed to other points of view, the teacher should not act as the arbiter of the “correct” view vs “incorrect” view. There’s a difference between facilitating a discussion between students and spouting off your own views while disparaging other points of view. Let’s just say I was often very uncomfortable in his class.

The closest he came to talking about Texas history was when he talked about the hard life of a cattle rancher. And his idea of teaching was, after the whole class had failed a test, having us spend a class period reading and re-reading the same chapter over and over.

For another assignment he wanted us to draw a map of the United States. Why, I don’t know, but he gave a long speech on how he didn’t want a rush job (though he only gave us a few days to complete it). Well, I can’t draw. It’s something I REALLY wanted to be able to do. I took classes when I was in elementary school and practiced a lot. However, I have a spectrum of learning disabilities, several of which affect my fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. I never got good at it. I spent hours drawing the map. I worked really hard on it. I thought it turned out well all things considered.

I guess he didn’t. He turned it back into me with “Rush job!” written across it. Which smacked. He had no way of really knowing how long I spent on it. And it still didn’t have anything to do with Texas history.

My grades suffered. Usually history was one of my best subjects. And my grades in other courses remained good. From what I related to them, it wasn’t too hard for my parents to believe that I had a dud teacher. They complained and asked for me to be placed in a different class.

I remember the skepticism directed at me by my new history teacher. She believed I was the problem, not Coach H. I actively participated in her class. I got good grades. Half way through the sixth week grading period when progress reports were sent out, I had an A in her class. She wrote on the report that my grades were based on daily work only, no tests. When I was finally tested it didn’t matter. I still had an A. And for the rest of the year I made an A in her class. I don’t know what she eventually made of me, but I do know I was lucky to be out of his class. One of my friends wasn’t so lucky.

Her mother complained, but for whatever reason she had a harder time getting her daughter out of Couch H.’s class. And Coach H. started to target her in class, playing himself as a victim of her persecution. What is ironic is that while he was targeting my friend for having a parent who complained about him, he spent quite a lot of his class time talking about how his childrens’ teachers were so unfair to them and how he had to constantly go up there and correct those errant teachers!

Yes, Coach H. was a piece of work. Eventually we learned that he got transferred to another school…one where the parents would be less likely to complain.

As I mentioned above, I’ve seen teachers unfairly singled out by the irate parent who thinks that his/her precious darling couldn’t have possibly gotten a failing grade. And I’ve seen parents stay quiet when they should complain. Me and every other student in Coach H.’s were not learning about history. And without our input, nothing would have changed.

I find myself wondering what Tiger Mom would have done if Coach H. had taught one of her daughters. I doubt that she would have been thrilled with her girls watching football games when they should be learning about Stephen F. Austin. I wonder if she would have asked for them to be moved to a different class or if she would have told them to suck it up and memorize which cities Phylicia Rashād and Nolan Ryan are from. And if the latter, I wonder what would have been gained.

Better Late Than Never February 9, 2011

Posted by frrobins in atheism, Christianity, Memories, Personal, Religion, Schools.
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Like many people, I always think of the perfect comeback long after a discussion has subsided. I’ll usually be driving home, replaying the conversation in my head when the perfect response will come to me. Well, this one came about ten years too late. It’s such a good one that I felt the need to share.

Way back in high school, I was sitting in my physics class, waiting for the bell to ring to signal the start of class. Beside me, one of my peers was reading outloud from a Bible. From her self-righteous bearing I know she was just daring someone to tell her to stop. I didn’t take the bait.

Yet now it occurs to me I should have said, “Hey, can you read Gen 19:30 for me please? It is one of my favorites!”

Quid Pro Quo Nation August 3, 2010

Posted by frrobins in Manners, Personal.
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Today I saw an article on CNN about whether or not cash bars at weddings are tacky. What surprised me was the amount of people who insisted that not serving alcohol at a wedding was some serious crime. Their reasoning? If they shell out money for travel, a hotel room, and a gift to go to someone’s wedding, they are entitled to alcohol.

Now I have seen brides and grooms reason that if they serve a lavish dinner at the reception that costs $200 a plate then the guests should bring a present that reflects that amount. I think that reasoning is seriously flawed, reaks of entitlement, and is terribly insensitive. Weddings are not thrown to get as much gifts and money as possible. The couple being married should not expect to break even on it. And if they can’t afford to shell out $200 a plate per guest, then they either need to invite less people or tone down their wedding.

Yet it appears that this attitude goes both ways. In the comments section, several people said that they based the value of their gift on the amount that the couple would be spending on them at the wedding. This made me wonder how they knew in advance how much the couple would be spending. Frankly, it’s rude to ask.

What bothers me is how an event that should be about family and friendship is whittled down to ‘how much is being spent on me?’ Are people really basing their worth on how much people spend on them now? Considering the hard economic times, you’d think people would know better.

Personally, when I got married I did not want to break of the bank on it. I’m rather nontraditional and don’t particularly like weddings. While we served wine, there was no bar, and there was plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available, for free. If some guests were upset that I didn’t go all out for them, then tough. My husband and I didn’t expect anyone to go all out on us. We’d already been living together for years and had everything that we needed. I did not have a bridal shower because I did not think that the wedding should be about gifts and because we did not need a lot. There were friends who came to the wedding sans gift, and my husband and I were fine with that. It was nice to see them. And if the value of your friendship with someone depends on much they spend on you, then you have some screwed up priorities in life.

Several other people made the claim that while the wedding is for the bride and groom, the reception is for the guests, so alcohol should be served. I think it’s time to coin a new term, Guestzilla.

Guests lists range drastically, but planning an event for 50 to 200 people is hard. And frankly, the couple is not going to be able to please everyone. While some people like to drink, other people are uncomfortable around others who are drinking. Should the couple cater to those who expect alcohol, or to the ones who are not comfortable with it? Oh, I get it! There should be two receptions held! One that serves alcohol and another that doesn’t! Do you see how crazy this could get? Or what if the bride or groom has family members who have an alcohol problem, and their drinking would cause a commotion that would make everyone at the reception uncomfortable? This was a concern at my wedding.

While the comfort of the guests should be kept in mind, the couple is ultimately the one throwing the party and has final say in what is served. That means that guests with food allergies, dietary restrictions and needs should be served something that they can eat. Last I checked, alcohol was not a necessary part of anyone’s daily diet. As long as plenty of water and other non-alcoholic beverages are served for free then the guests’ needs are being met. That said, if the couple does decide to serve alcohol, it should be free to the guests.

And everyone, bride, groom, parents, and guests should examine their reasons for having/attending a wedding. If you’re throwing a wedding expecting to break even on gifts, then elope. And if you’re attending a wedding just to get free booze, then stay home. And while you’re at it, think about the value of the relationships with your friends and family.