Whistle, Ruby Rider

So it’s going to come as a vast surprise to you that one of my great joys in life is camping. Ten years ago, we bought a “family car”. It was the SUV on the market that had the best fuel efficiency at the time since I’d also like for there to be a wilderness to visit. Over time I liked the car less and less. The vaunted fuel efficiency was a flat out lie. I didn’t know it was *possible* for a car to handle so badly in snow. Or rain. Or overcast weather. But I do try to drive cars to the ground.

Then last time I went to Camp Wilmot I almost didn’t make it up the world’s tamest road. AND I didn’t have enough room for four boys and three sleds. And I was just … done with it. So I hit my husband’s website CarGurus to find a new one. I had two primary criteria: fuel efficiency & cargo capacity. I want to bring more crap when camping. I want to be the person who volunteers to bring them *all* up to camp. My sons are headed towards the six foot mark in the next few years, and the back seat doesn’t assume such giants. So I wanted a bigger car. But I balanced that desire with my responsibility towards the environment. This world is literally burning under the magnifying lens of carbon, and I need to do whatever is in my power to mitigate my impact on that. So the best option for fuel efficiency was critical to me. Then there were the other considerations: heated seats (yes please!), fun to drive, comfortable second row, not boring car colored.

Adam and I test drove a couple cars. We hated the Highlander Hybrid, which balanced awful handling with really mediocre fuel efficiency. We tried a used Ford Explorer, but the hybrid isn’t out for another few months and it was not a big improvement. Then I finally talked Adam into test driving the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid – a brand new model. Also a minivan. But I learned to drive on a minivan (a red one!) and still have a soft place in my heart for them.

I loved the car, and brought it home with me that night!

The car is soooooo cool. I’m still uncovering features. Not just heated seats, but heated steering wheel! Hands free door opening! Self park! (I’m still too nervous to try that one.) Separate heating and cooling for all the passengers! Plenty of electrical/USB outlets! I can’t wait to go camping in it!

Best of all, it’s a plug in hybrid that gets between 30 – 80 mpg. That’s on target with our Ford C-Max commuter car. Super impressive, even if we end up in the low range. (At some point we might need to install a second charger, but not yet.) It’s everything I wanted!

Naming is always hard, but we finally all settled on our choice, from a favorite TV show. Everyone say hi to “Ruby Rider

Soooo sexy!

My brother was in need of a car, so he flew up and took home the old Kia (Herodotus), where he’ll drive it into the ground for us!

Goodbye Herodotus!

Just a quick note from the purchasing process with CarGurus. I am usually the car buyer in our family, due to being the person who cares. But when we bought the Kia, my husband was the one who got all the questions/comments addressed to him, due to him being male. But since I expressed interest via CarGurus with my name, they knew that I’m the buyer and did a great job of addressing themselves to me. It’s just a nice, subtle change I appreciated!


Disclaimer: We do get a nice rebate from CarGurus for highlighting our buying experience and rather nice rebate as employees. The opinions are mine, and do not reflect official CarGurus points of view nor my employer. That’s pretty much always true.

From the archives: What Happens When You Don’t Know?

I blogged for a long time before I switched to WordPress. I did an incomplete job of moving my writing from one platform (Livejournal) to another – partially because it was very manual. But a friend asked about my beliefs regarding the soul the other day, and I was reminded of this sermon I gave. I was surprised, checking the archives, that this one fell in the gap between platforms. Rereading it, I feel like it stands the test of time. This was originally published on 7/17/2007 after the first of two miscarriages, and before my second son was successfully brought into this world.

Job 39:1-4
Mark 4:35-41

The Book of Job is a story about people trying to understand God’s actions. In the story, the righteous man Job has horrible things happen to him for reasons he doesn’t understand. His friends spend several chapters claiming that they understand how God works, and that Job’s bad luck must be his own fault. Job complains to God, asking why he had such a tough time of it. God never answers that question for Job. Instead, God’s reply (in some of the most beautiful and poetic language that can be found anywhere in the Bible) is to talk about all the things that God understands, has done, and had witnessed that are far beyond Job’s ability to comprehend. Finally, Job accepts that while he might not understand why he was so miserable now, it was ok not to understand as long as his relationship with God was intact.

There is a lot to talk about in the story of Job. Right now I want to point out that it is possible for good people to misunderstand God’s nature, and believe the wrong thing about him.

Christianity has spent a lot of time and energy trying to decide what we believe about God’s nature. Some of the most divisive questions in the Christian church have been about that: Is Jesus both fully human and fully divine? What is the trinity? Is it three different people, or three aspects of the same person?

Belief is important. It can change how we act and what we try to do. If we believe that Jesus died and gave us grace for our sins, we act in hope and try to encourage others to do likewise, instead of falling into the inaction of despair.

But how we believe doesn’t actually change the nature of God. Job’s friends truly and sincerely believed that God was punishing Job for some sin Job had committed. God wasn’t – he had another reason. The conviction of Job’s friends didn’t change God’s nature.

Why is that important?

Sometimes I think that we’ve fallen into the habit of thinking that what we believe makes it true. This is easy to observe in a toddler, and fortunately I have one handy to watch. Grey is convinced that if he says that we are outside at the park often enough, then we actually will be outside at the park. A child can think that believing something makes it true. Adults fall into this sort of trap in much subtler ways. (Author’s note: I didn’t say, but one could argue a certain president of ours is doing this by claiming we’re winning in Iraq.) In some theological questions, where the Bible might not have much to say and there’s no way for us to test to find the answer, perhaps we can be forgiven for thinking that whatever we decide is true is actually true.

But God’s true nature doesn’t change based on what we think, and for that I am grateful.

Why?

Well, what happens when we don’t know what to think?

Most of you know I recently had a miscarriage. I’m hardly unique in this. I was stunned at how many of my sisters in these pews had gone through one or even many miscarriages. (Author’s note: I got three more miscarriage stories after this sermon.) Anyway, in the course of my recovery from this, one of the questions I was asked was whether I had any theological doubts or uncertainties that had been raised by the miscarriage.

There are certainly lots of questions to which I do not know the answer. When does a pregnancy turn into a person with a soul? Was my pregnancy even at that stage? What happens to the souls of children who are never born, if they have souls? When does a person accumulate enough actions and intentions to be judged and forgiven by God? For that matter, just what is heaven really like? On some of these issues, such as the miscarriages, the Bible is nearly silent. On others, such as what heaven is like, it is very mysterious and hard to translate to a concrete vision.

So when I look at my own experience and wonder: was there a child, and if so, what happened to them? It’s a question to which I will never have a concrete answer on this side of salvation. I don’t even know what I believe.

And that’s when I realized the beauty of the unchanging nature of God. I don’t HAVE to know what happened, in order for the right thing to have occurred. This possible child isn’t waiting in some limbo, pending me making up my mind as to what God does with early miscarriages. God has already acted, and if there was a baby with a soul, it is in God’s loving hands. I do not need understand, agree, believe, or consent for God to fulfill his covenant and relationship with this other person. I do not need to understand for the right and proper thing to have happened.

That raises another uncomfortable question, though. What if I don’t like what happened? What if it was something bad instead of something good?

I am at peace there, too, because I have faith. That’s where our other Bible story of the day comes into play. The disciples are in a tight spot, with a boat that may at any moment break apart and drown them all. Jesus is sleeping through what they fear might be his last moments alive. They wake him up. “Hey!” they say. “Don’t you care that we’re all about to die!” I imagine that they’re not saying he should do something, they’re waking him up to tell him to prepare himself for the worst. What can anyone do in the middle of the sea, in a horrible storm? I mean, there are miracles of returning sight to people with milky eyes, and then there’s commanding the very weather to act unnaturally. Doctors can return sight or it might come back on it’s own, but no one can command the weather. But Jesus does, and he comments on their lack of faith.

Well, I do have faith. I believe that God is good, and kind, and loving. If there was a soul in place, I believe that he holds my unborn child in his hands and has carried that child to a good end. I trust in that not only for this Schroedinger’s baby, who may or may not have ever existed as a person, but I also trust it for myself. I believe, in the end, that God loves us and cares for us. And so, when theology goes dark and God’s plan is unknown and unknowable, and we do not know what the right thing is to believe, then have faith friends. For we do know that God is good, and his steadfast love for us endures forever.

Me, then

A poem by Grey: Books

Every once in a while your kid writes something and you can see it through their eyes and it’s just awesome. This was written by Grey in English class, and yes. I got his permission to share.

Dear Books,
I vividly remember the wonders
And stories you spun and wove
Into my head as a child, even before
I could read.

I came to love
Hearing words flow
Through my ears,
And repeating them through my lips.
It seems not too long ago,
I presented a Dr. Suess book to
My parents, and read it myself.

Outloud.

The look of delight and surprise
In their eyes
Is something even now I can’t replicate.

You were always so jumpy and hasty
To give me something new,
Whether it was grim or happy.
Sure, I talk to other
Systems of entertainment
But you will be the first in my heart.

Always.

Even though we’ve drifted apart,
And I’ve become lost to the era of information
The true subconscious
And morals and imagination
Of my brain.
Stems from you, and your love for me.

Thank you for your past
Years of service. And
I hope we meet several more times
Again.

A younger Grey reading

Remembering a Tremendous Man: BJ Johnson

BJ Johnson

If you have ever been to one of the Flynn “high holidays” – like Piemas or Mocksgiving you’ve definitely met BJ. He was always punctual (if not early!) and lingered late into the nights, when we all diliquesced into the couch and began rumbling as much as talking, with shadows and silences stretching long. Some nights, BJ would wrap up an evening by running a game of Werewolf for us. “Close your eyes” he’d intone. “Werewolves, open your eyes and acknowledge each other.” There were long conversations on video game art, obscure 1980s cartoons, comic books and toy design. BJ was truly among his own in these gatherings, and deeply beloved by the folks there.

I learned this year that BJ had a special “Mocksgiving shirt”. He was sad that he thought it would need to be retired after this year.

BJ was also renowned in our local circles for incredible Halloween costumes. We’ve all been frantically searching our archives for the year he came as the king from Katamari Damacy, or my personal favorite, the year he was “Tremendous” with a tiny city glued on his shoes and a hat made up of clouds. He was endlessly creative and had the artistic chops to pull his crazy designs off – even if they weren’t always comfortable.

BJ c. 2003

We learned this weekend of BJ’s death, and it comes as a great shock and sorrow to us all. It doesn’t seem possible that I’ll never get to chat with him in the kitchen while I prep, or hear the latest news from Saxonburg. I have gotten the last ever BJ-drawn Christmas card (this year’s was Santa wearing goggles flying on a giant eagle). The world is a poorer, sadder place for not having him in it. There will be a hole in my table and my heart for as long as I continue to set the feast.

This last Mocksgiving

The family is holding services at 11 a.m. Saturday January 26th 2020 at Saxonburg Memorial Church, 100 W. Main St., Saxonburg PA. BJ was a devoted and faithful member of that congregation, and the family has asked that instead of flowers, memorials be sent to the church.

For folks who may not be able to make it to Pennsylvania, we’ll be doing a few things locally here in Boston. We’re tying down a date to have a memorial meal in Waltham (his home while he lived up here).

This is now scheduled:
BJ Johnson Memorial Brunch
Saturday, Feb. 1st, 1:30 PM – 3:00 PM
In a Pickle Restaurant
265 Moody St.
Waltham, MA
(Please let me know if you’re coming so I can notify you if there are any last minute changes.)

We will also take some time during the upcoming Piemas to remember our missing pie-companion and celebrate his life. In his last email to me he said, “May these occasions long be afforded for us all to gather and enjoy the friendships we’ve been blessed with.” We were certainly blessed to have his friendship.

His Christmas Cards were always a highlight

The Arrival of Mr. Lickums

The night before Christmas

When last we left our heroes, they were two weeks before Christmas and their son had written a massively persuasive essay to the effect of he should get a frog. Much research was done. A terrarium was purchased and ready for Christmas morning. The amphibian excitement was running hot in the household. And lo! On Christmas morning there was the empty terrarium!

Our plan was this: we really want a vivarium. There are many reasons for this:

1) it requires massively less effort to keep clean, since nature does the cleanup work instead of you (a major consideration)
2) living things and plants, and the light required for them, are a boost to the mood and create an environment that is happier and healthier
3) less stank
4) they are extremely cool. Even the word vivarium is soooooo cooooool.

First we went to Jabberwock to buy one of everything. Just kidding! We bought two of several things. Our list included:

– Drainage
– Soil
– Dinosaur eggs
– Plants
– Moss
– Light bulbs
– Three kinds of bugs (springtails, white pill bugs and crickets)
– Cricket stuff (cage, water stuff, food stuff, nutrient powder)
– Stuff for water (dechlorination, that surgical scrub stuff)
…. and a bunch of other things.

Selecting his frog buddy

Oh, and a frog.

We came home and immediately got to work on three habitats: one for crickets, one for the baby frog right now (which will later be a nicer cricket habitat) and the Vivarium. It only took an hour or two to get the temporary habitat ready.

First meeting between a boy and his frog!

Six hours and 9 shopping stops later (ok, in fairness, only two of those stops were actually vivarium related, the others were in a vain attempt to find somewhere that still sold black tapes), the vivarium is up and running. The plants will need a few weeks to get rooted before they can handle the full weight of Mr. Lickums. But I’m already of the opinion it’s pretty awesome!

Adding the springtails
The vivarium in situ

The Christmas with no pictures

I believe that there are generally two kinds of events in life: the ones that are fun at the time, and the ones that make a good story later. As Christmas 2019 winds to a close as one of the “fun to experience” Christmases, I’d like to head back through the mists of time to tell the story of another Christmas.

This Christmas Eve I spent nearly 10 hours wrestling my 2019 photographs into submission. I firmly believe in the near-miraculous value of a good picture to help you remember an event as being much more fun than you thought it was at the time, and so I take a lot of pictures. I suspect this year’s tally was somewhere around 12,000 pictures (which was impossible for most of human history). I have pictures of almost everything. But there is this one Christmas where we go from this:

Setting out Santa’s cookies

To this

Hallway Hex Bugs

Strangely missing from the otherwise complete photographic documentation of my life is all the Christmas morning stuff. Where are the kids faces coming down the stairs? The stockings? The chaos of a living room in a flurry of wrapping paper? The look on my sons’ faces when they open their “big present”?

Well, let me tell you a story. The year was 2013, and on this Christmas my sons were 8 and 5 years old: peak Christmas aged. The joy and excitement were running high on Christmas Eve, and the full paraphernalia of both religious and secular were on display as we came back from Christmas Eve services to lay out a plate of cookies and milk for Santa. The children were nestled all snug in their beds, and the parents stayed up very late making sure that the scene to be uncovered in the morning was absolutely perfect. We were tired but satisfied as we went to bed that night, imagining the joy our children would experience because of our efforts the next day.

In the midst of our sugar-plum dreams, in the cold dark of a December morning, a sound intruded into our sleep. What could that be? But ah well, our children had yet to awaken us, so it couldn’t be that important. We rolled back over. But then, it came again. Was that… a squeal of joy? Wait, was that the sound of paper being torn? As if of mutual accord we flung ourselves out of bed and down the stairs, only to be confronted by a veritable blizzard of confetti-sized wrapping paper shrouding our two hellions as they tore into wrapped packages with a savagery usually only found in hungry, wild beasts.

Yes. They had gotten up and started on Christmas presents all on their own. They’d unwrapped over half their presents before we came down, screeching. It took me HOURS to get over it enough to take any more pictures. I was WROTH. I knew, in some tiny corner of my mind, that it might eventually be a funny story. I’m here to tell you that the amount of time required to accomplish that is no less than 6 years.

Here’s the decision-making, as paraphrased from the retelling of my eldest son.

So if you’ve ever met my mother, you would know that she is not what you would call a “morning person”. So when I woke up early on Christmas morning, I knew that my parents would not be excited to wake up so early. So I woke up Thane and went downstairs to give them a few more minutes to sleep. But our stockings were right there! I figured it would keep Thane quiet if we just opened our stockings, so we did. But then we’d opened our stockings. And I thought it wouldn’t hurt to open just one present to play with it, so Thane and I each opened one present. But then, before I could stop him, Thane opened a second! And it was only fair that I should open a second one too. Things after that got a bit out of control.

Now, every Christmas Eve, I remind my children that there is NO OPENING PRESENTS WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION!

And to those of you who just lived through one of those, uh, challenging celebrations: take pictures. It’ll be a great story, someday.

Explaining his perfidy to grandma

Mr. Lickums the Third

On Friday at 9:30 in the morning I got an email with a slide deck attached. This much is not unusual. As far as I can tell, half my job involves getting emails with slide decks attached. (The other half, of course, is sending such emails.) But this one was different. This one came from my 11 year old son, who definitely should have been doing something else in school.

The deck was titled “Why I Should Get a Frog“. I have my suspicions we may have entered the “persuasive essay” portion of the curriculum. Which, props to his teacher. This thing is a masterwork.

With a brevity and clarity that my work presentations can only aspire to, slide #1 got right to the point with the “ask” of the presentation:

The Frog I Want (If I am allowed to get one) is the Whites tree frog, you can find plenty of them in pet stores all around, and I believe they have them in pet smart. They are easy to handle, cute and overall funny looking.

So far, so good. I appreciate the research here, including specifics about the breed & availability desired. He expands with the reasons for the particular selection. To note: on further research everything he says here is also actually true.

Slide two gets deep into a cost analysis of the acquisition:

The Terrarium:

https://www.amazon.com/Exo-Terra-Glass-Natural-Terrarium/dp/B0041P5PBE?ref_=fsclp_pl_dp_1

Although it is $200 I won’t ask for it for Christmas instead I will use my own Money

I am not sure yet if the terrarium is cat proof but if it is not we can always make something to keep the cats out. I believe it also fits on my desk, and is the biggest terrarium I could find.

Here we see advanced level skills. The kid has already learned something it’s taken me 20 years to figure out – if you promise to bring the budget, the project is 900x more likely to happen. Now you and I both know that a) it will cost way more than $200 b) he won’t end up paying for something he requests two weeks before Christmas. He may guess #2, but he’ll discover #1. He also does a fantastic job of objection handling. In this case, by making explicit reference to our biggest objection (frog = cat toy) and then just waving it away as inconsequential. Masterful.

But in slide three, he really closes the sale.

Grey was the one who got the cats, but I have never had a chance to have a pet of my own. It would help prove my responsibility and be adorable at the same time. The cats are very old, and not that playful. I have my own money to buy the terrarium and the frog. It is the derpiest thing I have ever seen. They are easy to take care of. Also, I LOVE FROGS. (It will be named Mr. Lickums The third).

Here we invoke the principle of fairness and the desire of parents to raise responsible children. We probably didn’t need to throw shade on our two lovely cats. But then, the close man. The close. How can anyone resist “Mr. Lickums The third”? It’s impossible.

In unrelated news, we learned that the local pet store focusing on things that people have phobias about is called Jabberwock Reptiles. They may be our new best friends. Time to go learn about keeping frogs alive. And crickets. And worms. Yikes!


GREY! Don’t tell your brother! Do you want some pet crickets for Christmas?

UPDATE: I have learned that the original Mr. Lickums was a clay art project. The second Mr. Lickums was an icebreakers can that was decorated to resemble a frog. You may now resume your important activities.