Tuesday, July 29, 2014

UnVacation Vacation

We've been driving around the Eastern half of the country on our yearly pilgrimage to Jim's high school reunion pals in Michigan and family in Southern Indiana. With a pit stop in McDowell County West Virginia. Jim has been dying to see some of the places listed as the poorest in the nation.

I cannot even began to do justice to what we saw during our day in poverty-ridden West Virginia, where Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky meet, old coal country. Extreme poverty, houses rotting and falling in, thousands of closed businesses. It was like the land where time was forgotten. I will be posting photos eventually. I took hundreds. Would love to drag everyone in Congress and the Senate that opposes food stamps, WIC, unemployment or welfare by their hair through this area and challenge them to say that the people are just lazy or irresponsible. Hard to believe poverty this severe exists in America.

The first night out we stayed on the edge of Appalachia, in one of the few nicer hotels in that area. The only problem was that about midnight I was awoken by a presence in our room. Yes, after more than a few months of seeing no dead people I had an encounter. A guy in his thirties, balding on top with long black curly hair on the sides, a broad open honest looking face. I could not determine from the information I was getting if he was shot or stabbed, but I was in terrible pain to my left ribs and hip. Violent death. Spirit simply seeking someone to acknowledge their presence. The name I got was Shawn. When I have time I'm going to research deaths in that area with those parameters. Eventually he faded and I snatched a few hours of sleep. Did I mention that the hotel overlooked a cemetery? In the morning I went into the cemetery looking for any grave with the first name Shawn that might be him but only was able to do this for a few minutes. I hadn't planned on ghost hunting on my trip.

The next day we drove up to Jim's extended family in Rising Sun, Indiana. Uneventful day except it rained all day and driving through the Lexington Kentucky area there was a few mile swathe that looked as though a tornado had ripped through, uprooting trees and tossing what looked like ground up leaves all over the interstate. Turns out it was a severe thunderstorm with high winds. Very slow going.

The main noteworthy event of the day occurred as I was driving over the hwy 50 bridge over the Ohio river. I started suddenly wheezing and coughing and at first could not figure out why. Once we were at about the midway point on the bridge I saw the scrubber towers for two different coal burning power plants. I was having an asthmatics reaction to the burning coal fumes coming up the scrubber towers and out into the air.

By the time we got across the bright, turned right and drove less than a mile to our hotel I was barely able to breath. We rushed into the hotel with my meds bag, threw the credit card at the desk attendant and grabbed the keys. I took the elevator up to our room while Jim parked the car and started to pull the suitcases out. But...when I opened the room door a wave of old stale cigarette smoke hit me in the face and my asthma got much much worse. Back down to the lobby I was unable to talk, my bronchial tubes and vocal cords were closing. Right in the lobby I gave myself a shot with my epipen, plugged in the neb, lay on the floor and started a treatment while trying not to shriek and panic. Black spots started to appear before my eyes, I nearly blacked out. The hotel staff was freaking out, called the rescue squad, but by the time they arrived my attack was easing. The hotel moved us to a room on the ground floor, a better oom that had never been a smoking room. Six months ago all the rooms in the hotel had switched to non-smoking, but the smoke for years of that other room being a smoking room was in everything..

After a few hours of drugs, laying down and freaking out it started to finally lift.

The next morning we visited with Jim's cousin who's clearly dying of Parkinsons at the local nursing home. Carel was in good spirits, but, there's nothing more depressing than an old nursing home in a small town. It was good to see Jim's extended family, they have always accepted me as one of their own and shown me so many small kindnesses through the years. I was sad that we only got to see them for a few hours.

We drove up the western edge of Ohio after leaving Indiana and I was hoping to be able to see my NLQ friend Bruce Gerencser, but we were running late because of the asthma. My asthma was still pretty bad. Jim had to drive much of the day.

Bruce wrote a great blog posting about how different it is outside the Evangelical enclosure where friendships between men and women are so forboden because someone might slip and have sex. Screw that! They're missing out on so many great relationships by limiting them out of fear.

Last night after checking into our hotel we spent the evening with a few of Jim's old high school buddies at a local restaurant. I was worn out and just wanted to stay at the hotel, but I wanted to see a couple of our mutual friends. So I went and we were treated to the spectacle of one of them getting trashed on booze. Trashed! LOL... If this is any indicator of the reunion on Friday night it should be most amusing. I love to people watch.

Today I've hung around the hotel, sitting in the hot tub and reading, resting and I'm about to partake in my guilty pleasure, "Dance Moms". I really needed a day without a schedule and Jim is spending the day and evening with an old friend of his that smokes like he's a scrubber tower. The guy is pretty weird too. I have had enough weird for now.

Tomorrow we're moving on to friends in Detroit.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Quick One

We're on the road. But I've seen some wild things. Nothing too disturbing till this morning.

This morning in the lobby of our hotel a stones a throw from Ken Ham's Creation Museum I've been seeing oodles of kids and adults wearing Creation Museum t-shirts and hoodies.

I was also treated to the sight of a lady rushing around waiting on her pre teen sons and perfectly able-bodies husband. She filled his plate from the breakfast buffet, got his coffee, got his silverware and napkin, cooed and cossetted all three before getting her own breakfast.

What. The. Fuck?

It made me want to kidnap the woman and deprogram her. Nowhere in the Bible does it say you have to serve your husband like he is your sacred idol. Lazy ass entitled Good Christian (tm) Evangelical man.

Listening to this to wash away the Evangelical cooties...


Had a near fatal asthma attack yesterday afternoon here in the lobby of his hotel. The staff was trying to call for an ambulance because I was flailing around trying to unpack my nebulizer and epipen and refusing to go to the local hospital. It passed with lots of drugs but this was the worst one I've had in six years. Ugh. Indiana.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Allergic To Poor People

One of the things that I've realized lately is that when I have a vocal cord movement episode or asthma, or both at the same time from chemicals or smoke contamination in others is that it seems to happen mostly when surrounded by the economically disadvantage. I was teasing Jim the other night and said I am now officially allergic to poor people.

I know, I know, that sounds snotty and elitist, but genuinely it is not. Think it through. Who uses cheaper colognes, body hygiene products and cleaning supplies? The poor. When the rate of smokers is declining in the US who still has very high rates of people who still smoke? The poor.

When I'm doing something in a crowd such as going to the opera or my recent visit to hear chamber music or to museums, gallery openings, conferences or other events and places where the clientele is not slandered in heavy chemical scents I never react. But.. put me in a Wal Mart on any day surrounded by Wal Mart's typical demographic or the post office on food stamp and welfare check delivery day and it's a sure bet I'm going to have an episode and end the day taking my meds and laying down.

Knowing that it was with great trepidation that I took my car to get worked on this afternoon.

Jim told me just before lunch time that his car is acting up and we'd likely have to take my car to our vacation to Michigan this coming week. The air conditioning in my car has conked out so I had to get it worked on and will be detailing it tomorrow. There is no way I'm going to be in air pollution central southern Indiana and then drive up to the Detroit area with no air conditioning in mid summer. Here, I can run my errands in the morning when there is zero heat and no absolute need of a/c.

The problem with having to drop off the car suddenly to get the ac recharged becomes one of how to get home again since they weren't promising to be done with my car till tomorrow noon. So I did the only thing I could do short of spring for a taxi, something in short supply in my tiny town, I took the town trolley from across the street from the shop to within 5 blocks of the house. The last time I rode the trolley home from the auto shop I had a pretty severe asthma attack from being in that trolley with scads of folks wearing only God knows what.

This time it wasn't bad. The only thing is what was a ten minute ride from my house to the shop turned into a ninety minute trolley ride across my teeny town. I think I probably could have walked and gotten home faster. A lot of that time was actually waiting at the trolley stop because the posted sign times at the trolley stop were either very outdated or the driver was super late.

Which is another way that the poor get hosed by society besides only having enough money to buy products made out of hazardous chemicals. They end up having to waste lots of time doing things like riding public transit. Most of the people riding are what I would call the working poor, wearing uniforms for various retail shops or fast food.

During the years we lived in Germany I used to take the bus frequently and it was on time and convenient. Here it's the opposite.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Closer You Look the More Horrifying it Actually is

About ten years ago I decided that I wanted to redo the upstairs bathroom in something I liked. I got some tiles off Ebay I loved, they were printed with paintings by my favorite artist Vincent Van Gogh. I did a Van Gogh tile surround over the sink, made a large quilted wall hanging of Starry Starry Night, found a few older looking fixtures to use and bought a Van Gogh print on a shower curtain.

The shower curtain print is The Cafe Terrace at Night and it's blown up huge, bigger than the actual painting.
This is it:


Looks innocuous doesn't it? People walking around at night with the light spilling into the street from the outdoor tables at the cafe. Nothing frightening at all, white draped waiter and patrons in the golden light while an azure nighttime world waits just beyond the bright lights.

You have to blow it up many many times to see the nightmare aspects of it. Such as the waiter has a nearly perfect featureless oval daub of paint for a face, no hint of eyes, nose or a mouth. Hiding in the background is also a huge crudely rendered monstrous rabbit or fox being too. Other figures skulking about with hideous features or lack of them.

I've seen them all too up close only because my toilet is pushed up against the tub area and while I'm peeing I get a view of the intimate small nightmare landscape. It truly looks like the work of a real madman from that perspective.

That's the way that the more dangerous Christian cults operate too. When you stand back and take in the entire picture of them at work in the community it all looks so pretty, so perfect, so wholesome. It's only when you get close that you notice that the smiles are forced, covering up something loathsome and controlling, or too monstrous to contemplate on first view.

Lately I've been looking through the blogs of many different prominent Christian Evangelical leaders. Some of what they say isn't so bad, till you start digging and looking at it more closely and you realize that it's terribly poisonous.

The best example I've seen lately is the Duggar girls book, "Growing Up Duggar'. It looks innocent at first, advice on courtship and relationships, but as you delve deeper you realized it could have been written by ATI/IBLP head Bill Gothard for what is espouses in the supposedly words of Jana, Jill, Jessa and Jinger Duggar. It's "ATI Lite" hidden throughout the book. If you follow what the Duggars advise in the book you're falling right into the legalistic Calvinistic thought that will drag you into a place of such fear and control. And condemnation. Guilt. All the big baddies of emotions.

It pays to take an up close look at anyone or thing that is promising you a better way through faith. Be very sure you see the hidden traps and nightmares right up front.

I've taken to never looking directly at the details of that shower curtain. The imagery is just too disturbing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What Healthy Marriage Doesn't Look Like

Last week I had the opportunity to spend time with a couple of my former friends who I'm still friendly with from the old church. None of us are as close as we were, but none of them were ones constantly trying to fling emotional garbage and condemnation at me either.

Between those encounters and a fight Jim and I had this weekend over a misunderstanding I started thinking about what I was seeing in my pals and myself that was not very healthy.

Ran into Marlene at the grocery store. Marlene could be Michelle Duggar's stunt double. Seriously, I think she and Michelle were separated at birth. Marlene looks like her, talks just like her and is also the Quiverfull mom of a large number of children.

Except now... Marlene has cut her hair, was wearing pants and has had no new babies for fourteen years and she's roughly Michelle Duggar's age. I don't know what happened exactly but apparently they aren't doing the kid collecting ATI-worshiping stuff any longer. Everyone but a few of the children have moved out. I had to ask Marlene what changed and she told me that her husband had drug her out of the unhealthy cult church environment they'd been in and it had forced her to face and deal with her own issues of control.

I'm glad. I'm very glad she came out in what seems like one piece. Pants aren't evil, folks! She did admit to the same thing I struggled with the first six months after all our kids left for college, cooking way to big of a meal.

My other extreme Quiverfull friend, Lauren, the one that used to introduce me to her other QF friends as her heathen friend with two kids as a joke, hasn't fared quite as well. I saw her, had coffee with her and it came out that her two eldest daughters, around the same age as Andy and Laura, were having troubles and both under psychiatric care because of emotional problems from being QF, being told to deny their feelings and just smile. Both seem in particular to believe that their mother didn't love them. Which sort of shocked me because their mother always seemed to exude love and acceptable of everyone back in the days we all went to church together. I guess you just never know. Her husband also left the old church and took her unwilling self with him. Her adjustment has been bumpier.

Then one of my other friends came with me to Johns Hopkins last week. I'd forgotten to get Jim the date I was going back to the ENT Vocal  Cord specialist and the team meeting of my doctors and therapists to decide which way to go with my ongoing confloption of lung problems. He'd said he was going to scope me again and I knew, if it was anything like last time, I might not be able to drive home. I might be a crying mess or zombified from the pain relief. I took my friend Jules with me as a back up driver.

Jules has only been out of the old cult church about three years now and I get treated to semi-cult thinking whenever I'm with her. One of the strangest things I noted this time was her stubborn insistence on not giving homeless folks that approach you any cash.

Baltimore is full of the homeless. Where I get off interstate 95 to get to the Bayview Campus of Johns Hopkins there is a homeless vet at each interstate exit. I've come to know the guy at my exit and always bring him not only cash but food and other things. I have nothing but compassion for him and sometimes give him things and gift cards rather than cash because I really don't want to fund anyone's possible chemical dependency.

So it's not unusual to be approached for cash in Baltimore by people who are struggling. At the gas station a man approached both of us begging for cash to put gas in his car. I gave him a few bucks, but after that Jules started explaining that she's heard, through some right wing conservative Christian newsletter that you should never open your purse and give these guys a dime because they'll snatch your wallet or worse! I was pretty amazed to hear her parrot this idea like it's the God's truth from the Bible, because this is the first time I've heard of that and I've been giving out cash to the homeless for years, no ones been anything but thankful, certainly no purse snatchings.

The longer I spent with Jules that day the more I got to see some pretty strange fear driven things going on. Her husband is away right now with his work and he gave her a stipend of spending cash to tide her over while he was gone. She doesn't work and she loves to shop, so it was no shock that she'd already run through that money and had put some things on their credit cards. She spent a lot of the day freaking out over how she was going to explain a $150 hair cut and coloring, and buying things he would have forbid had he been along.

Jules' husband is very thrifty. He would never consent to our eating at the Broadway Diner on Eastern Avenue a half dozen blocks from the hospital. Mr. Jules will only go places he has a coupon for or is an all you can eat buffet. She was scheming how to buy lunch and get a dessert to take home without both showing up obviously on the credit card.

She bought donut holes at the gas station, murmuring how much she was going to miss doing, buying and eating what she wanted once her husband came home because he would never allow her to spend 3 bucks on donut holes. This was a recurring theme for the day. Go nuts doing all this stuff that the husband would not allow.

I have to admit, I was more than just a little shocked by this. Jim is thrifty too, but he knew I was going to be going to the diner that day and didn't have a problem with me eating out near the hospital. He knows from having been with me up at the hospital that there aren't a lot of discount options easily accessible from the interstate. He knows that I sometimes buy things, eat things, do things he doesn't consider essential, but he respects my needs enough to know I need some freedom, latitude, independent agency.

It's not like I don't have to navigate my desires and needs with my husband's wishes and the constraints of our budget. Because I have to do it all the time! I had to do it that very morning when I went to the bank, tried to take out some cash from my personal household bank account and found out my balance was very low. I called Jim to tell him I was moving money around in the accounts so I could have cash for lunch, tolls and parking. I could not get through and made the command decision to do the transfers and tell him later. We argued because I forgot about it and didn't tell him till a few days later. But it wasn't much money and I was just trying to avoid activating our overdraft protection.

If there is one thing that I consider marriage-destroying about fundamentalist/evangelicalism it's this thing about lip service to the husband, yet running around secretly behind his back to do what you wanted to do in the first place. Why not be upfront and dump your guilt? I don't get it, even if I used to do it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Air Out There & No Sleep

Last night I wasn't able to sleep more than a few hours. I lay awake, just like I did as a sickly asthmatic kid amped up by the multiple times huffing on my nebulizer. My asthma inhalant gives me the shakes and makes my heart pound so I avoid using it. But.. last week I accidentally consumed a peanut in a snack mix that was marked 'peanut-free'. Mr. Asthma has had me in his grips since and it ain't been pretty. Lots and lots of nebulizer use, no sleep for me.

It's been hot and steamy outside, which means my days start with the frantic running of the errands, followed by mid morn laundry and working on NLQ, lunch and an afternoon filled with asthma drugs and a lot of doing nothing. Usually by the time 3 pm hits I'm only fit for the sofa and working on the sweater I'm crocheting.

But it did make me wonder how I was going to sleep when we move in about a year from now. My bedroom in my South Louisiana childhood home faced the Mississippi River, less than a mile away. And following the river at a small distance were the railroad tracks. All night long freight trains would chug past in the distance, a sort of moonlight symphony that's always caused me to feel contented and happy, safe and at home. When I couldn't sleep I'd lie awake reading and listening to the sounds of the trains passing in the night.

Here too in Virginia we live about an equal distance from the major railroad tracks and the nights are filled with the same restless songs of the trains moving in the night. Most nights I sigh, turn over happily in the bed, lulled into a feeling of safety and happiness hearing that old familiar rhythm of the rails.

The last few weeks has also meant we've been making more concrete plans for Jim's retirement. He's been pushing for Costa Rica or Panama and I've been dragging my feet, throwing up objections and not feeling at ease with his desires. I don't want to leave the US, be so far away from my kids and my mother. He made the mistake of sending me a link to a real estate agency in Costa Rica and I looked at the prices, which were nothing like what he'd been talking about for ages! The prices were no bargain~!

I kind of went off on Jim, I put my foot down and said hell no I was NOT going to Costa Rica or Panama at all and I did not care if he liked it or not. I felt like a fool, because all of these long months I've been believing him about how we'd be able to live like rich tourists in Central America on very little money. That might have been true twenty years ago but not now. We've altered our plans, now we're likely to buy a place on the Gulf Coast for cash, there's lots of beach front distressed properties there. We'd be five short hours from my mother, 12 hours from his and a day from the kids. We're going down this fall to look at some of the properties.

Last Sunday Jim had a Realtor he knew stop by to tell us what we needed to do to rent out our house. I was pissed because I knew what we needed to do, upgrade the stove and dishwasher, paint the entire place, replace the bedroom carpets and the roof, plus some trimming of trees in the backyard. The guy picked up on all of this and tried to say that we would have to replace the kitchen floor too, not taking into account that I've been canning and it looks like the Del Monte canning factory exploded in the kitchen. The floor is merely a little less than clean and the Pergo in the kitchen is in the same great shape as in the rest of the house.

What really pissed me off about the visit, beside the fact that Jim gave me no notice so that's why the kitchen looked exploded, is the fact that this guy immediately started pressuring us to sell, sell, sell and we're just not ready to even think about that. House is about a year from the mortgage being paid out, it's in a good neighborhood so we'll get about 1,500 a month in rent. I kept rebuffing his attempts to twist my arm into selling, I'm just not having it because I don't know where we'll end up. What if we get down to Destin or Fort Walton Beach and miss Northern Virginia too much? I want to keep all our options open.

At some point I had enough, and I went into my office to answer emails and write a plan for the next weeks worth of postings at NLQ. As I sat in my office and the guys walked around the yard I clearly overheard the real estate agent start telling Jim yet again that we needed to sell and not to listen to me because I am a woman, irrational and emotional. It took all my cool not to go outside and explode on this guy. Told Jim later there is no way in hell this agent will get a rental or a listing agreement out of me because I don't deal with Chauvinistic pigs.

So every day before I go into 'The day is over because my asthma is kicking my ass' mode I clean and sort rooms in my home that haven't been decluttered in ages. Here's my office now that I'm done...


It's not a big room, but now I've removed everything but what I need and managed to organize it, instead of having boxes of stuff hanging around. I put a ton of things on Ebay. I need to start paring down to just what we need to move. I'm not there yet, but this is only the first round.

One of my worries is what to do with my piano. It's a family heirloom, an upright grand made of mahogany that takes up a large space in my living room. It's over 150 years old, nearly a 100 of those years it's been part of my family.

My kids don't want it, I can't leave it for a renter and not sure I'd get much if I sold it. I can barely stand the idea of parting with the piano even to store it but it's way too large to go with us. That piano symbolizes a lot of different things for me. One day soon I'll share the story of how I finally ended up with it after a nasty tussle between my parents over the instrument and how both of my parents told contradictory stories about what happened, making me lose what little trust I had in either. Getting my piano back was emotionally healing for me. The thought of giving it up again hurts.

So it's been hard to sleep, worrying about the future, not able to get a decent breath and shaking lika chihuahua on crack, even with the sounds of the trains running through town. I think tonight I'm going to try and get in the sack in a few hours with the help of a few chemical agents that should bring on sleep. When I start missing sleep I get really really weird. And I'm weird enough already.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

It's 9 am on a Sunday Morning, Do You Know the People You Sent Your Children To?

In the last few months I've noticed a proliferation of church buses cruising through my neighborhood here in my small town in the Virginia Piedmont every Sunday morn. Some of the drivers wave as I'm getting in my car dressed for service at my own place of worship. I smile and wave back and wonder what the policy is of that particular church to protect the children in their temporary care. 

Witnessing many families putting their children on those buses without a backward glance, seemingly content to place their children in the hands of virtual strangers gives me the willies. Particularly in light of the fact that many smaller churches without main stream denomination affiliation have had bus ministry workers accused of  child sexual abuse of their small charges nationwide. During the course of the trials and investigation it usually comes out that the particular church has no screening process for the bus ministry workers, no background checks, no criminal checks and no training in place for teaching the workers how best to inter with the children in a safe fashion.

This is not me putting down bus ministry or independent churches. I think anything that seeks to help improve the lives of children is a good thing. It would be a better thing if the parents accompanied their kids to the church, but some parents chose not to go. First, how do you even know what that church is teaching your child if you aren't a member or familiar with their statement of faith.

If you plan on sending your child off on a bus ministry, ask questions. Lots of questions.

What kinds of questions, I hear you say. Here's some you might ask when the members of any church arrive on your doorstep asking to take your children to church, Sunday School or Vacation Bible school.

  • What national organizations is your church affiliated with?
  • What is your church's statement of faith?
  • What types of materials or teachings will be used to teach my child?
But most important, ask about the bus ministry personnel and the church's role in training them.
  • Does your church run a criminal background with the state on each person working the bus ministry and on the children's teachers and everyone else working with the children?
  • What qualifications do the bus ministry workers and anyone working with the children possess?
  • Are the bus ministry people and the teachers certified or go through any training on how to work with children, maintain good boundaries and avoid any circumstances that might lead to child abuse?
  • How much experience does the ministry staff have with children's education?
  • What is your church's policy towards sex offenders working in the ministry?
A little Googling of the church and the people involved in ministry there should show up with an online presence. Peruse their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to see if they are someone you'd like to have around your children.

Why do I advocate going this far? Well, one of those prettily painted buses staffed by a smiling and waving staff that passes my house is for a church that was an offshoot of another church. The church split when former members of the school and church accused the pastor of sexually abusing them repeatedly during their childhood. The new church with the bus is the one that insisting on believing that the pastor was innocent in the face of overwhelming testimony indicating that the pastor was culpable in child sexual abuse. They also do not believe in screening people who work with children or doing any sort of training on child abuse. There is no protection or accountability towards safety for the children.

Before you allow your child to take part in any bus ministry or event make sure you do your research. Better safe than sorry. No one wants a child victim with a lifetime of pain, shame and self hatred to overcome. Do it for your kids.

I leave you with wise words by my friend Bruce Gerencser about why transparency and accountability in children's ministries and any ministry is important.


I know of one pastor who refuses to do background checks. His rationale for refusing to do them? After a person is saved, their past sins are “under the blood.”  The person, no matter what they have done in the past, is completely forgiven by God. (after all, God forgave Paul, the murderer and David, the adulterer/murderer, right?) This kind of na├»ve thinking is why churches are havens for predators. It is not hard to stand before a church and give a wonderful testimony of God’s saving grace, yet be a predator. It is quite easy to learn the lingo. My family and I could dress up this Sunday, go to church, and every one of us would likely be considered wonderful Christians. We know the talk, the walk, the songs. We know how to do Evangelical. Yet, in REAL life we are atheists, agnostics, Catholics, and Buddhists and most of us are, shudder to think of it, Democrats.  Anyone who has spent any time at all  in church can easily FAKE it.
But, Bruce, the Holy Spirit will let the church know they aren’t real Christians. Do you really want to trust the welfare of the church children and teenagers to the Holy Spirit?  Are you really saying that a Christian couldNOT be a pedophile, abuser, or predator? (and if you are a Baptist, please explain this to me in light of your“once saved, always saved” belief)