Monthly Archives: November 2013

Poetry for the Young Realist: No One Likes A Puritan

Happy Thanksgiving. Let’s not forget why America exists in the first place…because some people are so hard to be around that you have to send them off to the “New World.”

Before I get accused of being the Thanksgiving Grinch…I’m thankful for many things. In particular this year I’m thankful for my little stowaway and her father.

No One Likes A Puritan

I. We celebrate each late November

A date we know we should remember

When persecuted pilgrims sailed

Across the ocean and prevailed

Upon these rocky shores.

Don’t think the story is completed

With tales of corn and natives greeted.

That boat contained some noble envoys

But they were joined by royal killjoys.

No one liked the Puritans.*

II. If you shun your well-dressed neighbor

And never greet or grant them favors,

If you refuse to house-or-dogsit

Your principals may justify it

But no one likes a Puritan.

No One Likes a Puritan - Gay Rabbits

III. When you say “no” to every party

Especially when the crowd is arty

It’s true you’ll never face temptation…

For fun, or mirth, or celebration.

That’s why folks hate Puritans.

No One Likes a Puritan - Snake Party

IV. Food and beverages are fun

And, yes, often overdone.

But turning down each scrumptious pleasure

Makes you seem more grim than measured.

It’s tough to be a Puritan.

No One Likes a Puritan - Turtle Wine

V. A joke can be both crass and funny

Concerning poop or sex or money.

If you don’t deign to laugh along

Insisting that it would be wrong

No one will like you, Puritan.

No One Likes a Puritan - Vermin Poker

VI. While your beliefs may be sincere,

Your values too may be held dear,

It is your right to hold them firm

And not to compromise or squirm.

But people may not like you.

So like the Pilgrims long ago

If your answer’s always “No,”

Don’t be surprised if no one sees

The beauty of your earnesty

And wishes you’d set sail.

Historical Footnote:

* We know that no one liked them, because they were persecuted. People don’t persecute people they like.

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The grapefruit harvest that ended with me cutting down a tree

Grapefruit harvest has become one of my favorite things about living in the Little House on the Eastside. We have many fruit trees, but the only one, thus far to produce to it’s full potential in both taste and quantity is the faithful grapefruit tree.

The meyer lemon tree is a phoenix, which is finally producing after we thought it died in 2011. Verdict is still out on the quality. The pear tree produces plenty of fruit, edible only by Florence, who also eats plastic, wood, and probably metal. The pomegranate bush produced exactly three of the saddest fruits I have ever seen. Our fig tree is really only a fig tree in theory. The loquat tree produces plenty, but who needs that many loquats? The tangerine tree, usually pretty reliable, if extremely tart, is taking the year off, and our pecan trees barely survived the drought, so we’re not asking much.

Last year, we harvested in early December  in running shorts, sweaty and itchy as we climbed ladders and picked through the highest branches.

Harvest 2012. Note the shrubby anacua in the lower left.

Harvest 2012. Note the shrubby anacua in the lower left.

This year, the harvest came early, as I looked at the forecast and saw a freeze approaching. So I bundled up and headed to the orchard to see what I could salvage. It was 2 hours before we needed to leave for church, which is when all worthwhile projects are hatched.

Here’s how it all went.

2:50 pm: Upon inspection, Bekah determines that the meyer lemons were in fact, not ripe. Ripe meyer lemons are bright orange, and these are still a little yellow. However, while examining the lemons she did find this amazing creature.

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3:05 After filling 4 grocery bags from just the low-hanging grapefruit, Bekah goes inside and fetches the little step-ladder to get the next level. Lewis is nowhere to be found, and thus the plan goes forward half-baked and without precaution.

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3:10 A shrubby anacua and several hackberry saplings present an obstacle. [note: I’m not opposed to “trash trees” the way that some people are. True they will take over your back yard as aggressively as bamboo, and they are nearly impossible to kill…but they are native, the birds love them, and they aren’t ugly…well, okay, they aren’t too ugly.]

The shrubby anacua, seen in the photo from last year, was particularly obnoxious in dominating the space beneath and around 3 branches full of plump grapefruit. It had to go.

3:15– Bekah enters the house where Lewis is now working.

“Do we have a saw?”

“I’m sure we do…why?” (Lewis tries to keep the panic from showing on his face)

“I need to get rid of a hackberry tree.”

Bekah goes to the laundry room and finds the handsaw, instantly thankful for the Great Organizing Binge of 2012. Lewis gives some instruction on how to use the handsaw, which Bekah pretends to understand before she returns to the orchard and begins sawing down little hackberry saplings scattered beneath the grapefruit tree.

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3:29: It becomes clear that the handsaw is not going to be enough to bring down the shrubby anacua in any timely fashion. Or maybe ever. Don’t let “shrubby” fool you. It’s a fairly mature tree, it just has leaves all the way to the ground, because it came of age during a drought. Don’t feel sorry for it though. It was a bully shrub tree.

3:30: Bekah goes to the garage to find the ax. The ax came with the house, along with several other ancient tools. It’s approximately 1.5 million years old, and the origin of the old phrase, “fly off the handle.”

3:40: Tired from swinging the ax, Bekah alternates between handsawing the tiny hackberry trees all over the yard out of spite, and returning to the shrub, which has proven harder to kill than she’d anticipated. That’s the thing about South Texas natives (plants, animals, and humans), they are built to survive forces far more lethal than a pregnant woman with a dull, million-year-old hand tool that falls apart every few minutes.

The tiny hackberry saplings prove more rewarding.

3:50: Bekah marches back in the house, sticks and leaves in her hair. Lewis, no longer masking his concern, silently braces himself for news of disaster, but wisely resists the urge to intervene.

“Isn’t brush collection day coming soon?” she asks.

“Yyyeesss….” Lewis says.

“Oh good.”

Lewis is tempted to check on the situation, but knows that not knowing is sometimes the better option.

Florence follows Bekah back outside and proceeds to wretch throughout the remainder of the project. Who knows what she ate.

Bekah returns to the ax, only to realize that the shrub is so intertwined with its little sister shrub that the only way to fell the first one is to go for both simultaneously. Another brilliant survival move by the anacua, and nascent illustration on the importance of community…or the bond of marriage…or something.

3:55– Bekah puts the head of the ax back on the handle for the final time, checks to make sure that Florence is not within range should it go flying,  and keeps chopping.

4:00: Bekah finally topples both anacuas, does a celebratory dance, and realizes that she cannot lift the fallen shrub trees over the antique washing machine, that is for some reason a fixture in the back yard. She will need to do this in order to drag it to the sidewalk for brush collection day.

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4:01: Bekah goes inside, asks Lewis for help. Lewis looks openly relieved to be invited to supervise this unplanned project…and he didn’t even know about the ax.

4:02: Lewis is left outside to finish the job of hauling and chopping the shrub trees into manageable pieces, because, as Bekah says, “The baby and I are tired now. We’re going inside.”

4:05: Bekah remembers that the entire point of cutting down the anacua and hackberries was to get to some of the best grapefruit. However, she’s already started a hot shower and peeled off her wet outer layers, and the grapefruit will have to wait until tomorrow.

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Happy Birthday, Lewis!

We were watching “Lars and the Real Girl” a few weeks ago, and there’s a scene in which Lars asks his brother what it means to be a “man.” His brother answers that being faithful and taking care of the people you love is what makes a man (in more appropriately manly words).

It’s not just age.

Today,  33 years ago, the world got a little bit better, because Lewis Maverick McNeel was born. I wasn’t around to notice, but I’m sure that if I had been, I would have woken up a little happier without even knowing why. I think I’d have felt it.

I’ve gotten to celebrate the last three of those with this guy.

June 9 iPhone 052

Every year I feel like there’s not really a gift to sum up how happy I am that he’s in the world.

His birthdays have included surprise parties, flamenco dancers, five course meals…still, nothing really communicates just how happy I am that he was born.iPhone upload May 23 2013 067

 

But this one is different. This time, I am absolutely positive that the events of his birthday will show Lewis how and why I am so very thankful for him…

Today is so full of semi-birthday semi-fun that the only time he could go to CrossFit was at 6:30 am.

While he was gone (and I was just waking up), sensing the occasion, Florence decided to make a present on the floor. I could not leave the bedroom without gagging so hard my eyes watered, and so the present was there waiting when he got home. (Though, I will say that when I fled the stench, I fled to Bakery Lorraine to get him some breakfast).

The shower curtain got so excited that it fell down.

“Birthday lunch” was planned exactly 15 minutes in advance.

And his birthday night will begin with an elementary school choir concert.

Lewis diligently went to work out at 6:30 am. He came home and cleaned up the poop. He doesn’t know about the shower curtain yet…but usually when it falls down, he just gets out the ladder and hangs it right back up. He let me change the time of his impromptu lunch 2 different times, without letting on if it threw of his schedule. And he’s happily dressed to impress for the elementary choir event. Which he’s going to for our growing-up flower girl, whom he’s come to love like part of the family.

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So today, more than any other birthday, I can look at everything that’s happened and say, “This, this, Lewis McNeel, is why your birthday deserves to be celebrated. You are patient, kind, dutiful, loving, strong, and capable. And you have a somewhat compromised sense of smell, which is really helpful when the house smells of dog sh**.”

You, Lewis McNeel, are a man, and we, your whole little family, are very very thankful for each of your 33 years.

 

 

Something New and Good: Our God Sunshines

When I was really little, my new-Christian-mom and I listened to a lot of praise music in the car. Most of her favorite stories about me come from these times.

Once, when I was about 3 or 4, we were listening to a song called “Our God Reigns.” I was singing along contentedly, and then stopped and looked concerned.

“You know, Mommy, sometimes our God sunshines too.”

It’s a cute story, and I was probably just talking about the weather, but it’s also telling about something that would continue into adulthood.

FAM trip 442

The tradition I grew up in, the Reformed nuevo-puritans, is not about a sunshiney God. Their God thunders, really.

He loves you…in spite of how totally wretched you are.

The heart is an idol factory.

The cross was a reminder of what you deserve.

All biblically accurate. That’s the kicker. God has this dark and stormy side. And we love that side. It’s the side that stands up for the oppressed and has the final say against injustice! We’re sinners too, and God sees that. But one true thing does not a whole self nourish.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk about sin and idolotry. It was that I wanted to talk about something else sometimes. Just sometimes. I wanted some hope.

My spine hurt from the constant game of limbo. How low can your self-esteem go? It’s not low enough until you feel like a worm.

And that mentality had a way of working itself into every area of life. Marriage between two Wormy Sinners is a bloodbath. Wormy Sinner Parents raising Wormy Sinner Children was a jungle fight. Wormy Sinner Communities are messes. Sure does make you want to be in that club, huh? Don’t you want to be reminded what a Wormy Sinner you are in all of life’s most happy moments?

But in my head, there’s a well-trained voice that says, “That’s correct. That’s accurate.”

Maybe so. But knowing myself, and my tendency to obsess…what do I want to obsess on? God’s goodness or my badness? (Spare me the theology talk about how it’s our badness that show us how good he is and vice versa.)

So (among other reasons) I gave myself some distance from the I-am-a-Worm Club.

FAM trip 592

It might take me the rest of my life to really believe that God sunshines, and that I can just bask in that without self-flagellating. It may take the rest of my life, but I’m going to do it. With the help some good, honest “God loves you” preaching. I’ve needed it.

But recently, I really missed the nuevo-puritan’s revamped hymnal, so I bought some CDs and revisited the days when I used to listen to worship music in the car. I had to laugh though. Even the titles of the praise music reveal a slight preference for “hard truths.” There are a lot of titles like “Come and Mourn,” “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,” and “Come Ye Sinner Poor and Wretched.” Not all, just more than you’d expect.

In the end, the nuevo-puritan revamped hymnal has not left me high and dry. If I had to pick an anthem for my slow and halting return to the disciplines of grace, it would have to be this more eloquent expression of my childhood assertion that God sunshines:

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in His wings;
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.

Source: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/706#ixzz2iaVfpBVU

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Florence’s So-Called Life: Season 1, ep 6

In which Florence loses control of her destructive behavior.

(read in the voice of Florence, which sounds uncannily like a 14-year-old Claire Danes)

Sometimes…I just…destroy things.

I thought I had it under control. Chew on some socks or underwear occasionally…and I’ve been working my way through the rug for months. And there was the blue pen incident (which was blown way out of proportion by the humans). But it wasn’t, like, a daily compulsion or anything.

But then, like…a switch flipped? I dunno. I just really…need…to destroy things.

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And it used to just be stuff left on the floor or dangling off of chairs.

But now…it’s just all right there…on the table…on Bekah’s desk…it’s just there. Calling me to tear it to shreds.

There’s the sod in the back yard…

Credit cards…

Sunglasses,,,

Post-it notes, but only the ones with phone numbers and notes on them from Bekah’s office…

And whatever Lewis was working on all night at the dining room table…

And the weird thing is, even when they discipline me, and shove it in my nose. I just don’t even care. My tail wags and I sort of just like the attention.

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Bekah and Lewis were convinced that I just needed better toys.

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But something happens at 6:30 in the morning…when I’ve been crying for 30 minutes because they think they can just feed me and let me out to pee and then go back to bed…and I get this rage. I don’t want their stupid toys. I don’t want to be placated. I want to be PLAYED WITH. And then I black out. When I come to, there’s plastic and paper everywhere…

I think I need to go to rehab.

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Pregnant Lady or Hobbit? [Second Breakfast]

I’m pregnant. I think.

I wake up ravenous.Yesterday morning I had to be out the door by 6:30 am. So I grabbed a chewy granola bar to take the edge off, telling myself I’d have a tiny, nutritious snack when I got back home around 8 am. Okay, tiny or nutritious. You can’t have it all.

I came home, considered my options, and went for two hard-boiled eggs. I don’t like hard boiled yolk, so it would be just the whites. What is that, like 60 calories total?

Juuuust as I dropped the eggs into the boiling water, I realized that at my current hunger register, two egg whites would hold me over for approximately 45 seconds.

But two poached eggs…now that sounded more amenable my hormone-addled brain.

Snatch eggs from boiling water (with fingers). Add vinegar and salt to boiling water (don’t measure, just pour). Crack eggs into cup and lower into the water, and voila! Poached eggs.

But poached eggs by themselves? How will I sop up the yolk? (Never mind that the yolk was not entirely runny, thanks to the eggs’ brief dip into boiling water back when they were to be hardboiled)

Better add toast…umm, er, make it two pieces, one for each egg.

Mmm…doesn’t the smell of toast always make you want tomatoes? (Probably not…unless you are very British or pregnant with a constant craving for tomatoes.)

Tomatoes, poached egg, and toast. What’s missing? Of course, Parmesan! Finely grated Parmesan – the strangest impulse buy I’ve ever made at Central Market. Yep, sprinkle that on top.

Now that is what I call…SECOND BREAKFAST!

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As I get rounder, I have to wonder…am I going to have a baby? Or is Gandalf going to show up at my door on March 16 and send me off to Mordor?

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