With apologies to Lerner & Loewe…

If ever I would leave you
It wouldn’t be in Walmart.
Seeing you in Walmart
I never would go.
Your cart filled with clothing,
Groceries, hardware, and shoes,
They all cost more money
Than I care to lose!

 

But if I’d ever leave you,
It couldn’t be in Target.
How I’d leave in Target
I never will know.
I’ve seen how you sparkle
When sales nip the air.
I know you in Target
And it’s quite a scare.

 

And could I leave you
Spending merrily while at Sears?
With a credit bill
That will not be paid for years?

 

If ever I would leave you,
How could it be in Penney’s?
Knowing how the pennies add up to a lot?
Oh, no! not in Penney’s
Target, Walmart, or Sears!
No, never could I leave you, my dear!

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Must be March Madness

Most Sunday mornings find me in a small congregation south of town. When I say “small,” I mean that a good Sunday has an attendance in the low double digits. But the congregation survives for two reasons: their preacher is a part-time pastor who has a full-time job downtown (benefits such as health insurance included); and the congregation rents out the building when they aren’t using it. On Friday nights Alcoholics Anonymous meets there, and on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons a Spanish-speaking congregation of a different denomination has services and classes there.

When I arrived this morning, I saw that the power company was doing repairs down the road, and they had parked their trailer with equipment and parts on the church parking lot, taking up about four spaces. That seemed rather thoughtless, what with it being Sunday and all, but we worked around it.

Then, when we got inside, we saw that the other congregation’s praise band had forgotten to put away their equipment after practicing on Saturday. They’ve left a few things out from time to time, but never the entire set-up. So three of us got busy and packed away all their instruments and equipment in the side room where they belong, and our service still started on time.

We decided that the cause of all this equipment in our way must be March Madness.

This afternoon a U-Haul van stopped in front of the house. Soon an Amazon deliveryman was carrying three boxes to the door—a small one, a medium one, and a large one. When I met him at the door, he warned me they were heavy; and they were heavy. Together they contained twenty copies of my novel, I Remember Amy, which has just been published.

They are huge, about 450 pages, and when I opened one I saw why. When I submitted the text, I inadvertently had left it double-spaced. Remember, I wrote the first draft seven years ago. I had double-spaced it then to print a copy and edit it by hand. So now I have a simple novel that, from the outside, looks like it ought to rival War and Peace. I was able, this afternoon, to correct the spacing and resubmit the text, cutting the size of the book in half. I also dropped the price to twelve dollars. (The Kindle version is still four dollars.) But the first people to receive free copies of the book will no doubt be daunted by its size. Honestly, I’ve seen phone books smaller than this edition of the novel.

So, that’s my March Madness story for this morning. I hope each of you is doing well and that all your teams are winning. J.

Messing with time

I wasn’t going to write about the Daylight Saving Time change this month—I’ve said all that I need to say about it in the past. But Julie at cookiecrumbstoliveby has written an excellent post which inspires me to share something that happened yesterday in Bible class. Be sure to read Julie’s post. And if you want to know what I have said in the past about Daylight Saving Time, I know WordPress will provide links at the bottom of this post.

Our class has been working through the book of Isaiah the past few weeks—sometimes one chapter a week, sometimes two, occasionally three. This month we hit the historical chapters in the middle of the book. So yesterday we were studying Isaiah 38, in which Hezekiah is sick and is told that he will die of his illness. He turns his face to the wall and prays, and God hears the king’s prayer and responds with grace, granting him fifteen more years to live and to rule God’s people. As a sign that God will keep this promise, he has the shadow on the stairs of the Temple move backwards, indicating that the sun has shifted miraculously in the sky.

Not one of us could resist linking that miracle to Daylight Saving Time.

We had other important themes to discuss, including the Old Testament view of Death and Sheol, which is much darker than the New Testament’s promise of Paradise, and including the entire idea of prayer. God announces Hezekiah’s death, then appears to change his mind because of the king’s prayer. Does a completely wise and all-knowing God change his mind because of our prayers? Isn’t God unchanging? C.S. Lewis was quoted as saying that, through prayer, God invites us to become his partners, just as he invites farmers to be his partners in providing daily bread through their planting and harvesting. We talked about the love of God, that he is always with us and always wants to hear from us. Thinking how often we ignore his gracious presence and don’t say a word to him, we wandered into considering the times that we are with people we love and we act as if they aren’t there. For many of us, the issue was driving. If we are focused on driving, we might not be ready to carry on a conversation in the car, even if the other person in the car is a husband or wife or son or daughter. (When I pick up my daughter from her fast food job at the mall, she has a lot to say, and sometimes I’m not so ready to listen—I’m driving, and especially if it’s dark and raining, I need to focus on my driving.) But God is never so busy running the universe that he cannot listen to our prayers. And Isaiah 38 shows that he is able to “change his mind”—which is not really a change in the Lord who is the same yesterday and today and forever, but which is a living part of the relationship he has with us, in which he delights to receive our prayers and to respond to them as a loving Father.

Even when we have the temerity to mess with time, which is God’s invention. J.

Where the grass is greener

I know that many of you are still looking out your windows and seeing snow on the ground, but today I began my outdoor spring cleaning, which consists largely of raking and bagging leaves. I raked and bagged a few leaves back in October and November, but I allowed others to remain through the winter, giving the lawn a natural blanket of protection and fertilization.

It was a pleasant afternoon to be outside. Other people in the neighborhood were not working outdoors with their loud power tools, so I was able to enjoy the songs of the birds and the shush of the leaves being pulled by my rake. In addition, I got a good hour and twenty minutes of exercise, good for the heart and the muscles, although my lower back will be sore for the rest of the day. Raking in the spring requires more effort than raking in the fall. The leaves have settled into the grass, and it takes some work to dislodge them. But springtime raking gives the lawn a nice combing, which is healthy for the grass.

My neighbor, Mrs. Dim, has a horror of fallen leaves. Scarcely a day has passed that she has not been moving leaves away with her loud leaf blower. She also is horrified by wildflowers, which she calls weeds. Her lawn has been treated to destroy dandelions, clover, violets, and other native flora. I, on the other hand, delight in the spots of color that nature and its Creator provide. In a week or two we will have thousands of tiny pinkish purple flowers springing up in the lawn. They will provide a colorful spectacle for two or three weeks before disappearing again into the grass. After them will come the daisy fleabane.

About half the lawns in the neighborhood have the earlier flowers. But I seem to be the only homeowner who permits the daisy fleabane. I find it to be a beautiful wildflower, but Mrs. Dim does not agree. A few years ago, she even called a city official to take a look at my patch of wildflowers. He said that they are cool.

When Mrs. Dim removes leaves, she makes a lot of noise. She also puts them into plastic bags for the city to haul away. When her grandchildren have reached her current age, her leaves will still be sitting in a dump, encased in plastic, doing nobody any good. My leaves go into paper bags, designed to join the leaves in decomposing and enriching the soil. After benefiting my lawn over the winter, they will be of use elsewhere in the near future.

Ironically, Mrs. Dim’s tended lawn of one hundred percent grass is still dormant, a bland shade of tan or pale yellow. But where my grass has been protected, it is already green. For the next few days, the grass will actually be greener on my side of the fence. Take that, Mrs. Dim! J.

Rumor control, continued

After I posted about Facebook this morning, some new information came to me which needs to be added to the previous post:

  • The name “Facebook,” said backwards, sounds like, “Kubsafe.”
  • Kubsafe was a goat-headed god worshiped by some of the indigenous people of West Africa, as well as by some of their descendants in the Caribbean islands and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • It is said that if a person walks into a dark room, faces a mirror, and says the name of Kubsafe three times in a row without pausing, the face of the god will appear in the mirror. Under certain circumstances, that figure in the mirror may try to harm the person who has invoked him.
  • People of a certain age (or a certain level of maturity), having read this information, will try that very experiment tonight.

You have been warned. J.

Rumor control

I received an urgent Facebook message from my cousin this week. She had received a friend request from me which she knew was spurious, since we are already Facebook friends. She proceeded to instruct me how to warn all my Facebook contacts not to accept a new friend request from me, since someone is obviously using my name and picture for no good purpose.

I thanked my cousin for her warning and told her not to worry—most Facebook users are savvy enough not to refriend someone who is already a Facebook friend. When she repeated her warning, I sent her a link to a Snopes page about Facebook pirates, and she then told me that she felt better and less worried.

When I was in high school and college we did not yet have Snopes. We had to rely on something which we called common sense. Mimeographed sheets were passed around schools, churches, workplaces, and the neighborhood with warnings about sinister plots in the world. The Procter & Gamble company, maker of soaps and toothpastes and many other household items, was actually a satanic organization, which could be proved by studying their corporate logo. Rock musicians were hiding nefarious messages in their popular songs by recording the messages backwards. Atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had persuaded members of Congress to introduce legislation that would ban all Christian broadcasting from American radio and television. None of these messages was true, but without Snopes to discredit them, these messages continued to be shared and believed.

Somehow in the twenty-first century Facebook has become the target of these kinds of rumors. Facebook is going to start charging users for its services. Facebook has claimed ownership and intellectual control of anything its users have ever posted, even if they have deleted those posts. Facebook pirates are using the identities of Facebook users to hack into other users’ accounts and cause terrible harm and destruction.

Snopes has addressed all of these rumors and found them to be incorrect. (Of course if you Google the phrase “Snopes tool Illuminati,” you will receive nearly 42,000 hits in less than half a second.) Facebook users shouldn’t have to check with Snopes before accessing their accounts. Some old-fashioned common sense should dispel any rumors about Facebook, as I will now try to demonstrate:

  • Facebook makes a lot of money providing its free services to its users. If it was not profitable, Facebook would not continue to exist. But it’s not your money that Facebook is earning, so why should you even care?
  • Facebook does not claim ownership of the material its users post. On the other hand, everything posted on Facebook is available all over the Internet to every kind of user. Stalkers and other creepy people can see what you post on Facebook. So can people who have a more legitimate reason to care what you post. Never post anything on Facebook that you would not want seen by your parents, your children, your neighbors, your current employer, or any possible future employer. Use Instagram for those embarrassing posts.
  • Some of the people you encounter on Facebook will have beliefs and opinions that differ from yours. These people include relatives, old high school friends, and even members of your church. They will post statements that you believe to be wrong. They will disagree with things that you post. They will sometimes be rude about these differences. Life happens.
  • If you do not read the things you post before you send them to Facebook, you will sometimes be guilty of silly and embarrassing typos, misspelled words, and improper grammar. A quick run through what you have written will help you catch those mistakes, and this can affect the opinion other people have of you. Save your typos and other mistakes for Twitter.
  • Facebook is not the world. It does not deserve more of your attention than your job, your household, or your relationship with the Lord. It is possible to turn off Facebook and step away from the computer. It is possible to go an entire day without looking at Facebook. Some people live normal and happy lives without even having a Facebook account.

I hope this information has been helpful. J.

Haunted Eureka Springs

With two family members I went up to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, recently. I say we went up because Eureka Springs is high in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. Eureka Springs once billed itself as a health resort; it is now very much a tourist destination. Packed with small shops and historic sites, a trip to Eureka Springs is in some ways a journey into the past.

The three of us stayed in a motel on the main highway. I know I shouldn’t complain—our lodgings were probably better than those of half the world’s population—but the place was rather decrepit and poorly-run. The one lock on the main door to our room was hard to work—even the motel manager struggled with it. The door to the bathroom closed but did not latch shut. Both the heater and the refrigerator were loud, making it difficult to fall asleep once the lights were out. The cleaning service left a plastic cup on the floor behind the toilet and a slipper on the floor by the dresser. The complementary breakfast was missing, except for a little breakfast cereal and a pitcher of milk in the mini-fridge. Worst of all, the room we were staying in was haunted.

Let me immediately interrupt my account to say that I do not believe in hauntings. The Bible says that when a believer dies, his or her soul is immediately taken to Paradise; when an unbeliever dies, his or her soul is immediately taken to Hades. Human spirits do not linger on this planet. Accounts of hauntings are due to a combination of wishful thinking (or dread), imagination, exaggeration, occasionally deliberate fraud, and unexpected events that fool the senses into seeing or hearing something that is not really there. The fact that I do not believe in ghosts does not prevent me from enjoying a good ghost story. I’ve even written a ghost story, which you can read here if you wish.

The Crescent Hotel, high atop a hill in Eureka Springs, is claimed to be haunted. It opened as a hotel and currently operates as a hotel, but in between it has been a girls’ school and a hospital. The proprietors encourage legends of ghosts in the building and even provide a tour of the hotel to allow guides to talk about the history of the building and the ghosts that supposedly remain there. For example, one ghost lives in a certain room of the Hotel and generally leaves guests alone. If they are loud or quarrelsome, though, it has been known to take the clothing the guests hung neatly in the closet and drop them to the floor.

The three of us stopped by the Crescent Hotel, not to take the ghost tour (which all of us have taken before), but to look at Christmas decorations. We also drove around the city to look at other decorations. When we returned to the motel, we hung up our winter coats and sat down to play a card game. The hangers in the motel, like those of many budget motels, are not ordinary hangers with hooks on the top. Instead, they have pegs which fit into slotted knobs on the hanger rod. I guess this keeps guests from stealing hangers from the hotel, since those peg-topped hangers would be useless anywhere else. Like everything else in the motel, the peg-topped hangers and slotted knobs were worn with age and with frequent use.

So we were playing a card game—not being particularly loud or at all quarrelsome—when one of the coats across the room dropped to the floor. Its owner picked it up and hung it again. Soon the same coat and another both dropped to the floor. At various times each of us had to rehang our coats, although mine dropped only once. We congratulated ourselves at experiencing a ghost in Eureka Springs without having to pay the fee for the ghost tour of the Crescent Hotel.

During the night I was startled awake by a voice that called my name. It was a young woman’s voice, although not that of anyone I recognized. We agreed the next morning that I must have been addressed by the same ghost who played with our coats, and another of us had to search for her socks in the morning, as they were not where she remembered leaving them the night before.

If anyone wants to stay in the haunted motel room in Eureka Springs, I can tell you the name of the motel and the room number. But don’t expect to sleep soundly or to be fed breakfast in the morning. About all they have to offer is their ghost. J.

PS: Due to trouble with the modem that serves my home computer, I am having to reach WordPress at the library. As a result, you can expect some irregularity in the posting of my Advent thoughts.

It’s beginning to sound a lot like….

My youngest daughter jinxed my car radio this week.

We were traveling together Tuesday afternoon, and I was listening to my favorite radio station. It’s an “Adult Contemporary” station which plays hit music from the 80s and 90s up to the present—usually with a minimum of talk, although the morning drive hosts do tend to chatter, and they have give-away contests with listeners phoning in to get their voices on the air. But I digress….

I made a comment about the song that was playing, and my daughter remarked, “You’re lucky they haven’t started playing Christmas music wall-to-wall,” to which I agreed. That was Tuesday.

Wednesday they started playing Christmas music “24-7” as they periodically announced, “from now until Christmas Day.”

I may be a curmudgeon, but I don’t hate all Christmas music. I am fairly tolerant of Christmas music at the right time and the right place. I once knew a man who was retired and who played Christmas music twelve months a year in his basement while he added to his model train landscape and tinkered with the trains. I think that if and when I retire, I might get into model trains. I’d listen to my own favorite music, though—classical one day, Beatles the next, and hits from the 80s some other days… and in December, Christmas music. But, again, I digress….

I will say one good thing about the music I’ve heard on this station Wednesday and today: they are mixing a few carols in with the secular Christmas songs. Christ the Savior is being proclaimed along with Frosty and Rudolph and Santa Claus. My patience with Christmas music is generally exhausted when only the secular songs are played.

There truly are two holidays called Christmas. One marks the coming of God’s Savior to rescue and redeem the world. The other is about gifts and decorations and the winter solstice. Because they happen around the same time, people tend to blend them together. But the tradition of the Church since ancient times has been to celebrate the holiday of Christmas with twelve days, beginning on December 25 and extending to January 5. The four weeks before Christmas are called the Advent Season. When observed in the traditional way, Advent is known for somber hymns and for Bible readings about why we sinners need a Savior. This year Advent begins on Sunday December 2. Tomorrow is not yet even Advent yet: it is the Last Sunday of the Church Year, also known as Christ the King Sunday and as the Sunday of the Fulfillment. We will not be singing about the baby in the manger or the herald angels for another month inside the church.

Yet because of the blending of the two Christmases, the tree will be going up early in December even in the church building; and the children’s Christmas pageant will be in the middle of the month, before school dismisses and families begin traveling to other places for the holidays.

On the second day of Christmas, the radio station will return to its usual music. By the sixth day of Christmas, many families will have taken down their decorations and put them in storage until next November. In our house, the tree and other decorations will remain out at least until after the twelfth day of Christmas; some of the more durable decorations will stay up until Candlemas, also known as Groundhog Day. But once again I digress….

The Last Sunday of the Church year is a time for the Church to consider cosmic eschatology: the glorious appearing of the Lord, his Judgment, and the dawn of his new creation. One of the hymns we will sing tomorrow is the harvest hymn, “Come Ye Thankful People, Come,” which begins with talk of the worldly harvest and then shifts into a discussion of the harvest of the earth on the Last Day. When this hymn is sung on Thanksgiving or the night before, people tend to focus only on thanksgiving for earthly blessings. Sung again on the Sunday of the Fulfillment, people will change their focus to that final harvest that awaits us all. Then we are ready for Advent, another way to regard the coming of our King. We will not let the world rush us; we will leave time in the hands of the Lord. J.

Oak leaves

Forty years ago, the developers who built the neighborhood where I live decided to construct houses in an oak forest without ripping out all the oak trees; they preserved as many as they could. So we have all the benefits of living among oak trees: the beauty, the shade, the wildlife. We also have the costs of living among oak trees: the falling leaves in autumn, the allergies. For me, the benefits far outweigh the costs. I don’t complain about the oaks or their leaves; I am distressed whenever a homeowner decides to remove oak trees from his or her property.

The city owns a giant vacuum cleaner truck that travels around the various neighborhoods, reaching each neighborhood two times every autumn, to pick up leaves from the curbside. They only pick up leaves within six feet of the street. Many homeowners rake their leaves to the curbside and let the piles sit there until the truck comes and takes them away. The city shreds the leaves and uses them as mulch in the city parks. I strongly approve of this policy.

My house is at the end of a cul de sac, one of five whose driveways lead into the circular turnabout. As a result, the property is a trapezoid rather than the traditional rectangle: tiny little front yard; expansive back yard and side yard. Because of this arrangement, I don’t have much of a curb for depositing leaves; the driveway consumes half of the curbside and the mailbox takes up another quarter, leaving four or five feet for the weekly garbage and biweekly recycling pickup. Some years I’ve tried piling leaves on those few square feet available, but my property receives far more fallen leaves than will fit in that area. Besides, putting leaves there leaves no room for the garbage and recycling containers. So, like many other people in the neighborhood, I bag my leaves and leave them to be picked up on Monday morning, not by the giant vacuum cleaner, but by the regular truck that carries lawn and garden waste to the dump. Unlike many other people in the neighborhood, I put my leaves in biodegradable paper bags rather than plastic bags. In two or three years, even in the city dump, my leaves and their bags will have become fertile soil that eventually will find its way into the city ecosystem to the benefit of other trees and various plants. Mrs. Dim’s leaves, on the other hand, will still be encased in plastic when her grandchildren have reached her present age, providing no benefit to anyone or anything.

Saturday morning Mrs. Dim was busy blowing her leaves into piles with a loud leaf-blower, shredding them with her mower, and then emptying the mower bag into large black plastic bags to leave on the street. She is one of several in the neighborhood who handle leaves in that fashion, so Saturdays are often accompanied by chorus of blowers and mowers from dawn to dusk.

Saturday afternoon I got out my rake and my “bearclaws” and my paper bags. (Bearclaws are like rakes without long handles. They fit over each hand to enable the user to scoop up copious amounts of leaves and drop them into a bag.) In about one hour I was able to clean leaves off the deck, the front lawn, and the driveway, filling nine bags. I stopped after that hour of work for three reasons. First, only eight bags fit on the curbside, two rows of four. Second, I generally refuse to spend more than an hour each week on lawn work. Third, an hour of raking and lifting and bending is about all my back and my allergies can handle. So the leaves in the back yard and the side yard will have to wait for another day—perhaps later this autumn, perhaps not until spring.

When I started working in the front lawn, Mrs. Dim was washing her car on her driveway. Mrs. Dim has a routine system of washing a vehicle with great attention to detail, often taking two hours or more to complete. She bellowed at me—Mrs. Dim never talks; she always bellows—”Hey, J., who do you think is going to win the War of the Leaves?”

I looked upwards. “My money is on the trees,” I told her. They’ve had a lot of years of practice, and they’re good at what they do.”

“I know,” she said. “I raked this morning, and look—you can hardly tell that I did it.” I could tell that she did it; there were a lot of black plastic bags piled on the street, but it was true that a few more leaves had fallen since the morning. “I’m going to wait two weeks before I rake again,” she announced.

“I think that’s a good plan,” I responded.

After that we both worked in relative silence. I enjoyed the shushing of the leaves as I raked and gathered them. I enjoyed the crunching as I walked through sections I had not yet raked. Unfortunately another neighbor was using his blower to clear his back yard, so I could not completely enjoy a peaceful afternoon, but it came close.

I imagined a further conversation with Mrs. Dim. I imagined her asking me why I was putting my bags of leaves back by the shed instead of leaving them at the curb until Monday morning’s pickup. I imagined me telling her that no one likes to look out their front window and see a pile of bags. I imagined her agreeing and saying that she always puts her trash next to the driveway so she doesn’t see them from the house. “I’ve noticed,” I would say, because her driveway and her trash are what I see when I look out the front window of my house.

That’s the price of having a trapezoidal lot with an expansive back lawn and side lawn and a tiny front lawn. When Mrs. Dim washes her car, it’s as if she’s doing it in our front lawn; it’s right outside our living room windows. When Mrs. Dim blows her leaves or mows and trims and edges, her noisy tasks are happening right in front of our house. When Mrs. Dim carries on a conversation with another neighbor or with someone on the telephone, her words are broadcast throughout our house. What can you do? It’s not criminal behavior you can report to the police; it’s just one of the nuisances of having neighbors.

I should have a clever concluding paragraph to wrap up this rambling account, but nothing comes to mind. Feel free to add a conclusion of your own devising. J.

Watch your language!

Some people believe that the world has become more crass and vulgar in recent times. I have recently noticed evidence to the contrary. In fact, one might consider these two incidents to be examples of delicacy (or perhaps political correctness) run amuck.

The first example comes from the grocery store. I am making a German dinner this weekend, featuring sauerbraten. The recipe calls for a cut of beef called “rump roast.” I discovered that the grocery store now describes this cut as “bottom cut roast.” “Bottom cut” instead of “rump”—seriously?

A few weeks ago, right after Burt Reynolds died, two DJs on the radio were talking about movies he had made, and one of them mentioned “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which also starred Dolly Parton. Except that the producer of the show bleeped out the first syllable of “whorehouse” every time one of the DJs uttered the title. Noticing this, the DJ expressed his surprise that the name of the movie could have been advertised back in the 1980s.

Basic courtesy toward other people causes many of us to avoid crude and insulting terms in our speaking and our writing. Even the Bible warns us to be careful how we speak. Modern translations of the Bible always use the words rooster and donkey when naming those creatures, although some traditional hymns and carols still include the one-syllable synonyms for those names, terms that were included in the Authorized Version of the Bible (the King James translation). Since I remember the nervous giggling those terms provoked in teen Bible class years ago, I do not mind the newer words.

But—again—“bottom cut”—seriously?

One wonders what the main cut of white meat from chicken and other poultry will soon be called if this trend continues. J.