On the Eve of Chemotherapy and Super Tuesday

Those two things, in theory, should be unrelated, but sometimes things fall together on a calendar for a reason.

For what it’s worth, I have no idea why or how my father’s first chemotherapy appointment and the primary election in Tennessee have aligned this way, but here we are.

It’s been a little more than a month since my parents returned to Tennessee from their two-month stint in California. Dad has made tremendous progress in these last few weeks. His goal is to walk independently (with a walker), and he’s as stubborn as ever, God love him. I spent Sunday afternoon with Mom and Dad at the rehab center, and his resolve is solid. Up and down, left and right, he was practicing. He wants so badly to go home. We all want that.

For now, though, he needs to stay put since he’s in the best possible place. We have no idea what chemotherapy and radiation will do to the tumor or his body. We don’t know what side effects he’ll have, how tired he’ll feel, or whether or not this treatment will have any impact at all. We don’t even have statistics to rely on. That’s how rare this cancer is.

But I digress. We will do what we’ve always done as a family – keep moving forward and laugh as much as possible.

As far as Super Tuesday is concerned, I’ll slip in to vote tomorrow on my way back from the hospital, and then I’ll stay up tomorrow night to watch the returns. It’s been a wild election year already, but I’m feeling the way I always feel – the people I vote for don’t get elected. That’s what it means to be politically homeless.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings for us as a family or us as a country, but faith is good for times like these. I may not know what’s going to happen, but I’m not worried in a philosophical or theological way. Life goes on. The sun sets, and then it comes up again the next morning. God is faithful. He’s near. And, we have each other. These are the things that truly matter.

The rest, I guess, is left to the wind.

Book Review: Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal

If you know me, then you know I was #NotWithHer during the 2016 presidential election. I had the privilege of voting my conscience because I don’t live in a swing state. I didn’t have to make a hard choice between two people I didn’t like. (The people I vote for don’t win.)

That being said, I did cast my very first vote at 18 years old for Bill Clinton, and to this day I’m not sure why, other than that’s what all the cool kids were doing.

Since everyone lost their minds the night President Trump was elected (myself included), I’ve been curious to understand what the big hairy deal is with the Clintons. Why are they so loved? Why have people handcuffed their entire careers and reputations to this polarizing political couple? (I’m looking at you, Huma.) I don’t get it, and while I respect and love many Clinton supports in my circle of influence, my understanding of their support was nil.

Therefore, I set out to read about them, and while I chose a couple of books that ended up more biased than I cared for, I wanted to share a review of a book that I found to be objective, thoughtful, and informative.

Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal begins where every story about a politician should – his and her childhood. Just as our upbringing shapes us, a politician’s earliest experiences on matters of standard, sacrifice, risk and reward play an influential role in who they become as adults. A person’s ideology is shaped, for better or worse, by the relationships and events of their youth. It matters that Bill Clinton’s childhood was a total mess. It matters that Hillary’s mother’s opinion on marriage was pivotal in her decision to stay with a compulsive cheater, that Hillary knew exactly what she was signing up for when she married the future president.

The first sections of the book toggle back and forth between their upbringings, their educational experiences, and family history. Once the couple meets at Yale and enters into a romantic partnership, the story streamlines as the Clintons head for Arkansas.

Here are a few things I didn’t know prior to reading this book:

  • that Hillary wrestled with the decision to marry Bill. I mean, really wrestled.
  • that the Whitewater scandal was the first big hurdle that forced Bill and Hillary to use political and legal connections to outwit and outplay, a pattern of secrecy and sidestepping that served them well for decades. (Hillary’s documented arguments for eschewing cooperation helped me understand how she handled the email/server scandal during the election.)
  • that Bill was governor of Arkansas for two years, then lost his first re-election when he fell out of touch with his constituents. He was eventually re-elected and served another ten years.
  • that Hillary insisted upon an office in the West Wing instead of the traditional space for First Ladies in the East Wing, furthering the message that she and Bill were “co-presidents”
  • that Chelsea forbade her father to visit her at Stanford after the Lewinsky affair became public
  • that Hillary actually believed Bill when he said the Lewinsky affair was not true
  • that Bill could’ve had a fully successful presidency as a left-leaning moderate had his personal afflictions been avoided

If this tells you anything about the book’s objectivity, there were several times when I felt pity for the Clintons. Hillary’s ambition can be traced to her earliest years, and while I acknowledge her passion as authentic and recognize that it’s attractive to some, her manipulative methods for gaining power affirm that I could never support her. Likewise, no matter how successful his presidency was (and could’ve been), Bill just can’t get out of his own way. I feel the most sorry for him.

Whether they have a romantic, abiding love for each other is something only they know, but this book spotlights how dedicated they’ve been to their powerful partnership, that no matter how bad it got, they stuck together.

For better or for worse. 

There Was Once by Margaret Atwood

Political frustration depicted in fiction. There was never a truer conversation. Enjoy.

“There was once a poor girl, as beautiful as she was good, who lived with her wicked stepmother in a house in the forest.”

“Forest? Forest is passé, I mean, I’ve had it with all this wilderness stuff. It’s not a right image of our society, today. Let’s have some urban for a change.”

“There was once a poor girl, as beautiful as she was good, who lived with her wicked stepmother in a house in the suburbs.”

“That’s better. But I have to seriously query this word poor.

“But she was poor!”

“Poor is relative. She lived in a house, didn’t she?”

“Yes.”

“Then socio-economically speaking, she was not poor.”

“But none of the money was hers! The whole point of the story is that the wicked stepmother makes her wear old clothes and sleep in the fireplace-”

“Aha! They had a fireplace! With poor, let me tell you, there’s no fireplace. Come down to the park, come to the subway stations after dark, come down to where they sleep in cardboard boxes, and I’ll show you poor!

“There was once a middle-class girl, as beautiful as she was good-”

“Stop right there. I think we can cut the beautiful, don’t you? Women these days have to deal with too many intimidating physical role models as it is, what with those bimbos in the ads. Can’t you make her, well, more average?”

“There was once a girl who was a little overweight and whose front teeth stuck out, who-”

“I don’t think it’s nice to make fun of people’s appearances. Plus, you’re encouraging anorexia.”

“I wasn’t making fun! I was just describing-”

“Skip the description. Description oppresses. But you can say what colour she was.”

“What colour?”

“You know. Black, white, red, brown, yellow. Those are the choices. And I’m telling you right now, I’ve had enough of white. Dominant culture this, dominant culture that-”

“I don’t know what colour.”

“Well, it would probably be your colour, wouldn’t it?”

“But this isn’t about me! It’s about this girl-”

“Everything is about you.”

“Sounds to me like you don’t want to hear this story at all.”

“Oh well, go on. You could make her ethnic. That might help.”

“There was once a girl of indeterminate descent, as average-looking as she was good, who lived with her wicked-”

“Another thing. Good and wicked. Don’t you think you should transcend those puritanical judgmental moralistic epithets? I mean, so much of that is conditioning, isn’t it?”

“There was once a girl, as average-looking as she was well-adjusted, who lived with her stepmother, who was not a very open and loving person because she herself had been abused in childhood.”

“Better. But I am so tired of negative female images! And stepmothers-they always get it in the neck! Change it to stepfather, why don’t you? That would make more sense anyway, considering the bad behaviour you’re about to describe. And throw in some whips and chains. We all know what those twisted, repressed, middle-aged men are like-”

Hey, just a minute! I’m a middle-aged-

“Stuff it, Mister Nosy Parker. Nobody asked you to stick in your oar, or whatever you want to call that thing. This is between the two of us. Go on.”

“There was once a girl-”

“How old was she?”

“I don’t know. She was young.”

“This ends with a marriage, right?”

“Well, not to blow the plot, but-yes.”

“Then you can scratch the condescending paternalistic terminology. It’s woman, pal. Woman.”

“There was once-”

“What’s this was, once? Enough of the dead past. Tell me about now.”

“There-”

“So?”

“So, what?”

“So, why not here?

A letter to my boys on Inauguration Day

Dear Jeremy and Jackson,

This morning, after your math tests and vocabulary tests, and a quick lecture about staying organized, the three of us sat down to watch Donald Trump’s inauguration. You have been listening to your dad and me talk about the election for so long now, and then the three of us laid in our bed the day after the election trying to figure out how Donald Trump got elected.

I had few answers for you then, and though I found answers for you over the last few months and I now understand why so many Americans wanted a significant change in governing, I was still an anxious pacer this morning as we awaited the inauguration to begin.

Even though Donald Trump did not earn my vote, he earned the votes of people you know and love. Hillary Clinton did not earn my vote either, but she earned the votes of people you know and love. I tell you this because America is a country sprinkled with diversity, and we are blessed to have folks in our circle of influence who possess a wide range of beliefs, traditions, and cultures. This is a good thing. I hope you surround yourselves with the same diversity throughout your adult life.

I kept looking at you both as we listened to the singing of “America the Beautiful” and as various people of faith prayed at the podium. Oh how I long for you to know how truly blessed you are to live in a country with so much liberty at your fingertips. Life is hard, and it is often unfair in so many ways, but do not let those truths discourage you from always choosing what is right and just. May you not be cowards who are all talk and no action. Rather, be honorable men of action and precious little talk.

You will get angry, but you will not win over anyone with your anger. I promise you that.

You will get bitter, but you will not win over anyone with your bitterness. Trust me.

When previous presidents and their spouses took the stage, I told you who each one of them was and explained how mature and respectful it was to attend. There are many congressmen and women who did not attend as an act of protest, and they are within their right to do so. This is freedom in action. But my hope for you is that you go on to recognize this occasion as historical rather than political. Two people who disagree can still be polite to one another and honor the traditions of our country. There will be plenty of time and occasions for debate. Today was not that day.

We watched Mike Pence take the oath as Vice President, and I held my breath. Then Donald Trump stood up and walked forward for his turn. I began to cry just a little, but then as he repeated the words of promise to our nation, I wept openly. I didn’t hide my emotions from you.

Jackson, you asked me why I was crying, and I know it was because you are the epitome of a Mama’s boy. You don’t like it when I’m unhappy. Bless you! When President Trump was finished, I wiped my eyes and told you, “This is not what I wanted, but it will be fine.”

You probably don’t know what I meant, but you will understand when you are older.  Simply, our president is not God and the government is not our religion. As soon as another person, be it a movie star or a politician, or even your future spouse, takes that space on the pedestal in the deepest part of your heart, there is little room for God.

Root for people, but do not worship them. 

Jeremy, you asked why there was so much prayer, which is hard to answer because I don’t see President Trump as a particularly religious person. I told you that there are diverse faiths in this country and it is good to provide several voices on the matter, particularly when faith and politics so often become intertwined.

Please hear my heart: When people of faith speak on politics, listen to them respectfully, but consider their words carefully before you accept them as more true or less true. They are human just like you and me. You have the right to your own beliefs, which will develop as time and life experience influence you.

Speaking of, your belief system and political persuasions will likely change from one decade to the next, and that is perfectly fine. We are not meant to be the same person at 20, 30, 40, and 50.

Yet, there are a few things I believe to be true and unchanging at every moment of your lives:

First, God made you, carefully and intentionally. He loves you more than even I could hope to. I pray you never lose that knowledge.

Second, your dad and I love you. It isn’t a perfect love like God’s, but it’s an honest, unfailing love that has no conditions.

Lastly, your liberty in this country is a precious gift. It is enjoyable among those who agree with you and challenging when you’re among those who oppose you. Regardless, every American has the freedom to believe however he or she chooses, and even when the differences seem too great to bridge, I pray you will not let spite or prejudice take up root in your heart. God made you, but He made everyone else too.

As I type this we’ve each gone back to our regular life. School is over for the week and you’ll be asking me to watch television or play video games soon. Boys, whether this election cycle had any impact on you at all, I hope you will remember this day as significant because it’s the day your homeschooling mother made you watch a boring inauguration because she believed it was the right thing to do. 

With hope and love,
Your mother

Five Ways I’m Preparing for the Trump Presidency

It’s coming whether we like it or not. The Trump Presidency will be an animal all its own, and there are plenty of reasons to be concerned that: 1) things won’t go as planned, or 2) things will go as planned. It’s kind of a crapshoot.

As a Libertarian-leaning moderate who did not vote for Hillary, Donald, or Gary, I’m wary of government growth both as an entity and in its specific areas of legislation.

However, I’m more concerned about the deep division our country continues to experience. In the last two months, I’ve seen families and friendships buckle under the weight of political differences, and it’s grieved me. There was even a time when I feared that might happen to a few of my own relationships, but fortunately love and loyalty runs deeper than unforeseen election night results and the residual heartache it brings.

I wish I could make it all better between us, but I don’t know what that answer is.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum – from your comfy seat on the Trump Train to getting your passport out of the country – I want to share with you five ways I’m preparing for the Trump Presidency.

No. 1: I’m casting a wide net for gathering information and double-checking.
When the publisher and executive editor of The New York Times say they will rededicate themselves  to honest, unbiased reporting post-election, you know something has gone awry in the American media. When precious few journalists saw the Trump win as a real possibility, and We The People didn’t consider them, you know something is up.

That is why now more than ever is the right time to know your source of news and information is accurate and unbiased.

I’m a regular reader of The Independent and Reuters, and I’m looking more at The Real News. I’m a big fan of The Cato Institute and Reason Magazine, libertarian resources that do a consistent job of calling out Democrats, Republicans, and third parties when it pertains to the Constitution and our civil liberties.

Cable news is mostly out, though I greatly enjoy the diverse dialogue and banter on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

My goal is simple: Before I read something that tells me what I should think, I want to:  1) already know what happened, and 2) know how my personal belief system aligns on the matter.

Also, hypocrisy runs rampant in our nation’s capital, so before getting upset about something Donald Trump does, I’ll effort to see if he wasn’t the first. (Ahem and ahem.)

No. 2: I’ve established my political priorities, so I’m dropping the anchor.
I’m pretty clear about what I believe politically. I separate church and state easily. In a nutshell, I think the role of the federal government should be much smaller than it actually is. You can ask me how I feel about a particular issue and my first answer will likely be, “I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in it.” This is the standard against which I consider many, if not most, issues. It’s subject to change over time (life and experience forces that flexibility), but for now, today, at 38, I’m pretty firm.

Regardless of what President Trump does or doesn’t do, I will hold him against the standard of my own political standards, regardless of what is on trend, what others tell me I should believe, or what actors/athletes/preachers/pundits say is “right.”

No. 3: I’m learning about Islam.
This one is a biggie. Before the rhetoric starts and legislation regarding Muslim Americans or Muslim immigration crosses the presidential desk, I want to know more about the religion so I can have my own thoughts on the matter. Beyond the Five Pillars, I know virtually nothing concrete about Islam. Is it a religion of peace, or is it a religion of submission? I recently started listening to Let Us Reason: A Christian Muslim Dialogue and am continuing to find other helpful resources as I go on. Your suggestions are welcome.

No. 4: I’m leaning into what I know is true.
– Jesus is my savior, not whomever is president.
– My husband, parents, sister, and core group of girlfriends are my support system, not the American government.
– The balance of power among the three branches exists for a reason.
– There are plenty of good, honorable, respectable people who voted for Hillary Clinton.
– There are plenty of good, honorable, respectable people who voted for Donald Trump.

Whatever happens in Washington, these things will not change:
– how I parent my children
– how I treat others
– how I care for my own well-being
– my convictions about liberty
– my desire for learning
– my deep and abiding love for animals, solitude, and coffee.

No. 5: I’ll take a minute. 
Emotions have run high lately. Way high. In recent days it has taken massive amounts of self-control to turn off social media, to not comment, to not assume the worst, and to not eat all the leftover Christmas candy in one sitting because someone has shared a piece of fake news or condescending garbage online. It’s been hard to take the high road when unsolicited messages have come my way or when I’m watching crazy unfold before my eyes.

The hardest and most challenging obstacle ahead of me is to practice mindfulness, self-calming exercises, and the ever-essential PAUSE before I react. Beyond the pause, there’s yoga, a long run, a Netflix binge, a phone call to my sister. Whatever I need to do to calm down, I will do it. Whatever I need to do before reacting, I will do it.

It’s not a perfect recipe, but I’m trying here. I hope you’ll try, too.

In the words of President Obama from his farewell speech on January 10: “Understand, democracy does not require uniformity.  Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”

Escape after the 2016 Election

I spent Tuesday binging on Netflix (“River” is an excellent show). After seeing Tweets and texts that told me Trump might win, I turned on the television a little before midnight. By 4 a.m., I forced myself to go to sleep.

That’s hard to do when you’re in shock.

The shock wasn’t because I wanted Hillary to win, but rather, I’d resigned to the fact that she would win. I’d been preparing for it because there was no way Trump, or the candidate I wrote in, would win. Like so many others, I believed the media.

This is how we started homeschooling on Wednesday morning – watching the news and answering questions.

homeschooling-after-the-election

By Wednesday afternoon I’d already cried, gotten angry, gotten sad, and read dozens of articles. I processed.

By Thursday I’d centered my brain enough to meet a friend for coffee to talk about this stuff and teach my class at the homeschool co-op.

By Friday I was back to feeling like we were in an alternate reality, as well as being irritated by the violent protests that were being covered ad nauseam on the news. I texted Chuck, who was out of town, that I wanted to unplug on Saturday. Forget football (gasp!) and escape.

So we did.

We drove to the North Carolina/Tennessee state line near Erwin, TN, where the Appalachian Trails crosses Unaka Mountain. Chuck’s been here before and had been wanting to take us there. Though we’d missed the peak colors, and much of East Tennessee is under a cloud of smoke from wildfires, the scenery was just what my soul needed.

beauty-spot

shadows-on-the-at

Not a cloud in the sky means lots of sun in the eyes:

sunny-face

three-favorite-men

home-base

throwing-rocks

The non-fishermen:

me-and-jackrabbit

traipse

Chuck in his happy place:

chuck-in-his-happy-place

autumn-burst autumn-yellow fungi evergreen

heads-up

Protecting us from wild animals who want to eat us:

jack-the-protector

collection-of-trees

Creepers gonna creep…

creepers-gonna-creep

This smile tells me we made the right call.

pure-happy

When people ask, “What am I supposed to tell my kids?” you tell them that they are loved, that family is first, and that life will go on. Sometimes that’s all you can say and it’s enough.

Wherein I interview myself about the election

Me: Jennie, this is weird. Why are you interviewing yourself?
Other me: I know, I know, but hasn’t this election cycle been weird already? Honestly, this is nothing compared to what’s been going on in the primaries.

Me: True. Good point. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching a side show.
Other me: Me too. That’s why The Circus is so good.

Me: So, we’re all curious here. Who are you voting for in November? Are you in the Clinton Camp? Eight for Bill, Eight for Hill?
Other me: No.

Me: How about, “Let’s Make America Great Again!”
Other me: No.

Me: Are you feeling the Bern?
Other me: I only feel the burn on a long run.

Me: This makes me feel like you’re not going to vote.
Other me: Well, this is a real dilemma. I don’t buy the argument that “If you don’t vote, then you can’t complain.” Paying taxes allows me to complain as much as I want to. It’s an American privilege to complain. Free speech is a beautiful and painful thing. However, if I want to formally register my opinion, which is what voting is at its core, then I can go into the booth with a clear, confident mind and pull the lever for a candidate who won’t win. I’ve done this for years.

Me: Sounds depressing.
Other me: Pretty much.

Me: What about the argument to vote strategically? You know, vote for the person you hate the least. Or, vote against the person you don’t want to win.
Other me: I’m not sure I can do that and feel good about myself.

Me: That sounds snobby and elitist.
Other me: It’s not meant to sound that way. I’ve done the “vote for the one you hate the least” thing before and I didn’t like how it felt afterward. Voting that way tells the government that it’s okay to have only two sides, not multiple sides, like we aren’t diverse enough of a country to have more than two political parties. It’s the silliest thing ever. Playing along only gives them more power.

Me: I’m not sure the government cares about your opinion regarding political parties.
Other me: Oh I’m sure it doesn’t. I’m not a worthwhile demographic.

Me: Are you worried?
Other me: Yes and no. Depends on who’s elected.

Me: What if it’s Trump?
Other me: Then we will be the laughingstock of the world.

Me: What if it’s Hillary?
Other me: Then we will have gotten the leader we deserve.

Me: Isn’t that a Frank Underwood quote?
Other me: wink, wink

gift of a good liar

Me: So what if it’s Bernie?
Other me: Eh, at least he’s likable. I like it when he gets feisty. I admire his honesty.

Me: What?!? His ideology goes against everything you believe about the role of government!
Other me: Oh totally. We’re polar opposites. But the thing you have to remember is that the people calling themselves socialist democrats or democratic socialists (or whatever the term) aren’t connecting the dots from socialism to communism. They aren’t thinking about the Cold War. They just want stuff paid for. They don’t equate money with control.

Me: You mean they don’t see us going the route of becoming a communist country?
Other me: No way. They want to be Sweden!

Me: That sounds delightful. I hear they are happy people.
Other me: IKEA is great.

socialism explained

Me: So if Bernie gets elected…
Other me: I think Congress will prevent him from doing the super outlandish stuff, and the stuff that he gets passed will probably be the natural course of things for us anyway.

Me: You sound so resigned.
Other me: I think we’ve crossed a point of no return.

Me: You sound defeated.
Other me: I feel defeated.

Me: Where is your American spirit? Where is your fight? There are plenty of others who feel just like you do!
Other me: I know, but many of them don’t feel bold enough to speak up, or they also feel defeated. Some of them feel strongly about voting strategically, which has a legitimate argument. Some are stockpiling guns and ammo. Some have gone off the grid.

Me: Which one are you?
Other me: I may be in a camp all by myself.

Me: What does that even mean?
Other me: Well, I’m an Army brat, right? You also know what Chuck does for a living. I’ve got a keen point of view about national security. I’m very pro-military. National security and common-sense diplomacy are big deals to me. I do not like feeling vulnerable.

Me: That’s very conservative of you.
Other me: Sure, but I couldn’t give two craps about who gets married. Seriously, it’s 2016. We cannot treat people like second-class citizens. That marriage equality thing took way too long.

Me: How very liberal of you.
Other me: Shall I go on?

Me: Hey, it’s your blog.
Other me: We shouldn’t give children trophies just for participating.

Me: Now hang on…
Other me: And having free speech means everyone gets a voice, even the assholes.

Me: Please, your language.
Other me: If business owners refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, they should have the right to expose their homophobia publicly. May their successes and failures reflect their principles, or lack thereof.

Me: You’re losing readers now.
Other me: We should abolish the IRS.

Me: Um…
Other me: Also, health care isn’t a right.

Me: Now you’re completely alone. It’s just us. Everyone has clicked off your blog.
Other me: Then I was right. I’m in a camp by myself.

Me: You think we’re a mixed-up country right now?
Other me: We most definitely are. Our priorities are out of whack. Case in point:

mixed messages

Me: That’s my favorite political cartoon.
Other me: Mine too.

Me: We need a strong cocktail of common sense mixed with compassion in this country.
Other me: I’m a fan of cocktails!

Me: So what’s your answer, other than alcohol?
Other me: Our federal government should protect us, work positively with other countries on our behalf, and do everything to respect the personal liberties of its people. The federal government should not be our bank, our hospital, our church, or our parents.

Me: Then how are we supposed to help people in need?
Other me:  Safety nets are one thing, but unending support is an untamed beast. We should be the hands and feet of Jesus without the government’s force or direction.  The church, individuals, nonprofits, private groups, all of us. We need to do the actual work. When Jesus told us to care for the widows and orphans, he did not say, “Elect people who will take part of your paycheck, break it down a dozen ways, and create big departments and policies with lots of overhead that will eventually help widows and orphans while you do other things.” I reject the idea that Jesus would align with any political party.

Me: You’re on a roll now.
Other me: No, I’m stopping. I could go on, but I won’t.

Me: You really do love animals more than people.
Other me: I really do.

Me: I have no idea who I’m going to vote for.
Other me: Dude, me neither.

Me: Let’s end on something positive.
Other me: How about another Frank Underwood quote?

the best thing about humans copy

Me: That’s your idea of something positive?
Other me: Eh, it’s my idea of good television. How about this?

Our prime purpose

Me: Whew. That’s better. Thank you.
Other me: No, thank you. 

Field Trip: Marco Rubio Rally

A big part of our homeschooling philosophy is to talk about everything, and that includes politics. My boys are years away from voting, but that doesn’t negate them from the conversation. Chuck and I are honest about our political views and subsequent frustrations, and we try very hard to offer them objective information about what’s going on in the political arena. You will not hear us downloading hateful rhetoric into their young, impressionable brains. We tell them what we believe and acknowledge that they might grow up to believe differently from us.

Mostly, we boil everything down to the most important consideration, which is: What do you believe is the role of government?

When a friend of mine gave me the heads-up about Marco Rubio coming to town, I thought it would be a great opportunity to involve the boys in the political process. I always take them with me to vote, so why not take them to see a real, live candidate?

We showed up about 45 minutes prior to Marco Rubio’s arrival. I didn’t know what to expect at all, so we just went with the flow.

American flag

Reagan Revolution

Hillary for Prison

This sign reads, “Never Trump, because my children deserve better than a bully!”

NoTrump

We secured a great spot for watching Rubio’s airplane land. Like a clown car, 20+ people disembarked from a very small aircraft, a mixture of press, campaign officials, and other folks. They must be packed like sardines in there.

(Yes, that’s Ethan standing next to Jeremy. We have a visitor for a few days!)

Watching the plane land

Finally, Rubio made his appearance.

Off the plane

To get the crowd warmed up, a trio of Tennessee Republicans gave brief speeches as their official endorsement for Marco Rubio’s nomination – Former Representative Zach Wamp, Senator Lamar Alexander, and Governor Bill Haslam:

Zach Wamp

Lamar Alexander

Governor Haslam

Haslam for Rubio

We also had prayer.

Prayer

Then it was time for Rubio to take the stage. People cheered and clapped and pulled out their phones to capture the moment.

Marco Rubio in Knoxville

Crowd

I am HAPPY to report that there was no name calling, no screaming, and no hate speech. Rubio made some choice comments about Donald Trump hiring illegal immigrants and using fear tactics in his campaign, but I expected that since he’s the front runner. Most of Rubio’s comments had to do with aligning his politics with those of Ronald Reagan’s and emphasizing how his parents moved from Cuba to the United States to live out the American Dream. They started from nothing and retired with dignity. Presuming his story is true and not sensationalized, I agree that’s part of what makes our country great.

Marco Rubio on stage

I have two favorite quotes from his speech. First, “The American Dream isn’t about how much stuff you have. It’s about having the opportunity to live the life you want.” (That made my Libertarian-leaning heart swell.)

The American Dream

Second, “When I’m president, you won’t always like my decisions, like when Tennessee plays Florida. Just don’t read my Tweets.”

Well played, sir. (The crowd yelled a resounding, “GO VOLS!”)

Technology

Overall, I was pleased with the experience. The boys were observant and curious, particularly of other parts of the event. We talked about the media presence and the role of those who were standing on stage behind Rubio. Rallies are live shows. Everyone plays a part.

Tweeting journalists

Tomorrow we’ll go to the voting booth and Tennessee will make its presidential preferences known. I wish I could say I was a die-hard fan of a candidate, but as it stands, there’s no one who truly represents my belief system as it relates to the purpose and role of government. I will vote because I can’t imagine not voting, but I wish I was passionate for a specific candidate. I admire that about those of you who will pull the lever or punch the ticket for someone you really, truly believe in.

As for Marco Rubio, I’ll leave you with Jeremy’s final assessment, which was, “He makes a very compelling argument.”

iPad photo

P.S. I was on the lookout for a crew from The Circus, but I didn’t see anyone. Such a bummer! That would’ve been exciting. (If you’re not watching The Circus, you should be.)

Trudging along in winter, Lent, and this awful, no-good political season

Friends, we’ve been busy. It’s hard to tend to a blog when I’m writing for freelance work, writing the novel, and teaching Jeremy how to find the circumference of a circle with decimals and fractions. Thank goodness Jackson has picked up double-digit division with such ease. My brain can handle only so much math at one time.

Bouts of snow

We’ve had bouts of snow here and there, icy conditions that closed area schools or delayed them, but nothing substantial that provided any solid sledding in the front yard. It’s fair to say that we’re all sick of winter and looking forward to warmer days. The boys are tired of being stuck inside and both Major and I need to run off our winter fat.

Even the traditional Ash Wednesday service at our church was cancelled on account of weather. Fortunately, our pastors offered the imposition of ashes at a local coffee shop, so we were still able to officially observe the start of Lent.

Speaking of Lent, I’m really enjoying Thomas Merton’s book right now:

Happiness isn't a grabbag

He’s a thorough storyteller, and even though I’m not far into The Seven Storey Mountain, I’m settled in for the long road that maps out his life. As long as the frigid temperatures continue, I’m happy to lay in bed with a mug of coffee and read.

Random plug: I don’t enjoy politics anymore and really struggle to watch current debates. I’ve yet to find a candidate that represents me, so when I look at who’s running for office I feel utterly lost. However, we recently discovered The Circus on Showtime, a documentary-style series about the campaign trail. It’s an interesting peek into what candidates are like on the road. It’s not scripted, which I appreciate, and I’ll tell you something – even though I disagree fundamentally with everything Bernie Sanders believes about the role of government, he’s a likable guy. He seems authentic, and for a politician, that’s rare.

My problem with Facebook

Election season is officially here. I thought we had more time, but no. The bashing, the poking, the outright accusing. Such is the case for an election season, but all I really want to do is deactivate my Facebook account because we all know it’s about to get dirty.

Missing Farmville

Why is that, by the way? Do we post our political thoughts with the hope that we’ll convince others to switch sides or are we just feeling feisty? Are we eager to persuade or itching to persecute? Do we want to provoke thought or just provoke?

I’m guilty of this in the past, but we’re talking ions ago when I thought my views were rock solid and candidates were honest. My political passions waned several seasons ago and I’ve all but stopped watching the news. I read a small selection of news stories from a small selection of news sources, and I read transcripts of speeches if I think anything important was said.

But that’s it. I ignore all rhetoric and do not watch debates. I turn the channel when a campaign ad airs. I don’t buy bumper stickers, I don’t put signs in my yard, and I don’t engage in political discussion. I do not watch interviews with “analysts” or “experts” because I don’t believe real analysts and experts are on television.

Sad, isn’t it? I want to believe objectivity still exists in political journalism, but it’s so hard to find. Avoidance has kept me sane.

That being said, avoiding politics in the upcoming election season will be tough with Facebook. God bless you all, but geez… I much prefer to use Facebook as a way to see pictures of your kids, your pets, and your travels. I want to hear about your impending marriage, your promotion, and the movie you think we all should see. If you need to rant, then let’s share a complaint about Common Core, wacky weather, or that crappy ex-husband of yours.

Bad etiquette

I understand Facebook is an outlet and we all have the right and ability to say what we want and use our voice as we want to. This isn’t about censorship. Rather, it’s about being polite. If you must bring up politics, use your manners.

For example –

Polite: “I’m so excited Hillary Clinton is running for President.”
Impolite: “I hope Hillary crushes those right-wing fascists and religious zealots! Conservatives suck! They’re all racists and bigots!”

Or –

Polite: “I’m pulling for Rand Paul this season.”
Impolite: “I’ll be damned if liberals control our government again! Rand Paul is smarter than all of Washington put together! Do we really want that lying, cheating scum Bill Clinton back in office?”

Where are our manners if we consistently go for polarizing instead of unifying? You don’t have to be silent, but you should be judicious. It’s the snide remarks, the insults, and the presumption that anyone who doesn’t think like us must be completely ignorant.

Some of us know what we’re talking about, and some of us don’t, but we can all be kinder, gentler, and less prickly. No?

For what it’s worth, the candidates I vote for never get elected anyway.

FU 2016

 

A Debbie Downer on Election Day

I used to love politics. I used to be on fire about it. I used to watch the news and read the news and scream at the news. I used to read commentary and do research and feel like I was working towards a deeper understanding of my role in our government. I always encouraged people to vote with that quintessential language, “Your vote counts! Be heard!”

Somewhere along the way my give-a-damn broke. Now I hate politics, I don’t watch the news, and I only read a very small selection of carefully chosen stories online and an even smaller number of commentaries. I question everything – the facts, the point of view, the source. I don’t know who to believe, yet I firmly believe that we are all royally screwed.

I am the Debbie Downer of American Politics. Continue reading “A Debbie Downer on Election Day”

Channeling Eleanor Roosevelt and Tim Gunn

Eleanor RooseveltChuck and I are slowly making our way through the Ken Burns series about the Roosevelts, which we recorded while we were in Washington D.C. Last night we wrapped the episode retelling Theodore Roosevelt’s death and Eleanor’s discovery that her husband, Franklin, had been having an affair. The entirety of the series is excellent, and for someone who did a mediocre job in history classes, it’s a great refresher for me. While the parts about Theodore and Franklin are engaging, my ears perk to their fullest when the attention turns to Eleanor. She’s intriguing in every way politically and professionally. To get to know her more intimately, I plan to read through her daily newspaper columns that ran for nearly thirty years, concluding at her death.

Changing topics, but not really, I’ve been wondering lately if I’m living in the monkey house. It’s a Tim Gunn reference from Project Runway, and while that doesn’t carry the same dignity and prestige as quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, here me out. Several seasons ago Tim Gunn, mentor to the fashion designers in competition with one another, visited a finalist in his home to critique his collection. The designer raised eyebrows by using human hair on some of his garments. Tim was disconcerted and wasted no time gently telling Chris that he should be worried:

“I have this refrain about the monkey house at the zoo. When you first enter into the monkey house, you think, ‘Oh my god this place stinks!’ And then after you’re there for twenty minutes you think, ‘it’s not so bad’ and after you’re there for an hour it doesn’t smell at all. And anyone entering the monkey house freshly thinks, ‘this stinks!’ You’ve been living in the monkey house.”

What in the world does this have to do with me? Everything. More specifically, the novel. As someone who’s lived her life under the weight of self-doubt and skepticism, it feels completely unnatural to be this confident about my work of fiction. I love it. I insanely love it. I love it like a child. I’m protective of it, frustrated with it, gentle with it, concerned for it, and very, very much in love with the people I’ve created.

I love it so much that I wonder if it stinks and I just don’t smell it.


 

“Fair does not mean equal.”

This comment, made in our Sunday School class yesterday morning, came to life in my head with flashing lights and sirens. It wasn’t just a lightbulb moment. It was a fireworks show. Never before had I connected these words to explain fairness so simply. I realize this concept is not new to most of you. In fact, you’re probably thinking, “Really, Jennie? I learned this 20 years ago.” I think I learned it 20 years ago too, but for some reason the concept left me. (It’s probably the Ambien.)

Anyway, I had share this idea with the boys first thing this morning because “that’s not fair” is repeated regularly around here, as it pertains to school work, gifts, chores, and so on. My responses have usually involved some drivel about life not being fair and it’s hard to understand and a bunch of other filler language. To my own discredit, I never sat down with them to teach fairness.

Behold, this morning, I had better words to use. I used the teaching opportunity first thing as we built a superior Lego castle.

“Let’s say I agreed to pay you one dollar for every A you earn this year in school,” I began. “And in May, when I tally your grades, we discover that Jackson earned six A’s and Jeremy earned four. That means Jackson will get six dollars, and Jeremy, you’d get four. Is that fair?”

“No!” protests Jeremy, highly offended at the example. “That’s not fair at all!”

“It isn’t? You both had the opportunity to work hard and achieve your grades on your own. Knowing what the reward was, you put forth your own efforts. If Jackson earned six A’s and you earned four, why isn’t that fair?” I ask.

“Because he gets more money than me,” he says. “And my work is harder anyway.”

“Yes, your work is harder, but you are also in third grade,” I say. “You were once in first grade and had the same work as Jackson. But you two aren’t doing the same things at the same time with the same abilities and talents. You are two different people who’ve both been rewarded for what you accomplished on your own. Besides, I treated you fairly by keeping my word with both of you.”

Jeremy looked disgruntled, on the verge of pouting, as if we’ve agreed to this financial arrangement. (We haven’t, by the way.) So I try again.

“Let’s say I give both of you a handful of garbage bags and tell you that I’ll give you five dollars for every bag you fill with leaves. At the end of one hour, you have filled five bags and Jackson filled one,” I say. Jeremy quickly multiplied the numbers to discover what he’d earn.

“That’s 25 dollars!” he said. “But Jackson would only get five.”

“So what if I said, ‘Aw, Jackson, good try! I’ll give you 25 dollars like Jeremy because you tried so hard.'” I could barely finish the sentence.

“But that’s not fair!” said Jeremy.

“You’re right. It isn’t fair to pay you both equally for unequal work, plus that meant I would’ve changed our agreement and not kept my word. I would pay you what you earned individually, especially because you knew in the beginning what the deal was,” I said. “You are in the same family but you are not the same person. Your abilities and my expectations are different for both of you. If something doesn’t seem fair to you that’s only because you are expecting it to be equal.”

I could see the lightbulb flicker in Jeremy’s eyes. Jackson, in his sweet simplicity, left the conversation minutes prior, focusing instead on the Lego castle.

“So even if Jackson and I don’t have the same stuff or get the same money or whatever, it can still be fair?” asks Jeremy.

“Exactly,” I said. “And if you felt especially generous, you would be welcome to share your extra money with your brother.”

“Yeah!” Jackson pipes in. I guess he was listening all along.

My View from the Fence

Facebook is slammed with updates from friends and family anticipating the end of this election season. Dude, ME TOO. Chuck and I voted last week in a half-attempt to hurry this business along, and our timing was cool since it allowed us to walk past Pat Summitt in the courthouse breezeway. Wow, is she tall.

Voting (and politics) continue to be a huge frustration for me. If you’d asked me ten years ago where I stood on a handful of issues, I probably would’ve regurgitated a lopsided viewpoint acquired from someone else either in my immediate circle of influence or from someone in the media. As a young 20-something, I had few original thoughts of my own. (But that’s not altogether unusual, is it? For what it’s worth, I don’t think you should be able to vote until you’ve acquired a mortgage and paid for your own health insurance. I’m just sayin’…)

Now, in the smack-dab middle of my 30s, I’ve strayed away from the black-and-white beliefs I once held and have found myself wandering around in the gray as it pertains to the purpose and responsibilities of our almighty government. Trust me, I’m feeling as lukewarm as I sound, but it isn’t due to lack of interest or lack of knowledge. I guess you could say this evolution is the result of both my own experiences and watching the experiences of others. It’s also the result of good common sense.

(Is it cruel to use this cartoon considering yesterday?)

I used to be more passionate about politics but now I’m too disenchanted. I don’t want to hear it – from either of them – because neither candidate nor major political party represents me anymore, and frankly, I don’t think they even represent themselves. There is no depth, no heart, and no real meat to their meal. I don’t want to play anymore.

People often correlate sitting on the fence with someone who’s wishy washy or perhaps uneducated, but I don’t see it that way at all. Dare I say we fence-sitters are our own party, not willing to go as far left or as far right as others? Maybe it isn’t the fence at all but rather a new common ground. Instead of crossing the aisle, I’m just going to sit down in the middle of it.

I think this is the most honest I’ve ever been (openly) about what I truly believe. It’s just unfortunate that my vote, while cast, seems disingenuous.

Now I’m just rambling and it’s time to move on. No matter who wins, it won’t be the one I wanted. Happily, I won’t be home tonight so there won’t even be a temptation to watch the returns. I have a dinner date with Amy, and I know her good company and great humor will be the most fabulous distraction.

Fluff

This post could possibly have a double meaning. I could be referring to the baby shower decorations I rehung over my workspace. They are very fluffy.Or, I could be referring to the Presidential debate that occurred last night. It, too, was full of fluff.

I’ll let you decide.

Anyway, readers, there’s much to accomplish today. We’re moving along with school work after a pseudo fall break a week ago. I’m feeling a little behind, which is ridiculous because it doesn’t really matter the pace at which we move as long as we reach our goals by mid-May. I’m feeling a field trip to the mountains coming on, so we may take our workbooks along and enjoy some fresh air.

For now, there’s a quiche in the oven and a chapter on Venus to be completed, so cheers to your Wednesday.

Campaigning

The weekend is almost here! Enjoy a political funny on me. No doubt you’ve read it. 
xoxo – Jennie

…While walking down the street one day a US senator is tragically hit by a truck and dies.

His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.

“Welcome to heaven,” says St. Peter. “Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we’re not sure what to do with you.”

“No problem, just let me in,” says the man.

“Well, I’d like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we’ll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity.”

“Really, I’ve made up my mind. I want to be in heaven,” says the senator.

“I’m sorry, but we have our rules.”

And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.

Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people. They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne. Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it is time to go.

Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises…

The elevator goes up, and the door reopens on heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him.

“Now it’s time to visit heaven.”

So, 24 hours pass with the senator joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.

“Well, then, you’ve spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity.”

The senator reflects for a minute, and then he answers: “Well, I would never have said it before; I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell.”

So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. Now the doors of the elevator open and he’s in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage. He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls from above.

The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder “I don’t understand,” stammers the senator. “Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there’s just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?”

The devil looks at him, smiles and says, “Yesterday we were campaigning. Today you voted.”

Support the Fair Tax

How perfectly appropriate to plug the Fair Tax on Tax Day.

No more hiding money, no more skirting the government, no more handing over our money while others get off scott free. Take home your whole paycheck, use prebate money to buy basic necessities, and keep the government accountable dollar for dollar.

Eliminate the IRS and the entire process of filing taxes with a simple consumption tax that applies to everyone – from the millionaires to the middle class to the people who make deals under the table.

I say yes.

A Whopping Three Miles

That was how long I ran today. A wee little run. And it was hard.

Granted, I haven’t run in nearly three weeks but that’s only because I had to pack up one house, sell it, drive across the country and unpack another house. (It’s a little tiresome.) The disappointment I feel about the whopping three miles is mainly because I’m scheduled to run a half marathon in four weeks, so the fact that three miles was hard doesn’t bode well for a girl who needs to run 13 miles in a month. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for supernatural muscle memory.

As for the house, we’re unpacked and settled, which means I resume work on the book immediately. There’s much editing and photo color correcting to do (also within a month). Fortunately, I built all of the 450+ pages while still in Amarillo and now we’re down to the details. If you work in or are familiar with publishing, then you know editing can be an excruciating process. When you read something five or six times, it’s easy to assume every sentence is properly structured and punctuated. That’s just not always the case.

Before I go, let me just say how I love the talk radio station I discovered here. (I’ve got Neal Boortz all morning and Dave Ramsey all afternoon. Yay!)  Now I’ve said before that I’m not going to get political here (remember?) and I’m not going back on that. But with the presidential election year just around the corner, it’s hard not to get all fired up. Here is a fantastic  flow chart (if you’re into that kind of thing) titled Left vs. Right by David McCandless and Stefanie Posavec. It’s busy and detailed, and it’s obviously not without exceptions, but I recommend clicking on the image for a much larger version. Fascinating!

Consider This.

Very rarely will you ever see anything political on this blog. I have my opinions, you have yours. Let’s talk about my kids instead! However, after my run this morning, I was thinking heavily about the media blame game going on regarding the attempted assassination of Rep. Giffords. I came to a resolution and offer you these two points.

First, the mental case – Someone told me a long time ago that when a person moves to Crazy Town, he doesn’t ever come back. When you live in Crazy Town, you live in an alternate universe  where absurdities and irrationality become your truth. Such is the case with Jared Loughner. His mental instability has been established, and when a person of his caliber carries out an act of violence, no level of rationale or reason can be applied to his motives. Jared moved to Crazy Town and he’s never coming back. (This same principle applies to the people of Westboro Baptist Church.)

Secondly, regarding guns – A fabulous mom of seven (six boys, one girl) told me once that she was against having toy guns in the house. With so many boys, why promote violence? Why make it so easy? All of that changed the day one son bit his peanut butter and jelly sandwich into the shape of a gun and used it to “shoot” his siblings across the lunch table.

To be brief:

1. It is Jared Loughner’s fault that Jared Loughner shot Rep. Giffords.

2. If someone wants a gun, regardless of the law, he or she will find a way to get one.