Saturday, November 04, 2006


I always thought I was a tomboy.

To my father's credit, my dad did his best to believe I was the son he never had. We went fishing, camping, worked on cars (okay, he taught me to change the oil and check the tire pressure...which I am pretty sure are the only things he knows how to do on a car), hung stuff on the wall. I flipped the breaker when he needed to work on the electrical. I brought up tools and tools and tools from the garage to the upstairs rooms (why was he always working on the second story?) - because I didn't know a crescent wrench from any of the other silvery contraptions in the red tool box. I cleaned the attic, washed the car, hauled the firewood (I did get money for that one), cleaned the pool, learned how to move valves and switches on the pool pumps (to this day I don't know what I was doing, but I knew if I messed up it meant a big electric bill from heating the pool for a week instead of just the spa).

I believed until recently that my poor dad, living with 3 women and even female dogs, was trying his best to pass his expertise on all things manly to me (and by doing so, hold on to the last vestiges of his manhood in our estrogren soaked house). I figured being first born and the less dramatic (only slightly, and therefore slightly more male-like) of the two daughters was the reason I got chosen for this inheritance, despite the fact that I had that extra leg on my chromosome. I was XX, and if he couldn't break off that chromasome and make me an XY, well, he would pass on what he could and take the issue of no sons up with God later. Because of sympathy for my dad (come on, THREE "times of the month"!), and because he was then (and still mostly is) my hero, I played along. I thought I was helping - maybe even rescuing - him for those short bonding times where I played apprentice to his Mr. Fix It.

I see now, though, that what this was really all about was efficiency. My dad didn't want an apprentice, he wanted a gopher. He wasn't driven by a sense of legacy to teach me the electrical systems, but he needed someone to run just up the stairs enough to hear "still on!" and back down to flip another breaker switch. I thought he was challenging my courage when he sent me up in the creepy attic alone to pass down boxes of holiday decorations each year, but really, he wanted to be at the bottom of the ladder, piling the boxes up for me to carry in once I came back down. The reason I brought so many tools up to his projects was that to teach me which tool went with which name, he would have had to make a trip downstairs to walk through the assortment with me. Apparently, walking up and down stairs was beyond his abilities. He avoided those extra trips like the plague - something that in time I came to realize was THE last, or maybe first, or maybe the only, vestige of his manliness - laziness.

In fact, had I been the first born son and not the first born daughter, instead of helping so much, I would have devised ways to avoid these situations at all, since I too would have held running up and down the stairs with the same manly contempt as my father. A son learns early on that these "teaching moments" are not meant to teach anything, and would despise the blatant attempts at indentured servanthood. Had I lacked the extra chromosomal leg, I too would have been driven more by laziness than even that primal urge to earn your father's approval.

How do I know this? Because I have a husband, and he has a son. Ty tries so hard to include Tristan in car projects, but Tristan has already figured out that this his role as "dad's helper" is NOT one he wants to do. He has even less enthusiasm for helping dad with the car than I do - even though he might get to learn manly things about valves and gas lines and tools and soldering. But that would mean moving around and getting things - not worth it to him! And while I like to think that Ty wants to share his man-knowledge with Tristan, the reality is, when Tristan is not around, I suddenly get indoctrinated into the secret order of "Dad's helpers" - lending credence to my theory that its all about the helper and nothing about the legacy.

So now that I have lived with men, and watched them in action, I have learned a lot about what it means to be a man. In fact, just recently, Tristan and Ty taught me a secret - there is a name for this father-son "who wants to get the Phillips from the toolbox" game..The Lateral Pass. My own (step) son, at age 9, who can barely throw a pass of any sort, already knows the lingo and when to use it. He laughs as he easily sidesteps Ty's attempts at "sharing" the man jobs with him, and says "nice try at the Lateral Pass Dad"...I can't believe it. My dad can STILL talk me into hauling firewood for him. I still jump up when he says he needs help with a project or someone to run to the store with him (ie. to go get the stuff in the far aisles while he hovers near the registers). I am such a fool...clearly, not the surrogate son I thought I was. I know see that the way to truly honor my dad's desire for male progeny would have been to ignore him, laying on the couch with one hand in a bowl of pork rinds and the other hand flipping the remote, saying, "Nah, I don't feel like it."

What I have also learned is that all those tomboy things didn't make me a boy. The things were the same as things boys do, but the motivation was all girl. Boys and girls often overlap what they do - gardening, baking, riding bikes, climbing trees, make believe - at least until they get socialized. But the reasons why they do those same things are vastly different. Boys are motivated by competition, proving themselves, and laziness. Those may seem at odds - I am still figuring out how they all work together. But I was motivated by adventure, learning, the chance to bond with my dad (something boys do by beating the crap out of dad - oh wait, we did that too). My dad was just crafty enough to see that those desires could be manipulated to mean less moving and getting things for him! How manly of him, after all....

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Feel Good Factor

If the goal in life is to feel good as much as possible, the reality of life sucks. Its hard to stay encouraged, its easy to feel sorry for myself and whine about my life's conditions. Life is hard, and that sucks. It feels easier to try to escape into fantasy, to take the easy way out, to look out for number one.

But if the goal is to grow and mature, to become more Christlike, to bring glory to God by traveling the hard road and not being swayed away from our faith, then the difficulties in life are something to celebrate, something to give thanks for.

The question is, am I living for myself, or for something bigger than me? If I live for myself, then all that matters is how I feel at a given moment. If my story is part of a bigger story, than not only is my comfort not the crowning achievement of my life, but there is hope that the trials and tribulations, however great or small, can be redeemed, or at least used for a greater good.

Am I going to glorify myself, or glorify God? When I worship myself, I get frustrated easily, mostly because the rest of the world never seems to adore me the way I think I should be adored. The world is callous to my needs and wants, fickle to my demands, easily swayed from my magnificence. The world might play with me for a while, but inevitably moves on to the next shiny pretty thing. I am left to pout and commiserate with my ego over our lost importance.

I was not made for this. I was not made to worship myself, a created thing. I was created to worship the Creator, who really, honestly, is the only thing worthy of worship. If I live for that purpose, than what I have been given claims its purpose - to point to the Giver. My strengths point to His plans, my weakness points to His mercy. My interests, passions, desires illustrate his infinite creativity - the maker of an infinite number of unique human beings.

We are made in the image of God, yet we try to reduce God to our personal vending machine and fan club. God, the world, everything around us is reduced to the role of giving us pleasure or helping us avoid pain. We grow shallow and self centered when we worship ourselves. What follows is pettiness, grandiose ego, self righteousness, vindicting hearts, jealousy, manipulation, disregard. We become the frame of reference, the center of gravity, and really, we aren't made to handle such a position. We can't maintain it - we are not God, we cannot hold his position without royally screwing up. We are promised that it is good to be the created thing, that we are most ourselves when doing what we are made to do: worship God. Why can't that be enough for us???

Camp On

I have to vent - and I should start by saying I participate in the very activity I am about to lambaste, so don't take it personally.

I really think camping should be something we do to get away from our civilized, mechanized, nifty tool for every small task we need to accomplish in our lives. It should not be an exercise in packing nifty tools for doing every small task we need to do at home in the woods. It should not fund the next generation of clever inventors. It should not require a minivan full of gear to move our entire lives - albeit now in plaid and tarpaulin material - into the forest for a weekend. It should not advertise that our entire last paycheck is now property of REI.

Camping SHOULD be different than our everyday lives. All too often what starts as trying to bring a few creature comforts from home turns into living our exact same lifestyle with a nicer backdrop - at the expense of the backdrop. Really, do we need to bring sports gear to the lake? Do we need to bring stereos to the woods? Do we need a tablecloth in the forest????

We need another word - some folks use car-camping - to designate the simplicity-challenged who enjoy the spell of pine but not the reality of being outdoors. But even "car camping" denotes that some camping should be happening - and I would argue most car campers aren't coming close. A line needs to be drawn in the needles and dust and rocks and bugs that constitute a here is my attempt:

Camping should NOT involve the following:
showering (unless in lake, sans soap),
using anything electronic or requiring access to your car battery,
anything requiring a generator,
cooking gourmet meals (no recipes involving spices other than salt/pepper/tabasco/garlic powder, no fresh meat or fish that needs to be kept cool - unless you caught it within 5 miles of your campsite, etc, no drinks except those that can be made from a mix)
sweeping (you are outside! in the dirt!)
pianos (no really, on the Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada, they haul a piano up on a jeep)
fireworks (also can be experienced on the Rubicon Trail, if you don't believe me)
4x4s, ATVs, dirt bikes (not saying you can't use them, just use them in a designated area, preferably where there is already a lack of peace and quiet)
makeup, hairspray, or mirrors
inflatable water toys
mass quanitites of alchohol (at the very least, there are more tripping hazards)
RVs (don't get me started)
cell phones/blackberries/laptops/video games

I think there is something healthy about being challenged on how much stuff we really need. I think we are drawn to camping because we come back with a renewed confidence in our ability to be creative and survive without material goods (at least to a small degree). When we don't face that challenge - when there isn't a small fear of starving or wrestling a bear, its not camping, its just a long picnic in someone else's backyard.
Getting out in that big world is supposed to give us perspective - on how small we are, on what we really need to get by, and on what really makes us happy. We can't obtain that perspective unless we leave our little self-centered techno bubbles behind. If you can't have the guts to really get out there and experience the natural world, at least leave the campsites available for people who are up to the challenge.

Really, if you want to enjoy all the comforts of home with some fresh air, open your windows and leave the woods to the stinky people who don't need a shower.

Silly technology

Yup, I finally got sucked I cool now? I am blogging! And even worse, I am starting out with a really cheesy "I am blogging!" message....I blame lack of coffee and 105 degrees for a week...which tend to be my excuses for everything. Hmm, I need some new excuses...But really, I just need a place to flex those writing muscles, and to spare Ty from listening to yet another diatribe on the world. Hope you find some thoughtful tidbits or something to laugh at while you are here. : )

List of Authors

For the sake of space, I am removing this post because I now have all this info on my "goodreads" profile.
If you are interested, check it out at:

Sorry that you have to make a profile to see it - I can email you a list too if you prefer.

On Owning A Dog

Is there anything more frustrating? More rewarding? She brings more light and happiness and gentleness and goodness to our family than all 3 of the rest of us put together. She also pees on the carpet, sloshes her water all over the kitchen, eats grandma's $500 leather chair, jumps on strangers (so far that hasn't caused any heart attacks....), and eats carpet. So far she is not eating the carpet she is peeing on, but I am sure that will happen any day now.

I have become the cheesy dog-parent I hated. I got a big dog specifically to avoid this syndrome, but to no avail. I thought only miniature accessory dog owners spent this much time finding significance in their pet....I have to hold myself back from calling friends over stupid dog milestones (She went the whole night without peeing! She lost her first tooth! She did well in puppy class! She made a cute face! Her tail gets crooked while she poops! Actually, that was Ty's observation.). Thankfully a few friends just got puppies too, and we send secret emails about the eternal significance of our puppies' latest achievements and the latest technologies in puppy playpens. We compare training techniques (hitting on the nose is so pase - now you throw a can filled with pennies at the dog - terrifying them anonymously is apparently less psychologically damaging than corporal punishment...all I know is it works). We delight in sharing how important our dog is to someone else who gets it.

When we first got Tana, and weren't sure she could last 2 hours without having to pee (she was going 1 hour 20 minutes like clockwork), I let our bible study know I would miss a week until her bladder grew some more. Ken from study said sternly to me "Now don't let this dog run your life." As if I had any control over that! I have no choice, I am kidnapped by her big brown eyes and the comforting thump of her tail on my calf. And the fact that our house smells bad when she is peeing on the carpet every hour.

Two women and their babies just sat down next to me at the coffee shop, complete with carseat-cum-stroller and adorable outfits. Their conversation goes something like this:"How are we sleeping?""Still on the side" (insert look of consternation)"Oh, my Lizzie did that for 3 weeks...." (insert look of sympathy, comfort, and hope).

I checked out after that, but just saw them placing their babies face to face, so they could bond. The moms inserted cute baby talk on behalf of the mute munchkins, who just looked uncomfortable. The sad thing is this could be me, except that I would have Tana loaded up in her collar with soft lead halter and leash, plus her bigger halter (in matching bright blue) for riding in the car, carrying a "diaper bag" of toys, treats, poop pick up bags, rags for pee, and water bowl. I would be talking to a puppy owner about whether our pups are barking when we leave, what time they whine in the morning to be let out, whether or not pumpkin really firms up their stool. Our conversation would be punctuated not by crying and spitup and dirty diapers, but by "Sit!" "No!" "Leave It!" and when all those commands are ignored, by prying open the dog's mouth and pulling out whatever she has just eaten and is about to swallow. I wipe dog drool with the same nonchalance that my friend wipes her baby's spitup off her shoulder.

Its not that I want to treat my dog like a baby. I am not trying to replace my mothering instincts with an animal. It's just, she needs this much care and attention right now! She is, for all intensive purposes, small and helpless. If I don't watch her, she swallows something that will require a $3,000 bowel obstruction surgery. If I let her get away with bad behavoir now, I will be socially castigated once she is an adult, badly behaved, 100 lb dog.

People who have dogs get this. You say "puppy", and dog-owners roll their eyes with total understanding. They pat you on the back and tell you to hang in there, even before you get into what the latest puppy drama is. They excuse you for potty breaks every 15 minutes, just to be safe. They talk with affection about their older, quieter dog. You can see it in their eyes - watching your pup or hearing the stories makes them want to run home and give their dog a big steak for not acting like that anymore! With dog people, you are allowed to cancel dinner plans, or basically your whole social life, for the first 8 months. Its like newlyweds - its understood that you have bigger things to take care of and will return as soon as you can.

But people who don't have dogs...well, they just look at you like you are crazy. You can't just tie the dog in the backyard? (No, she will eat so much dirt she will have to puke, and get dehydrated from puking and die). You can't get a sitter? (We don't know how to handle her, how can we pawn her off on our friends without any instructions?) You can't bring her along? (Do you like your yard? If so, that's not really an option.Or we can bring her, but you won't get a full sentence out of us. And forget eye contact - that's reserved for the puppy and her bad decisions). Can't you leave her in her crate? (Well sure, for a few hours, until she inevitably gets diarheea and spreads it all over your crate and herself...not the best event to come home too).

And in the end, its like having a baby - when you get to leave, you are sooo grateful. You almost feel guilty because you are so excited to be out of the house. But 5 miles from returning home, a strange panic sets in - what if something happened? What if something happens in the next 3 minutes of driving home? What if? What if? And when you get back inside, you realize you missed her the whole time, even though you weren't aware of it. You don't want to do anything but sit and bond with her - not even unloading whatever you have carried inside or go pee even though you have been holding it for an hour. And there she is, literally having held her breath for you to get home. Or so you think, until you notice a new corner of cabinet has been chewed up....