Saturday, November 26, 2011

Getting There

It's been a deliberately quiet weekend for all of us: a gorgeous dinner on Thursday, lots of reading and napping, football-watching, and the beginnings of Christmas decorating. I have to finish the dining room and I'd like something extra in the front hall. I also may decorate a little outside, but that remains to be seen. Here's where we are so far:

I've never started this early before, and wow, am I glad I did!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The First Time I Fell in Love with Texas

The first time I fell in love with Texas was in January, 1990. I was on a month-long study trip to Guatemala and was trying to call home. Standard operating procedure for homesick college students in Guatemala City (as I was assured by my professor and the students who had been on the trip before) was to go to the national telephone company and ask to place a collect call. While there you waited in line, reciting words and numbers in Spanish to yourself and hoping to get it right. When it was your turn at the counter you blabbered out all the Spanish you knew regarding telephone calls, adding an "o" to the word "collect" to make it sound more authentic. Surrounding you were not just expats but many locals, making calls this way because none of them owned a phone of their own. When you were done in the line, you sat in the waiting room, listening carefully for your name to be called in rapid-fire Spanish, and hoping you'd catch the phone booth number they gave you at the same time. When called, you went to the booth in question, and (with a little luck) there were mom and dad on the other line. After you hung up, you were let out of a locked gate by a 16 year old with a machine gun (aka: the soldier making sure the non-collect-call people paid up) and you skipped merrily back to your $4/night hotel.

And so one evening, after having returned to Guatemala City from the rainforest and wanting to make sure my mother knew of my survival, there I was. I'd had my turn in line and was waiting patiently for my call to go through. While I was waiting, I noticed a number of what those of my generation would recognize as "normal pay phones" on one of the walls. I wandered over to them and started following the directions, which some kind soul had written in English. Suddenly, the phone began to ring. Bracing myself for a torrent of Spanish, I was instead greeted by a loud and cheerful (and decidedly non-New Englandish) voice: "AT&T, Haw mah I hep you tu-day?!?" All I could stutter out in response was "Oh my Lord, where ARE you?" "CorpusChristiTexasMa'am!" was the happy answer. And with that, I not only politely requested a collect call to New York, but I also fell in love with Texas. And with the sweet operator who made it forever unnecessary for me to stand in line, sit in a booth, and have my stomach poked by an AK-47 before exiting the building.

Ahhh, sweet Texas. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Another Advent Fast began yesterday, and as with the Lenten Fast last spring, I am less than excited. You see, I absolutely suck at fasting. I almost never fast the two days a week (Wednesday and Friday) that I should during the regular times of the year, and these long, six to eight week fasts? I’m horrible.

I know: one of the points of fasting is that you work at it, and you fail, and then you go back and try again, and through all that you learn self-discipline and humility. I get it: it makes sense to me. I just hate the idea that I have to participate in yet another activity that involves me falling flat on my face, getting up, trying again, falling down, getting up, and so on and so forth. That’s what my entire life is about. I’m a good mom, then I suck as a mom, I ask forgiveness and try again, and then some time later I fall back into “bad mom” world, and … well, you get the point. It’s the same with being a wife: snippy and critical, apologetic, sweet and supportive, SNAP, apologetic, patient and normal, mental breakdown, apologies, and back and forth all over again. Work? Lazy, guilty, burst of work, loss of temper, apology, sweet and patient – are you getting the point here, people!?! I don’t just suck at fasting, I suck at most of what I do, and I’m forever trying again, resolving to do better, falling down and crawling back up. I just really can’t take another category of my life in which this pattern repeats itself. I. Just. Can’t.

And so, the next six weeks to Christmas sprawls before me. No meals as a family, because Husband excels at fasting*, as he does at being a litigator and, well, just being Husband. No meals. This kills me. Not only do I have the guilt that comes from being the lazy, loser member of the family, I also go without the only time when we connect together, just the four of us. Not that we sit down together as a family and eat every day – hell no, not with our schedules! But the best thing about weekends is that they bring meals together (especially meals out) – chances for us to sit down and be four again, instead of Tari and the kids and Husband much later on, or the kids together and Tari and Husband some other time. So no four: not until Christmas Day, baby.

Added to all of this is the guilt I feel because I haven’t been to confession in a year, and therefore haven’t been taking communion since August. I’ve been trying to fit it in, but it never happens. Now that it’s the Fast, why bother? I will confess that I haven’t been fasting, and then I will go forth and not fast, and once I do that, how can I take communion with a clean heart knowing I’m not even trying to obey? So no communion, and that’s depressing beyond all other things.

Allow me to be the first to point out (if I don’t Husband will point it out to me as soon as he reads this): I got myself into this. I wanted to convert from Protestantism to Orthodoxy. I did so a year ago with a completely open heart and mind. This was all my idea. So I have no one to blame but myself. But again, I blame myself for so many things, I’m really not up to welcoming yet another to my list. I still believe with all my heart that Orthodoxy is right for me; maybe I’m okay with accepting that I’m just not very good at it**. It’s not like I haven’t done that before – it doesn’t stop me from being a lawyer, a mother or a wife, so why should it stop me from being a Christian?

::cricketschirping:: I don’t know, either.

*I have to say that I am incredibly impressed and proud of Husband's ability to fast and pray regularly. It amazes me. He so much stronger than I am! And he doesn't cycle through life like I do - he's the steady, sane member of the pack.

**That comment will send Husband’s head rolling around the room! How can you accept not being good at something!?! What planet were you raised on? How does this happen??? This is a not-so-infrequent topic of conversation in our house, as you might imagine.

Not So Good Advice

So I read this thing a while ago, about how to avoid germs when using a public restroom.

Yes, I did used to read the back of the cereal box at breakfast when I was a child. What made you ask that?

Anyway, as any woman knows, we all pretty much live in fear of the public restroom, since we are not blessed with the ability to pee standing up. Germs. Ugh. The only time public restrooms seem like a good idea are when we're drunk and we need to talk to our best friend right away in private about whether we should go home with that cute guy who just bought us a drink.

Back to the advice. The article said "Always use the first stall in the restroom because no one else wants to - it doesn't seem private enough. It will therefore be the cleanest."

I've been road-testing this bit of advice for a while and I wanted to let you all know: that first stall is NOT any cleaner than the rest of them. There's still pee on the seat, despite what this expert told me. It is not, unfortunately, a viable solution to the "OMG I have to use that restroom" problem.

I have deduced that therefore, everyone else must have read this same internet article at the same time as me. And that's why the coveted first stall is ruined forever. Thanks, internet. Thanks a lot.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How I'm Known at Work

I don't blog a lot about work, with good reason. If you don't know what that good reason is, you live under a rock. But I thought I would share with you how I am known by my work-mates.

I am the lawyer who brushes her teeth after lunch.

I know this because, well, I used to make quite a habit of brushing my teeth after lunch and apparently, the identification of toothbrush to Tari just became so inseparable that, even though I rarely brush my teeth after lunch anymore, it's what people think of when they think of me.

When they're not thinking other, meaner things, I guess.

Today this was all confirmed to me when I did actually brush my teeth after lunch (which was a very nutty salad, by the way, with very small greens in it - it was the nuts-and-greens-sticking-in-my-teeth sensation that drove me to it). I left my toothbrush and cute little tube of toothpaste in the ladies' room, and when I went back a few hours later for another purpose, one of my co-workers pointed to them and said "That's yours, isn't it? I was just going to pick it up and bring it back to you, but here you are." Uh, thanks.

So don't forget: when you think of me at work, all professional and whatnot at my desk, remember that I am really just a lawyer who brushes her teeth after lunch. That is all.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Love and Fear

I saw a bumper sticker at Whole Foods yesterday...

Let me pause to say that I know you are automatically thinking "Tari saw a bumper sticker that was so far to the political left it made her head spin around 360." But you'd be wrong, because this is Houston. And while there are more than the usual percentage of "Democracy Now!" bumper stickers at Whole Foods, there are also quite a few other points of view, as this piece illustrates.

So, back to the bumper sticker. It read:

"Most people who plan on turning to God in the eleventh hour die at 10:30."

I've been chewing on that one off and on for a while, and I have this to say:

Yes, I will admit, the Bible does discuss the necessity of being ready for God's return. The parable of the wise and foolish women with their oil lamps comes to mind right away. It's a valid point, and the idea that one should follow God faithfully because no one understands his timing is certainly not heretical.

But. However. On the other hand.

As CS Lewis put it very succinctly, we are always moving either closer or farther away from God. There is no stasis in life. Our thoughts and actions propel us in one direction or the other, and we need to be mindful at all times of that direction. As an aside, I have to tell you that Two loves it when we talk about this subject; he turns one light off in my room and walks back and forth between the light side of the room and the dark side of the room, thinking about what it all means (and talking all the while, of course). What Lewis wrote is also what the Orthodox Church teaches quite clearly. Our lives are meant to be a journey in which we move closer to God and become more like him: this process is called "theosis" and is the center of Orthodox theology and praxis. It is the reason we fast and pray. So we have at least two Christian traditions, both teaching the same thing: the necessity of living a life that brings one closer to God, both in action and thought.

Where does fear fit into that picture? If our work in life is to become more like God, how does acting based on the fear of damnation - as this bumper sticker is clearly encouraging people to do - bring us closer to Him? Is God a god of fear (in the "terrified" sense of the word - not "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" sense. Darn English language)? No, He isn't. Perfect love casts out fear, doesn't it? And God is more than anything else the embodiment of love. And seeking Him, following after Him, becoming more like Him, should be a process that fills us with love and light, that heals us as our habits of sin fall away from us slowly.

What do we want others to think of us as Christians? What do we want them to think motivates our decision to draw closer to God? Do we want to preach fear or love? This isn't just a question of catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. This is for real: who on earth wants to draw closer to a Creater of whom (s)he is terrified? Instead of hapharzardly scaring the pants off people, let's instead show them God's love, the power He has to heal our souls from the scars of sin, and the mercy He waits so patiently to drop like a balm on the head of the broken.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

France 1, Texas 0

A expatriate friend posted on Facebook yesterday about the glories of Armistice Day* in Paris, where she now lives. Schools, government and most businesses were closed, at precisely 11am church bells throughout the city rang out, and jumbo-trons around the Arc de Triomphe broadcast the national celebration. Sounds absolutely beautiful, doesn't it? Honorable, respectful, and altogether the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, back home in the land of the freest and the home of the bravest (that's Texas to the rest of y'all) my boys came home from public school and were surprised when I told them it was Veterans' Day. No announcement had been made in either of their schools, no lessons given in class about the hundreds of thousands of people whose work past and present makes our children's lives possible. There was nothing. Nada. Zilch.

So tell me, what exactly does the Houston Independent School District think about our veterans? It seems to me they're somewhere in between uncaring and downright ashamed. Unlike the French. And when Texas loses to France in the patriotism stakes, it's a very sorry day indeed.

*Yes, I know that, to the French, Armistice Day is more like our Memorial Day, in that it honors primarily war dead and not just those who served. But when was the last time your child's teacher told him why he was getting a three day weekend at the end of May? Yup, I didn't think so.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Boys' Dreams

On Veterans' Day this year I'm thinking of my boys, and how they, like all boys, dream of being soldiers one day. It occupies so much of their imagination for such a long part of their childhood, even if it is not a dream that will ever come true for them. This year I would like to say thank you to all veterans:

• for the dreams your service inspires in boys like mine,
• for your honor, because it gives meaning to such dreams, and
• for your brave and selfless service, without which none of these boys would be free to dream at all.

God bless you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Day in the Life

And we go up, and we go down. And then we go up, and then we go down.

Such is life with a middle schooler in the house.

Most of the time, I have to admit, One is on the "up" side of things. He is "on his game", as it were. He remembers his responsibilities, he works hard, and he still manages to have a lot of fun. He's walking perfection ... with a teeny, tiny zit on his nose occasionally, but who's looking? Seriously, he is doing really well for almost 12. He had a great first middle school report card, he's working hard at football, and he's still reading like the bibliophile he has always been. Today, the high point of "up" was a trip to the opera to watch The Barber of Seville. One's reaction to opera: "It was fantastic! So funny! And can you believe B fell asleep during it? I mean, it was The Barber of Seville! How can you fall asleep during that?" And opera was followed by a picnic lunch outside and an early dismissal from school. How can things be any better?

And then we go "down". Because of things like, oh, the little math quiz he took today before the opera trip. "What did you get on it?" "Um, a 60, because I, well, I didn't really pay attention and I made mistakes on multiplication and division." Crash. Burn. Mayday. Complete with me yelling "How can you not care enough to make mistakes from 4th grade? How could you not check your work? What were you thinking?" Let it be known that this is not the first bad math grade of the grading period, or I wouldn't be so steamed. Yes, it was mature of him to immediately admit the cause of his mistake - and to own up to the fact that he was the cause - I've given him credit for that. He didn't stonewall, refuse to tell me, or outright lie, thank the Lord. But... but... but ... oh, it's so frustrating!

It's like one minute he's firing on all cylinders (I am on the metaphors tonight, aren't I?) and the next he's just standing there with his mouth open, watching the world go by. He did this quite literally at his football game two weeks ago, where he pretty much decided that being a spectator was more fun than being an offensive lineman, and stood and watched calmly as his teammates were sacked. Play after play after play. And they lost. And he was snarky and angry when I told him that if he was going to be absent for a game, he shouldn't put on his uniform and go out on the field.

Up, and then down. Up and down. When does he grow out of this - 25? Boy, that's an awfully long way away.

*The picture is One doing his air guitar on the swings at 9. Wow - nine.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I read the Atlantic's cover piece, All the Single Ladies, a few weeks ago, and I've been chewing on whether to write something on it or not. I think it's pretty obvious that author Kate Bolick and I couldn't lead more different lives. It's probably only slightly less obvious that I find hers to be almost completely shallow and lacking in meaning, mainly because she has deliberately separated herself from belonging to the most quintessential "community" mankind has ever created: a family.

I find her decision shallow because she seems to have made it in order to search further in life for self-satisfaction and happiness: some kind of "meaning" that apparently continues to elude her. She fails to realize that most of us find exactly these things by taking the path that she dismisses. In fact, the very reason that marriage and families endure as bulwarks of society despite the many attacks on them is because so many people have realized that focusing solely on their own happiness and fulfillment just doesn't get them there. When they take the lens off themselves, and turn towards helping others - that is when not just happiness but true joy descend. Does that mean that married life and family life is a peach? Of course not. But anything we do that has a higher purpose - even if that purpose is not a religous or metaphysical one, but simply the desire to consistently put another's needs before our own - will bring back gifts we can never hope to measure.

Ms. Bolick has lived her life lacking practically any kind of moral compass and now it is beginning to show. She has put herself first and all others who could have made her life richer second, and now writes with some bewilderment how this order of things could have failed her. It fails everyone, Ms. Bolick; even without a mother interested in teaching you this lesson (and yours clearly was not), you could have looked about you and discovered that quite quickly. But the mirror must have been much more fascinating, and so you missed it. Instead of grasping why people get married and have families - not for sociological or economic reasons, but for real, human reasons such as love and companionship - All the Single Ladies looks at marriage as a curiosity that can't quite be understood and can be easily dismissed as "just another odd way some people order their lives." In this conclusion, Bolick misses the raison d'etre of the vast majority of her fellow human beings; not just her long, meandering article but her life itself is the poorer for it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Boomers Love Themselves

Is anyone surprised that nothing has changed for the most obnoxious generation ever to "grace" this country's shores? The latest news: they are still as selfish and self-centered as they always were, and still just as out of touch with reality. Today's evidence? A Smart Money article on "10 Things Baby Boomers Won't Tell You." Among them:

1. I'm spending your inheritance now.
2. I'm spending it so fast, I'll be living with you (and on you) very soon.
3. We'd have more money to live on if we hadn't had you at all dammit.

The world won't be rid of this awful group of people soon enough. Thanks, worthless Boomers. Thanks for AIDS, skyrocketing divorce rates, disco, "finding yourself", latchkey kids and all the other ills you brought on the world. Now get to the county nursing home and eat your lime jell-o. It's more than you'll ever deserve.