Monday, November 29, 2010

Free Advice on Magick Wands

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Laughing through Cyber Monday -- got Spare's gift at a deep discount by being up at 5:00 a.m. for a cyber deal. Sure beats standing in line in the cold and dark for an hour, only to find that the bait-and-switch item you wanted is all "sold out."

Time to pass along a little free advice!

I thought of this while I was watching "Harry Potter and the Incessantly Endless and Pointless Plotline." If you're candid with yourself, you'll have to agree. Holes in the logic here, people.

One of the biggest holes in Harry Potter is the whole wand thing. Proof beyond shadow of a doubt that the author is not now, nor ever was, a Pagan.

How does one procure a wand in Harry Potter's world? Oh, gosh! One goes to a store. Buys it. Sure, the wand "speaks" to you. But you still have to buy it. I presume that the more doubloons you have, the better the wand that speaks to you. And in this saga, the most powerful wand is buried with a wizard whose grave is so easy to plunder it just boggles the mind. Wands. Bought and sold. Stolen. Borrowed. Grabbed and used by others.

Baaaaammmmmp! Foul! Pish tosh!

The whole point of a wand is this: You invest your time, energy, and love into it. Not your cash. Don't ever let anyone sell you a wand, no matter how beautiful it is.

Let me amend that. You can buy a beautiful wand for its appeal, but don't expect it to work for you. A working wand starts with a stick you pick up in the forest. Feathers you find here and there. A charm someone gives you. String. That little bead on the floor just at the edge of the fridge.

What does a real wand look like? It looks like you. It's a reflection of your personality, because you made it. If you're showy, it will be snazzy. If you're quiet, it may just be humble. The point is, to have an effective wand, you must make it yourself, from things that really speak to you.

On we go to the whole point of a magick wand. Have you ever tried pointing one at someone and saying, "Drop over dead, you wastrel?" Not that I've done it, but my guess is that this would not work.

My wand is an object to hold when I am meditating or reflecting. Good energy was stored in it when I made it, and I take it with me to places where I know it will absorb more good energy. I don't use it for protection, or for show, or for spell-making. I just hold it in my lap.

This morning I thought about my wand. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, 40 minutes before lunch, and my English Honors class bounded into the room like a pack of Tiggers. Hot on their heels came my Language Arts supervisor, newly hired by our district. He had come in for an informal "walk through." So, clipboard in hand, he watched as I spent about 15 minutes trying to calm a dozen 14-year-olds who must have had Sprite for breakfast.

The charming evaluation forms have a place for a numerical ranking. One (1) is "needs improvement." Two (2) is "barely ok." Three (3) is "decent." I got one-half. Not a 1-slash-2, a .5. Fifty percent. Half. Which isn't even on the sheet.

It's at times like this that one wishes for a Harry Potter wand. Just wave a fancy stick, shower everyone with "quiet dust," and zap the supervisor with the sinking feeling that he's forgotten his wedding anniversary and ought to biff off to the card shop.

Real wands aren't like that. A real wand welcomes you home at the end of a tough Monday and has you laughing into the wind and looking for faeries in the ivy. A real wand sits at your elbow as you make dinner, chat with your daughter, trash-talk the River Tribe on Facebook. Soon enough you might as well have had that quiet dust, because it doesn't really matter anymore. Tomorrow's another day, and maybe the Tiggers will be turtles, and maybe Gatsby will turn away from that green light on the dock and say to himself, "Can't repeat the past. Off to Tibet."

It's Cyber Monday. Get your magick wand today! It's not in a store or even online. Be like Dorothy. Look in your own back yard.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Things to Remember for the Future

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Please be patient while I record a few notes for my future reference.

When visiting the homes of my children and their families, I should:

*Figure out which chair is the favorite of the lady of the house and not inhabit it.

*Only volunteer in the kitchen when asked to.

*Go with the flow, not try to direct it. Others may be tired from working all week.

*Be very mindful of my aging body's bad habits and adjust to my surroundings.

*Spend time with grandchildren, not with children. Children work, and they're tired.

*No more than three nights.

*No organ recitals.

*No complaining about the schedule.

*Be very mindful who the alpha female is in a home.

*When tempers fray, seek a quiet corner.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What To Do with a Tame Buzzard

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," sadly drawing toward the end of a long weekend! Don't pay attention to what the governor of New Jersey tells you. School teachers work hard. At least I haven't found a way to pace myself yet.

But today I come to you with a very serious message. Please be seated and pay attention.

I just heard from Kevin Spahr, the producer/director of "Glen Rock Fae," a documentary about the Spoutwood Fairie Festival. Kevin didn't write to me about the festival or the film, however. He wrote to me because he saw that I like buzzards, and he had an up-close-and-personal conversation with one this summer in New Hope, PA.

As Kevin tells it, a young buzzard was strolling the streets of New Hope, cadging goodies from tourists. It was not intimidated by the crowds (which intimidate me) nor by the dogs. In fact, it tried to jump up on his lap.

Of course, having a vulture jump onto my lap is the stuff dreams are made of. Well ... let me re-phrase that. Having a tame vulture jump on my lap while I'm hale and hearty is the stuff dreams are made of. If I'm slowly expiring and a buzzard is overly eager to nibble, I might not be so pleased.

Pay attention, now. If a vulture ever acts this way around you (cadging treats, tugging at your shoelaces for attention, fearless of people and domestic animals), call 911 and track that bird. Don't let it out of your sight until Animal Control shows up to take possession.

Vultures are a protected species and should not be domesticated. However, every now and then some well-meaning human finds a baby buzzard and brings it indoors and tames it. Vultures are very intelligent. They learn fast who is feeding them. Unlike parrots, they are virtually noiseless. They can't vocalize at all hardly. Eventually, though, their toilet habits make them undesirable as pets. It's at that point -- when they're mostly grown and completely clueless about how to live as a buzzard -- that their foster parents drop them on the side of the road and tell them to find a possum.

The people at wildlife rescue do not kill these domesticated birds. They use them as teaching tools. I saw one domesticated turkey vulture on Hawk Mountain last September who was thoroughly enjoying being the object of attention while still living a quality life in a wildlife rehab center.

What happens to a tame buzzard who isn't taken in by wildlife rescue? It can get attacked by dogs or hit by a car. In rural areas it will starve. All this is needless suffering, because healthy turkey vultures, tame or not, are not euthanized at wildlife rehab centers. They are either nursed back to health and returned to the wild (if they know they're buzzards), used as teaching tools (if they think they're human), or allowed use of a flight cage (food and roost for life) if they can no longer fly and aren't tame.

If you can get close enough to a buzzard that you could pet its head, and it's not hissing at you and vomiting on your feet, call Animal Control. That's not the way buzzards behave. They are very shy and want nothing to do with humans who are alive.

The word of Vulture for the people of Vulture. Thanks be to Vulture.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Bargains

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Why would you go sit in a traffic jam at the mall when you can shop right here, save a bundle, and get everything you want for your holiday extragvaganza? Yes, we at "The Gods Are Bored" are offering a one-day, half-off special on hard-to-find items. Whip out that credit card and fill your shopping cart!

1. Peace of mind: This HTF commodity is in very limited supply here at "The Gods Are Bored," but if you act right now, we will send you total and complete peace of mind at a 20% discount. Be wary of those who would offer you peace of mind by reading religious books or attending services! True peace of mind can only be achieved by .... no, wait! Buy first, find out the secret to peace of mind later! Heck, that's how most religions handle it. Why should we be different?

2. True Love: Very, very HTF! This is not a spell or an herbal enhancement here. It's pure true love, the complete works with significant other, heart strings, and "you complete me" kit. Lifetime guarantee. Yours on Black Friday at 10% discount and free shipping. (Sorry, no returns on this item.)

3. High Adventure: Tired of your dreary life? Chuck it all and climb into our fully functional Tardis! Travel this world and others, saving everything, all the time, in the nick of time. Limited offer: Buy today, get The Doctor free! You'll want to have him too, because it takes awhile to learn how to drive the Tardis.

4. Spiritual Enlightenment: Go for the real thing!  You know how many phonies there are out there trying to convince you they have all the answers? We've got the answers! Fresh from ancient and forgotten texts, these few, sure-fire steps will have you enlightened before you can say "ShamWow!"  Today only, buy one spiritual enlightenment, get the second at half price. You don't get offers like this every day. Just sayin.

5. Patience Extender: Back by popular demand, our patience extender helps you to deal with all annoying situations and people far longer than you ever could have imagined! If you're surrounded by aggravation, this is the perfect item for you. It is highly effective if used properly. Two-year limited warranty. Half price with mail-in rebate.

6. Breathtaking Beauty: Now mind you, people pay tons of money for this with no guarantee of success. There's a secret to it, and in our Perfect Beauty Sampler, we give you step-by-step directions to the kind of gorgeous visage usually reserved for starlets or baseball players. Change your life! You know it's all about looks. Walk the walk. Two-for-the-price-of-one special, great when combined with True Love, above.

7. Kittens and Puppies That Never Grow Up: Scientists have been trying to do this for years with no success. We know the secret to how this is done, and we will share it with you on a half price basis, today and today only. Some restrictions apply.

So there you have it, readers. Your Black Friday shopping early and in one spot, and useful gifts too! But don't stop here. Remember that "The Gods Are Bored" regularly offers free advice, and you can't do better than free!

Any other gifts you could possibly need can be found at the stores listed in my sidebar. Enjoy your Black Friday ... my mother-in-law is here at Chateau Johnson until Monday, so the Patience Extender is running on high.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cousins Behaving Well, Cousins Behaving Badly

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" You may be an only child. You may not have siblings. But I'll bet you have at least one cousin somewhere. Aren't cousins fun? I don't know where I would be without mine.

This past week my far-flung cousins sort of came together in an odd synchronicity.

First I heard from my dad's nephew, Cousin Brad. He had found a buyer (we hope) for our farm in Appalachia. He has been living there with his dad (and sometimes in the wintertime by himself) for a long time. Dad Brad is well-mannered and thoughtful, spiritual and an outdoorsman. He is engaging company and has always comported himself in a way that harms none.

Dad Brad wanted me to get in touch with some other cousins of another Dad uncle. Which I did, and they all want to sell the property, and they all are quiet and well-mannered people. It was a pleasure catching up with them. In a jiffy we had a consensus, and I assume that Dad Brad is proceeding with the details of the transaction.

I also have a Mom Brad ... another Cousin Brad who is a BAMF. Trouble is this dude's middle name, and it's been that way since he was a kid memorizing Hitler's political speeches and giving them in German to the general dismay of his WWII veteran father. Mom Brad was a frequent resident at my home when I was growing up, especially after he got expelled from his high school in Springfield, Virginia. Four decades of checkered career later, I also heard from him this week.

Now here's a piece of free "Gods Are Bored" advice: If you send out chain emails, be careful what you send when you hit "reply all."

A mutual cousin of Mom Brad and me sends this stuff all the time. I delete her mass mailings unopened. But Mom Brad opened it, saw that it was pictures of Muslims in London carrying signs threatening the safety and security of Europe, and read the message that we Americans should pretty much annihilate anyone wearing anything other than a baseball cap on his or her head.

Mom Brad, who has lived the past decade in Germany (surprise!) fired off a vitriolic response to the mass mail, sending it not only to our mutual cousin, but to everyone on her "reply" list. She blistered him back -- also to everyone on her "reply" list, and her son-in-law blistered him too. ("Take your medication." Apt as hell, but not funny.) Mom Brad sent an even more feverish response back -- again to everyone -- predicting that the Tea Party would bring our country down as Nero did Rome, or some such.

Coming the same week as the polite emails from my dad's family, I was struck yet again how different my parents were, and how different their families were. Mom's family had dough and patrician backgrounds, and they resolutely behaved like white trash regardless of the big houses and cars. Dad's family lived deeper in Appalachia, on less money, but they had better manners and gentle sensibilities.

Isn't it funny how childhood personalities stay with us as we grow old and gray? I could talk to Dad Brad all afternoon. If Mom Brad calls, I don't pick up. In fact, I go to the mall until bedtime.

Still I sent Mom Brad a private email saying he got mistreated, and that if I was him I just wouldn't open those forwarded emails, they are uniformly aggravating. He wrote back promptly, promising to call me soon.

Time to go to the mall. Oh, crap. It's Black Friday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Making of a Thug

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" We passed exhaustion about 50 miles back. Literally can hardly hold my arms up to type.

But here's a story from my sister's neck of the woods, and Sis stories are always worth a read!

About a month ago, Sis and her spouse took in a Korean exchange student who was having issues with his host family. The young man in question does not speak English very well.

At first I thought the student was just a public school invitee, but it turns out that he's being hosted by a horrifically conservative Christian private school inconveniently located in a backwater redneck enclave near the Mason-Dixon Line. Sis has to drive him to and from this school every day, an hour round-trip.

I don't know the details, but the young man pulled a Saturday detention. Sis dropped him off at noon. When she picked him up, they had shaved his head. He was limping from all the running they made him do. He had additionally been made to do sit-ups and push-ups and yard work.

The big thing, of course, is the hair. Someone at that school shaved the kid's head.

The Facebook pictures tell it all. In the "before" pictures the little dude looks something like an Asian Justin Bieber, with one of those shaggy, combed-to-the-front, Beatles-style mops. Now? Now he looks like a thug. All he needs is a do-rag, and he could pledge a gang faster than you can say, "Some Christians are a menace to civilized society."

I guess the morons at the B******** Christian Academy don't keep up with trends. If they did, they would never shave a kid's head to the dome. I'm not sure of the legality of this in the first place, but the kid's family is in Korea. Sis is his only advocate, and she is maximum pissed. But what can she do? If the school dumps the kid, he'll have to go home.

Mind you, this young Christian Korean chappie is no blood kin to me, but if he's under my sister's roof, that makes him family. As a proud Pagan auntie, I intend to take steps.

First, I will research and call upon the bored deities sacred to the Korean people prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries. To these deities I will carry the grievances of a boy who -- whatever he did to deserve detention -- did not deserve to be shaved. I will ask the deities to speak to this young man and pull him back to their ways.

Then Ima gon' inna Philly and buy that dude a ghetto hoodie with badass graphix in a non-affiliated color. Got the hair, get the threads.

A cheerful thought to end this post: The person who shaved that poor boy's head goes into a voting booth and casts a ballot. Sweet dreams, reader!

Monday, November 22, 2010

In The Hands of the Goddess Cloacina

A very brief dispatch from "The Gods Are Bored." We have a potential buyer for our farm in Appalachia -- the owner of the adjoining property, who would be buying it as an investment and would be looking for vacation renters. I have asked the bored Goddess Cloacina, who is in that neighborhood just now, to shed Her brilliance on this transaction.

If the purchase is made, a property that was split up in the 1930s by my great-grandfather would all be in one person's ownership again. Not a family member, but a neighbor in good standing since 1987.

Please toss a coin in a charity fountain with a prayer to Cloacina on my behalf. The person who may buy my land would let me tread upon it in a most liberal way.


PS - Thirty, count 'em, 30 copies of The Great Gatsby! I love you all!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vulture Festival Downsized

Ladies and gentlemen: Due to declining ticket sales and volunteer fatigue, the 2011 East Coast Vulture Festival will consist only of a children's fair in the afternoon. No evening festivities are planned.

This unexpected blow to the nascent vulture worship community of southern New Jersey will need to be dealt with somehow. Your suggestions would be most appreciated.

Yours in sorrow,
Anne Johnson
Shaman of the Sacred Thunderbird

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Don't Know Why I Didn't Think of This Sooner

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" I have had a brilliant idea, and I aim to put it in place right away.

I've been teaching public school here in New Jersey for awhile, and I do love my students dearly. I look forward to every minute with them in the classroom. Trouble is, there's so much other stuff in teaching that is either drudgery, trivia, or psych-out. Constant observations by the brass. Bubble sheets for everything under the sun. Educational innovations that will soon be discredited but are now the rage.

Tonight I go job-hunting. I am seeking a position as Teacher of Bardic Poetry at Hogwarts.

You see, my daughter The Spare is going to the Harry Potter premiere. Only she's not going to attend the movie. She's going to the pre-screening party. And you should see her! She stole half my wardrobe (including my Xmas Troll earrings) and has decked herself out as Luna Lovegood. (The entire house smells like hairspray -- Spare has straight hair, so she had to curl it.)

Spare says these premieres bring out all the Hogwarts brass. What better opportunity than this to shop around my resume where my services would be best rendered?

Maybe if Hogwarts takes me on, I can bring some of my students. They would liven up that stuffy old castle. Plus, every day for them is Defense against the Dark Arts. They could teach the teachers!

So, readers, wish me luck as I float off to submit my resume.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Which I Acquire a New Mom

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where the music of November rain is in the air and life is one faerie fine drama! I'm your host, Anne Johnson. Today I'm weighing my chances of dieting in the balance and finding the odds against me.

I've got a new mom.

She's a Puerto Rican immigrant. She cooks comfort food like only a great mom can.

This year at the Vo-Tech I pulled a 6th period lunch. That's the lunch that all the "shop" teachers get. The only other academic teacher who has lunch that period is the Spanish teacher, whose family is mostly in Puerto Rico. This teacher is a graduate of the Vo-Tech who has really pulled herself up by sheer hard work and her deep faith in God.

Let me tell you, readers. When you see what this one young teacher can accomplish in a day, you've got to ask yourself why we would ever close our borders. I've never seen anyone with more energy in my life.

But it started out frosty between me and "Maria" this September. We sat together out of that unspoken rule that groups teacher with teacher, and secretary with secretary, and lunch lady with lunch lady. We just didn't talk. I would try to get Maria to converse, and she would answer as shortly as possible.

It occurred to me that news of my praise and worship team might have filtered back to her. I don't know -- I'm not secretive about it, but I don't broadcast it either. I sat with a good Methodist man all year last year without ever mentioning my own faith at all.

But I think what it must have been with Maria was just sort of shyness. Because one day we bonded over a bowl of black beans.

We get good lunches at the Vo-Tech because they have a Culinary Arts program. One of the signature dishes they serve is a Southwestern chicken soup that has black beans in it. This soup is a gift from the bored gods, that's all I can figure. It's that good.

On this particular day, Maria was painstakingly picking each and every black bean out of her soup. Some of the secretaries were teasing her about it -- how can someone from Puerto Rico not like beans? She laughed and said her father never did either.

I can relate. Mr. Johnson's grandmother, born and raised in Baltimore, never ate a crab. Imagine that!

Long story short, I swapped my french fries for Maria's beans, and that turned out to be magic.

Ever since then, we've been swapping the portions of our lunches that we don't like. Starting last week, Maria began giving me tastes of the home-cooked food her mom makes. Starting this week, Maria has been bringing in enough lunch for both of us, hand-cooked by her mama.

Ah, comfort food, comfort food! Meat and potatoes, steaming hot leftovers from the microwave, cooked by Mom! And now Maria and I are fast friends. I want to be her sister.

Bottom line of this sermon: Never, EVER underestimate the magic of home cooking by Mom. It is the most powerful elixir in the universe. Proof that the bored gods love us and want us to be happy.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Tricky Thicket of Temptation

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored" on a spectacular autumn day! Oh my goodness, the weather was gorgeous this weekend! And thanks to Snobville's munificent Leaf Retention taxes (see below) the colors here are still at their peak. Lovely weather for strolling ... around the flea market.

Remember the good ol' days, when swap meets and flea markets were the only Ebay? Well, near our house there's a flea market that tries gamely to retain some of that old-time charm. Today the whole Johnson family went there, and I bought a magnificent tie-dyed shirt from a grizzled old hippie who hand-dyed it, took it to the laundromat, and washed and dried it to perfection. I'd never seen this dude there before, and now I have a real, REAL tie-dyed shirt, not the neon kind you see in my pictures.

I also got the items I went to the market for: toy dinosaurs, a small seasonal decoration for my teacher desk, dried catnip, and Italian seasoning. I could have had a huge bag of ground-fall apples for six bucks, but they were too heavy to carry. Here in New Jersey they call them "deer apples!" Never heard that term.

You would think that a long morning at the flea market would scratch my spending itch. But when I got home from the market, I remembered that I had to pick up a birthday card for a friend. So I drove to the nearest pharmacy, walked in ...

For the love of fruit flies.

The seasonal aisle was perfectly arranged with everything one could ever need to turn one's home into a Crazy Christmas House. Surge protectors. Indoor-outdoor lights. Hooks. Gilded snowmen that light up. Lamp post decor. Front door wreaths.

My breathing got shallow. I started to perspire. Everything was there! Everything that even the most clueless electrically-challenged idiot (me) would need to stage a brilliant display with minimal hassle!

And outside, at that very moment ... a spectacular autumn afternoon with three hours of daylight left to it.

Temptation! Temptation! My trembling hands reached out for the boxes of multi-colored garland lighting ... 200 bulbs per box ... 9 feet of lighting ... pre-season sale ... I was doing the math. Ohhhhh. To have a house lit up like Vegas! One of my few unrealized lifetime goals!

I am proud to say I left that store with the birthday card I went to buy, and nothing else. I took a walk around Hoppy's Pond to cool off, but I just couldn't stop thinking about that perfect display of outdoor lights. Heck, I'm a working woman now! I have a little bit of disposable income (well, not really with one kid in college and another on the way).

What saved me from this tricky thicket of temptation was the remembrance that spring will come, and with it the East Coast Vulture Festival. Gotta hold onto the ducats in order to rent the buzzard costume! (Saved, again, by the Sacred Thunderbird. Thanks be to Thunderbird.)

When I got back from my walk, my neighbor down at the end of the block was outside. He was draping his bushes with holiday lights. He already had two dozen big light clusters hanging in his trees. While his daughters scampered around him, he pulled lights from carefully-packed duffel bags and began to outline his house. I stopped long enough to praise his effort to the skies and tell him how glad I was to have him as a neighbor.

The moral of this sermon is simple: When you feel a temptation coming on, watch your neighbors. Chances are, one of them is already doing it. Save yourself the trouble, and just live vicariously through that person. No one is worse for wear, and no upholstery gets stained.

Starting The Great Gatsby this week at the Vo-Tech. Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Governor Chris Christie and the Leaf Retention Laws

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where DECIBEL THE PARROT is screaming, Heir and Spare are laughing upstairs, and the faeries are dancing, dancing, dancing, in the newly-fallen leaves!

Here in the state of New Jersey, we have local Leaf Retention Boards. Funded by taxpayers, these Leaf Retention Boards are charged with prolonging autumn by keeping the most colorful and beautiful leaves on the trees.

Snobville is a high-income borough. The manager of the Philadelphia Phillies rents here. (Like me, he's an Appalachian expatriate.) Some of the Phils live here too, and the Eagles ... you know, assorted New Money. Many other residents just have fistfuls of cash. So much of the stuff, in fact, that they can afford very high Leaf Retention fees. As a consequence, those of us who live on the other side of the Snobville tracks get to enjoy stunning autumn displays way until the end of November.

In defense of Home Rule, I did my part. I rescued a Japanese maple seedling that would never have survived the winters around here in George Washington's era. But now, readers. Now ... oh, you should see it! It's just beginning to turn a magnificent hue of scarlet/magenta/burgundy, with yellow highlights. Takes your breath away, this tree.

During the previous election cycle, New Jersey's Democrats slept through election day, paving the way for a porcine moron named Chris Christie to assume the mantle of governor.

Governor Christie thinks the Leaf Retention taxes are too high. He says the trees don't deserve the money we pay them to hold their leaves until Thanksgiving. As proof of their failure, he points to the bare branches that we see here and there. You know, some trees just get hit by high winds harder than others.

Governor Christie wants to cut down any tree that loses its leaves before Thanksgiving. He wants all trees to be subject to rigorous oversight, in case they get lax about their leaf-losing. Furthermore, he wants to streamline the taxation process on the trees, so that one overseer will look after all deciduous trees in each of New Jersey's counties. Leaf Retention taxes will be collected not locally, but on a county-wide basis, saving taxpayers money both by eliminating local involvement in Leaf Retention and by putting more of the burden on the trees to keep their leaves.

Here in Snobville we have a state champion black oak that has needed a great deal of taxpayer support in recent years. The tree dates to 1840, so needless to say it's not doing the shade job (or autumn color job, or squirrel protection and feeding job) that it did 100 years ago. This tree is very scared that it will be cut down in favor of some sapling that will be less of a burden to county taxpayers.  Imagine being 160 years old and fearing for your future!

You might think that this dire news for the old oak would be good news for my young Japanese maple. But the maple's prowess at delivering autumn splendor is impacted by the weather. If we have a cold and rainy autumn, this tree goes bare in an eye blink. Our local Leaf Retention administrator knows this and judges the maple accordingly. But will a county-wide administrator have the time to get to know 500,000 trees? (Yes, this county has a small tree population. It's suburban, not rural.)

I don't understand why Governor Chris Christie doesn't get it. So many factors impact Leaf Retention -- the weather, the winds, the quality of the soil. Can all trees, regardless of age or location, be held to the same high standards for Leaf Retention? What about the ones in elementary school playgrounds, where the kids amuse themselves by ripping whole branches off just for fun?

The moral of this sermon is that Chris Christie is a moron, and a dangerous moron. He wants to be your president, and the only thing that will stop him is his weight (immense) and/or the collective strength of the trees he's trying to cut down.

Don't hold out much hope for the trees. If you've seen pictures of  Mountaintop Removal mining, you know what a few greedy bastards can do to entire populations of trees in record time. Our only hope is to stop the Christie menace right here in New Jersey, before he spreads his anti-tree message far and wide.

Home Rule for Scotland. Home Rule for Snobville. Keep our Leaf Retention statutes local, where we know our trees and the lay of our land.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Great Gatsby!

I want to thank all of you who have donated copies of The Great Gatsby to my needy classroom. It seems counter-intuitive to teach a book like this to students who maybe ought to be reading Toni Morrison. However (transition word), stories like The Great Gatsby reveal so much about our "American Dream," the dark side of it that my upwardly-mobile students might never have thought about.

Gotta go. I'm at school and a student has just come in.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We Are Not Cookies

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Have you ever wondered what makes Americans special? I know, I know, I'm starting to spout platitudes like a school teacher. Please forgive me. Every now and then I have to drink some water from the fountain here at the Vo-Tech, and they put platitudes in the tank.

What makes Americans special? Let's not dwell on the negative here -- our conquer, conquer, conquer mentality. That's not particularly unique to America, although we are good at it.

My name is Anne Johnson, and I am going to write this essay about what makes Americans special. Americans are special for three reasons. First, they come from many countries. Second, they are creative. Third, they come from many countries. This is why I think Americans are special.

Forgive me again. I'm making fun of my students. But look at that paragraph above. I'm supposed to teach writing -- essays based on platitudes or nebulous topics like the state school budget. Why do I do this? So my students can pass standardized tests, like students in China, and Japan, and Korea, and Switzerland.

Trouble is, we are not a "one test fits all" nation. Look at how we rail against the kind of life the Religious Right would have us live! It's not only an abomination for Pagans, it would be unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans.

Have you ever thought about why students don't do well on these standard tests here in America?

Start with this.

I have a student who might not pass the standardized test. Recently he turned in a short writing sample. It started, "I remember going fishing with my grandpa. That is when I lived in Vietnam."

Reader, this high school freshman has traveled farther in the first 14 years of his life than I have in all my Phi Beta Kappa 51 years. He's bilingual. Not only is he bilingual, but he knows a valuable language for American business and industry. He's kind of a jovial kid, but underneath that, he wants to work hard and succeed. Talk to him one-on-one, and a very serious side emerges. The joviality masks his insecurity about his difficulties with English.

When did we become a nation of cookies, cut by some machine, rolling along the conveyor belt in perfect rows?

That kind of homogeneity sounds repulsive to all but a handful of Americans. You're always going to have some people who want everyone to look, think, and act like they do. But most of us find the variety of experiences in this country just simply fascinating. I know I do. Who called it "Rugged Individualism?" I like that term, even if I'm not all that rugged myself.

Given America's lack of homogeneity, why are we expected to do well on standardized tests?

There's some kid out in Montana whose family has been here since 1800. In this kid's spare time he raises Angus beeves for 4-H contests. He's blonde and Cacucasian and Christian and Republican. Tiny high school 45 miles away from home.

Then there's my student. Right off the plane from Vietnam, living in Camden. Likes to tinker with electronics. Good in math. Asian (duh). Don't know if he's Christian or Republican ... but does it matter?

Both of these boys have to pass the same test, and it's the same test the Chinese kids take. Oh yes, and their English teachers have been given a set of national standards that suggests they read Little Women in their freshman year.

I say, give the kid in Montana a test on cattle, and give the Vietnamese kid a test on electronics. One will breed a bull with less fat in its meat, and the other will design the next generation of Iwhatever.

Let's keep America special. Let's get back to that rugged individual mentality. In our religion, in our studies, and in our habits. Vive la difference.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Can't Sit Still

Some days defy our ability to sit still indoors. This is one of them. I'm going outside for a walk.

When I was a kid I recall November as being barren and gray. Not snowy, but past autumn and always raining or looking like it was going to rain. Here in the flatlands, the trees are still bright, and it's often crisp and sunny.

A little fresh air never hurt anyone. And walking here in Snobville is joyous, because we have a champion black oak -- and it's just up the street. So long, readers, I'm going out to hug a tree.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Frank Talk about Risky Business

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Let's talk about sex! Okay, I'm female. And you?

Another day, another junior-in-high-school online health class. Poor Spare! Imagine having to watch a half dozen videos about how your life gets ruined when you're a teenage girl who "does it," leaving not too much of the "doing it" to imagination! Spare was groaning and cursing the screen. "GROSSSSSSS!" and "EWWWWWW!"

Spare hasn't met that special dude yet who will render the idea of sex less gross and ewwy. She's 16. I remember when I was 16, I didn't think sex was gross and ewwwy, but I wasn't ready for it either. And not because I was afraid I'd get pregnant. In those good ol' days, you could go to the free clinic and get The Pill without even having parental consent. Any age. Groovy, huh?

Spare had to answer a lot of questions about risky behavior. The first one was, "Why do people say to themselves, 'Bad things only happen to other people, not to me'?"

By "bad things," I suppose the teacher means PREGNANCY or STDs, both covered exhaustively in sex ed class.

Let's take a look at this mentality, though. Why do people think they won't suffer any ill effects if they behave in risky ways?

Risky behavior with little regard to the consequences. Yes, this leads to unwanted pregnancies, drunken driving accidents, all kinds of bad, bad, bad stuff.

But risky behavior also leads to a defiant leap to catch a towering fly ball in the World Series. It leads a person to strap himself or herself into a spaceship that may or may not land safely. It leads an Italian entrepreneur to sail west beyond any previous western sail, thence to find land. It puts people on top of Mount Everest, in submarines, in laboratories and rescue vessels.

Where would we be without any risk?

I took this question to the bored gods.

Some of my Work involves deities that guided the human species long before anyone got the idea to write anything down. Those deities speak of a time when "survival of the fittest" meant "survival of the ones who took risks and lived." We are a risk-taking species. Especially when we're young, and our danger clocks haven't been chimed by too many calamitous events.

Raise your hand if you've never done anything risky. Oh yes, I see you back there! Wimp. Exit "The Gods Are Bored" now, and go console your fears by watching "Jerry Springer" re-runs.

All the bored gods know that I don't want my daughters to run around having drunken, casual sex with strangers. I never did anything like that. I'm a born romantic with a philosophy given to me by James Baldwin: The most powerful, most enduring love is unrequited. I can't imagine having casual sex. Eww.

But that's me. That's not everyone. We have risk-takers in our species. Some of them drink too much and have sex. And make babies.

If our world was suddenly deprived of every human who had the moxie and/or bad judgment to get it on with someone they hardly know, who would be left? Would we as a species be as adventurous as we are? Would we cheer at sporting events (okay, I live in Philly ... would we BOO at sporting events)? Would we venture outside on a snowy day? Would we even have invented houses?

Raise your hand if you don't know anyone who was conceived by the coupling of two people who didn't know each other very well but who got caught up in the moment, through drinking, drugging, or just plain horniness. Aha! No hands. Because that's just how we are as a species.

I'm sitting here today because my grandmothers (BOTH of them) engaged in risky behavior. I owe my life to it! So did my mom and dad! Aunts, uncles, and cousins galore! All the end result of risky sexual encounters.

The moral of this sermon is simple. Risky behavior is dangerous, but it also informs who we are. Don't go out and get drunk and screw around because you read "The Gods Are Bored" and decided to be a sexual Christopher Columbus. But don't fear the risk, either. Modern life gives us tools to manage risk. Use them and live a little.

Heir and Spare, if you're reading this, forget it. You are the exception to the rule. Go to your rooms, pick up those samplers, and get to your cross-stitching. And I mean NOW!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Miss Annie's Halloween Guide to Lighter Living!

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where yet another election cycle proves us right: Democracy doesn't work. Stupid people vote stupidly, against their own interests. So let's all eat cake as if we really have some! And stay healthy, folks. By all means, stay healthy.

No politics here today. There's more important news afoot. To whit, you are looking at the 2010 Community Group Costume First Prize Winners in the Snob Township Halloween Parade!

Yes, yes! The Monkey Man and I decided, quite upon the spur of the moment, to enter the Snob Township Halloween Parade instead of marching in the Snobville parade, which is really only a bunch of cute rich kids walking down the street with their parents. Snob Township has a real parade that gives out cash prizes for costumed "mummers." (Sorry that I stiffed you for photos, Wanda! Do you forgive me?)

Given about two hours to prepare for the event, I fell back on my Fairie Festival couture, and of course summoned the loyal dragon, Big Red. I figured the Monkey Man would be attired in his customary tie-dye and jester hat.

I was wrong. Monkey Man decided to attire himself as Edgar Allan Poe. He has a crow puppet that used to make a "caw" noise (until one liquor-fueled poetry gathering in which I made the crow caw too much and broke his vocal apparatus). On the beak of the crow you can see a sign: "Nevermore." And because the raven sits on a bust in the poem, Monkey Man had brought a bust of Mr. Spock. So when the judge came around to ask who we were, we said we represented Pizza and Poetry of Camden (true) and that MM was EAP and Big Red was the Jabberwock.

And so we marched into the autumn air, surrounded by other lively mummers. My guess is that we won in the community group category because we didn't have much competition. The costumed mummers were mostly families, teens, small floats. Stuff like that.

On Samhain morning I rose very early and drove to Ridley Creek State Park, where our Druid Grove meets. The only other member of our Grove who could come that day was Muin, and his time was limited. So we took a hike to the Pennsylvania champion black oak, out in the woods, and sat for awhile talking about our ancestors. We did nothing formal in the way of Ritual, but there was certainly something holy about sitting in the crisp leaves, backs to a 150-year-old oak, talking about faraway Scotland. I learned a good deal more about Muin than I knew before, all of it adding to the high esteem in which I hold him.

Drove back home, carved some jack-o-lanterns to keep away the bad spirits, and had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with my nearest and dearest. Heir was home from college, and she cobbled together a costume so she could walk around Snobville with the elusive Seitou (who only comes out on Halloween. Really.) Spare, now 16, insisted on trick-or-treating, but she came back with a small trove. It was the idea that counted, not the booty.

Family Johnson had a feast of a supper. Then Mr. Johnson had to drive Heir back to college.

I wanted to build a bonfire, but the hour was advancing and the breeze was just a tad stiff. So I kindled some dragon's blood and candles on the Shrine of the Mists and greeted the most deeply ancient bored deities, lost to the mists of time. It was like a receiving line -- me honoring Them, Them bestowing peace and gladness on me. After all the festivities, it was transporting to sit in wafts of incense, meditating on the Divine and all goodness.

Later, Spare and I watched "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" on YouTube. Amazing. If you haven't seen that in awhile, don't forget the inspired segment about the World War I Flying Ace. Terrific.

It wasn't until I slogged home Monday evening, dead exhausted from teaching, that I learned of the great triumph Monkey Man and I achieved. Oh, readers! I'm thrilled with it yet! And since it was the Monkey Man's idea to go to Snob Township instead of Snobville, I'm giving him the entire $25.00, even though I picked it up from Snobmont Hardware yesterday. I've got a nice buzzard card all picked out to put the dough in. Monkey Man deserves it!

If someone were to ask me the secret to life, I would have to say this: Act like a kid on those occasions when society welcomes it. Feel like a kid at all times. Lastly, on holy evenings, be still and know that They are with you. Your most distant ancestors appreciate the devotional.

The word of the Gods for the people of the Gods. Thanks be to the Gods! Breathe and be happy.

Monday, November 01, 2010

No Big Deal, but I Need Books

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," 100 followers and change! We are oh so happy to have you aboard. Our ship will be leaving the dock as soon as Captain Ahab charts the course.

If you've ever worked for a bureaucracy, you know how it is. The inventory lists 40 copies of The Great Gatsby, but the shelves are Gatsby-free. The brand new supervisor just knows someone is using it ... who? ... dunno.

Could it be that no one has used The Great Gatsby for so many years that the copies were discarded? Oh, my goodness gracious! Discard a classic work of American literature? Emmm, yeah. Wouldn't surprise me a bit. There's this idea that lower-income urban kids couldn't possibly understand The Great Gatsby because it's all about rich white people a long time ago. That, and it's got big words.

Yes, Gatsby is a word-fest. However, as you and I know, The Great Gatsby is not about rich white people a long time ago. It's about what we hold dear, our values, our fruitless and exhausting pursuit of perfection and the American Dream. It's also just about the best example I've ever read on the topic of what money can and can't buy.

Long story short, I want to teach The Great Gatsby to my freshman honors class -- two Vietnamese students, four African American students, and six Hispanic students. I have asked the students to purchase their own copies, and I haven't heard from any parents regarding the impossibility of the task. Nevertheless, I would like to have a few copies for my classroom, in case some of the kids either don't have the money or the motivation to buy their own.

The other teachers at the Vo-Tech are staring at me slack-jawed. They think I'm crazy even to propose teaching this book, when there are so many copies of Go Ask Alice just lying around waiting for an honors class to snatch them up.

It may be my fatal flaw, but I need to be motivated myself in order to want to go to work every day. I want to get my students thinking. No more right-and-wrong, good-guy-gets-girl. Time to explore the gray area.

If anyone is willing to purchase a copy of The Great Gatsby for my Vo-Tech, please email me through my profile. The Scribner authorized paperback is $11 new, but used would be just as good.

I'm waiting to talk about Samhain until my daughter The Heir uploads the photos. Monkey Man and I marched in a Halloween parade together -- we are quite a pair! Stay tuned.