Wednesday, December 31, 2014

In Which I Admit My Total Failure as a Parent

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Wow, a whole week and no post! Annie has been a lazy girl.

Let me tell you parents out there: You can raise your children in a loving household, showing them the difference between right and wrong, fucking up before their very eyes, and by golly, when they get to adulthood, they are going to do as you did, not as you said. In other words, they're going to muddle through, making all the same mistakes you did ... and you have to watch, just watch and hope that some of the sensible things you told them sank in.

Today I am dismayed to report that my daughter The Heir has risen in total rebellion of all I hold dear. I'm heartbroken. Heartbroken, I tell you!

Tomorrow is Philadelphia's annual Mummer's Parade, and as my six readers know, I'm a regular participant in this gala. I am in a Comic Brigade called the Two Street Stompers.

And boy, oh boy I am proud to be a Two Street Stomper!

Many Mummer's units are comprised of extended families and friends who have been marching together for years. It's sometimes hard to find a club to join.

In 2011 when I decided to become a part of the Mummer's Parade, I read in the newspaper about a new group called the Vaudvillains. The name was intriguing, and Mr. J actually knew someone in the group. So that was my first call -- to the Vaudvillains, who are mostly artists and writers. Actually I sent a text to Mr. J's friend, he asked his club, and he got back to me. The Vaudvillains were not accepting new members.

I'm sure there was nothing personal about it, but I still felt totally and utterly rejected by the Vaudvillains. This doubled my determination to find a club that would have me.

That's when I started making phone calls. That's when I found the Stompers. My first conversation with their captain was warm and welcoming, his philosophy being basically "the more, the merrier." If I could come up with the reasonable fee for a costume and beer, I was in.

The first year I strutted with the Stompers, we finished first. It's a competition, you see. We are in contention with numerous other brigades ... one of them being the Vaudvillains.

During this calendar year, my daughter The Heir moved away from home. She now lives in West Philly, down the block from the Fresh Prince. She's an artist, and she runs with the artistic set.

Bet you can see where this is going.

At least she had the nerve to tell me.

She is going to be a marshal for ... the Vaudvillains.

Oh! Disloyal and rebellious offspring! In vain did she protest that the Vaudvillains practice in a big studio chock-a-block with discarded art supplies that she could cart away for her own use! So what if one of her house mates is in the group? Shouldn't she remain steadfast for her own dear mama? And oh yes, she is apologetic, full of excuses like the high cost of art supplies and a chance to network with her own kind. Snap! I'm crushed. Crushed, I tell you! Crushed!

Now see, this is where you need to have two children -- an heir and a spare. Hearing of her sister's perfidy, my daughter The Spare promptly went out and bought posters. Last night she and her best friend spent the better part of the evening creating signs to cheer on the Two Street Stompers. That's Mama's little girl! Never mind that she lives one block from the parade route. She knows where loyalties lie. I'm sure she'll hiss and jeer at the Vaudvillains if she still happens to be watching when they glide past in all their artistically-created, socially conscious, message-laden costuming.

(I'll add here that we Two Street Stompers have a message with our routine as well. It's that men look funny in women's swim suits.)

This is us. See these lavish costumes? I don't have to make mine ... trust me, I couldn't even choose the fabric. But every year I get a new one, and I get to keep it. Someone in my family is going to have a treasure trove of authentic Philadelphia Mummer apparel in the years to come. Guess we know which daughter that will be!

(For the record, I'm the second gold girl from the left, front row.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

All Is Calm

There's no use looking back at your life and thinking about what might have been. All you can do is move forward.

On this Christmas Eve, I am indeed looking back at all of the years I spent dragging my daughters to Children's Service, and then dragging them home, and then dragging them out again for a later service. And wedging in a big meal between the two services.

It was insane.

Tonight, here I sit, with The Spare next to me, and The Heir expected later, and the cats, and the bird, and Mr. J and Extra Chair, and it's time to chill.

Time to build a fire and let Spare make the dinner.

I am happily finished with the Christian faith. What remains is an appreciation of the vacation I get at the darkest time of the year ... time I can spend quietly, with my family.

I've lit some Frankincense for the bored gods. You know many, I'm sure, who claim this holy time as Their own. But of course there are 1,000 times as many -- that is no exaggeration -- who also claim this time as Their own. The smoke is for the Forgotten Ones. Before Jesus started doing it, these deities brought back The Light.

Someone ought to throw them a party.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Just Another Navel Gaze

Hello, my dear fellow-sojourners in this harsh and weary world! It's me, Anne Johnson, welcoming back the Sun!

This year I learned that a medication I've taken for 25 years causes Alzheimer's disease. Which already runs in my family. I figure I'm brain-fried even if I do stop taking the medicine, which I'm trying to do over the next few months.

The thought that you might forget your life is pretty scary. Lo and behold, I have kept an archive of the events of my life, here on this web log. At 2500+ columns, there's probably stuff I have totally forgotten already that will some day be fun to read again.

Saturday I participated in a lovely, intimate Ritual and even hosted it. The event was held at the pond near my house, under the limbs of a spreading oak. It was the Rite of Alban Arthan, also known as Yule. My dear friends Nettle and Cliff came, and we meditated on the return of the Light.

The day was cold, maybe even colder than is seasonably expected. I lugged a paving stone to the park and decked it out with holly and ivy. (It's still there. I'm going to photograph it and maybe even leave the stone there.) A noisy street runs nearby, but doggone if I can recall any car noise at all during that Ritual. We might as well have been on Avalon itself, calling to Arthur to return and redeem His people.

After the Ritual, the three of us sat by the fire and made merry, talking about this and that. Then Cliff and I went to Woodstock Trading Company. Cliff wanted some incense, and I needed to check on one of my foster cats who lives at the store.

This whole day was uplifting, just the sort of quietly holy experience we all need amidst the gloomy darkness and high expectations of the holiday season. I thank my friends for joining me.

On Sunday I woke early, stuffed my craw with cinnamon buns, and worked off the calories by stacking firewood. Have you heard the Christmas forecast? We'll need dry wood!

THEN, full 90 minutes early, I showed up at the Two Street club house to help make props for our Mummers brigade. Since I was so early, I joined the two club members who were going to the craft store to get supplies.

Ordinarily, craft stores like AC Moore make me break out in acne pimples and cold sweat. But there was something about being there, decked out in my official Two Street Stompers hoodie, with others in their Two Street Stomper hoodies, that made it bearable. I was dispatched to find wide Sharpie markers, and by golly, it must have been Divine Intervention -- I found the doggone things without even having to ask the over-taxed staff!

Back we went to the club house, where I spent the rest of the afternoon making tissue paper flowers for parasols. I only screwed up the first ten or so, and then I got into a groove and made some decent flowers. Oh, I wish you could see our act on New Year's Day! Here's hoping it'll be simulcast on the t.v. station's web site, but even so you'll have to get up early to see my club -- we march fifth in a parade that literally lasts all day.

After helping the Stompers, I went home. It got dark at about 4:15. (Just kidding. It got dark at 4:45.) So Extra Chair and I took the fancy new Subaru out for a spin in search of crazy Christmas houses. We had a swell jaunt! She gets so excited by this stuff and loves taking photos of it. Not kidding when I say that sometiems she coos like a dove.

Saved the best for last. When I got home from the Stompers club house, I discovered that my daughter The Spare had cleaned the whole house and started the laundry. I didn't even ask her to do anything! What a load off my back! Sweet thang.

In less than 24 hours I'll be off for a nice, long Christmas break. This includes another New Year's Day Mummer's Parade. My suit is gorgeous.

Making cookies tonight!

Blessed be to all of you. The light returns. Time to strut.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Torture Is Bad

I have not approved of how my nation has conducted its defense ever since 9/11.

The reason I don't approve is because of the Knights Templar.

The Knights Templar were arrogant, violent, mass murderers, and incredibly wealthy. In order to take their wealth, the king of France had them rounded up and tortured until they admitted to all sorts of absurd and completely unbelievable behavior. Many of them were burned at the stake after very lengthy imprisonments, for which there was no due process.

Before the Knights Templar were rounded up and tortured, your average medieval European did not like them. After the Knights Templar were rounded up and tortured, they became martyrs, heroes, and their fame lives to this day.

I've read quite a bit about how these men were tortured. It's scary how little the techniques have changed since the early 1200s. The Knights Templar were chained in dark dungeons where they were subjected to the whims of the outdoor temperature. They were fed hog slop and deprived of sleep and daylight. They were not allowed to wear clothing, except in "court." The Inquisition would torture one man while the others watched.

All of this barbaric torture did not elicit a single verifiable "confession," because there were no charges filed in the first place.

I cannot believe that the United States of America is treating human beings this way in the 21st century. It boggles the mind.

It also runs absolutely counter to every logical manner of national defense.

When people are tortured, those who love them venerate them. Those who might have been mildly interested in the cause become zealous about it. Torture does not curb terrorism. It creates martyrs. Heroes. It reflects badly on the nation that initiates the torture. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but in the centuries to come, even in the decades to come. Even in the nearest years to come.

I would rather myself and my beloved daughters be killed in a terrorist attack than be a citizen that condones the inhumane treatment of individuals in my defense. In fact, in the remote chance that anyone in my family actually is harmed by a terrorist, refer to this post! I do not condone torture!

The men who flew those planes into buildings were barbarians. Our response to those acts has been equally barbaric. What is it we teach kids about bullying? Don't fight back! But why, then, have we responded to bullying by being worse than our attackers? What does that solve? What does that say about us?

It could very well be that, 800 years from now, there will be boys' service clubs called Bin Laden. Jacques de Molay was pretty much a dimwit when he led the Templars and was burnt at the stake. Now his name is highly regarded. Torture does that. It makes heroes out of people whose deeds should be vilified or at least long forgotten.

I'm ashamed of my nation. "God bless America" is a strong damnation of the Christian deity.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's Not Just Teenagers

When you get your ticket punched to Geezer City, your consolation prize is a cup of wisdom. Sadly, that wisdom comes from years of doing the wrong thing and seeing how it turns out in your own life.

For instance, I'm intensely glad that there was no Blogger or Facebook when I was an impetuous youth. If you are an impetuous youth reading this, you've probably already been around the block and learned a sharp lesson about social media.

But what about the in-betweeners? The people who are neither savvy young people nor creaky change-of-lifers? Those are the folks getting themselves into trouble.

I friended a few of my school colleagues on Facebook. Not many. Just a few that I work with closely. These few are mostly in their thirties and early forties.

Last Friday, my school district threw a dinner party for the employees. It was free for the staff and $15 if you wanted to bring a spouse.

I would rather spend an evening scrubbing my basement floor than to go to a party with people I see all day long. (This shows I'm a geezer.) So I didn't go. Friday is drum circle night anyway. I didn't even have to scrub the basement.

Actually, not many of my colleagues went, either. But a goodly cluster of them had their own party at another venue. And they posted a beery photo on Facebook the next morning.

I looked at the photo and recognized everyone in it. If I was in my thirties, I would have been crushed to not be asked to hang out with the office clique. However, I'm in my fifties. When I looked at that photo I did not see a bunch of folks I would love to drink with, but rather a largish group of adults who should know better than to pose for a group photo in a party setting and then post it on a social media site where their colleagues and employers might see it.

Some of my co-workers are deeply hurt that they weren't invited to the side party. They saw the photo on Facebook and realized what they had missed (whatever that was).

I look at that photo from the perspective of an alcoholic. Chances are, in my thirties I might have been in that picture. Now all I see in it is the bad outcomes it could have for the people I work with who haven't reached my stage in life. I feel for them. It's a stressful job we have, and this is how they are handling it. I know, because until the summer of 2012, I was handling it by doing the tango with Tanqueray each and every night. Only when my daughters could take no more and called me out did I drop the green bottle and do a little reflecting.

It's a shame it had to come to that.

So, when I see a party photo and know most of the people in it, and know they are under stress, I think to myself, "When will they reach the milestone I reached, and how will they get there?"

I hope their outcome is better than mine, and that their parties become placid and stodgy over time. Better yet, I hope they reach a day when they'd rather be anywhere but a bar.

This is not a sermon from a church lady. This is the hard-won wisdom of bad mistakes and rotten decision-making. I'm not predicting anyone's doom here. I just hope their lives turn out okay.

Friday, December 12, 2014

In Honor of December 13: Young Black Men

I can't make it to Washington, DC on December 13 to march for justice. This is my contribution to that cause.

Over the past nine years, I have gotten to know over 100 young black men. Let me tell you about a few of them.

"M" stands out in my mind. He was very tall and very dark-skinned, and he had a Muslim surname. I was a substitute teacher, and he was a high school freshman surrounded by his buddies. We locked horns. He got angry and shouted right in my face. (I can't remember what he said. He didn't curse.) I just blinked at him and wrote him up. Never raised my voice. After that, I had a private conference with "M." I told him, "You know, you're a born leader. You have presence. You should put it to good use." We were fast friends after that. He graduated a few years back and went to college.

"A" wanted to be a poet. He asked me to teach him how to write poetry. I said he probably was already doing it right, and he admitted he had a box of poems he'd written that he had hidden under his bed. He showed them to me. I typed them up for him and stored them in a file. "A" always had a smile on his face. He had big soulful eyes and had had a brush with the law. One day after he graduated, he returned to school and told me to delete his poems. He had embraced an austere sort of Christianity that lifted his soul but did nothing to his smile. He stopped by my room this past October, just to say hello. He's almost done four years of study at a Maryland Bible college.

"D" was in the performing arts program at my school. Since he already knew some poems, we registered him for a program called Poetry Out Loud. "D" would come to practice after school if he felt like it, but he would never take my advice. I told him, "You speak too fast. Your words aren't distinct." He did it his way. We went to the competition, and he was eliminated in the first round. His father, who had come to see it, glared at me as we got on the bus to return to school. After that, "D" never spoke to me again.

"S" was a jock. While in school he scored over 1,000 points as a power forward on the basketball team. I could get no work from him at all. He mocked me at every turn, gnawed at the edges of disrespect without crossing the line, and played shamelessly to his basketball buddies, who were all in class with him. I was probably the only teacher in the school who didn't congratulate him when he made his 1000th point. I have no idea where he is now.

"J" was in my class as a freshman and again as a sophomore. He was extremely serious and had a soft voice. He wasn't the best student I ever had, but he worked hard and turned in all his assignments. He seemed aggravated by his rowdier classmates. By the middle of sophomore year, I said it felt like he was my son or something, I had seen him grow so much. He hasn't even graduated yet, but this soft-spoken, lovely young fellow is working at Wegman's grocery store. Last week he rang up my order, and I got to introduce him to my husband.

"A" was also an athlete. He kept falling asleep in class. Finally I called his house and got his dad on the phone. I said to the dad, "I come in to the cafeteria for breakfast duty every day, and 'A' is already there ... at 7:00 in the morning. He's not getting enough sleep." The dad said, "I had no idea he had to get up that early. I work night shift."You see, "A" lives far from the school and has to take a bus at 6:15. Can you imagine a teenage boy having to get up that early? I still see him every day in the cafeteria. He plays his music too loud. I worry about his hearing. Those earbuds are no good.

"K" was highly intelligent and intensely competitive. He wanted to be valedictorian and was already planning for it as a freshman. His mother was a helicopter parent who hovered so close you could feel her wind in your hair. "K" was excitable and enthusiastic about everything he read and did. He brought energy into the classroom. As a junior he transferred to our sister campus. I haven't seen him since.

"T" is extremely overweight, to the point where he can hardly get around. Still he comes to school every day and struggles away to keep things in order, to get his assignments done, to get work in on time, to perform at the level at which the other students perform. He seems half out of breath all the time. I worry about him. I don't think I've ever seen him smile.

"D" is in my home room. He ran track this fall. He writes in a notebook every morning while the other students do silent reading. He's never shown me what he writes. He always has a pleasant word when I see him in the hall.

"C" comes to class late, doesn't turn in his assignments, comes to tutoring late, asks to go to the bathroom every day, and enjoys cutting up in class. He told me he has never read a whole book in his life. He's in tenth grade. I've asked the guidance counselor to arrange a meeting with his mother.

"T" is angry at the world. He won't do any school work. He just sits and glares. I suppose he must have problems with some of his other teachers, because he is often in detention. When "T" doesn't look furious, he looks abjectly miserable. No amount of encouragement seems to rouse him.

Another "T" is soft-spoken but remarkably observant and candid. He's in my Honors class. Earlier this year he took a standardized test, and his math score was college level. He also reads at college level. I saw him this afternoon, playing volleyball in the gym. The phys ed teacher and I agreed that if the planet was comprised solely of people like "T," the world would be heavenly.

Do you get the picture? These young black men are young men. They are just like other young men their age. Except for one thing: They're far more likely to be considered a threat, far more likely to be stopped and questioned by the police. Why? They're people. What exactly are we overlooking here?

Sunday, December 07, 2014

A Lesson in Resilience

Every winter, the town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania holds a festival based on -- big "duh" here -- the Phoenix. The Heir and I make a pilgrimage to Phoenixville to participate in this event because it has a sacred application to life.

The festival occurred yesterday, in a deluge of rain. I told Heir we would go anyway, so long as the precipitation was water and not something frozen. Phoenixville is a pretty long way from where I live.

What happens in Phoenixville is this: After drumming and dancing by people clad in Firebird costumes, a giant bird sculpture made of wood gets set on fire. How does this happen in a pelting rain storm? Well, the thing is chock a block with accelerant.

Artists and builders work on the phoenix sculpture for months before the event. This year's bird was over 30 feet tall.

Until someone courting a maximum smite of Bored God karma burned it down at 3:00 a.m., the morning before the festival.

Phoenixville held the festival anyway. In a day's work, in pelting rain, its residents built a smaller but still inspiring substitute bird. With the dark ashes of the prematurely immolated bird still on the field, the new bird smoked, caught, and sent bright flames into the night sky.

How inspiring! What a lesson in resilience ... one I needed after a soul-sucking week at my workplace.

One of the traditions of the Firebird festival is that you can pay a small fee to have an Intention for the new year put into a box and sent Heavenward as the sculpture burns. This ritual had to be scrapped when the vandals struck.

But Heir and I are ourselves resilient. Heir made two origami birds while we ate dinner (the iconic Speck's Chicken in Collegeville, PA). We wrote our intentions on our paper birds and committed them, with prayers, to one of the smaller bonfires on the festival site. I brought a stick from that fire home to burn at Yuletide.

There we stood, Heir and I, dripping but unbent while the flames crested a sea of umbrellas. We knew the original bird had burned down before we left for Phoenixville. Like the other people there, we stubbornly proved that all which falls will rise again.

Blessed be the mighty Phoenix, the Sacred Firebird! All hail!

Phoenixville Firebird Burned By Vandals Hours Before Festival Begins « CBS Philly

Phoenixville Firebird Burned By Vandals Hours Before Festival Begins « CBS Philly

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Charlotte Danielson Nightmare

Have you heard of the Danielson Framework for Teaching? It's a teacher evaluation tool.

It's 27 pages long.

It works like a scoring rubric: 4 to 3.5 = highly effective
                                                 3 to 2.65 = effective
                                                 2.65 and below = double secret probation

The model has four "domains" and over 22 subcategories within those domains. Only two of the four domains have anything to do with classroom activities. The other two have to do with planning, grading, collegiality, etc. etc. etc.

This thing is a nightmare. Go ahead and look it up if you want a case of vertigo.

I had my first bout of Danielson evaluation today. And it was not pretty, let me tell you. I didn't care at all that the woman gave me "partially effective" on my classroom teaching. But not deeming me highly effective for the lesson plans I created for the world wide web about my husband's book has me thumbing through the Bored God Craigslist Ads for a deity who will have nothing to do but smite her.

On any given day any evaluator is going to tear up your best lesson. They are paid to criticize, and they aren't gentle about it.

But the Danielson model is supposed to give credit for things done outside the classroom that enrich the teaching profession.

It doesn't.

I showed my evaluator the wonderful, thoughtful lesson plans I provided this nation's teachers absolutely free of charge. It happens I was using them for the class she observed, that's why they were pertinent. She said because I didn't create them during this school year, they didn't count. This, apparently, is district policy. NEVER MIND that I was USING THEM for the class.

I seriously doubt that my district even has a policy covering online content created by its teachers, because none of them have done it but me.

Picky, distracting shit like this, which teachers have to grasp for like thirsty demons in Hell, is an outcome of getting a numerical score on an evaluation.

The evaluators will tell you until they're blue in the face that it's not about the number. Mine got very vexed with me when I wrote my score on the white board:


and said I wanted to find a way to get the other


After much haggling, I was able to wrangle another .04 out of her by showing a little loophole in the Ridiculous Rubric that actually deems a teacher "highly effective" for being able to get newspaper clippings off Google!

So, there you have it. A teacher can create a published unit of study for an award-winning book, and that's not highly effective. But that same teacher can Google "Brittnany Maynard," find an article, and that's highly effective.

I hate this profession.

Before you comment (again), "Why are you doing it, then?" I will tell you:

Two days ago, The Spare fell flat on her face when she tripped over a wire in her apartment. After 24 hours she had developed blurred vision and a bad headache. She and her dad spent last evening (until well after midnight) in the local emergency room. She had a CAT scan that revealed a concussion but no bleeding.

THAT'S WHY I'M DOING THIS. She's on my health plan.

Few professions provide health care anymore, and politicians are working like fiends to get around having to give it to teachers. That's where torture instruments like the Danielson Framework for Teaching come in handy. The harder they make it for teachers to be artistic about their work, the more likely the older, more experienced, and more creative teachers will bail.

Why did I ever cease to be a goat judge? I miss those little cloven-hoofed charmers!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Guest Post: Mark Kram Jr. reviews Glimpsing Heaven:The Stories and Science of Life After Death

     To the eternal question -- "What happens when we die?" -- the human species has searched for answers in a wide range of spiritual and scientific realms. Though I am not affiliated with any organized religion at the moment, I have always tended to think something happens, if only because of our inability to grasp the complexity of the question. I have an uncle who is of the belief that nothing happens, that we should enjoy the here and now because we end up as food for earthworms. Science has persuaded him of this, yet I am just as certain that there are aspects to our existence that are unknowable.

     So I came with an open mind to Judy Bachrach's book, Glimpsing Heaven: The Stories and Science of Life After Death. But I also approached it with the eye of an experienced journalist, which is to say I held the author to high standards of reporting and writing. Happily, she exceeded both. Drawing on interviews with an array of people who have had what is commonly called "near death experiences" -- but what she refers to more accurately as "death experiences" -- Bachrach exhibits the same journalistic skill that has distinguished her as a contributor to Vanity Fair. All had been declared legally dear, yet they retained a consciousness that existed outside of their bodies. They came back and spoke of experiencing "pure unconditional love," of seeing deceased relatives and being overcome with enlightenment. And, yes, they remembered being drawn to a "white light."

     One "experiencer" Bachrach spoke with was Bill Taylor, a computer analyst who had suffered a heart attack. "The next thing I knew, I was out in space, looking on all the stars and planets ... There were threads connecting all of the bodies in the universe. And I am also connected to all these forms ... The threads were energy -- and it was love that connected everything to everything."

     Interviews with doctors and scientists who have explored this subject are woven into the narrative, which Bachrach moves along at a highly readable pace. There would appear to be agreement among them that something indeed happens when we die, although it is not yet clear how or why. No book of this sort could possibly answer all of our questions, but it does give us the "glimpse" it promises into a realm that exists beyond the wall of time. And it reminds us again how little we know.

Mark Kram Jr. is the author of the PEN/ESPN Award-winning narrative Like Any Normal Day: A Story of Devotion.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

We at "The Gods Are Bored" now have six readers! And to all six, and anyone else out there, we wish you a shopping-free, work-free, family-filled holiday!

This was my back yard on Polish Mountain. No wonder I love buzzards.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Times Change, Mission Marches On

Well, what do you know? "The Gods Are Bored," founded in 2005, now has 2200 entries and 500,000 page views! This is cause to pause. Or, if you're a cat, claws to paws.

My profile picture comes from the East Coast Vulture Festival in, I think, 2005. This here is of more recent vintage. Almost a decade later, I think I look pretty much the same.

When I became a Pagan, one of the things I decided was to have a more lighthearted approach to religion. I know there are people who take their faith very seriously. I'm not flippant, but I'm more curious than committed. This has led to a falling-away of my readership that is more serious and philosophical ... mostly. But folks. After 45 years of never emitting more than a polite titter during a worship service, I just can't not laugh. Make a joyful noise! I find, generally speaking, that Pagans are good at that.

My archives are immense. I ought to go back and read them myself. Here's a list of stuff I've "covered" as your hard-hitting reporter on the edge of the abyss:

*Cats. Kittens. Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. I am Woman, hear me purr.

*Bored Gods. This means any deity who has suffered at the hands of the One God juggernaut. I have interviewed Gods and Goddesses from multiple pantheons on all continents but Australia (gotta work on that). Except for Mars, they have one and all been kind and supportive.
*Politics. Remember labor unions? I believe in them. When they're all gone, I'll be able to tell the starving wretches about them as we huddle together in shanties. United we bargain, divided we beg. And all I see these days is begging.

*Rants. I haven't torn into any morons lately, but the next presidential cycle is about to get under way In the meantime I'm sharpening my skewer for "school reform." I'm determined to find the wry humor in it ... somehow.

*Mountains. Came from them, will return to them, probably in an urn.

*Faeries. You want commonsense nonsense about faeries, this is your stop-and-shop. I know the literature, but I've walked the walk with the fae. For years. Respect is the key.

*Last, and best: Buzzards.

Whenever life gets me down, I simply ponder the magnificence, the feathered glory, that is a turkey vulture.  So here, in my 2200nd post, I re-affirm the primary mission of this web site, which is to elevate the vulture to lofty heights! Whatever else I do, the buzzards come first.

So, tell me how long you've been camping at "The Gods Are Bored!" Gosh, 2200 posts! Once I got started, I just didn't know when to quit. It's not in the short-term forecast either.

Have a vulturous, vulture-filled, buzzardelicious day!


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte Danielson: Pushing Great Teachers out the Door

Two years ago my school district lost an administrator who was thoroughly and universally loathed. At the time, he was teaching two classes of freshmen and serving as an administrator the rest of the day.

The principal replaced this departed insect with a strange "new" teacher. The "new" teacher, I'll call her Mrs. X, was a recently retired parochial school educator. Mrs. X had taught school, had been a principal, and had been a superintendent of diocesan schools in the area. Basically, she came back to teach at my school because she was handed a public school salary in keeping with her level of expertise, plus she was drawing a pension from her former job. This lady was set to rake in the cash, and she was thrilled about it.

Frankly I was thrilled about it too. Mrs. X, slender and stern, walked in and took charge. She was old-school, and watching her enriched my own teaching. An easy truce was established when I explained why I was out of school on Samhain (maybe this was the education she needed about the plurality of public schools). After that we were in complete understanding of each other. I didn't even resent her higher salary or her devotion to Roman Catholicism. To my way of thinking, she was an expert and deserved the ducats, and her faith took a back seat to her teaching.

It's ironic that this high-level educator found herself on the receiving end of evaluations again, after doling out evals so long. She accepted her "newbie" status with grace and was open to all feedback about her practice. Not surprisingly, she got good evals. She took her feedback with humility and grace. Bottom line, Mrs. X was an asset to our school.

And then came Charlotte Danielson.

Charlotte Danielson is not a person. Well, she is a person, but she's more like a thing these days. And that thing is a draconian teacher evaluation rubric steeped in epic complication.

During the second year that Mrs. X was on our staff, our administration announced that it would begin using the "Danielson Framework for Teaching" evaluation system at the beginning of the next school year. Mrs. X had heard of this pestilence. She had even used it -- but in a wise way, in a bits-and-pieces way. She had not used it in the wholesale way that my district iintended to use it.

Upon hearing that my school district was going to use the "Danielson Framework" in a comprehensive manner, every nut and bolt, Mrs. X tendered her resignation. "This is too much aggravation," she said. "It trumps the money."

My dear three readers, welcome to the era of "school reform."

"School reform" is supposed to get rid of the "bad apples" in teaching. You know, the teachers who sit on their behinds all day, showing videos, basically cashed out.

Well, I don't know about those teachers. I haven't seen any of those in my school. But I do know that the first person pushed out of my school district by the Charlotte Danielson "Framework for Teaching" was a master educator who had actually used Danielson and knew all about it.

In other words, "school reform" robbed my high school of a gem. A person I admired. A person I miss.

Occasionally Mrs. X comes in for a day of substitute teaching. (I always ask them to hire her for days when I'll be out.) She misses the gravy train she was on at my school, but no amount of money could induce her to stay and sweat out Danielson evaluations.

If you are the slightest bit curious about an evaluation tool that sends master teachers running back to a life on a parochial school pension, stay tuned. I'm on the front lines of school reform, and I want you to see what it looks like.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte Danielson, Stave One

Wow, I really wanted to start a new blog and give it this title, overall. I would have a million sympathetic eyeballs in two weeks.

My readership, consisting as it does of high intellectuals and spiritual explorers, might never have heard of Charlotte Danielson. It's time for me to introduce her --and the Orwellian nightmare she has spawned -- to those not familiar with her.

This is going to take awhile, and it's ongoing. But if you're keenly interested in the direction our country is headed, please come along on this ride, because Ms. Danielson is influential. She might turn out to be as influential as the cancellation of the Glass-Steagall Act.

The first thing I'm going to say about Charlotte Danielson is the same thing I will say about anyone who is a former teacher and now is a "consultant," or an "author," or a speaker, or any kind of talking head making bank on modern education: She can't teach.

Wow! That's a bold assertion for the creator of a newly-deployed teacher evaluation tool of epic proportions.

Charlotte Danielson can't teach. How do I know this? Because people who really love to teach, and who are good at it, stay in the classroom. There's not a single little kid who gazes whistfully out the window and says, "Wow. Some day I want to be a vice principal!" Or, "Oh, I hope I can achieve my dream of being a middle manager in an education setting." No! People dream of becoming teachers. If they're not very good at it, there's a career ladder like any other business. Teaching is the bottom rung.

Charlotte Danielson claims to have been a teacher, but the details are a bit nebulous. Of one thing I am certain, however. She has never had to sit and sweat out a teacher evaluation using the baffling rubric that bears her name.

Her "nonprofit" is wallowing in the ducats, though. The Danielson Framework for Teaching is one of two major teacher evaluation systems being shoved down the troats of suggested for implementation in public school districts today.

Reader, please don't bother wandering into the Danielson Fun House via the link above. I'm living in the basement of the Fun House, and I'm going to give you a seat by the furnace. I'm actually a success story (sort of) with this evaluation tool, but that only makes things better. I don't have a personal axe to grind. I'm just a Druid with a love of justice. And in education these days, justice is not for all. People like Charlotte Danielson see to that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3: The Machines That Will Pass Judgment

Wow! My three readers chimed in! They want dispatches from the danger zone! Thank goodness for that, because I'm in it, the place is unjust, and it's part of my religion to oppose injustice.

Human beings have been judged by machines for a long time. Think of all the runners who have had their times clocked by a long string of increasingly complicated stopwatches.

Machines have been testing students for a long time as well. Who among us has never held a Number Two pencil and pondered multiple choice questions on the SAT?

Still, America is unprepared for the new wave of test-scoring technology. Forget being judged by the content of your character. That was so 20th century. In our Brave New World, students will write essays, even speak out loud into computers, and software will grade their efforts.

We will become a nation whose achievers are chosen by machine.

The Obama Administration's push for national standardized testing is pretty fuzzy on how millions and millions of "assessments" will be scored accurately within the space of a few months. Please feel free to do the math yourself. If every tenth grader in America has to take a test with two full-length essays on it, and there's been no call from any direction for people to be paid to score these puppies, what else will score them but Artificial Intelligence?

I'm not relying on speculation, readers. I attended a workshop last month at Kean University. The speaker, Carol Jago, admitted that within a decade, all national testing will be scored using Artificial Intelligence, i.e., computer software.

It won't matter what you say, so long as you use big words and correct grammar. Ideas will be decidedly secondary. And confounding all notions of propriety, one of the standardized tests will be narrative writing -- fiction.

Traditionally, the students at my Vo-Tech have done pretty well on state standardized tests, because these tests have been scored by human beings. Human readers can see through the grammar, the Spanglish, the ebonics, to the flair these students exhibit as writers and to their ideas.

Artificial Intelligence will be programmed to reject Spanglish and ebonics. It will be programmed to look for sophisticated vocabulary and grammatically correct sentence structure and punctuation. All of these are important, but what about ideas? Can a machine be a good judge of creativity?

Better yet: Do we want the future of our American student body to rest on the judgment of Artificial Intelligence?

Oh. Brave. New. World.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I'm Not Paranoid

They really are out to get public employees. By "they" I mean certain politicians and high-end businesspeople. The politicians would like to be free from pension and salary obligations. The businesspeople want to sell their wares -- and they want to re-create that perfect teacher they had, or they've seen. When you're a billionaire, you can pull lots of strings.

What will happen when education is privatized? Well, I like lists. Let's make one:


1. School teachers will no longer be given any protection from sudden dismissal. Parents, capricious supervisors, students, and politicians will decide who stays in the classroom, and who goes.

2. Teachers' salaries will be decided by the businesses running the schools. These businesses will be able to set any price for service that they please. This will save the taxpayers money. And if teachers balk at earning less, they can quit ... There will always be someone willing to take their place.

3. Student achievement will be tied to standardized tests. Teachers will spend most of their classroom time prepping kids for the tests. If the students don't do well on the tests, the teachers will be fired.

4. Schools will become platforms for the businesses that run them. If the owner of Microsoft (easy example) wants to, he will demand that every school have new Microsoft products every year. These can be bought with funds saved from teacher and support staff salaries.

5. Extraneous employees such as janitors and secretaries will be dismissed. Students and teachers, mostly teachers, will be responsible for keeping the school clean. Support staff will do their own secretarial work. This savings in salaries can also be used to buy more products from the business that owns the school.

6. The person holding a student accountable for behavior will be the parent. If the parent has no respect for education (having listened to governors describing teachers as lazy and lousy), the teacher will have no standing in any dispute with a student.

7. People who have spent decades in a profession will have no retirement funds upon which to draw. Teachers, whose salaries are already low, depend upon pensions to pay for their declining years. If these pension plans are un-funded, many existing teachers will not have any retirement income except social security. People who only work ten months a year aren't in any position to contribute hefty sums to a 401K.

8. When education is privatized, no one in his or her right mind will choose to be a teacher. Those not in their right minds will rush in for those jobs.

I am at a new crossroads, reader. I've got a front seat for the Assault on Public Education. Like it or not (and I don't like it), this is the battle I'm fighting.

I've fought other battles on the platform of this blog. Teaching has nothing to do with religion, thank goodness, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to set up my soap box here and talk about the education crisis.

If you're not interested in this topic, maybe you know some teachers who are. I ask you to invite them.

Please, all three of you loyal readers ... come along with me on this ride! I've always depended upon your support. Now I need it more than ever.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

We'll Miss Those Ink-Stained Wretches

Modern colleges thrive on a pack of lies. The biggest one, of course, is the one The Heir got fed: "Workplaces are looking for people with liberal arts degrees, because these people are used to higher level thinking." What a crock.

 Spare is at an art school, where a more pragmatic approach prevails, but the snobbery is still there. In this case, it's the idea that film and t.v. producers are foaming at the mouth for people who have learned the proper way to write scripts and pitch them.

Last Thursday, David Simon came to speak at The Spare's art school. He is an HBO producer best known for "The Wire."

I grabbed a season of "The Wire" from the library last year because I heard that the show dealt with inner-city schools. And I loved it. The show not only dealt with inner-city schools, it got the whole thing right, including the ridiculous standardized testing and the fact that teachers are powerless over the lives their students live outside the school walls.

I liked "The Wire" so much that Mr. J bought me the boxed set for Xmas. Watched it. Loved it. Terrific show about crime in Baltimore, all the way up to the biggest criminals, which are the politicians and real estate developers.

(And yes, whippersnappers, that is Idris Elba in the drawing.)

I was beyond thrilled to be able to hear Mr. Simon speak at Spare's school. He was invited by the school's fledgling creative writing program.

I don't think this particular arsty ivory tower was ready for Mr. Simon's message.

In a nutshell, Mr. Simon said he's no artist, television dramas are collaborative, and he was lucky to have been a curious print journalist on a big-city paper, in this case the Baltimore Sun. When gently prodded by a professor as to what kind of production team he looked for when beginning a television series (no doubt to bolster the ambitions of the attending student screenwriters), Simon said he wants nonfiction prose writers and people who have lived the experiences that he is depicting in his show. He said there's hardly ever anyone under 40 on his teams.

David Simon also offered what, to me, could be the perfect gem about television drama. He said that he knew he wasn't interesting himself as a suburban white male, so he went into journalism to write about people who were living more interesting lives. Of course this led him to the homicide department of the Baltimore City Police, where the workers pray for a string of dull days.

This was a blow not only to the professors teaching exactly what Mr. Simon says he hates ("people who write to the commercial"), but also to the young writers in the audience who have no access to jobs in print journalism. That medium is sinking like the Titanic on Iceberg Day.

Where will the gritty, honest, realistic dramas of the future come from? How will people support themselves if they try to follow a good story source? I don't know the answers to these questions. I only know that the avenue David Simon pursued is disappearing into the mists of time. How sad and starved we will be when the ink-stained wretches are all gone!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Start Your Day with a Laugh

Isn't that what we're about here at "The Gods Are Bored?" Check out our Spare and her pumpkin spice ... condoms?

Pumpkin Spice Commercial (Parody)

Sunday, November 09, 2014


Life is very random, and so friendships are formed rather randomly. You become friends with the people you work with, you become friends with the people you worship with, and of course there are the neighbors. Sometimes, however, all of these methods of acquiring friends fall short. You don't choose who you work with or who lives near you. The one thing you do have some control over is where you worship, and with whom. But that falls short too, often enough. I had a dozen "friends" at the United Methodist Church. Not one of them looked at the world the way I do. I left their circle ten years ago and don't miss them a bit.

When I became a Pagan, I underwent a spiritual transformation. This had nothing to do with finding friendship at all. It was an inner shift, a philosophical and experiential shift, and it happened in a solitary setting. In other words, I did not become a Pagan because I felt like it would be a path to finding friends.

Being a Pagan has been a terrific way to find friends. Maybe it's like love -- it comes where and when you least expect it.

Even my most glancing interactions with other Pagans (not including Facebook) are informed by a colossal likeness of mind. This is not entirely because of shared Pagan deities or rituals. It goes beyond that to a broader interaction with the world. Almost all of the Pagans I have met since my spiritual transformation in 2005 have been well-read, nature-loving (duh!), humorous and imaginative people, often with humorous and imaginative children. And because Pagans aren't burdened with the need to upkeep lavish churches, the interest Pagans show to one another is less about wooing and more about genuine shared interests.

This weekend I got together with two friends I met through the Pagan community. I didn't know either one of them in 2005. Now I consider them "best"friends. This is because independently we do the same things. In other words, I started doing stuff that they were doing, we met, and now we do stuff together. We're not in lock-step, but we have common ground beyond just our praise and worship paths.

If there's any free advice to be had from this sermon, it is this: When your path of worship opens up to you, it's likely that the people you meet will be kindred spirits. This might not be true if you are following a faith handed down from your parents or just strongly supported by your community.

I know very well that some Pagans have been burned by friendships formed through their faith. I'm not one of those people. I feel blessed to have met the people I've met. And I feel truly blessed to have found some really wonderful people with whom I have formed close bonds.

So, to my 21st century friends: If I hadn't left the United Methodist Church, I never would have met you. If the Gods hadn't spoken to me in my solitude, I never would have met you. Praised be the bored gods! I didn't ask, but I received all the same.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

At Play in the Realm of King Triton

It's been some years now since I determined to adjust to the flatlands and learn to love the sea. As a kid from Appalachia, I never liked the ocean. When you've dipped into a first-rate freshwater swimming hole, the ocean can only be regarded with loathing and hostility.

I've never revised my low opinion of swimming in the Atlantic, but I have found an interest on the shoreline. I collect sea glass. Me, and every other 50-year-old white woman within driving distance of sandy beaches and wave action.

Today New Jersey's public school teachers convened in Atlantic City for our annual self-pity festival. I decided to go, since my bargaining unit didn't tell me not to. Of course, the big draw of the teachers' convention, for me, is that it's a half mile from the sea glass beaches. With an early start, I could spend a couple of productive hours beach combing and still make it to the convention for a workshop.

The weather was miserable, 55 degrees and pouring. To me this seemed like an excellent opportunity to have the sea glass beach to myself. But OH NO. Every single time I go to look for sea glass, there's always some other midlife white woman ahead of me. That beach is picked clean 99 times out of 100.

So there she was, in her rain poncho, with her bag of frosted gems in her hand. In vain did I search for anything worthy of picking up off the sand.

Finally, in frustration, I went to a different beach. And there, King Triton and Queen Oshun (being bored deities that I praise and worship) tossed to me two lovely finds. One is the bottom of a 7-up bottle, a nice old one. The other is a jewelry-grade piece of cobalt blue. So all was not lost!

Then I went to the teacher convention, and it was colossally depressing. Can you keep a secret? There's nothing ... not one thing ... about the teaching profession that appeals to me. At this convention you couldn't even get free candy without forking over your email address. What kind of swag fest is that?

This was my day. All glory, laud, and honor to Triton and Oshun, mighty deities of the briny deep!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Dinosaurs Behaving Badly

It's Dinovember, a month when plastic toy dinosaurs come to life in order to amuse children and lure them away from the computer screen. Hooray for the humble plastic dino!

Well, in theory, anyway.

The plastic dinosaurs in my household have issues. Just look at this bunch:

Mind you, this was 4:00 in the afternoon!

About the only thing positive I can say about coming home to the sight of plastic dinosaurs sucking down wine is that it appears they elected a designated driver.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

DINOvember #2 The Carnivore

It's DINOvember, and sadly, not all DINOs are made of plastic.

You've got your human DINOs as well. Lots of them, as a matter of fact.

Today was election day here in America, and my local congressional district offered up two major choices: On the Republican ticket, an obscure ex-Philadelphia Eagle with no experience outside the gridiron, and on the Democratic side the blood brother of one of New Jersey's most venal, repulsive, and downright dangerous political bosses.

Here's today's DINO. Recall, please, that DINO as an acronym means "Democrat In Name Only."

This creature, Donald Norcross by name, said in his campaign literature that he would "work for the middle class." He's not fooling anyone. He's going to Washington to work for his brother, to get government contracts for his brother, and to peddle influence for his brother. They're both carnivorous one-percenters who have absolutely zero interest in the will of the people.

I can't believe this, and I almost hate to admit it, but I did something today I have never done before. I voted for a Republican.

The cynical abuse of power by this Norcross family has me completely disgusted and deeply, deeply suspicious. It was easy to vote "no confidence" in a situation where the blue guy is nefarious and the red guy is a black guy who would be Congressman for the city of Camden.

Not all DINOs are rocky bones in museums.

Not all DINOs are plastic toys.

Many DINOs are politicians who, like T. Rex sizing up a weary Hadrosaur, will do what it takes to get power and hold onto it.

I'm so tired of politicians who promise to fight for the middle class and the poor right up to being elected -- and then merrily forget the middle class and poor exist. Today's post is dedicated to the DINO, a creature in no danger of extinction.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Dinovember #1

There's an event called "Dinovember," created by a pair of enlightened parents who wanted to show their children that there's more to life than computers.

The parents told their kids that, at night, the plastic dinosaurs come to life and run amok. This fabulous mom and dad team then proceeded to allow plastic dinosaurs to do whatever they chose, every night. The obliging dinos posed for photos ... and of course now it's all on Facebook.

We at "The Gods Are Bored" have a long and storied history with plastic dinosaurs, providing a plentiful supply for a local, dinosaur-themed park.

Alas, here in Snobville, the plastic dinosaurs seem to be having issues.

This one is not making healthy lifestyle choices. And this is just the beginning. Today is November 3.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Traffic Report

We always take for granted that holidays are going to be happier than the rest of the year. I know that I was looking forward to a classic Samhain and also to a meeting of our Druid Grove on Sunday.

At 1:30 on October 31, I got a phone call from Mr. J. He got into a bad accident on Philadelphia's busiest highway. All he could tell me on the phone was that he was all right, but the car was demolished.

I had planned to leave work early that day anyway. As I drove home in our second car, a hopeless bucket of bolts on loan from Mr. J's mom, I heard the traffic report on the radio. You know these reports, if you live in a big city. They come on every ten minutes to report any accidents or tie-ups.

Mr. J's mishap was on the report as a "disabled vehicle" on I-676 westbound.

All I could tell myself was that he was okay. And that it couldn't have been his fault, because he's a safe driver. And that Subaru lives up to its hype.

But it was Samhain, and I couldn't sit still. With my phone in my pocket, I:

*loaded the basement with firewood
*raked the yard
*cleaned up the kitchen
*swept the porch
*lit every candle in the house
*set out the jack-o-lantern
*started doling out treats to the trick-or-treaters
*canceled Druid Grove

Mr. J. spent three and a half hours on the shoulder of the Sure Kill Expressway. They couldn't find a tow truck that could lift the car, since the car wheels locked on impact. He didn't make it to the auto body shop until 6:30. And even picking him up from there was a nail-biter, with all the little kids darting across the road in the dark.

When we finally got home, I lit a bonfire to the Gods and the Ancestors. Well, sort of a bonfire. Well, to tell the truth, kind of like a really little bonfire. Okay, okay, I loaded my outdoor shrine with candles. They looked beautiful all lit up in the darkness.

We're all safe and sound here today. Accidents happen, and no, of course it was not Mr. J's fault. I'm just glad he walked away. To be more precise, I'm glad he got driven away by the tow truck that could actually move the car.

I hope your Samhain was eventful in all ways but this. Have a happy new year!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween: The Final Chapter

I'm just back from a Halloween parade in nearby Snob Township. I marched in it. My good ol' friend the Monkey Man called me a few hours before it started and said he was going to go as Walt Whitman. So I put on my Civil War recon gown and went to meet him.

Gotta love the Monkey Man. He didn't dress as Walt Whitman. He dressed as Leaves of Grass. I'll have a photo for you in a day or two. Snob Township has a nice little Halloween parade on October 30 every year. They even dole out cash prizes for best costume -- and the competition is serious. Still, I think Monkey Man has a good chance. There's nothing quite so compelling as a six-foot-plus fellow all done in green construction paper, covered with ripened stalks of grass and lines from Walt Whitman.

Can you imagine this holiday coming and going, and you not recognizing it in any traditional manner?

That's what some ultra Christian families ask of their children. They have "harvest festivals" in the church basement, where kids come dressed as their favorite Bible character (other than Satan, of course.)

If you think about it, celebrating Halloween inside just seems completely wrong. It's a night that begs you out into the air. March in a parade. Watch a parade. Trick-or-treat. Light a bonfire. Breathe that autumn air. Visit a haunted house. Sometimes it's cold. Sometimes it's wet. Doesn't matter, it's a time to be outdoors.

The dark nights are nigh. We'll be hunkered by the fire for months. So this is the opportunity, the sacred opportunity, for youngsters to get outside, to exercise their imaginations, to walk the streets in drifts of colored leaves. We are celebrating something very ancient here, and it still feels right.

What's a Christian to do? Enjoy yourself! Don't be so scared. Don't judge. Don't feel put upon. Give those kids bags and costumes, and let them run the streets for one night. And not dressed as Moses, either.

Let us all have a wonderful Samhain weekend. I'm going to get some rest, then have a Ritual with my little Druid Grove. And I can't wait until the little kids come around in their costumes! I'll be on the porch, with my jack-o-lantern and my sage stick, ready to liberally bestow Skittles on the populace. I've got fudge for my dad, and chicken for my mom, And a shrine that I'll light up as the darkness descends.

Blessings to you all.

From Anne
The Merlin of Berkeley Springs

Monday, October 27, 2014

Duck Travesty

I just spent a fruitful half hour looking at Snobville's annual water and sewer report, and a larger geological study of the aquifer from which Snobville draws its water by way of local wells.

"Why bother, Anne?" you ask.

Well, it's like this. The devil ducks have descended on Snobville.

Snobville currently has local control of its water supply. But the small city council has decided that, despite reporting the water and sewer in Snobville to be good every year since 1980, we suddenly need a Big Brother Devil Duck to run our water for us.

That Devil Duck is a publicly traded corporation known as New Jersey American Water.

New Jersey American Water really wants Snobville to sell out.

Of course, this is a matter for voters to decide. The referendum will be on our ballot next week.

Our city council has threatened much higher water bills if we don't sell out to Devil Duck. Through a six-month campaign of glossy brochures, door-to-door canvassing, swag giveaways, and "meet and greets," Devil Duck has told us all the wonderful things they'll do for us if they own our water. The first and most important thing they'll do is fix our "failing" sewer system. And they promise not to raise rates for the first three years.

Readers, you're smart people. What do you think Devil Duck really wants?

Snobville is one of the oldest boroughs in this county, and its wells sink deep into a three-tier aquifer. The upper tiers of the aquifer are at risk from saltwater incursions. Not so much Snobville's level.

And then there's the average income of a Snobville resident. It's high. (Sadly, this author is way below average.)

At the recent Snobville Fall Festival, Devil Duck Water, Inc. had a huge booth, prominently placed, where every kid was given a cute rubber ducky and every adult a backpack, pens, brochures, and other goodies. There were earnest employees there to speak to concerned citizens. They had an answer for everything, let me tell you.

But because Mr. J snarkily introduced me as an "expert" on water, I did not speak up as Mr. J engaged in discussion with Devil Duck. Why bother? I had already decided that no company with honest intentions would spend so much money up front to court voters. Other New Jersey American Water customers paid for all the swag doled out in Snobville. Gosh, that's enough right there for this suspicious Pagan.

Wait. There's more.

As part of their "display," the good folks from Devil Duck had an old section of pipe with mineral buildup in it. The thing looked icky, and sure enough, people were walking by and viewing it with dismay. Alongside the icky one was a "new," Devil Duck-treated pipe with some kind of icy-looking polymer in it that just glowed in perfection.

There's nothing icky about those old pipes. The buildup restricts water flow and puts a little rust in the water. That's it.

The Devil Duck representative pointed out the difference in pipes to me and Mr. J. That's when I said, "So, what's wrong with this one, other than that it will keep my house pipes from blowing out?" And that's when Mr. J (uncharacteristically I quickly add) discounted my knowledge of water pipes by snarking that I was an "expert."

Water is a finite resource, just like everything else. Water rights will be more valuable than oil rights by the end of this century. I am dead certain that Snobville's residents are going to clutch their new American Water swag as they sign away the village's local control of its most precious commodity. But as for me and my house, we will never vote away our water rights.

You know how long I've understood the value of water? Ever since I was a kid in Appalachia, and my granddad and I had to drive to the public spring to fill jugs when our seasonal spring went dry in July. I remember Granddad looking at the burbling perfection of that public spring and saying, "The man who has this on his property has something."


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Vaccination Frustration

None of us are old enough to remember the killer bugs of the first half of the 20th century. Thirty years ago I knew one elderly polio survivor who had a great deal of trouble walking. But he was at least alive. Polio was a serious fear for every parent.

In the 1960s, I contracted rubella. It was sort of like chicken pox (which I also had), but the bumps were smaller. I recovered in about two weeks. Something had changed, though. One of my eyes went all fuzzy. I couldn't see out of it anymore. Because I still had a good eye, I was able to keep this sudden change secret ... until the school nurse tested me and called my parents on the phone.

In college I had a boyfriend whose mother got rubella while she was pregnant. When she gave birth, her twins were both deaf.

For me, it was a no-brainer to give my daughters the full flight of vaccinations, which now included rubella. If there is indeed a link between a small numbers of children and reactions to the vaccines, I would say it is still not as deadly as getting the diseases that the vaccines protect us against.

Every October, I get a flu shot. Again, a no-brainer. I work in a school. I'm around 500 people a day. I've had the flu, and what I find it to be is a terrific consumer of sick days. At my age, I need my sick days to pile up in case I get something more serious.

On Wednesday I got my flu shot and gave it no more thought. Sadly, one of my colleagues had a mild cold and called out on Thursday.

It's Saturday, and I'm too sick to move from the chair. I would probably have a mild cold today, but I sent my immune system into overdrive. It's fighting both the cold and the fake flu, and the cold is winning.

When I look out the window, I see a glorious autumn Saturday. I'll miss it. Sunday looks like a wash too.

It's frustrating, but I have no regrets. While I hate GMOs and fracking, I'm more bullish on vaccination programs. This may be because I remember seeing polio, and I remember having rubella. Glad those plagues are in the archives.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hoping for Some Dull Moments

Yesterday afternoon I went to the doctor for a checkup. She told me that a medication I've been taking for 25 years has been linked with Alzheimer's Disease. I had two great-aunts who had that illness. My mother also basically died of dementia.

Already I have been forgetting things and getting confused about appointments and stuff. I've been chalking it up to sleep deprivation, but damn. I don't want Alzheimer's Disease.

So now we embark on a bold new initiative.

As long as things are dull as dirt, I have a chance.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween: Decorating with Taste (or not)

Wow! I don't know whether to feel like Charley Brown and decry this as crass commercialization, or to slobber with jealousy. Extra Chair and I went to a Halloween party together, and this is what the foyer of the house looked like.

My photo doesn't do it justice.

The rest of the home was similarly stuffed with Halloween decor, though not nearly as over the top as this.

As for me and my house, I keep things simple. I bought three autumn-colored scented candles at South Jersey Pagan Pride Day, but then I kind of went nuts that very night, and ...

So, which is more tasteful, the multi-jack foyer or the candle porn? You tell me!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Samhain 2014: Buying Maple Walnut Fudge

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," proudly Pagan Lite since 2005! Here's my wacky, weedy, poorly-tended but sincere Path.

In October the Veil between worlds thins, and those who went before us come back to take a look around, drop a howdy on us, and perhaps partake of some goody that they loved while they were here. Sometimes they will let you know exactly what they want, too.

Today Snobville had yet another festival. This little town never saw a street it didn't want to close to traffic on a Saturday. So there were crafters, and photographers, and candle-makers, and all those sorts arrayed all around the town. The weather was gorgeous, so Mr. J and I joined the other Snobvillians to walk around and ogle the wares. (Please don't remind me that the autumn colors are at their peak in the mountains. I know that, and I'm homesick.) Strolling through "downtown" Snobville seemed like a good way to waste a few hours and a few ducats.

There was a portly gent selling home made fudge. This is one of my favorite foods. If I was to be stranded on a deserted island with only one thing to eat, I believe I would ask for a crate of peanut butter fudge.

You know these artisan types. The fudge is four bucks a square, two for seven, or buy four, get one free.

Having missed lunch, Mr. J and I had no problem grabbing four flavors, but then it came time to choose a fifth.

The vendor said, "Here's maple walnut. It's really good."

Almost to myself, I said, "Oh, that was Dad's favorite."

The vendor heard me. He shouted, "GET SOME FOR DAD!"

And that brought me to my senses.

Halloween is still with us, after 1500 years of Christianity, because our families over there want to see us here. They are influencing the holy day from their side of the Veil. My dad wants some fudge! The vendor told me so!

I got a brick of maple walnut and will begin putting pieces of it on the Shrine of the Mists next Friday evening. My mom liked chocolate. I got some for her too.

It makes perfect sense to me now. When it comes to keeping the Hallowed in Halloween, we've got partners beyond the Veil.  This is the day that the Dead have made. We should rejoice and be glad it it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Breaking Bad Habits at a Not-So-Tender Age

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," lieblings! My name is Anne Johnson. With Facebook on the rampage against "pseudonyms," I'm glad I got dealt such a generic monicker.

OOOPS! I did it again. I put my hand on my face.

Maybe I'm the queen of this habit. I rub my eyes, I rest my chin in my palm, I scratch my nose, I use my fingers to apply makeup. Second nature. I've had my hands up to my face since babyhood. Maybe you have, too.

Where are my hands otherwise? Grading student papers. Opening classroom doors. Brushing desks. Handling the utensils on the salad bar. Today I will probably have to turn off six or seven student computers, because my last class of the day is my most childish, and they don't pay attention. Honestly, by the end of the school day -- even if I've washed up two or three times -- my hands are grubby. Then, it being allergy season, I rub my eyes. Tissues? I've never had tissues handy, in times of crisis or otherwise. My dad always lent me his handkerchief that he carried in his pocket, like all gents of the Greatest Generation did.

Forget ebola for a moment (as if). We all need to keep our hands away from our faces. This is just practical hygiene. But for some people, like me, with entrenched face-palming behavior, this means breaking a longstanding habit.

How do I break a habit that is second nature? I probably do the face-palm dozens of times a day without even noticing. My dad, with his dad-smelling cotton handkerchiefs, is in the Summerlands with the faeries. He can't help me now.

I'll admit to being paranoid about infectious illness. My daughters are too. Could this have a supernatural component? I'm almost certain my great-grandmother died of influenza. What else would have killed a woman in the prime of life in 1918?

Well, beautiful Great-Granny, I am going to try to keep my mitts out of my mug. I'm going to make a conscious effort.

It's going to be tough. Send me gentle reminders, won't you?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween: It's All about the Devil

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," Samhain 2014 Edition! We're having a little book club talk about a helpful paperback entitled Halloween: What's a Christian To Do? by Steve Russo.

It's always difficult for evangelists to be honest and sincere in their condemnation of Wicca. If they're honest (and they usually are), the only thing they can find to criticize in Wicca is the fact that it promotes other deities over the Christian god. And once you've said, "God is jealous," you've shot your wad on Wicca. It's just not an evil force.

The devil is different.

Our author Mr. Russo quite rightly points out that on Halloween, people dress up like the devil. They decorate their houses with devils. And some people do indeed actively worship the devil on Halloween (and at other times as well).

We've seen these folks at Pagan Pride Days, albeit fewer and fewer as the years progress.

When you've got a pantheon that features an alluring bad boy like Lucifer, you're going to see him get followers. Some people are truly attracted to evil. Evangelists like to lump these people in with Pagans, but Satanists are not Pagans. They are a sect of Christians.

That said, the devil does get trotted out on Halloween. Mr. Russo thinks this is a sure sign that Halloween is a gateway drug to the dark side of The Force. Or some such. Basically, our intrepid author thinks that little kids who don devil costumes are likely to become consumed by the "occult" and wind up slaughtering kittens in pentagrams on the fast track to Hell.

This is a pretty big reach, if you ask me. It's like saying that everyone who is interested in the Titanic is going to wind up trying to sink a big ship in iceberg territory.

When my daughter The Heir was five, she began talking about Halloween in August. She wanted to dress up like a red devil, with horns and a red cape. Once she made that decision, she talked of nothing else for two months. When the kindergarten teacher asked Heir how many sticks in all if she put two sticks with three sticks, Heir replied, "I'm going to be a red devil on Halloween." (Heir promptly got sent to "Developmental Kindergarten," basically a class for kids who think Halloween is more compelling than math.)

Mr. J's mom was a top-notch seamstress, and she made a devil hat with horns out of red satin. She made a satin cape, lined with flannel for a cold night. And she sent pointy-toed red shoes and a pitchfork. When Heir got the package in the mail, she lit up like Chicago on a Saturday night. Red devil! Her dream come true!

I would never embarrass her by scanning the picture of Heir, standing in the back yard, all done up in her devil gear, grinning from ear to ear. But here she is now:

This photo was taken in Romania. She went there not to study vampires as a stop on the highway to Hell, but rather to spend two weeks in an artists' residency. The installation behind her is her contribution to the little village where the residency was held.

Heir grew out of her red devil costume, and she outgrew Christianity before I did. She has a keen sense of morality and an innate goodness that is really inspiring to see.

But I digress.

When I became a Pagan, I threw away all the devil decorations that I had used until that time. I don't think the devil belongs in Halloween. But that's just me. I believe in self-determination. You like red devils? You go!

What I will say is that an interest in a devil costume worn at Halloween does not pave a road to a life of evil. This is fear-mongering. It may sell books to frightened Christian parents, but it's not something we need to take seriously. If your five-year-old is setting the cat's tail on fire, you should worry. If he wants to be a devil on Halloween, fear not! Maybe he just likes red satin.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween: Weak War on Witches

What do you do if you can't beat them or join them? This is the dilemma facing modern Christian fundamentalists when they come face-to-face with Wicca.

I've been building fires with reading a slight little tome called Halloween: What's a Christian To Do? I picked it up at the Friends of the Snobville Library book sale back in September.

The gist of the book is that Halloween can lead your kid down the dark road to doom. Unfortunately it's hard to make a case when presented with the basic tenets of "witches."

Witches are the main topic of Chapter Two: "Witches, Ghosts, and Things That Go Bump in the Night." Hard-hitting evangelist Steve Russo uses the flawless scholarship of Sassy magazine to define, and quote, Wiccans.

"Even though for some people the feminist and environmental aspects of witchcraft are enticing," Russo writes thoughtfully, "the big draw is power." Then he quotes Laurie Cabot, the witch who was interviewed in Sassy: "Witchcraft is a connectedness to everything, so you can center yourself and feel as if you can control some of your environment a little more. I think teenagers today need their own power. They need to feel that they can help shape the future."

So, is teenage empowerment a bad thing? Is it not practiced in Christianity? Did they cancel that show called Hour of Power? I don't recall any witches on that.

It gets better.

If you're anti-Wiccan, which you must be if you're Christian (Russo 29), you basically have to come out against caring for the environment.

This is worth quoting at length, because it basically reminds us that good Christians are indifferent to the planet:

"Another popular avenue for witchcraft today is the environmental movement. There has never been a generation so environmentally conscious as the generation of today. And witches are at the forefront of encouraging us to 'be nice to Mother Earth.' While we certainly need to do our part in being environmentally sensitive, we need to be careful not to get things out of balance.

"As Christians God has called us to be caretakers of the planet [author offers requisite Bible verse]. But the Bible also teaches us to worship the Creator, not the creation. In Exodus 20:3, God says, 'You shall have no other gods before me.' Don't be deceived: While witchcraft may appear to be cool and helping the environment, it goes about it in all the wrong ways."

What are the "right ways?"

"Don't be confused by Laurie Cabot and other witches who sprinkle bits of truth in their concern about the environment, equal treatment of the sexes, and other problems that plague our society. We all need to do our part in making positive changes to society, but we also need to take our direction from the absolute truth of God's word and let Him help us solve the difficult issues of life."

Are you seeing what I'm seeing? Is he saying, "Do as witches do, just give God the credit, because he's God?" I thought so.

This chapter also contains the same tired, old strictures against soothsaying and fortune-telling that always get thrown into Christian tracts about witches. Yes indeed, the Bible is very strict about fortune-telling. You are not supposed to do it.

I've been thinking about the Bible. I've read it. Seems to me, it basically contains four elements:

1. Stories
2. Spiritual guidance
3. Songs
4. Prophecies

How are prophecies different from fortune-telling? Damn if I know. I guess fortune-telling is okay if you're Daniel or the Apostle John. But not okay otherwise. Why the exception to the rule? Shouldn't a rule be ... well ... a rule?

Thus ends another weak attempt to discredit a vibrant religion that seeks to empower people to enact positive social change and sound environmental policies. Just because we want to give credit to the Goddess and not a god who is indifferent at best, and hostile at worst, to the notion that humankind is of the Earth, and not in charge of the Earth, we're going about it "the wrong way."

This book is a trade paperback, which means the paper is better stock. It will recycle nicely.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Breathless: John Walsh, Olivia Kram, Late Night Study Break: #So Proud!

My three readers have been with me a long time. I started this blog in 2005.

At that time, my daughter The Spare was 11 years old.

You've watched her blossom at the Fairie Festival. You've shared her heartaches, her love of cats and comedy, her long, miserable, wretched trudge through Snobville Memorial High School. You've heard time and again what a wonderful daughter she is. The trips we've taken together. Our discovery of, and befriending of, the Monkey Man.

Proms. Problems. Pets. Peers. Personality.

Every May Day at the Maypole. Every Memorial Day at the flag pole. Ever summer in a kayak, floating on the mighty Chesapeake, drinking in its energy ... because this is a water woman.

Dear readers, my daughter is trying to live her dream. And you can help her. I hope you will, in droves. And tell your friends. And tell them to tell their friends. Please watch Olivia Kram's new show, "Late Night Study Break!" I've loaded the pilot episode below. Please subscribe. Please, please, please.

I am so breathlessly proud of my daughter. This show -- all the writing, the taping, the skits, everything -- is being done in addition to a full course load at her university. Let's get her started, shall we? Please?

Late Night Study Break: Musical Guest Natalie Bermudez and featuring the...

Friday, October 03, 2014

Say WHAAAAT? Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween

The nights are growing dark and cold. There are evil spirits in the air, everywhere! Quick! Let's sacrifice little Jimmy, kill him and roast him to appease these evil spirits! The more grisly the killing, the more the spirits will be pleased.

Oh, please.

Welcome to the world of Steve Russo, my friends. Without citing a single source, his book (pictured above) gives the following description of pre-Christian Samhain rites:

"As the power of the sun waned with the onset of winter, people were afraid that life itself, and not just the year, was coming to an end. They imagined that the night was haunted by ghosts and witches, and more particularly by the spirits of the dead who were revisiting their earthly homes. With the supernatural rampant, the night was full of danger and omens. Concerned for their survival, people employed every possible means to fortify the flames of the dying sun and to chase away, or at least pacify, the evil spirits. For this purpose they lit bonfires and sometimes offered gruesome sacrifices."

Well, how the Hell do I know it wasn't that way?

Okay, well, em. Doesn't take a rocket scientist, does it?

Any "holy day" that features gruesome sacrifices and dread of evil would surely be wiped from the face of the calendar the minute some benign missionary wandered onto the scene and said, "Jesus will love you better if you don't sacrifice the virgin."

Even Steve Russo has to begrudgingly admit that early Christian missionaries co-opted Halloween. The Christian religion would never have taken hold in the British Isles if its first converts had said, "Oh, by the way ... That harvest-home festival you have every year? You know, the one at which you welcome your departed granny and give her some food and build her a fire? That's got to go. Jesus didn't do that."

I don't know. I wasn't there. (Neither was Steve Russo.) But I think that Halloween has always been a time of the thinning of the Veil, a time in which to commune with Spirit. The difference is in the absolutes. It makes sense to welcome departed Granny with open arms while doing some charm work against the criminal who killed your dog ... whose spirit is also roaming the night. Basically, Chapter 1 of Halloween: What's a Christian To Do?  falls into that favorite dogmatic rut; namely, optimizing the negative while ignoring the positive.

The above comic, saying this ironically, of course, is a Chick tract that brings visuals to the worldview of Halloween as a savage enterprise steeped in blood and gore. Only trouble is, when you don't half do your homework, you get a half-score, which is an F.

Good and evil exist side-by-side at Samhain, just as they do any other time of the year. Balance is the key. My non-educated guess is that Samhain was a very important day and evening of Thanksgiving, with fires and feasts meant to be shared with the Ancestors.

And whether or not it was that way in pre-Christian Celtic countries, that's the way it is now for modern Pagans. Do not paint this with the brush of demons, Steve Russo. This is the hour when we assess what we've reaped and share it with our friends and our Ancestors.

Oh, and don't you love Chick tracts? Pumpkins are a New World plant. They did not exist in Celtic countries prior to the voyages of Columbus et. al. It's a minor quibble, but if you can't get the small stuff right, why should we trust you with the big ideas?

Let's keep the Hallowed in Halloween, my friends. Can I get an Awen?